About a month ago I had a health scare. After waking up with chest pains in the left side of my chest and finding it hard to breathe, Elysha called an ambulance, fearing I was having a heart attack.
A day-long stay in the cardiac care unit, a nuclear stress tests, and a follow up visit to the cardiologist have all determined that my heart is in excellent shape.
Just a pulled muscle in my chest.
Here's something important:
I didn't initially call the ambulance or even tell Elysha that I was struggling to breathe. I sat downstairs in the early morning hours alone, in pain, and in fear that I was being silly. I worried that I might be overreacting. I didn't want to make a big deal out of nothing.
I was afraid to be embarrassed.
I'm not sure how long I would've stayed downstairs alone, wondering what to do, had a woodpecker not started pounding on the house just before 6:00 AM, causing Elysha to awaken and ask me to come upstairs.
That was when I told her about my pain. That was when she called the ambulance.
Later, in the cardiac care unit, as the tests began indicating that I wasn't having a heart attack, I started to feel a little ridiculous. I had made a mountain out of a mole hill. I had wasted a lot of people's valuable time on what amounted to be a simple, pulled muscle.
I started to feel embarrassed.
As a nurse shaved my chest in preparation for my stress test, I apologized to her. I said that I was sorry to waste all this time and effort when it looked like I was fine. I told her how I didn't want to call the ambulance for this very reason.
She stopped shaving. She looked into my eyes. She said, "People die because they don't call 911 in fear of embarrassment. They sit at home, trying to decide if what they are feeling is real, and then it's too late. That happens more than you know. You have kids. Right?"
"Yes," I said. "Two."
"Then you don't have time to worry about being embarrassed. You need to keep yourself alive. Forget embarrassment. You did the right thing. I wish more people would."
I didn't tell her that Elysha was the one to call the ambulance, and that she actually called without my knowledge. I was still debating if my pain warranted a trip to the hospital when Elysha appeared and said the ambulance was already on its way.
That nurse was right. When it comes to our health, "Better safe than sorry" seems especially applicable. How sad and foolish of people - myself included - for worrying about being too healthy to seek medical treatment, especially when it's related to the heart.
There is no room for embarrassment when your life may or may not be on the line.
My friend, Steve, recently told a story at Speak Up about experiencing chest pains and deciding to seek medical treatment. Steve was still in his twenties at the time. He was the former starting tight end at the University of Connecticut with a real chance at the NFL before an injury and bad luck derailed his football dreams.
Steve was a world class athlete. If anyone had a reason to dismiss some chest pain as nothing, it was Steve. Instead, he went to the hospital, and doctors discovered an almost complete blockage of an artery affectionately known as the widow maker. He underwent surgery immediately and is alive and healthy today.
Steve has two kids, too. Thank goodness for them and his wife that he wasn't too embarrassed to seek help.
Thank goodness my chest pain turned out to be nothing.
Don't ever be embarrassed to seek medical attention when in doubt. The only embarrassment I feel about that day now is the embarrassment over being worried about being embarrassed.