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Monday, June 22, 2009

a scare

On Thursday night while I was nursing Zoë (yes, we’re back to bedtime nursing because of her recent cold and ear infection), I experienced a sharp pain in my chest, followed by a dull ache lasting about 10 minutes. I had been short of breath earlier in the day, so I thought I should get a little more information. I Googled “chest pain in women” and was bombarded by stories about women who didn’t realize they were having heart attacks because the symptoms for women (neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort, shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, abdominal pain or “heartburn,” sweating, lightheadedness or dizziness, unusual or unexplained fatigue) are less publicized than the symptoms for men. Good information to know, but the pain in my chest subsided, so I shrugged it off.

At this point I should tell you that I am at low risk for a heart attack: I eat well, I have never smoked (other than those few bar and beach cigarettes here and there in my 20s), I run, and I’m only 37. But, I did have severe preeclampsia with Stella, and women who have had severe preeclampsia “remote from delivery” could be at an eight-fold risk for cardiovascular disease than women who did not have a preeclampic pregnancy. (You can read more about that here.)

I should also mention that I’m currently reading the manuscript of a writer whose husband died at age thirty of a complete arterial blockage. And this translates in my mind into: it can happen.

Friday morning I was tidying the dining room after Stella and Zoë’s breakfast, and I again experienced sharp chest pain followed by a dull ache. But this time the ache didn’t go away. It radiated to my upper back. I called my doctor’s office to make an appointment—just in case—and after I had scheduled an appointment for a couple of hours later, the receptionist put me through to the triage nurse, who, after hearing my symptoms, told me to go to the emergency room.

Donny was out of town, so I called my mom. No answer. I called again. No answer. Now I was getting nervous. My chest ached as I changed Zoë’s diaper, got her dressed. My step-dad called back and said my mom was out getting coffee but that she’d be home soon. I explained my pain and asked him to have her come and get us as soon as she got home.

Fifteen minutes later, we were in the car, driving to the emergency room, and, as traffic slowed and we took the wrong exit, my nerves began to fray. I started to feel pain in my jaw and my arms became tingly and numb. Holy shit, I thought, I’m really having a heart attack. “This would be the time to drive faster,” I said to my mom.

When we pulled up to the emergency entrance, I told Stella and Zoë I loved them, and got out of the car. (My mom agreed to take them to a park or to breakfast.) And as soon as I walked through the door and the triage nurse asked if I was okay, I started to cry. “I think I’m having a heart attack.” She was fabulous, got my in a wheel chair, talked me down with stories of her twins, and got me checked into the ER.

I had an EKG, a GI cocktail, nitroglycerin, blood work and a chest x-ray. And everything was normal. I’m fine. I’m fine.

But why the chest pain? Was it because of the new cold and cough I have now, thanks to my little Zoë and my apparently nonexistent immune system? It was not a panic attack (at least not initially; I think the tingling of the arms was because I was beginning to panic and hyperventilate.)

I have a follow-up appointment with my doctor later this week, and I’m going to ask for a referral to the University on Minnesota, to see a doctor who specializes in the heart health of preeclampsia survivors.

I’m relieved that everything seems to be fine, but I don’t feel settled. I feel lethargic and tired. (This is probably a result of the chest cold rather than the scare, but still, I feel overwhelmed. All weekend I was irritable with my kids, exhausted by the constant vigilance that Zoë requires. I must have blocked these months of Stella’s development because I seriously don’t remember all the dirt and potentially poisonous berry eating, the teetering on chairs, the rifling through cabinets.)

What I need is a vacation. Not an I-can-still-check-e-mail kind of vacation, but a no-contact-faraway-childcare-provided kind of vacation. Any ideas?


cath c said...

kate, i don't want to scare you, but they had a local highlight on the news this father's day of a new dad whose wife suddenly had a heart attack at 32 6 weeks after giving birth, baby is now 8months old. they were having a family gathering and everyone thought it must be heartburn from the chili.

i guess i'm saying, with that on my mind, i'm really glad you went to the hospital. although hearing your story, i'd advise 911 and tossing the girls at a neighbor next time. not that i want to incur a next time by bringing it up...

be well, get rest. take vitamins!

Anonymous said...

Kate, I'm so sorry to read this. But I know exactly what you are going thru. I had a similar scare. Just not feeling right, pain in my chest, lots of heartburn, achy. I ignored it plenty, then finally got scared enough to follow up. Turns out I'm ok, but the fear was definitely panic-inducing.

Take care of yourself. Get that vacation planned. Rest. And yes, follow up with the other doctors. Trust your instincts.

Betsy said...

I'm going to take this opportunity to tell you how much I appreciate you: as a mom, writer, teacher and person. I'm SO glad you are okay. How scary for you all!
Wishing you balance and health,

kate hopper said...

Thanks, guys.

Cath, that's the kind of story that is terrifying, but also so important to hear. I think you're right about calling 911, but hopefully there won't be occasion.

Kristen, I'm sorry that you had a similar scare, though I'm relieved that you are okay, as well.

Betsy, thank you for your kind words!

Elizabeth said...

Kate, I'm so sorry to read of this scare and hope that you get some better answers soon. I had a breast cancer "scare" last year and it really threw me for a loop -- what I learned is that we really do take our health for granted when we have it and how fragile it all can be. I've vowed to take better care of myself but never really do. Your story encourages me, once again, to do just that. Keep us posted and many blessings to you!

Ines said...

I am glad you are fine, now. I am sorry you are feeling so overwhelmed. And, I wish I lived closer to be able to help you. warmly, ia

Bonnie said...

There's no email in Amsterdam. At least at our place. These days. Gr. Otherwise I would have read this sooner. Take care, Kate. xo

Kara said...

OHHHHH, that had to be terrifying. Glad you're following up on it too. Glad you didn't show up at the track on Mon:-) And happy belated birthday! I'm in a zone of forgetting birthdays this year. Keep us posted on your ticker.

Andria said...

Scary! Glad you are okay!

Have you found out yet what might have caused this? (A man I worked with had 2 heart attack scares that turned out to be calcium deposits, but I'm sure there are many things that could cause such a sensation.)

Lastly, I can't believe you are giving up sugar. I could never. You are amazing.

Lynne Marie Wanamaker said...

Hi there Kate--

Ditto what Ines said. I am so sorry you're having a rough go, and I wish I could bring you a casserole.

Lynne Marie