An ER nurse’s description of a heart attack

I lowered the foot rest, dumping the cat from my lap, started to take a step and fell on the floor instead. I thought to myself, “If this is a heart attack, I shouldn’t be walking into the next room where the phone is or anywhere else…but, on the other hand, if I don’t, nobody will know that I need help, and if I wait any longer I may not be able to get up in a moment.”

I pulled myself up with the arms of the chair, walked slowly into the next room and dialed the paramedics…I told her I thought I was having a heart attack due to the pressure building under the sternum and radiating into my jaws. I didn’t feel hysterical or afraid, just stating the facts. She said she was sending the paramedics over immediately, asked if the front door was near to me and, if so, to unlock the door and then lie down on the floor where they could see me when they came in.

I then lay down on the floor as instructed and lost consciousness, as I don’t remember the medics coming in, their examination, lifting me onto a gurney or getting me into their ambulance, or hearing the call they made to St. Jude ER on the way, but I did briefly awaken when we arrived and saw that the cardiologist was already there in his surgical blues and cap, helping the medics pull my stretcher out of the ambulance. He was bending over me asking questions (probably something like “Have you taken any medications?”), but I couldn’t make my mind interpret what he was saying or form an answer, and nodded off again, not waking up until the cardiologist and partner had already threaded the teeny angiogram balloon up my femoral artery into the aorta and into my heart, where they installed two side-by-side stents to hold open my right coronary artery.

Why have I written all of this to you with so much detail? Because I want all of you who are so important in my life to know what I learned firsthand.

1. Be aware that something very different is happening in your body—not the usual men’s symptoms, but inexplicable things happening (until my sternum and jaws got into the act). It is said that many more women than men die of their first (and last) MI because they didn’t know they were having one, and commonly mistake it for indigestion, take some Maalox or other anti-heartburn preparation and go to bed, hoping they’ll feel better in the morning when they wake up…which doesn’t happen. My female friends, your symptoms might not be exactly like mine, so I advise you to call the paramedics if ANYTHING is unpleasantly happening that you’ve not felt before. It is better to have a “false alarm” visitation than to risk your life guessing what it might be!

2. Note that I said “call the paramedics.” Dial 911, ladies. TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE! Do NOT try to drive yourself to the ER—you’re a hazard to others on the road, and so is your panicked husband who will be speeding and looking anxiously at what’s happening with you instead of the road. Do NOT call your doctor. Do NOT call your friend.

3. Don’t assume it couldn’t be a heart attack because you have a normal cholesterol count. Research has discovered that a cholesterol-elevated reading is rarely the cause of an MI (unless it’s unbelievably high and/or accompanied by high blood pressure). MIs are usually caused by long-term stress and inflammation in the body, which dumps all sorts of deadly hormones into your system to sludge things up in there. Pain in the jaw can wake you from a sound sleep.

*Editor’s note: When we were sent this story—written by an anonymous author—we were compelled to share it with our readers. We are more than happy to credit the author, so please contact us: hello@scrubsmag.com.

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