“I Think I’m Having a Heart Attack”

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I was sure it was nothing.

On Saturday afternoon, as I was replacing the locks on my back door, I reached down for the screwdriver and became incredibly dizzy. I stood back up, closed my eyes, and took a deep breath. It seemed to pass.

I finished the door, did a grocery run, and ate dinner and the dizziness came and went throughout the day. I was sure it was nothing.

Later, I was playing around with my older daughter in the living room, and at one point as I was lying on the floor, I looked up at the ceiling and the entire room seemed to make a right turn like I was in the middle of Inception. It was the exact same view and feeling as when I’d lie in my dorm room bed after a night of too much partying.

Shortly thereafter, out of nowhere, I became extremely tired. As if I hadn’t slept in days. I stretched out on the couch and though I wasn’t exactly nauseous, I didn’t feel right. Then, I had trouble catching my breath.

Holy shit, I thought to myself, I’m having a heart attack.

I’ve read enough about heart attacks to know that they aren’t always the major sledgehammer-to-the-chest kind that happen on TV. Often, they’re more subdued than that. I wasn’t really in pain, I just felt unsettled.

I googled my symptoms – always a great idea! – and learned that it could be a heart attack.

WebMD said it could also be menopause. Either one.

My wife insisted I go to the emergency room.

In my younger years, I would’ve shrugged her off, maybe even had a beer, and gone to sleep, figuring everything would be okay despite zero evidence to support that belief.

Yet, now that I’m married father of two without any abs, staring at 40, I decided to go. I drove myself, which I thought would make a great story. Oh, you can bench how much? I drove myself to the hospital while having a heart attack. BOOM!

It was weird a ride. I kept thinking about how it was possible that at the end of that ten-minute drive my entire life could be different. Also, how ironic that it was happening now, considering this was the year that I really started to get serious about my health – I go to the gym at least four days per week and have been trying to eat better. Honestly, I’m healthier than I’ve been in a decade. At least, that’s what I thought.

I arrived at the ER and immediately felt ridiculous when the woman at the front desk asked me what had brought me in at 9 pm on a Saturday night.

“I think I’m having a heart attack,” I said.

She asked about my symptoms and my pain and then asked me to have a seat. I pulled out my book and tried to get comfortable. I was wondering if I should even be there, but every time I closed my eyes the dizziness would return. This is why we pay all that money for insurance, right?

After only a couple of minutes they called me in for an EKG and I was positive it was going to show a severe heart attack that would result in a Code Blue and emergency surgery.

Of course, none of that happened. My results were fine and I was sent back to the waiting room. They took my blood pressure and temperature and asked me to wait some more.

If it’s not a heart attack, what is it?

After about another twenty minutes, they called for me and led me to a bed pushed up against a wall in a hallway.

“Sorry,” I was told. “We don’t have any rooms.”

I didn’t care. At least I had a bed. I work at a hospital, I know how crazy things can get.

In succession, I spoke to the nurse, a sweet woman who referred tome as “my love,” the guy doing registration, and finally the doctor.

He asked me what was going on and when I was about halfway through, he cut me off and rattled off the rest of symptoms.

“Jesus,” I said. “You nailed it. What is it?” I asked. Again, I was certain it would be some brain-eating amoeba that has no cure and kills you in seconds. The dying didn’t bother me, I just didn’t want to leave my wife and kids alone.

“Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo,” he said.

“Vertigo?”

“Yeah, benign vertigo.”

I immediately thought of Lucille Austero.

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“I see this about five times day. It’s especially common in November and December.”

He gave me some anti-nausea medicine. He wrote me a script for Meclizine, but since I had driven there myself he didn’t give it to me because it causes drowsiness. (He was right. I took it on Sunday afternoon and felt like I had drank two bottles of NyQuil the following day.)

To be sure, he still ordered a full blood workup as well as a chest X-Ray and a CT scan. That’s when it really became an experience.

Since the veins in my arms are so well-hidden, nurses and technicians often need to go through the back of my hand to draw blood. Sure enough, that was the case again.

Then, the orderly taking me to get my tests was a surfer that caught the wrong wave and wound up in the ER. His favorite two words were “Ah” and “Okay.” As in, our path was blocked by another bed so he stopped and stared for about ten seconds and then said, “Ah, okay,” before backing up and going a different direction. All he was missing was a “brah.” He banged my bed into a few walls and door frames and twice almost caused multiple-bed pileups. He should have his license revoked.

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The X-ray went fine but when it came time for the CT scan, the tech, another Rhodes Scholar, told me to lie on my stomach and put my hands out like Superman. I was 85% of the way into the tube when he said, “We’re looking at your stomach, right?”

I informed him that, no, “we” were actually looking at my head.

“Oh,” he said, perplexed. “Can you flip over?”

Even if I didn’t have a heart attack, these two were about to give me one.

I eventually was pushed back to my little hallway nook and went back to reading. Another hour passed and I eventually fell asleep.

“Good news!” I heard from the bottom of my subconscious. It was the doctor. “All your tests look good. I’m going to sign your paperwork and get you out of here.” I was still barely awake.

Fifteen minutes later I was in my car, driving home. I’d get to sleep in my own bed.

At first, I thought it was a waste of time. My natural inclination towards guilt and self-flagellation began to take hold and I was silently chastising myself.

But then I saw the bigger picture and a few bright spots appeared. First, I was now sure it wasn’t a heart attack. Secondly, I now knew that I could suffer from vertigo and had medicine for it. And finally, I now had up-to-date tests: my blood work, EKG, CT scan, and chest X-ray all looked good.

It was confirmed that I was relatively healthy and could continue my roles as a father, husband, son, brother, employee, bad-joke-teller, writer, and everything else.

I really thought I was having a heart attack.

Thankfully, I was wrong.


Christopher Pierznik’s nine books are available in paperback and Kindle. Check out more of his writing at MediumHis work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business InsiderThe CauldronMedium, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

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