My Million Dollar Chest Pains

There is a good reason your Mom always told you to wear clean underwear. You never know when you will be in an accident or need to rush into the hospital and my God, you wouldn’t want to have on dirty underwear. Lesson learned.

A few days ago I started having chest pains. It was late in the afternoon and I did what every other person my age does, I ate a Rolaid. This was obviously a nasty case of heartburn because it was painful. Walk around holding my left boob painful. But otherwise I didn’t think much of it. I left work, went home and tackled laundry and baths with the boys, you know a normal exciting Tuesday night around our house. The pain never went away and I actually went light on dinner because I was afraid of causing my heartburn to flare up.

So off to bed I went only to face a fitful night of sleep (which is the MOST annoying thing ever to happen to me – wanting to sleep but not being able to. Torture.) No matter how I laid I could not find a comfy spot that did not make me feel like my chest was caving in by the weight of an ENOURMOUS elephant sitting on it. I could not take a deep breath and any movement made the pain worse. I was thinking this must be some badass heartburn. The only thing I ate was a grilled cheese and fries for lunch…surely that meal, the very same meal 5 year olds live for, wasn’t capable of killing me.

I am no stranger to various stomach ailments. I have the world’s worst gut and have dealt with acid reflux and ulcer pain for years. I have prescription meds and know what acid eating a hole in the bottom of your esophagus feels like. Pure hell. There is that burning miserable pain and then there was this Oh My God, I am having a heart attack pain. A totally different kind of hell.

I suffered with this pain all day. This constant hurt that wouldn’t let me think of anything else except Yowzers it hurts. Finally late that afternoon I had had enough. I decided a quick trip to the Walk-In Clinic, where they would most definitely make me feel silly for coming in with heartburn, was a good idea. I did not know what was in-store for me.

Upon arriving to the clinic I was whisked into a room immediately. Because chest pains in a medical building means, 32-YEAR-OLD FEMALE IS HAVING A HEART ATTACK! I kept reassuring the nurses who were quickly stickering me with heart monitors that it was just a badass case of heartburn and I needed a stronger Rolaid. I did not fool them and the Dr promptly ordered an EKG. Seriously, an electrocardiogram – for my heartburn. To make matters worse, she pulled my jeans up towards my knees to place the EKG leads on my calves and I almost died. There they were….my dry, alligator like, scaly legs that had not seen a razor since sometime over last weekend and had not seen a dab of lotion in weeks. This is where my Mom’s rule applies. And although I had on clean underwear (thank God) these legs were an embarrassment. I quickly tried to explain to the lady that the winter air was rough on my skin and yada, yada, yada but you could see the judging all over her face. The shame. The golden Mom rule needs to be amended. Always wear clean underwear and always be sure that your bits and pieces are worthy of public viewing. I will never leave home without lotion again.

After the EKG and chest X-Ray were done the Dr came in and said she wanted me to head to the ER. You know, Emergency Room. Not really where one goes to treat heartburn. I again tried explaining to her that I was sure this was nothing and going to the ER seemed a little extreme. She went on to tell me she didn’t think I had heartburn at all, based on my symptoms. Apparently heartburn doesn’t only affect one side of the chest or hurt more with breathing or feel better when you push on your boob. Which, oh sweet Lord I couldn’t stop pushing on my boob. The Dr was concerned I had a Pulmonary Embolism, also known as PE or a blood clot in the lung for you medically challenged. I laughed (which hurt so bad I had to quickly grab at my boob) and said “Come on, how many healthy, 32 year old women actually get blood clots in their lungs?” She went on to explain women who had been on birth control for as long as I had been (which feels like forever) and had similar symptoms like mine. I would need a quick blood test (note: never use the words quick and ER in the same sentence) at the ER that would check me for certain blood markers that indicate the possibility of a blood clot. If it was negative I would be free to go. If positive, a CT scan would be needed to check for clots.

I head to the ER. I think it is completely insane that I need to go to the actual hospital, where people go for real live emergencies like child birth, heart attacks, cancer treatments and broken limbs, just to have another doctor run additional tests for a case of heartburn. But I go because the Dr quickly pulled the mom guilt trip on me. The “what if you don’t go and it is a blood clot and you drop dead and you have two small children you have left motherless” guilt trip. I am sure you know the one.

Upon arriving to the ER they treat me like my heart is going to explode any minute. I am rushed in, stickered all over with heart leads and an IV is started. I must have asked a million times if this was all really necessary and that I was only there for a “quick” blood test. Again quick and ER…hahaha, I am such a fool. It didn’t take me long to learn about the people in the curtain rooms around me. There was an elderly man two beds down who MUST have been dying by the way he was coughing. It was wet and hacking and I was instantly queasy by the sound of him. The hacking never stopped. He must have had a fur ball the size of Texas lodged in his throat. Poor guy.

The curtain room next to me was empty when I was brought in. That only lasted for about 10 minutes and then an ambulance brought a patient in. Now let me start by saying that everything I know about this patient I learned because her bed was parked so close to mine that I could have touched her. The thin curtain of privacy did nothing except keep me from actually seeing her (although my visualization skills are pretty good, thanks to Yoga, and I had an image of her instantly.) Her name was Ingrid, she was 82 and was sent in from her nursing home because her white blood cells were triple what they should be. Clearly an infection was running rampant within Ingrid and the nurses began their search. Did this hurt, did that hurt, fever..no. Vomitting..no (thank God) and this went on and on. Then they discovered it, and I smelled it at the very same moment. I can only imagine them pulling back her blankets to inspect her lower half (I can’t see her, remember) and it hit me. The smell of 100-year-old urine. I had to cover my nose with my sheet to avoid dry heaving – it was that bad. It was worse than cat pee on old carpet that had been rotting there for years. Poor Ingrid put the phrase “stinky pee” to SHAME. Apparently Ingrid had a catheter because she had a UTI. When the nurses asked her how long she’s had to have one she said a few months (I only wish you could hear Ingrid’s voice in this post. Old, and frail and shaky – very squeaky. The perfect old Granny voice.) They asked when was the last time she had it changed and this is when I died with the nurses – 3 WEEKS! It had been three weeks since Ingrid could recall anyone changing her catheter. Then my worst nightmare came true the words “Ingrid, we are going to have to change your catheter.” Did I mention that Ingrid and I were practically touching? That I could hear and SMELL every detail of this conversation. Where in the hell were my blood test results because I NEED TO LEAVE, NOW!

Then it started, the changing of the catheter. The odor was worse than I want to describe and the conversation went something like this: Ingrid: “Oh, you have such strong hands! You keep holding me with strong hands!” Nurse: “Ingrid, please keep your knees up and spread your legs.” Ingrid: “You are hurting me. What are you sticking in there?” Nurse: “I am so sorry, but please hold still so we can get this in right.” Ingrid: Repeat strong hands and hurting me comments. Nurse: Apologizing over and over. Doctor: “How is it going in here?” Nurse: “The catheter won’t work her pee is leaking out all around it. The old catheter had been in place for three weeks and when we removed it there were chunks in her urine.” Me: Dry-heaving noises. I think you get the point. About as fun as ramming my head into a brick wall. Please keep in mind the wet hacking cough guy is still choking on his fur ball two beds down. PLEASE HURRY BLOOD LAB PEOPLE!

Finally, Ingrid gets her catheter and moves on to complaining about how tight her blood pressure cuff is and my blood test results arrive. Bad news, test was positive and I need a CT scan. I need a very expensive test to rule out that I don’t have a blood clot in my lung and that I just have a badass case of heartburn. Why not? I didn’t really want to do anything fun with my tax return anyway…rack up the bill. So I have to have a pregnancy test before the CT scan because they obviously don’t believe me when I tell them I am not pregnant. They don’t believe my heartburn story; I am nowhere near convincing enough in my pregnancy denial. The preg test is negative, although the guy doing it did say something that sounded like “high pregnancy” and I did freak out for a minute. Because there was NO WAY I was going to have to listen to (and smell) Ingrid’s catheter story and find out I was pregnant in one day. God would not be so cruel.

After the CT I have to wait for about 45 minutes for the results. During this time, I leave my curtain room to find a restroom. While leaving my curtain I get a glimpse of Ingrid, laying in her bed so close to mine looking sad and alone with her bag full of pee. Then I passed the wet hacking cough guy only to see they have quarantined him and anyone entering his curtain room must dress in a gown, gloves and mask. I had to laugh. As if the curtain walls were really keeping his super-contagious germs, the one he was hacking all over, contained. I then felt bad for Ingrid that if she didn’t get out soon her UTI was going to turn into something much worse, thanks to her other neighbor. I was determined to pee, get my results and get the hell out of dodge before his germs made it to my curtain room.

The Dr comes in and tells me it’s good news and I don’t have a blood clot (as if I hadn’t been saying that for the last 4 hours!!) but the bad news was I had a good case of Pleurisy. Apparently Pleurisy is inflammation and fluid in the plural lining around the lungs in the chest cavity. She gave me a shot of Toradol, which I think is like a super-motrin, and released me. The Pleurisy could take days or weeks to improve and if it doesn’t then there is a chance I would need to have the fluid drained. With a needle. No thank you.

So they set me free, and remind me that I was wrong and that it wasn’t heartburn after all. I didn’t want to tell them I had been there for 4 hours, spent God only knows how much money, had to listen to and smell Ingrid and probably have been infected with a wet hacking cough and MY PAIN WAS STILL THE SAME AS WHEN I WALKED IN. Healthcare at it’s finest.

I am still in pain, although it is slightly better than it was then. I do feel sad for Ingrid because when I left she had no one with her. I was wondering where her children or grandchildren were or even another family member or friend. If I could have handled the smell and didn’t have to constantly hold my own boob, I would have stayed and held her hand. I hope she is feeling better and that she can pee catheter free soon.

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