Would you know if you were having a heart attack?
I apparently don’t know the telltale signs because when I went to the emergency room on Feb. 27, my symptoms warranted hospital staff to suspect a heart attack.
I’ve had ER waits upwards of eight hours, so when I got through triage and wheeled to the back within 10 minutes, it felt like God’s favor. I thought, “Christ Advocate’s ER is awesome, they get people right in!”
I was only upbeat until I realized why I was getting that VIP treatment. Being asked, “Ma’am, does heart disease run in your family?” turned the sprinklers on in my eyes. My mother died of heart disease, at 52. I didn’t respond immediately. I was having a conversation in my head. “Is that what they think this is? No! I’m not having a heart attack! Am I?,” I thought to myself. I sniffled and started bawling. “Yes, my mother had heart disease” I replied. I tried to answer other questions, but my husband, Don, answered mostly. I sat in disbelief.
WebMD reports six heart attack symptoms common in women: Chest pain or discomfort; pain in your arm(s), back, neck, or jaw; stomach pain; shortness of breath, nausea or light-headedness; sweating; or fatigue.
It was about 8 a.m. on a Saturday that I opened my eyes after being abruptly wakened by my 5-year-old, Rhonda-Rene’s, joyful gibberish. I’d gone to bed with a backache. When I woke up, I still had discomfort. I was lying on my right side, and turned awkwardly to my left to glance at the clock when I felt a sharp pain penetrate the upper left side of my back. It overwhelmed me. I felt lightheaded, started sweating and lost consciousness. When I came to, I remember rationalizing whether to call 911 or Don.
“The paramedics are liable to break down my door, that will scare Rhonda-Rene,” I thought. I opted for Don, who was playing basketball at the gym about 30 minutes away.
Rhonda-Rene is normally attached to my hip except this day. As I lay unconscious, I guess she played independently in her room. I remember looking at her little concerned face. She approached me only after hearing me moaning on the phone to Don, “Something’s wrong. I can’t stay conscious. I hurt my back. Help, help,” I pleaded. Rhonda-Rene’s eyes asked, “Mom? You OK?” She has special needs and isn’t able to speak. This kid had stripped her Sophia the First pajamas off and dressed herself in a pair of pastel pink tights. That was the entire outfit. Tights. Since the more pressing issue was my health, I let that one go.
My medical results ruled out heart disease -- that was a relief! I was discharged with a clean bill of health aside from my persistent back pain. There’s still an ongoing investigation as to whether I’ve pinched a nerve after experiencing a back spasm or slipped a disc in my back. I have several follow-up appointments scheduled.
My friend, Eric Way, 43, of the Southeast Side of Chicago, wasn’t as fortunate. His ER visit with similar symptoms got him an express check-in with an uncomplimentary two-night stay. He was indeed having a heart attack. “You know the feeling you get when you drink something too cold. The brain freeze?” asked Eric.
“Of course,” I told him. He replied, “That’s what it felt like for me except through my chest and arms.”
Eric said he didn’t lose consciousness but did feel sluggish and light-headed. He said, “I experienced similar feelings last August on a trip to Memphis, Tenn. I went to the ER there and they didn’t say it was a heart attack. So, I thought it was that extreme Tennessee heat and the heavy salt the restaurant had put on my fries.”
Since we’re in an electronic age, Eric did what many do. He Googled a treatment plan for himself. “I learned eating certain foods can act as medicine to counteract health problems,” said Eric. He said he didn’t want to be that person who took a pill every day. “I ate two bananas and a Bayer aspirin. I felt fine afterwards.”
That regimen didn’t work when symptoms returned March 6. He said chest pain began about 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 5. “I took my Bayer Aspirin but I only had one banana this time, when I woke the next morning, I took another Bayer and felt better.” Had it not been for the persistence of a friend suggesting it could be a heart attack, he may not have gone to the ER.
Eric had a blocked artery, requiring a stent. Stents help keep coronary arteries open and reduce the chance of a heart attack. A stent is inserted into the clogged artery with a balloon catheter. The balloon is inflated and the stent expands and locks in place. This holds the artery open and allows blood to flow more freely. It was successful and after six days, he was able to return to work, light duty, but he now takes five different medications daily.
“My diet has been reduced to plants, I feel like Tarzan,” said Eric. He’s making the necessary changes because he has more than himself to think about. He has an 11 year-old daughter named Zaria.
There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss my mom. I never want my girls to long for me as I desperately long for her. I don’t want to die prematurely from something I could’ve prevented. That’s why I work out, even when I’m tired. I abstain from overindulging when I eat and I make it my business to schedule routine medical appointments. On those rare instances when something in my body doesn’t seem quite right, I don’t ignore it. You shouldn’t either; it could cost you your life.