It’s probably not a heart attack, but if you are feeling very unwell along with your chest pain, call 9-1-1 (or whatever your emergency number may be).

Caution: if reading about chest pain gives you chest pain, you may want to skip this and go eat a bowl of fruit or something instead. Maybe oatmeal! Bon appetit!

You kids have consulted me about this often enough, it’s a good topic to clarify. Chest pains are scary, but in young people it’s very rarely anything as sinister as a heart attack. Panic is the prime suspect, along with its pal, heartburn.

The first time I had a heart attack, it wasn’t one. That was 37 years ago! Actually, if I had had a heart attack for every time I convinced myself I was having a heart attack, I’d be done by now.

The reasons that a person of any age could have chest pain are many, and only one of those reasons is a heart attack. It’s the first thing we think of because it’s the worst, or nearly so.

aching heart

Somebody could set that to music, not that it would be good, but it would be a thing to do.

♪   P is for Pericardiaaaaal Diseeeeeease / Nothing at which to sneeeeeze   ♫

I fancy myself a half-assed medical professional and I don’t know many of these. Pneumothorax, I know is a collapsed lung. Terrible! Don’t have that! Aortic dissection is also a terrible place! Don’t go there!

It was probably Tietzie’s Syndrome earlier this week. Not really.

It’s very humbling to wake up in pain and proceed immediately to panic pacing. I knew that I was only paying the price for eating like a garbage raccoon for four days. Still, knowing the logic of things has very little effect on full-blown panic. I imagined being encircled by all the mean nurses I have ever encountered while they clucked at what a baby I was about a little heartburn.

But it’s four a.m., I whined. This is unprecedented!

CheezIts and Champagne? Are you twelve? 

The nurses had me there, but it hurt. The pain radiated to one elbow and then receded and whooshed toward the opposite side until it reached my jaw. Whimpering, I used a spatula to pull the calcium carbonate from the back of the medicine cabinet. This was evidence of how long it had been since an episode of Good God What Did I Eat had run at our house.

I raised my arms overhead and the pains eased. Good. I’ll stay like this until my arms go numb. The pain reasserted itself, so I decided that meditating would be a good way to wait for the chemistry to do its thing. Nope. Sitting still just made me focus on how scary this was. I’m not afraid to die, but I’m afraid to feel like this. Be here now. Nope. If I’m going to the hospital, I should brush my teeth…

So for an hour or so, I played at getting ready to be an emergency. I took every antacid we had on hand, paced around the kitchen, unable to find a mantra other than terrible terrible.

Heartburn has occasionally caused me to run around the house, rather than pace. A person having a heart attack cannot run around, at least that’s my reasoning. Running around was not actually necessary, since I knew that I could do it, that was good enough. Every belch was a blessing.

I put on my most comfortable pajamas and tried to relax in bed while yerdad snored away, oblivious. Waking him would be admitting that I was ignoring the mental nurses and ready to go full blown baby. Not yet.

Had I done anything strenuous? No. Unusual stress? No, same old stress. Cheap bubbly was the villain.

Why don’t you just origami a pile of pepperoni into your nose? Those nurses are so mean.

By dawn, it was over. I was still alive, exhausted but very presentable. Yerdad was sympathetic and surprised he’d missed the whole near-death episode. Even after I felt better, I was pretty sure I was going to be taking a death nap.

Don’t be like me. I know by now that I have a talent for talking myself into the worst case; the humbling part was how easy it was to slip right back into that slippage. For all the practice I have pulling myself out, I have a little bit more getting into the dire mire.

Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help! Call me instead of your imaginary nurses, bother your friends instead of suffering by yourself with a spatula and a scary story. Okay? Okay!


Somehow this thing is selling steadily in the United Kingdom, so maybe you should read it too. It’s very few shillings: Book info!!

2 Replies to “Heartburn or heart attack?”

  1. I had the same problem develop when I was 40. I was away from home, living in a one-bedroom basement apartment (new job; family to follow). I was returning from visiting the in-laws and visited the Cape May ferry station. A storm was coming through, and the high winds buffeting the building and change in pressure sparked what I now know was an anxiety attack. Chest pains followed. I drove home, dithered about, wondered if I was going to collapse and be found weeks later in my concrete block tomb. Finally, I went to the ER. Saying “I think I might be having a heart attack” was a magic phrase for instant service. They hooked me up to the machines, which determined that I was still a healthy overweight 40-year-old, and the only way I’ll croak will be from dying from embarrassment.

    I have to give the medical staff credit. They didn’t seem to mind even after my abject apologies.

    (Cheezits and champers? You must be insane. Although my daughter passed through the room and said, “Don’t knock it.” leading me to wonder what she’s been doing lately.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for dropping by!!

      Excellent point about the instant service– I mentioned chest pains once when in the hospital and had the same response from the staff. I protested that it was probably BRA PAIN but they did their testing just the same. I guess it wouldn’t work if everybody did it, but hey, if you need to get their attention it’s a sure thing.

      I have a suspicion that whatever else gets us, we all die of embarrassment too.


Waddaya think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: