Chest Pain Scare and Why It Stinks to Be Almost Equally Left and Right Brain Dominant

So about 11p last Wednesday night I was sitting on the couch in my PJs watching TV and playing Candy Crush on my phone.  My husband Adam was in the garage finishing our daughter’s field day costume and my son was on his iPad next to me.  Out of nowhere I get this crushing, squeezing, pushing, vise-like pain in my chest – just below my breast bone.  It was so intense and so instant.  I sat there breathless and confused for a minute and then felt nauseous.  I tried leaning back, standing up, laying down, walking, etc. and nothing was doing anything to relieve the pain.  It wasn’t getting worse or better it was just constant.  My (split) brain starts having an argument with itself that went on for 30 minutes something like this:

Right Brain (RB) – OMG is this a heart attack?!

Left Brain (LB) – No, don’t be silly, it CAN’T be a heart attack.

RB – Are you sure because I think it is a heart attack and I’m about to freak out!

LB – Nah, we are fine, maybe it’s a pulled muscle.

RB – Pulled muscle??? From WHAT?  We were just SITTING there!

LB – Calm down.  Let’s wait it out.  Here, I’ll look up female heart attack symptoms on Google and show you how wrong you are.  Hmmm, vise chest pain?  Check.  Nausea?  Check.  Trouble breathing?  Well, maybe but maybe just because it hurts and RB is in panic mode.  Jaw pain?  Nah, oh wait, this side of the jaw kind of does hurt – is it the heart or the panic or maybe a clenched jaw from the pain?


LB – Um, well maybe we should go to the garage and let Adam know it hurts, ya know, just in case and to calm you down.


LB speaks – Hey Adam, I, uh, well, um, I think something is wrong.


Adam looks up from what he is doing and looks at me and starts to freak out.  He finally gets out of me that my chest is hurting really bad and has been for about 30 minutes and nothing is helping and it isn’t going away and I can see he is freaking out inside but he’s holding it together rather well on the outside right then.  So he takes me in the house and puts me on the bed and he’s all what do you want me to do?!?!?!?  And he really wants to call 911 but I’m hesitating.  Because really, an ambulance is just too much fuss for me.  So my brain goes back to arguing.

RB – OMG let him CALL already!!!!

LB – But, they’ll bring so many rescue vehicles and rescue people and the neighbors will see and this is probably nothing anyway.

RB – OMG let him CALL already!!!!  What if this IS a heart attack and you are wasting our time.  WHAT IF WE DIE?!?!?!

LB – We aren’t going to die, I don’t think, at least not right now, probably, maybe.


LB – Maybe we can wait another minute.  ER visits are so expensive plus the medics charge now too.

RB – WHO CARES?!?!?!  If we DIE there is no more money!!!!

LB – Well, if it will make YOU feel better then I guess it would be alright if he calls.

LB speaks – Adam, you can call and see what they say.


LB – This is going to be so embarrassing…We are going to feel like a total idiot…what if they think we are faking? Or overreacting? Or stupid? Or drug seeking? Or incapable of understanding that this is most definitely NOT an emergency?!?!

RB – Oh man.  I hope they hurry!

LB – Oh damn.  I hear the sirens.  They are getting closer.  Here we go…

RB – YAY! They are here!!!

LB – Crap!  We don’t have on a bra and we are in this ratty old paper thin white t-shirt with our fluffy Christmas PJ pants and socks.  Just fabulous. Our hair is probably a mess by now too.

RB – WHO CARES?!  They would need to remove our bra anyway to get a good check on our heart so this way we’ve saved them a step.

LB – Yeah, sure, uh-huh.  Oh crap, here they come running in.  How many are there?!?!?!  Is that 8? 9? WTH?!  I’m so mortified right now.

RB – I can totally relax now.  Even if it IS a heart attack, the medics are here and they know what to do.

LB – Yeah, now it is time for me to panic --- about the BILL this is going to be!

So the medics hook me up to the EKG and the heart monitor and do BP and blood sugar and pulse ox and heart rate and who knows what else and ask a bunch of questions and then say well everything looks pretty good so far but you still need to go in because only the blood test can say for sure.  And I’m all well can I do that with my regular doctor tomorrow or do I have to have it done in the ER tonight?  And the medic is looking at me like ARE YOU STUPID?!?!?  And instead he says, well, you could but we HIGHLY recommend you have it done in the ER tonight to be 100% sure. 

And I’m all hmmm, well, um, I don’t know.  I already feel foolish for letting my husband call and now that I know my vitals are ok…  And the medic says well they LOOK ok but is doesn’t mean there isn’t something happening or about to happen with your heart so we really think you should go in.

So I say well can I call my dad first and ask him?  And they ALL look at me like WHAT?!?!  So I quickly say oh well he was a paramedic before he retired.  The supervisor says sure, call, we will wait (in a nice tone but I wonder if he wasn’t being a bit snotty inside his head lol) and then I look at the medic and I say look, it isn’t that I don’t trust you because I absolutely do, it’s just that I have a really high insurance deductible and I KNOW you aren’t supposed to make medical decisions based on cost but that is my reality.  And he was SO nice – he said it’s ok.  I get it.

So, I call my dad (it’s after midnight now) and he answers and I say Daddy can you talk to the medics that are here and let me know if I should go to the ER?  And he says WHAT?!?!  What is going on?  So I give him a brief rundown that I had chest pains for a while and they didn’t go away so I had Adam call 911.  He asked me what the chest pains felt like and what I was doing before they hit.  And I’m seriously expecting my dad to ask for the vitals and tell me to stay home and call my doctor in the morning.  Because all my life you could have like half a limb sawed off and he’d be all eh, you’re fine, rub some dirt in it and put this duct tape on it and it’ll heal just fine.  And he suddenly says – get your butt in that ambulance RIGHT NOW!  And I’m like whoa, wait, what?  And he says why the heck did you wait 45 minutes to call 911?!  Women, especially women your age, always ignore signs of possible heart attack and poo poo the symptoms and push off treatment and more than half of them end up 6 feet under within a week!  GO NOW!  And I’m all uh, ok Daddy, thanks.  And I hang up and say well, Dad agrees with you and says go so that is that.  And left brain starts thinking oh crap!

I walk out to the front porch and hop on the stretcher and get loaded up – praying none of the neighbors are watching.  The girls are bouncing all around under my thin shirt and I’m like dang I should have grabbed a better shirt.  After I get loaded up the medic says so on a scale of 1 to 10, how bad was the pain?  My answer was – I totally suck at this game.  He laughed and said lots of women do – try to think of the worst pain you’ve felt and compare.  So I finally settled on a 7 – but I’m still not sure if that is true because I honestly can’t tell if it truly hurt that bad or if the panic it induced caused it to feel like it needed to be called a 7.  So we are bouncing along all the construction happening on the road to the hospital and the medic – I’m going to start an IV now and I about jumped out of the back of the ambulance!  My completely irrational and illogical intense fear of needles has now trumped everything else.  I said well just know that I do NOT do well with needles and you saying you are doing an IV is more panic inducing than those chest pains!  He laughed and said it will be fine.  And I’m looking the other way thinking OMG he’s going to STICK a NEEDLE in my ARM while we are BOUNCING along this road – holy crap I hate IVs – omg this is going to hurt – I think I need to pass out – I can’t believe he’s really going to do this – I’m NEVER going to survive!!!!  And suddenly he’s all I’m done and I’m like holy crap!  That didn’t even hurt and that took like .02 seconds total!!!!  And he had put it a bit further down on my arm instead of right in the crease so I was able to comfortably bend my arm without it hurting or creeping me out so I am eternally grateful to him for that.

Finally we get to the hospital and they check me in and put me in a room right away and a doctor, a nurse and a tech come right in and ask a bunch of questions and start monitoring me on their equipment and the doctor ordered the heart attack blood test plus a chest x-ray plus a bunch of other tests.  By this time the pain had almost completely gone away so I am feeling REALLY stupid for calling 911 but also relieved that I was 1) in the hospital with the life savers nearby and 2) things were looking fine and 3) grateful that I wouldn’t be second guessing every little twinge or pain or arm falling asleep episode for the next several months.  After many hours in the ER because the first blood test came back fine but must be repeated in 3 hours to be 100% sure, I was discharged just after 5am with orders to follow up with a cardiologist (that happened today and he’s pretty sure my heart is fine – further tests to be extra extra sure to come but he’s confident I’m ok).

I still kind of feel foolish for calling 911.  The ER doctor said every single patient with chest pains feels foolish for coming in, even the ones in full blown heart attack, so she’d rather us be in there feeling stupid than dead at home.  She’s got a point!  So yeah, don’t ignore symptoms like that or wait too long to make the call.  Better to get an all clear from many experts than to chance ending up 6 feet under!


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