Well, I went to Sanford’s emergency room this morning. I should have gone last night, but in the moment I became one of those women that poo-pooed my symptoms. That was until they did not fully abate and I thought to myself that I should maybe just make sure the universe wasn’t trying to give me a friendly shout-out about what was to come.
I thought I might have had a heart attack. Not the knock you down, labor your breathing, need CPR kind of heart attack – the weird symptom heart attack that women are said to have. I had the chest pain, upper abdomen pain, and pain in my left arm from my shoulder and neck down to my fingertips. At initial onset – about 6 PM last evening – it seemed like a horrible case of heartburn, but worse. It was unlike any level of burning I had ever experienced and then I had a pain in my chest and sharp pain in my upper abdomen. I immediately took two low dose (81 mg) aspirin and chewed three Tums. Then I laid down and waited for the pain to subside. It took about 15 minutes for the pain to start to diminish, but then my left arm, shoulder, and neck started to ache horribly.
I’m not going to lie – it scared me. I immediately thought of all the articles I had read about women’s heart attacks and how so many women ignored the symptoms of smaller heart attacks only to be hit with a massive heart attack later. But I rationalized to myself that I was not a high risk for a heart attack and that it was likely nothing.
And yet, I thought it was highly unlikely that this unprecedented feeling was merely heartburn – especially since I had not eaten anything for hours prior. The pain I had was decidedly abnormal. I went online to the American Heart Association and looked up the symptoms.
Heart Attack Signs in Women
- Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
- As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.
If you have any of these signs, don’t wait more than five minutes before calling for help. Call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital right away.
I did have some of those symptoms but I told myself I was overreacting. When my arm, shoulder, and neck were still aching at bedtime I thought I would feel better in the morning and would realize that I had spent far too much time thinking about the whole episode. Alas, after a difficult time sleeping and enduring pain in my arm, shoulder, and neck I decided I should maybe think again about going in to see a doctor. I spoke with the nurse on Sanford’s Ask a Nurse line and told her my symptoms. She told me to call 911 and have an ambulance come. I felt that was over the top. Instead, I showered and then woke Mike up to take me. Something about my half Catholic – half Jewish roots has ingrained in me that one never goes to see a nice doctor for any reason without looking presentable.
I was in Sanford’s ER for just about two hours. Apparently, arriving in the 7 AM hour on a Sunday is just the right time to visit. I had a whole collection of nurses with me straight away checking this and that, connecting me to machines, drawing blood, and doing x-rays. After that the doctor came in and chatted and told me what they would be looking at in the short term to determine whether my heart had suffered damage. When it was all said and done, the conclusion was that it was most likely some type of heartburn incident and the arm issue was not likely related to the heart. The doctor said my heart looked good and there were no markers in my blood that indicated damage. Let me tell you my friends – that was a huge relief.
I must applaud the ER staff at this point – I felt like they did an incredible job from start to finish. Even the admonition of my head nurse to not wait 12+ hours to come in if it ever happens again was fully appreciated. The rule of thumb in these matters is better safe than sorry and utilizing 911 for an ambulance in lieu of having someone drive you in (and you should never drive yourself). If something feels wrong or off for you, the smart money is on having it checked.
If this happens again I will have to have more extensive testing to ferret out the cause. My arm, shoulder, and neck still hurt – I am not back to 100% merely based on my mind being put at ease. But I am happy that I had it checked out or it would have eaten away at me.
I did not handle this situation exactly as I should have. At the very least I should have gone in last night. Thankfully, that time gap in addressing my concerns did not accrue to my physical detriment; however, had I actually experienced a heart attack it might have been a different story. In this instance – since I have not been a good example I will settle for serving as a horrible warning for others – when in doubt, check it out. Don’t downplay symptoms in your mind to your potential detriment.
Thank you Sanford team for the excellent care this AM. If this ever happens again I promise to be a better citizen and come in right away. But note, if I never see you again under these circumstances – it will make my heart happy.
Day one thousand five hundred and one of the new forty – obla di obla da