Diary of a Chest Pain Denier
You wake up feeling not quite right. There’s something in your chest. It’s not pain exactly, at least not a sharp pain. Chest pain would be scary, right? Good thing this isn’t that! It’s just an odd ... tightness. You probably just pulled a muscle in your sleep. Okay, a little stretching and one nice, hot shower and everything should be just fine.
Well, the shower didn’t work. Neither did the stretching. If anything, that only made it worse. Should you consider it might be a heart attack? Nah, of course not! That’s just something old people get. Let’s not be a Debbie Downer. This is nothing a little coffee can’t cure! Better get an extra shot of espresso … uh, that kind of hurt just now … make it a double espresso.
Huh, it’s gone now. See that? The power of coffee!!! All that worry for nothing. I knew I was being silly. Imagine, having chest pain at my age! Probably just gas – they would have laughed me out of the ER. And rightly so. But enough coffee for me, feeling kind of queasy now.
Why am I so tired? I can barely keep my eyes open. Skipping breakfast, stomach doesn’t feel right … why am I sweating? Maybe I’m getting the flu. Yeah, that’s got to be it. I should just take it a little easier today than usual.
The pain is back. Worse than before. And yeah, this time it really is pain. This feels serious. This IS serious. Should I head to an ER? Not sure I should drive. Better call 9-1-1.
Why Calling 9-1-1 is Your Best Decision
If your chest pain is being caused by a heart-related problem, calling 9-1-1 gives you the best chance at survival. It’s not about getting to the emergency room more quickly (although ambulances do have that whole “going through red lights” thing going for them).
It’s about getting you emergency treatment ASAP. In some cases, that treatment could start at your home or en route to the ER—EMTs can do that. In other cases, it’s about getting all the right information about you so that the ER team can be ready to hit the ground running when you arrive. After all, if you drive yourself (or someone else drives you)—they won’t even know you are coming, much less have all your information and vitals before you arrive.
Chest pain (or pressure, squeezing, tightness) should never be ignored. It just doesn’t pay to take that risk.
EMTs pulling up. Ugh, forgot to unlock the front door. Can I get to it? If I don’t, will they break it down? Think I can make it. Yeah, I knew I could. I’m probably fine. Hopefully. But it does feel good to have professionals here. They’re asking so many questions! What does it feel like? Well, did you ever see the movie “Aliens”? Feels like someone crawled into my chest while I was sleeping, and now they want out. Does that help?
Huh … so this is what an ambulance looks like. Wonder if they’ll turn on the siren for me. I should be taking pictures or something. The kids are going to ask why I didn’t. Uh man, can’t you just make that pain stop? Aren’t you guys supposed to have some good drugs specifically for occasions like these?
Well, that was quick. Thought there would be dramatic background music or something. This whole experience could really use a musical score. Now that I’m here at the ER, maybe I’ll mention that to the doctor.
Heart Attack Myth: All heart attacks involve chest pain. Heart attack fact: Many people do not experience chest pain, especially women. When women do experience chest pain, it may last longer and radiate to the back or neck instead of the arm, as is common in men.
Heart Attack Myth: Insomnia and anxiety have nothing to do with heart attacks. Heart Attack Fact: Sleep disturbances and anxiety are commonly seen in women with heart attacks."
What Will the ER Team Want to Know About Your Chest Pain?
If you head to the emergency room with chest-related pain or pressure, chances are you’ll be asked the following questions to help your doctors better understand your symptoms:
- When did it start?
- What were you doing when it started?
- How long has it lasted?
- Has it been constant? Or does it come and go?
- What does it feel like?
- What makes it better or worse?
- Is the pain in one place or does it move?
- On a scale of 1 to 10, how bad is the pain?
- Were you sick or injured recently?
- Has this happened before? Either the same pain or the same location? Anything even similar to what you’re feeling now?
- If you did have a past event, how is this one the same or different?
- Do you have any other symptoms like nausea, vomiting, fever, cough, sweating…anything else?
- Have you taken any trips recently? Did you fly or travel outside the country?
- Have you had a recent period of inactivity, such as resting up after a surgery?
- Did you take any medications to relive the pain? If so, what medications did you take and at what time? What was the dose of the medication?
What Tests May be Performed to Evaluate Chest Pain?
If you go to an ER for chest pain, you may have one or more of the following tests:
- Blood tests
- Chest x-ray
- EKG (electrocardiogram)
- Stress test