woman-clenching-chest

This is the story of an ER nurse who wants everyone to know how different a woman’s heart attack can be from a man’s experience. 

She almost waited until it was too late to call 9-1-1. She had to be resuscitated in the ambulance and woke up realizing that what she thought was indigestion, was actually a heart attack. This is her story:

I had a heart attack at about 10:30 PM with NO prior exertion, NO prior emotional trauma that one would suspect might have brought it on. I was sitting all snugly & warm on a cold evening, with my purring cat in my lap, reading an interesting story my friend sent me, and actually thinking, ‘A-A-h, this is the life, all cozy and warm in my soft, cushy Lazy Boy with my feet propped up…

Then Everything Changed

A moment later, I felt that awful sensation of indigestion, like when you’ve been in a hurry and grabbed a bite of sandwich, washed it down with a dash of water. Suddenly that hurried small bite feels more like you swallowed a golf ball. It moves down the throat in slow motion and it’s burning all the way down.

You suddenly realize that you shouldn’t have gulped it down so fast. You scold yourself for not chewing it more thoroughly and vow that next time you’ll drink a full glass of water to smooth the journey to the stomach.  I didn’t know that I was having a heart attack, I thought it was indigestion, the only trouble was that I hadn’t taken a bite of anything since for 5 hours. Oh no!

It’s Not Indigestion

Once the indigestion subsided, the next sensation I felt was little squeezing motions in my back that seemed to be racing up my SPINE. I later figured out that it was most likely referred pain from the aorta and other large vessels that bring blood to and from the heart. Then the squeezing pain raced up into the middle of my chest.

I kind of experienced all of this in a bit of amazed detachment. The squeezing pain then continued up into my throat and branched out into my jaw. Oh my God, I thought, It’s not indigestion, I wasn’t confused anymore, once the pain hit my jaw, I realized that it could be a heart attack.

I said aloud to myself and the cat, ‘Dear God, I think I’m having a heart attack.’  

Getting Help

I lowered the footrest of the Lazy Boy, dislodging my cat, started to take a step and promptly fell on the floor instead. I thought to myself, ‘If this is a heart attack, I shouldn’t be walking into the next room where the phone is, but, on the other hand, if I don’t, nobody will know that I need help. What to do? If I wait any longer, I may not be able to get up.’

I pulled myself up, stumbled slowly into the next room and dialed 9-1-1.  I told the operator that I thought I was having a heart attack because of the pressure in my chest and jaw. I didn’t feel worried or scared, I just stated the facts and then did as I was told. She asked me to try to get to the front door, unlock it and then lie down on the floor where they could see me when they came in.

Waiting for the Paramedics

I unlocked the door and then remember lying down on the floor as instructed. I don’t remember anything else until just before they wheeled me into surgery. Afterward, I learned that the Paramedics found me, put me on a gurney into a waiting ambulance and sped me to the ER. My heart stopped in the ambulance and they had to shock me back. When the ambulance arrived, an interventional cardiologist was already waiting. I remember seeing a doctor in blue scrubs and a cap asking me questions, but I don’t remember anything that was said until I woke up in the ICU later.

My Angiogram and Stents

I learned that they did a cardiac catheterization and threaded a tiny balloon up my femoral artery into the tiny coronary arteries and placed 2 stents to open up 2 of my blocked coronary arteries.

Why Have I Shared All of This?

I included all of the detail of my heart attack because I want everyone to know what I learned first-hand:

  1. Be aware that something very different is happening in your body and these are not the usual men’s symptoms but your body is trying to tell you something, so pay attention.
  1. It is said that many more women than men die of their first (and last) heart attack because they didn’t know they were having one and commonly mistake it as indigestion, take some Maalox or other anti-heartburn preparation and go to bed, hoping they’ll feel better in the morning when they wake up …… which unfortunately doesn’t always happen.
  1. Ok friends, your symptoms might not be exactly like mine, so I advise you to call 9-1-1 if ANYTHING unpleasant is happening that you’ve not felt before. It is better to have a false alarm trip to the ER than to risk your life guessing what it might be!
  2. Note that I said, ‘Call 9-1-1.’ 
  1. And, TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE!   Do NOT try to drive yourself to the ER – you are a hazard to others on the road.
  1. Do NOT have your panicked husband, neighbor or friend drive you. They will be speeding and looking anxiously at what’s happening with you instead of the road.
  1. Do NOT call your doctor, he or she doesn’t know where you live. If this happens at night, you’ll be on hold forever!  Just call 9-1-1. Did I mention to call 9-1-1?
  1. Remember, EMTs and Paramedics know what they’re doing and can save your life as they did mine.
  1. Don’t assume that you couldn’t possibly be having a heart attack because you have a normal cholesterol or normal blood pressure.
  1. Don’t assume it’s indigestion or heartburn. 

A cardiologist said that if everyone who reads this post forwards it to at least 10 people, you can be sure that we’ll save at least one life.

Did You Know

Women rarely have the same dramatic symptoms that men have when experiencing a heart attack. You may be expecting the sudden stabbing pain in the chest, the cold sweat, someone grabbing their chest and dropping to the floor. These are the images that we see in the movies. 

But for women, everything may be different. Read my post: Is This a Heart Attack? for more information.

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