Monday, January 03, 2011


There are so many articles and information on the symptoms of a heart attack. We all know the basic ones: pressure in the chest, chest pains, numbness/tingling radiating down the left arm, jaw pain, lightheadedness, palpitations and for some women, heartburn. The worst thing to do is to look up “symptoms” or “medical advice” on the internet while experiencing these things. Although I know it’s the worst thing to do, I. can’t. help. myself. It’s there. All the info you ever needed is right there in front of you, so why not? I cannot tell you how many times I have been to the emergency room this past year over symptoms that mimicked a heart attack. No joke - if I walked into the emergency room today, I would probably be greeted by name, almost like Norm on Cheers. “Hi Deb”, or, perhaps, “Welcome back!” Regardless, it’s all very frustrating and yet comforting that they all seem to know me very well. With some of the newer staff, I have to warn them about my anxiety and hypochondria. They nod, while I state the symptoms that they all gasp about.

“I’m having severe chest pains along with pain in my jaw that radiates right down to my left arm.”

The drill is the same: they hook me up to oxygen, place me on a blood pressure machine that squeezes my arm till my hand turns blue and literally ties me up to an EKG machine that really doesn’t tell you jack shit. There are stories where people are having heart attacks and for whatever reason, the EKG doesn’t pick it up. I usually have a chest x-ray and blood test done, but this last time, just an EKG was given and a quick exam. I have been diagnosed with what’s called “costochondritis” which is an inflammation of the rib or cartilage connecting a rib. It is a common cause of chest pain. The doctor usually diagnoses this by pressing on the walls of your chest, and if it hurts, then you’re diagnosed with that if your EKG is normal. They send you home with some ibuprofen and some well wishes. In my opinion, costochondritis is some made up name for when doctors don’t know what the hell you have.

So when do I call 911? And if I experience chest pains and every single symptom related to a heart attack, do I hesitate to call 911? Do I take chances on a life threatening episode? I can usually tell the difference between an anxiety attack and a heart attack. At times, if I’m unsure, I’ll just pop an aspirin and hope for the best. But what about significant signs? If I have heartburn, do I rush to the ER? If I could show you my medical history on “false alarms”, as well as the medical bills, you wouldn’t believe it. So my question is: am I a hypochondriac because I go to the ER for symptoms that mimic a heart attack or are my visits well validated as “normal”?

Upon my next visit, (and you know there will be one), they can at least let me decorate my own area. Maybe I should start working in the hospital so I can feel safe.

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