I woke one night with a terrible case of indigestion and did every trick in the book to get rid of it--drank water, drank more water with apple cider vinegar, ate dried papaya, took a digestive enzyme pill, paced the floor moaning--but the pain remained.
Strange. Normally my tricks work right away. Very strange.
When trying to fall back to sleep, I wondered what else a sharp pain in the chest might mean and I sat up. No. Not that. I mean, I've had no symptoms.
No way. There's no way.
I got my phone and searched, "Sharp pain in chest" and several things came up, not just "heart attack." Blood clot. Pancreas explosion (or something like that). Pleurisy. As if I had the right to choose my own medical condition, I clicked on pleurisy.
Pain from inflammation on my lung. Yes. This must be it. I must have pleurisy because it was the easiest diagnosis and so I dubbed myself Sheriff of Medical Answers and accepted my fate. Pain while breathing. One article stated that if you hold your breath and the pain stops, you have pleurisy.
I held my breath. The pain stopped. Great news, right?
Great news until I had to take the next breath. In a fit of ignoring my need for medical attention, I closed my eyes and fell asleep. The next day was a day off from teaching kindergarten. Pain followed me throughout the day and then I cooked a four course meal and had my niece and her four children over for dinner.
I didn't tell the kids that I was in tremendous pain; shallow breathing hurt less.
Later that night I called a friend and we both searched the internet from our prospective couches. Blood clot looked more menacing 24 hours later. I mean, what if I just cooked my own last supper because I wasn't in the mood to go to the hospital? Not wanting "3 Cheese Gourmet Chicken Fingers" to be my last supper, I dressed and drove to the ER across the river, the one dubbed as the "Country Club" for being in a ritzy town.
The good news is that when you walk up to the emergency room and tell them you're having chest pains, they open the doors and find you a fast bed--without waiting.
Several years ago I was in a different ER to visit my elderly uncle who had fallen, possibly due to a stroke. As many family members gathered in the waiting room, my sister-in-law and I watched as a young mother and father held their baby as it vomited over and over again into a bag provided by the ER staff. Why weren't they let in? No health insurance? Previous bills?
The mother and father sat huddled over the baby for--hours. They didn't argue or complain. They kept their attention on the baby. When that long plastic bag filled with vomit, some cheery worker happily supplied them with another bag. The baby had lost more than its body weight in vomit--how is that even possible? The baby was going to die.
I worried that they were not asking for more because they were African American, so I went to the nurse in charge and demanded that the baby get seen.
She was not happy with my meddling and insisted that the baby had not been there for hours. She was wrong, and I told her so.
The baby was takin into the ER several minutes later and my family was sent to a different waiting room.
We all have stories of waiting too long at the ER for any number of reasons, but now I can tell you that if you have chest pains at the Northern Duchess Hospital, the wait may be far shorter.
Good to know, yes?
The medical staff treated me as if I'd missed my high school graduation because I broke my leg, or something. My nurse told me about her autistic son and the woman taking down my information apologized for having to ask so many questions.
The doctor was not happy when I told her the story of the pain that included 24 hours of not seeking medical attention.
Maybe in the future this same team of doctors and nurses and technicians could drive to my house and do these tests while I lounge in bed. It seems wrong that the sickest of us must do the driving.
Some years ago I was getting dizzy and passing out at random times and went to dinner with a man I had dated who happened to be a cardiologist. We laughed at each other's stories, ate a fabulous meal and shared a bottle of wine while he asked me a few questions about my dizzy spells.
We went back to my place for dessert and he checked my pulse. He set up a stress test for me at his office a few days later to be sure I was OK. I failed that test and started a year of medical interventions concerning my heart.
If you ignore the fact that a medical monster took over my life, dinner with a friend where I could talk about the history of my dizzy episodes over a slow dinner and a cold drink, was my favorite doctor visit of all time. I don't drink alcohol these days, but still think it would be a good idea if all medical appointments could start with a glass of wine.
Anyway, after waiting an hour for a diagnosis of my newest chest pain, the doctor stood at the food of my hospital bed while the machines beeped around us like a back-up choir. She said I had pleurisy and that it would "hurt like f***."
I was so surprised to hear the doctor curse that I didn't ask any more questions, but mumbled my relief at not having a heavier diagnosis. The hospital gifted me with one--only one single tablet of Motrin, to fight the pain.
The doctor said I would be in pain for up to two months.
Thinking I might need a few more pain pills, I went to my primary doctor a few days later and got a prescription for Motrin that would last the first ten days.
It's been five weeks since my diagnosis and I'm waiting patiently for the day when I can breath a sigh of relief, without cringing with pain.
Soon I hope.