The day started out pretty much like any normal summertime Saturday. I was up before 7:00, made the coffee (extra strong the way I like it and my Usually Lovely Husband does not), made lunches for the working folk, fed the livestock. (Okay, I fed one dog and one cat but they are both an adventure in eating issues so it is reminiscent of dealing with the Bar S ranch every day). I dropped weekend promo on my clients Facebook pages, tossed on gym clothes and headed to my 8:15 cycling class so I could justify my extra glass of wine tonight.
My spin class proceeded with full sweat and speed. I was working extra hard because I have had a rather full social week and needed to wear off some extra calories before they settled permanently with the rest of my “flabdomens”. Towards the end of class I could feel my heart pumping strangely. Nothing alarming, just an extra loud thumping feeling that I do not usually have when I exercise. I did some cleansing breaths, channeled my old yoga teachers “in through the nose, out through the mouth” mantra and finished cooling off with the rest of the class.
Driving home I felt like my chest was tightening up, and a headache started behind my eyes. A smidgen of concern flickered through my brain. I dismissed it immediately and took a few deep breaths. It felt like I could not get a full inhalation through to my lung cavity. Not a comfortable feeling. But seriously, I knew I was just being anxious for no reason.
I got home, still feeling a little odd, went straight to Google MD and started looking at symptoms. Bad idea. Instantly every ache and pain, and tired feeling, menopause sweat and allergy sneeze looked potentially dangerous. My neck which had been bothering me on and off for the past week instantly seized up again.
I took some more deep breaths swallowed a couple of aspirin and told myself to quit feeling so paranoid. Then I decided I better take a shower because if I did have to call 911 there was no way I wanted any potentially cute medics to have to deal with my stinky gym sweat! I also took my sweet time making sure I was wearing “good underpants” and shorts that did not accentuate my muffin top. A girl has her pride after all, even if she is being hauled off in an aid car. No sense scaring any firemen half to death with bulging back fat.
Smelling fresh and dressed in appropriate attire I promptly returned to googling heart alert symptoms. I noted that I could possibly feel nauseous and vomit. Well, knock that symptom out as I was in the middle of inhaling an enormous bowl of granola, strawberries and yogurt. Whew. I knew that I was just imagining things.
Yet my neck was still killing me. I seemed to have conveniently forgotten that I had suffered minor whiplash earlier in the week when out on a boat. There has been some heated debate over whether my neck injury occurred when my crazy ass girlfriend took over driving the ski boat and nearly pitched us all in the lake when she revved it trying to relive her high school glory days or if it arose when I averted my head violently to avoid seeing the naked ass of the guest New Zealander dropping trousers and changing into his bathing suit in the middle of the boat or when he decided later in the evening to hang his alarmingly white buttocks into our faces so we could relive that moment. Nothing makes you turn your head hastier than a strange fifty-something man’s naked backside in your face.
I decided to just keep taking deep breaths and ignore the headache and the pressure in my chest. I’m only a smidge over fifty right? I exercise, eat right and was just imagining things. Okay, admittedly at this point I started trying to do the math about how old my Mom was when she had her first heart episode. This is not a good direction to take your brain by the way. Math induced panic only makes your symptoms seem more dramatic and consequently I was sure my vision was starting to narrow.
I wandered into the kitchen and told the youngest prodigal son to make sure to call 911 if I fell over. He looked at me oddly to see if I was joking. I gave him a half-smile and said “I’m kidding. But I do feel kind of weird.”
In a voice that sounded decidedly like my mother he replied, “Mom. You need to either call 911 or go to the fire station right now. I am not kidding.”
Talk about maternal guilt! I pooh-poohed him but the very idea that this sweet boy could become motherless because I felt I was being silly and thus might miss the opportunity for early intervention of a heart attack was like having cold water tossed in my face. How many times have we read that early treatment is critical? Women are especially prone to waiting until it is too late to call for help because we are too busy or too embarrassed to think that the little symptoms we are having could be anything other than anxiety or gas. Generally speaking, as the more refined gender, we do not like to admit that we even have gas and we prefer to not discuss it with strangers lest necessary. (Unless we are with a group of women on a trip. Then the topic is unbridled.)
Nevertheless, the prodigal sons’ concern drove me outside to find my U.L.H. who was muttering and cursing and trying to fix our elderly SUV that “someone” had drained the battery in by leaving the ignition in the wrong position. (OOOPS!)
I meekly asked if he could drive me to the fire station. He took one look at my face, and dropped everything. He grabbed his keys and wallet and just about drove over me in his haste to back the car out of the driveway. The good man knows that I am generally the last person to ever ask for medical help, am rarely sick and that I am usually the person prodding everyone to get off the couch and be active. He also insisted on taking me to the bigger fire station one town down instead of the one two blocks from our house. Personally I think he was assuming they had more sets of defibrillator paddles and I was going to need every one of them. I was in no position to argue because #1 – I was embarrassed and #2 – I was still in the doghouse about the dead battery mishap. There is a remote possibility that he wanted to use the defibrillator on me himself.
We arrived in good time and walked up to the doors. They were locked. We walked around the entire block-sized building to several other doors. All locked. Swell. I was going to go into cardiac arrest on the hot sidewalk in front of the biggest fire station in the area and there was no one there to help. This had all the hazy images of a bad Fox News report.
We walked back to the first door where I pointed out that there was a doorbell. My U.L.H. also pointed out that there was a 911 call button. By this time I was so embarrassed to be there that I very nearly did have a heart attack when he started to push that button. Verbal sparring ensued. The 911 button was clearly labeled for emergencies only and since I was self-conscious about even being at the fire station for no apparent reason, the possibility that the U.L.H. was going to need trauma help if he rang that damn 911 chime was imminent.
I rang the doorbell and glared at him.
Two extremely nice firemen came to the door and let us in. My U.L.H. immediately started telling them all my “symptoms”. I cast him a sideways glance and he slowed down and said “well, she can tell you.” We all agreed that might be more helpful. I was trying to not look amused at his take charge style and I was honestly kind of nervous. The firefighters both looked like they had seen similar situations a few hundred times before.
They calmly seated me, started taking my pulse and asked me my symptoms. I explained what I had been feeling since my cycling class that morning. The second medic slapped the blood pressure cuff on me. 112 over 68 – pretty high for me I thought! Firefighter Dave commented that it was “nice and low.” (side note – every nurse who has taken my blood pressure in my lifetime has to take it twice to make sure it’s really about 100 over 58. I was all aflutter about 112 over 68 but apparently the anxiety of being in a fire station thinking you may be having a heart attack can spike your blood pressure. Mine spiked all the way up to still below average.)
They listened to my heart, my lungs and asked me questions about my general health, family history and health of everyone in our immediate family. I felt completely foolish, but they were incredibly gracious and taking everything very seriously. After checking my vitals – the tall, dark and handsome medic (what? I noticed. I wasn’t dead yet!) said he was fairly sure that the combination of my always low blood pressure and my longtime fitness regime created a reaction called bradycardia in which you feel an extra heart beat because the resting heart rate is so low that once in a while it has to receive an extra shock to keep it at a normal heart rate. Basically, he said, “Your heart is so fit that it needs to get an extra electrical impulse once in a while.”
They did a few more tests, checked to make sure my neck pain was not radiating anywhere other than the one localized spot and made me promise to call and schedule an appointment with my doctor and told me to go back outside and enjoy this glorious summer day. They also made me promise to call 911 rather than drive myself to the fire station should next time I think I am having an emergency. I was still abashed and felt I had overreacted and apologized for taking their time. They vehemently shut me down. As it turns out, 133,000 Americans die of heart attacks every year, and another 300,000 die of sudden cardiac arrest—largely because they didn’t get help in time. Heart disease is the number one killer of U.S. women. My local medics reiterated that early treatment is critical and that one should never hesitate to call 911 and make sure they are not experiencing a heart episode.
We walked back to the car with much lighter steps. As we drove home I said to my U.L.H. “Isn’t it nice that I am so fit that my heart has to add a beat once in a while.”
He snidely replied, “If that is what you want to think honey.”
I believe he may be jealous.
PS – to all my siblings and those who I know will now nag me. I do promise that I will be following up with my doctor this week. You just promise you be careful of your health too.
If you think you are experiencing a heart episode, don’t take the time to research the symptoms on the internet. Chew an aspirin and call 911 if you feel any of the following:
For both women and men, heart attack symptoms can include:
- Squeezing chest pain or pressure
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness in chest
- Pain spreading to shoulders, neck, arm, or jaw
- Feeling of heartburn or indigestion with or without nausea and vomiting
- Sudden dizziness or brief loss of consciousness
Heart attack symptoms that are more likely to occur in women include: