For many years I ran out of my house to go save people. It didn't matter what the weather was like. It didn't matter if was day, night, weekend, a holiday or my birthday. I was a volunteer emergency medical technician and my job was to respond to a stranger's call for help.
So, when on February 27 I started to feel slightly dizzy, with a racing pulse, short of breath and began sweating, my first thought was denial. Despite all my training, which included CPR and AED certification (automated external defibrillator), despite working in a hospital, despite all my knowledge, I made all the wrong decisions. And, I realize I am very lucky to be writing this blog as a result.
Monday morning quarterbacking is lots easier than to be in the midst of crisis for sure, however I knew better. I knew better and I still made wrong choices. I thought I was invincible; that my head could control my body. But, with that misplaced arrogance I endangered not only my life but those of others as well.
Last Friday I was at lunch with a group of friends, although a few left for a meeting. One of our group, a cardiac nurse was not there that day and now I can't help but wonder if the chain of events might have have been altered if she had been. I had been feeling under the weather with a flu like illness the past week or so and still exhausted and not well despite being on antibiotics. So, like a good little soldier, I kept going into work thinking I could beat it by "being strong." I was "too busy" to be sick anyway. I had things to do and miles to go before I could go to sleep.
But, while listening to my friends chatter over lunch I began to feel strange; shakey, light headed, slightly sweaty, hard to catch my breath and my pulse felt like it shot through the roof. Instead of saying anything, I got up and said I had to get back to the office. My only thought was to get out of there, a weird sort of flight or fight psychological response. I remember thinking the hallway to my office seemed oddly long and it felt like it took forever to get there. As soon as my assistant saw me, she asked if I was all right and that I looked awful. I said I felt awful and announced I was going to go home to lay down and promised to call the doctor. So I grabbed my coat and left, walking right past the Emergency Room! Now, going home is not as easy as hopping into my car. Because we aren't allowed to park on premises, I have to catch a shuttle bus to go across the city in order to get to our employee parking lot. Imagine doing this feeling this awful. But, I managed to do it.
Feeling faint I still made the decision to drive home. Like a heat seeking missile, I was totally focused on that task. What you don't know is that this commute takes a minimum of an hour on congested highways and a fast paced toll road. Of course I hit every red light trying to get to the toll road. All I kept thinking was why were there so many people driving at 3pm in the afternoon? Why weren't they at work or home--any place but on the road, holding up my journey home. All I could think about was home. For some reason I felt that if I could get there, I could think clearly and maybe miraculously feel better. How stupid this decision was! I could have passed out while driving and killed or harmed not only myself but others.
I arrived home and collapsed on the couch. Sweaty, my pulse racing, my chest started to feel heavy. I was not feeling better, I was worse. Still, my mind would not let me even consider the possibility of a heart attack. No, not me. It had to be pneumonia or even a pulmonary embolism--anything but a heart attack! I took my pulse. It was 120! Still, I didn't think of calling 911 or taking an aspirin. I did everything you were not supposed to do and I'm an E.M.T. Instead, I called my doctor, described my symptoms and said I needed to be seen. They said come in immediately. Unfortunately, the doctor's office is 30 minutes away. I called my daughter to talk to me all the way there because I started to get scared. Why didn't I call 911 then? I don't know. I kept thinking that if only I could get to the doctor's office, everything would be ok. They would tell me that it was an anxiety attack or something, anything else but a cardiac situation. Dumb, dumb, dumb!
I was given an EKG at the doctor's office. My blood pressure was sky high (194/98), pulse still 120 range, sweaty, pale, short of breath and chest heavy with slight pain in my upper back every once in awhile. Doctor decided I had to go to the ER. I was not given an aspirin yet and he decided I could drive myself another 5 miles to the hospital. Instead of saying no, I'm really feeling bad, I say ok. Because in my mind, if the doctor thinks I can drive myself, then I can't be that bad. I should have asked for an ambulance. Driving to the hospital I realized I was taking a big chance. I felt very faint and only wanted to get there as soon as possible. But it was now 4pm and traffic was very heavy. I hit every red light again.
In the ER they gave me baby aspirins. I was hooked up to heart monitors and blood was taken. A few hours later I was admitted to the cardiac observation floor. By now I had an IV pole too. Long story short, I was one lucky lady. The cardiac enzymes came back ok. I didn't have pneumonia. According to the cardiologist I was exhausted and dehydrated from that flu like illness. What a relief!
Looking back now I realize how stupid my decisions were at every step. While I am calm and decisive in a crisis for others, for myself that paradigm is obviously flawed. I think of myself as independent and invincible. I am neither. I was blessed with an angel watching over me. That is my only explaination how I managed to drive a total of 90 minutes and 47 miles with those symptoms. Even the cardiologist said it was a miracle I didn't pass out.
The symptoms of a heart attack in women are not always the classic chest clutching pains men get. You might not have pain in your left arm or in your jaw. It might start as exhaustion, indigestion, a pain in your back or your stomach, you may break into a sweat, feel short of breath. If you feel this way, call 911. Have aspirin in your purse or house at all times if you or your family has a history of heart disease. If 911 tells you to take the aspirin, chew it do not swollow it. Do not wait, do not second guess yourself thinking it will go away. "Time is muscle" as they say in medicine.
And, lastly, don't do as I did! Don't take a chance with your life! Listen to your heart and live.