I woke up yesterday morning with terrible chest pains and struggling to breathe. I fed the cats, sat down at my computer to write, and tried to pretend that I wasn't in pain.
About 15 minutes later, at 5:45 AM, I decided that I might be in trouble. I was starting to sweat and the pain was getting worse. I couldn't catch my breath. Just as I was debating what to do, I received a text message from Elysha asking me to come upstairs. It was 5:49 AM.
It was the first time in my life that Elysha texted me before 6:00 AM. Maybe before 7:00 AM.
How did she know I was in trouble? Has she installed cameras that I don't know about? Are we so psychically connected that she can feel my pain?
No. She had heard a strange sound for the second day in a row and wanted to know what it was. We pushed that question aside for another day and finally called for help and I took my sixth ride to the hospital in the back of an ambulance.
I spent most of the day at Hartford Hospital, undergoing every possible heart test you can imagine. X-ray, EKG, an ultrasound of my heart, and a stress test to name a few. In the end, the doctors determined that my heart was not the problem. In fact, it turns out that my heart is in outstanding shape.
Instead, I had either pulled or slightly torn a chest muscle while hiking The Freedom Trail with students the previous day. I was carrying a backpack loaded with water, food, medications, and the like, and the weight of the backpack and the length of the walk had apparently done the damage. The damaged muscles tightened overnight, and when I awoke and started moving, the pain began.
The doctor explained that pulled or torn chest muscles and acid reflux are commonly mistaken for heart attacks, even by medical personnel, so although they, too, suspected a heart attack for a while, it wasn't surprising when they realized the true cause of my pain.
Frightening possibility averted. My chest still hurts like hell this morning, and it's still a struggle to breathe, but muscle pain is nothing compared with the alternatives.
As I went through an emotional, painful, and interesting day, I made several observations:
- A total of 22 medical professionals helped me over the course of the day, including a dispatcher, an EMT over the phone, 3 EMT's onboard the ambulance, 2 police officers, 4 nurses, a physician's assistant, a phlebotomist, 4 doctors, an X-ray technician, 2 medical transport personnel, and 2 unidentified hospital personnel. It makes you realize how impressive and extensive our healthcare system is. There are a lot of people just standing by at the hospital, waiting to help us in a moment's notice.
- There is no authenticity in the back of an ambulance. EMT's speak like they are high on valium. Overly calm and syrupy sweet. They communicate with one another other in non-specific pronouns and silent signals. One of them said, "okey dokey" three times. They are persistently positive, even when they have failed twice to get an IV into a patient who is terrified of needles and is now bleeding down his forearm.
- I always find it strange how a person can spend 30 minutes making sure you aren't dying or 15 minutes carefully shaving your chest and assuring you that everything will be fine and then step out of your life forever like they were never there. Brief moments of intense intimacy followed by an instantaneous and permanent departures.
- Two of my doctors were Speak Up fans and recognized Elysha and me. One of them said, "Don't worry. I like your stories too much to let anything happen to you."
- Whether or not chest pain awakens a patient from sleep or begins after the patient has awakened naturally is apparently a very big deal. It was my most frequently asked question yesterday, followed by "Is your heart rate always so low?"
- I apparently have the heart rate of a world class athlete. 48 BPM when I was discharged, but it went as low as 28 BPM at one point. When I asked if this was a good thing, my favorite nurse of the day said, "You're not exactly a world class athlete, so maybe not."
- I have been meditating every morning for more than five years. That allows me to calm my body and mind when things around me are hectic, terrifying, and even painful. Credit Plato Karafelis for encouraging this years ago. It's made an enormous difference in my life, especially on days like yesterday.
- If the gym had doctors and nurses standing beside the treadmills offering encouragement like they did during my stress test, the world would be a lot healthier and a lot thinner.
- The constant beeping of the cardiac unit surely drives those doctors and nurses to drink.
- I purposely changed into a loose fitting tee shirt and shorts while waiting for the ambulance to alive. I also grabbed a phone charger and my headphones. Even in the midst of what I thought might be a heart attack, I'm still a Boy Scout.
I'll have some more meaningful and in depth comments about the day as the week goes on. As one of the doctors who knew me said, "I bet today is giving you some great new material."