By Burt Walker
EMERGENCY ROOM ADMISSION REPORT
DESCRIPTION: 66 y/o white male presented with chest pains. Pain level ranging from level 3 to 10. Current level of pain: 4
DURATION OF INCIDENT: 30 days
TESTS ADMINISTERED: EKG and Troponin enzyme blood test. Blood test confirms at least one heart attack as recently as 3 days prior.
CONCLUSION: Admitted to hospital, referred to staff cardiologist.
CARDIOLOGIST ANALYSIS: Cardiac catheterization recommended soonest possible. Possible candidate for one or more stents. We can fix his heart, but we can’t fix stupid.
The headline is a little misleading. I had at least two and possibly more heart attacks in a four week period. On April 23, 2021 I had a heart attack. I had another one on April 27th. I didn’t know they were heart attacks until April 29th, when I began having chest pains again, and finally decided to go to the emergency room at our local hospital. Why I didn’t go sooner is a little complicated, but it’s exactly why I’m writing this article.
Before I go further, you should know I’ve never felt comfortable publicly sharing any of my health problems. In fact, I don’t even like it when others do it. We all know that certain someone who feels compelled to share every ache and pain on social media. Yeah, that’s not me. It always seems to me to be a cry for attention and reeks of hypochondria. Please understand I am most definitely not sharing this to get personal attention or to seek sympathy. I do not want it nor do I expect it. What I do want is for men to understand that seeking medical attention when it’s warranted is not a sign of weakness. Unless of course, you have a death wish. Following is what happened to me and how it transpired. Pay close attention, particularly if you’re a male.
At the end of March on a Saturday, I was picking weeds in my back yard. After five minutes of bending over I began having chest pains. I mistook that pain as heartburn. I took some antacids and sat down for ten minutes and felt better, though a dull pain remained for the rest of the day. Over the next week, I experienced the same thing multiple times, particularly after bending over or exerting myself in any way, like picking up dog food bowls, walking up a flight of stairs, etc. I called my doctor on Monday and he suspected a hiatal hernia, which leads to acid reflux. He prescribed a couple of medications, which I began taking as prescribed. The meds didn’t help. That should have been my first indication things weren’t what they seemed.
Later that week, I woke up at 2:00 AM with intense chest pain. I waddled around until the pain subsided about 15 minutes later. I called my doctor again and he scheduled an upper GI barium test. The result of that confirmed a minor hiatal hernia, but little sign of acid reflux inflamation. My doc also scheduled an endoscopic test, but I couldn’t get in until the end of May. My chest pains became more frequent and lingered longer as time went on. On April 23, I had an episode that was so painful and intense that I became nauseous. That was likely my first heart attack.
Four days later, I took one of my dogs for a walk. By the time I reached the end of my driveway, I was experiencing moderate chest pain. I told myself to slow down, take my time, and breath deeply, thinking the pain would subside. I walked to the end of my street (about an eighth of a mile) at which time I knew I was in trouble. I barely made it home, hurried inside and ran to my bedroom collapsing on the bed. My wife was watching TV and did not notice I was in distress as I swished by her. I called to her as I was writhing in pain, sweating profusely, and close to vomiting. I was nearly in tears. I suggested maybe I should go to the ER. She was preparing to take me there, but my pain subsided and I said “nevermind, I’ll be okay.”
That was a decision of a dumbass, obsessed with the notion that it simply isn’t manly to complain about pain.
I didn’t go, despite my wife strongly suggesting that I do. I wasn’t about to go the the emergency room for what I believed to be a bad case of heartburn. My thoughts were, “emergency rooms are for pussies.” That was my second heart attack within a week.
The next morning, I began having chest pain again. I finally decided to read the instructions that came with my medication prescribed for acid reflux to see if I could glean why it wasn’t working. One of the first things I noticed was a warning that read as follows:
“Heartburn can mimic early symptoms of a heart attack. Get emergency medical help if you have chest pain that spreads to your jaw or shoulder and you feel anxious or light headed.”
DUH! This is something I would have dismissed previously, thinking it was an instruction designed for hypochondriacs. But because my chest pains on those two incidents included intense pain in my jaw, shoulders, and arms, my thick head finally realized what was going on. I had been in my basement when I read that. I came upstairs to my wife’s home office and showed it to her, then said “I think we should go to the ER.” Twenty minutes later I walked into the ER, pale and very uncomfortable, yet embarrassed. Fortunately, when one goes to the the ER complaining of chest pain, the process gets a little more attention than when you go complaining of sniffles. They whisked me in for immediate triage.
I was then given an EKG and a blood test. The blood tests confirmed that I’d recently had a heart attack. I was admitted to the hospital and a cardiologist reviewed my tests and strongly recommended I have a heart catheterization, which I had early the next morning. It revealed significant blockage of my main arteries in my heart. One had a 95% blockage in one artery and another had a 75% blockage. They installed a stent in the worst one which the cardiologist believed was the source of the heart attacks, but due to the difficulty and time it took to place, he decided to not install the other one at that time.
The bottom line, I was a ticking time bomb. I’m scheduled to have the second one installed in about two weeks. I spent two nights in the hospital being monitored. The stent has so far been successful and I feel better now than I have in months.
It’s true that I was misdiagnosed but it wasn’t my doctor’s fault. It was mine. When he asked my pain level, I described it as a level 6 on a scale of 1 to 10. Why? Because I didn’t want to sound like a weak-ass excuse for a man. In reality, if that wasn’t a 10, nothing would have been. I also failed to mention the pain in my jaw, which no doubt would have immediately changed his diagnosis and included a recommendation to go to the emergency room. To make matters worse, I didn’t read the accompanying literature with the prescribed drugs. No, this was my fault, not my doctor’s.
Yes, I was stubborn and stupid. It nearly cost me my life. I should have known better, particularly given my family history of heart disease. My father had several heart attacks and quintuple bypass surgery at age 59. I’m 66 and somehow believed it wouldn’t happen to me. I write all this as a warning to my friends, particularly men who believe it’s somehow unmanly to seek help when experiencing pain.
There are three big lessons here: 1) read the information that comes with prescribed drugs. Pay close attention to the instructions and warnings, 2) be sure to be truthful and accurate with your doctor when describing your symptoms, and 3) if you’re hurting to the point of nearly passing out, it’s not only okay to seek emergency medical help, its essential. Given the frequency of my episodes, there is little doubt had I not gone when I did, I would have soon suffered another attack and very possibly not survived. So, to my fellow man-friends, quit worrying about being a pussy and use some common sense. No one will think less of you if it turns out not to be serious. If they do, they’re idiots. An old adage comes to mind here: “Better safe than sorry.” Or to be more precise, “better alive than dead.” I don’t know what the future holds, but at least I’ve cleared my head of silly notions of masculinity and I’m better prepared to seek out what is nothing less than the miracle of modern medicine.