Empty hallway in the ER. Photo by me


I have had very few life changing events in my life.  Friday was one of them. 

The day started like any other.  A large cup of tea and breakfast with my wife.  The kids went off to school.  Meetings, email and phone calls consumed most of my morning. 

I was sitting at my desk in the basement office of my house, chatting online with a vice president of the company I write software for when a sudden pain whacked me in the chest.  It was like someone had thrown a baseball at me and I didn’t catch it.  Smack.  Right in the middle, right of the chest.  For a split second it hung there before an extremely nasty, crushing took over.  An area about the size of a large grapefruit was now imploding.  The feeling changed now felt like someone had stood a telephone pole on my chest.  My hands instinctively grabbed my chest as I remember thinking “oh crap”.  After what seemed like an eternity, but was probably closer to 3-4 minutes, the worst of it was over.  I was left sitting there disoriented, confused, scared, worried, panicked, trembling, sweating…  A residual pain in my chest remained.  Did I just have a heart attack??

Trying to get out of my chair was a bit of an ordeal.  My arms felt like I had just finished lifting weights but I had no energy.  My legs felt like I had just climbed 5 flights of stairs at a good clip.  Not good.  Took me a minute before I was ready to get out and make the long journey up the 12 stairs, pulling myself up by the railing.

I finally made it to our kitchen and sat at the family computer to look up symptoms of a heart attack.  I had a handful of the typical symptoms: crushing chest pain, disoriented, weakness in arms, sweating, shakes…  None of the usual ones you hear about – no nausea, prolonged chest pain, pain in the neck or jaw, or numbness in the left arm, plus my pain was in the center and right of my chest not the left.  Things just weren’t sinking in to my brain though. 

It’s weird in hindsight that I looked this up on my upstairs computer.  I needed to be upstairs where my wife was but all the while I was trying to covertly investigate what just happened.  Chalk that up to being scared and not wanting to be alone I guess.

Okay, so the web pages weren’t making a lot of sense.  The stuff was going in but it wasn’t processing.  What on earth do these words mean?  Something twigged and I grabbed the last Excedrin Migraine as I knew it had aspirin in it – just in case.  I had to tell my wife something but I wasn’t sure how.  We’ve both been under a fair bit of stress lately (problems at my work with a coworker, money, parents health, money, wife needing surgery on her knee and in constant pain, job security, a sister’s husband diagnosed with terminal cancer, money…)  Open and honest is always best with her. 

“I think I may have just had a mild heart attack” I said as her jaw dropped.  Fortunately she still had a brain in her head, unlike me.  “Call your doctor, now!”  Good.  Doctor.  Yes, right.  Guess what?  Seems they’re not in on Fridays.  “Call telehealth”.  Good.  Telehealth.  In our area there is a number you can call where they listen to what you have and, from what I have discovered since then, they nearly always cover themselves by urging you to call an ambulance if you have anything close to resembling a heart attack.  Sure enough, “We want you to call an ambulance right now to take you to the hospital.  Don’t wait.  Do it now.” 

The weather was not the best since we just had a big dumping of snow so we decided to drive.  Maybe not the best idea but in this case was no doubt faster for my wife to drive me there.  Besides, I was feeling better, comparatively, as the clock ticked away.  Off we go to the hospital, about a 10-15 minute drive.  This was going on about an hour from the time I first felt the pain.  I was still shaking in the car, really weak, sweating, and my chest feeling the after-affects of whatever it was. 

The ER was fairly quiet with about 10 patients waiting.  The nurse brought me in to the triage office to assess my problem.  Blood pressure tested.  Temperature tested.  What seemed like 500 questions, none of which I can remember right now as I write this.  Back to the registration desk and then ER waiting room to be called.  An unknown length of time later, the woman behind one of the glass cages called me over and told me to go through the doors, follow the green arrows on the floor, turn left, the security guard will let us in to the and I’ll have a chest x-ray, blood work and an ECG.  I remember all this now but then…  Sorry, how do I get there?  Follow the green arrows.  Right.  Why am I so confused?

The nurses at the CSI unit (Clinical Systems Investigation, not the TV show) were nice.  They led me to the x-ray lab.  A kind nurse led me back like I was 100 years old with Alzheimer’s.  Blood was drawn.  A surprisingly quick ECG was taken.  I was very happy to hear they don’t shave the chest these days.  And then we wait.  At least I was feeling better.  Still weak, not thinking clearly, and feeling a mild discomfort in my chest but generally getting better the longer I sat. 

A few hours later the doctor calls me in.  “Your tests are fine.”  “The ER is for sick people, people who need it.”  The last sentence was paraphrased but that’s the gist of what he said.  He then went on to tell me they needed to run another set of blood and ECG later to compare.  That still doesn’t make much sense to me if he thought I was “fine”. 

My mother-in-law was so nice to look after the kids while all this was going on.  She even took them back to her place for a sleep over.  Nothing to worry about there.  My wife’s brother came over and cleared the snow out of the driveway.  Nothing to worry about there either for when I got back.  For now just sit and wait.  The book I brought I didn’t even crack.  There’s no way I could read it.  I’m still disoriented and weak.

At 8PM, about 8 hours after my initial whatever-that-was, I got my next set of blood tests and ECG.  Wait for another hour and a bit.  I wandered around a bit, bored senseless.  I managed to snap a few pictures on my cell phone (see one above of the CSI hallway).  Must be getting old – when did they start allowing cell phones in the hospitals?  Everyone was using them so I did too.  Good thing as I could fire off an email to my boss telling him why I disappeared on a Friday afternoon.

Same doctor brings me to the hallway, not even to a room, and tells me I’m fine.  Blood levels seem a little elevated but doesn’t look like it was a heart attack.  Maybe it was an esophageal spasm, stress attack, something.  Whatever.  Go home.  Go see your family doctor.  Maybe he can find out what’s wrong.  I feel very embarrassed by the ER trip but I know it wasn’t imagined.

Something happened that nearly incapacitated me, the last few months my stress level has been rising, I’ve developed hand tremors, I don’t make it through many nights without waking up 4-5 AM often in cold sweats, I have difficulty thinking clearly and recalling basic things I have known for years, I’m dreading my work as I don’t think I’m doing a good job right now, and I have been weakened by that something.  Maybe my doctor will find out what’s wrong. 

Not many things scare me like this did.  Regardless of what it is/was medically, I’m sure it’s stress related.   I have to get my stress levels back in check or I think I may be heading for a really nasty ER visit.  Call me crazy but I want to be around a long, long time with my wife and be there to see my children grow up.

Time to remove the stress from my life!