Wednesday, November 04, 2009


I was in the process/hell of shoveling 5 yards of mulch, last fall, when I started to feel tightness in my chest. I stopped to catch my breath and found that it was short. A minute later I threw a few more shovel-fulls into the wheelbarrow to top it off. I bent my knees, grabbed the long wooden handles and dead-lifted the weight of the wheelbarrow. As I steered the mulch toward the front garden the left, I felt a sharp pinch in my left shoulder. I lost my grip on the left handle and it dropped from my hand, the metal container crashed to the ground spilling its contents all over the yard. My left arm and hand were numb. I could feel a tingling sensation in my funny bone area.

I did a quick mental check; chest pain, check, shortness of breath, check, numbness in my left arm, check. I did what any normal 38 year-old (this was last year) red blooded American would do in this situation, I went inside, drank a glass of water, sat on the couch and let the symptoms subside. I also did not tell my wife.

Two days later, while at work, I ran up two flights of steps two at a time. As I pulled on the stairwell door I could feel my left arm go numb and I felt a shooting pain emanate from my neck and chest. I returned to my desk, sat down and tied to wait out the pain. I was not short of breath this time but I could feel muscles in my chest close in around my lungs.

I thought to myself.

“I wonder if I am having a heart attack. I can’t be. I am only 38. But wait a minute there are people who have heart attacks who are even younger than me. I am having chest pain. Left arm, numb. I got pins and needles in my left pinky, is that a sign of a heart attack? Could be. I guess. No shortness of breath so that is a good sign. Hold on a sec, two days ago I was mulching, a heavy activity, and I started to feel this way. I just ran up some steps and I feel this way. Holy crap I am having a heart attack. Is this what angina feels like? Heh, heh, I said angina. Now that I just told myself I am having a heart attack I can feel my breath getting shorter. Wait a minute the pain in my arm is gone. Whew. Wait, now it is back. Try not to think about it. I wonder if someone in the office has Nitroglycerine tablets. How come Nitroglycerine tablets do not explode? Like in cartoons? Or is that TNT? Okay the pain in my arm is now gone but It still feels numb. I can hear my pulse. That is a good thing. That mean I have a pulse. But maybe that is a sign that my heart is working harder because it is under attack. My doctor did tell me I had high cholesterol. well not really high but elevated. Wow, now I can feel my back and shoulder blades cramping up. Okay maybe I am only having a panic attack. What are the symptoms of a panic attack? Let me Google it. S.y.s.m.t.o.m.s.o.f.p.a.n.i.c., Crap I spelled symptom wrong. Backspace. Backspace. Backspace. Backspace. Backspacebackspacebackspacebackspacebackspace. Backspace. Backspace. Backspace. Backspace. m p.t.o.m.s.o.f.p.a.n.i.c.a.t.t.a.c.k. Enter. I should have just used the mouse I don’t know why I always delete the entire sentence or word instead of highlighting the mista… and here we go. Let’s see, symptoms are kind of the same as a heart attack. But wait I have numbness in my arm. Oh numbness in arm is a sign of a panic attack. I need to call 911. No if I call 911 and it’s only a panic attack I would feel foolish ahving an ambulance wisk me away from work. But if I die at my desk of a myocardial infarction, heh heh infarction, I would feel foolish. Well actually I would be dead so I guess I would not feel foolish. I am sweating. I am starting to feel lightheaded. Breathe. Breathe. Deep breath. No good. Still have chest pain. If I die Lauren is going to be so pissed. Now I am getting tunnel vision. Getting hard to swallow. Great now I am having a heart attack AND a panic attack. Maybe it is a panic attack. What if it is a heart attack? Fuck.”

I called my doctor and explained what I was feeling. They told me to come in right away. The office that I go to trains new physicians. I never really see the same doctor twice. The person on-call was a young female who seemed pretty sharp. She hooked me up to an EKG and immediately ruled out a heart attack. I immediately felt 100 times better. We went over my symptoms again and again. She reprimanded me for not going to the ER over the weekend when I first experienced the chest pain

“But it wasn’t my heart.” I said.

“But you did not know that at the time.” She responded. “What if it was?”

“But it wasn’t.”

“Next time you should go to the ER. It is better to be safe than sorry.”

"But it wasn't"

"You are closer to the higher risk heart attack age than you think."

Ouch. That hurt.

I started to argue with her but a nurse entered the exam room and handed the doctor my chart. She flipped the file open and started to read my history. I could feel my face flush. She was reading about my last visit. We spent the next few minutes in silence. She closed the chart with a flourish and smiled at me.

“There is nothing in here to indicate that you would have any heart issues.” She said.

We talked about anxiety and she did some reflex tests. The doctor ruled out a panic attack although she did think I talked myself into some of the symptoms (stupid internet). She then suggested I see a specialist who handles Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. It sounded serious, but it wasn’t.

The Thoracic guy sent me to an x-ray guy. The x-ray guy sent me to an MRI person. The MRI Person sent me to a nerve conduction woman. The nerve conduction woman stuck 2 inch needles into the muscles up and down my neck shoulder and left arm and sent electricity through them. She then sent me back to my regular doctor.

The final diagnosis is herniated discs in my neck, C3, C4, C5. Now, if I ever do have a real heart attack I am just going to think it is a pain in the neck.


eclectic said...

I'm glad you didn't have a heart attack, but herniated disks can be awfully painful. Have you considered finding a chiropractor?

N said...

Don't see a chiropractor. Go to a D.O. if you need an omt ( osteopathic manipulative treatment- doctortalk for backcracking)

Melinda said...

Hope you are better now.

I love your angina and infarction hey, heys to yourself.
You are so silly!

Dan Creighton said...

Very well written as usual Bill. Love the ending.

Kristy said...

I always read...I've been reading for years. I rarely ever comment because I am not as witty as you and I'm very busy as a Master's student...I feel blessed if I can peruse and read in the time I have.

However....I'm glad this ended in a joke instead of something far far're a cool dude with a great family and I'm glad you will survive to joke another day.

p.s. since I'm here....the other day you posted a Halloween photo and I thought "wow I watched this man begin this family....check them out" The Internet is an amazing thing.

James said...

My wife would have killed me.

Anonymous said...

Only you could put that experience to words! Unbelievable! Good story! Sorry 'bout your neck. That is painful! Gets you out of household chores though. Doesn't it? A sailor went to C C C. to C what he could C. But all that he could C C C was the bottom of the deep blue C C C. Was it C3,4,and 5? Oh my!

SciFi Dad said...

I had similar experiences, except mine weren't brief (the pain would last for weeks). After a bunch of tests, it was determined to be physical manifestations of stress or anxiety (not "attacks" per se).

Scary shit though.

for a different kind of girl said...

I'm glad it wasn't a heart issue. One of my best friends died two weeks ago tonight of one. He was 44. Had it while working out, which seems ironic and wrong, but then top it with death, and yeah, awesome. Except not.

Hope you get the neck problems worked through, too. This getting older business? Too damn stressful.

MrsDoF said...

Wow, you must have good insurance to go through all those tests..!!! better to get a full workup, tho, but neck pain can be longlasting.

When my husband had chest pains in 1994 (he woulda been 37 then) we went to the ER. It turned out to be a hiatal hernia of his stomach.

The insurance company we had then declared since the diagnosis was not life threatening, no payments forthcoming. In fact, that company never paid for anything in three years, since we never met the high deductible.

Situations like yours are what all the lobbyists are shrugging about when it comes to reasonable medical needs.

DGB said...


Glad you're okay.

cat said...

Not to be over-dramatic, but I am SO glad you are (somewhat) okay! AND that this particular medical emergency didn't involve any "good vibrations" in your nether regions, because seriously, TMI?

But, let's be honest... we already KNEW you can be a huge pain in the neck.

teri said...

Nice, very nice.

Next time go the ER. Don't think about it, just go.

I hope you find relief with the neck.

Anonymous said...

You do have a cute angina.

Effie said...

I'm guessing Lauren is a tad upset with you for not telling her about it in the first place...

...herniated discs are never fun--hang in there!

Joyce said...

Great post. Sorry about all the medical crap and the herniated discs and all that, but still a great post.

James (SeattleDad) said...

Ha. I can totally see myself going through the exact sequence if something similar happened to me. I would assume that I woukd 'know' if it were a real Heart attack and brush it off as something else.

In other words. I hoope it doesn't happen because I have already reduced my survivability chances by at least 50%.

Glad you just had a pain in neck.

Anonymous said...

Holy crap dude. What a relief man... what a way to keep me hangin' in there to figure out what the heck was wrong with you!

Sheri said...

I am glad that this ended on a good note. I, like you, would have done the same thing. Internet, googled, caused more symptoms, etc., etc.!

JP said...

You did the right thing. Do not mess with that heart thingy. Even if you had something wrong, they can pretty much construct a new heart these days, so better to be safe than sorry. Welcome to the "middle" age!!

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

I might be a man after all. Last night I lay awake worrying about peripheral neuropathy. Then I got up and googled it. Then I decided I couldn't possibly have diabetes.
Still, your story scared me.