Posted on February 25, 2016 at 6:00 am
My chest was pounding so fast and hard, as if my heart was going to bust through my rib cage and explode. I felt woozy and was glad to be on my way home, I just wanted to lay down, close my eyes, rest…suddenly the jolt of my car hitting the guard rail shook me awake. I had passed out while driving! I put the car in park and had the presence of mind to turn on the flashers.
“Are you okay?” the knock on the window was the driver who had been behind me.
“Yeah, I think I passed out and went off the road,” I slurred, half answering him and half still processing what happened.
“You were going slower and slower, I wondered what was going on,” he replied. This total stranger chatted with me for a few minutes, waving other cars by. “I passed out like that once, just before a migraine. Are you okay now?” He asked.
“Yeah, I’m okay,” I lied. “I’m headed home to rest.”
Foolishly, I put the car in drive and forced myself to stay conscious the remaining 3 miles to get home. Once home, I almost blacked out again. I called my health insurance provider to ask what I should do. They transferred my call, and I was put on hold twice before they finally suggested I go to the emergency room. By this time, my husband had arrived home and he drove me to Valley Hospital, where I passed out again. After an evaluation, I was in an ambulance and headed to one of the larger hospitals in Spokane for a heart procedure and what would become one of the worst weeks of my life.
So why didn’t I go straight to the hospital? Why did I call my health insurance first? Because my heart had raced like this before. At that time, I went to the ER and followed up with a cardiologist, who told me I was okay, and my heart racing wasn’t going to hurt me.
Yep. That happened.
First let me say that I’m extremely blessed that I, or anyone else, wasn’t hurt that day I got behind the wheel. I am also thankful for that stranger who stopped to check on me. I have much gratitude for the emergency room staff at Valley Hospital, the ambulance team, and all the medical personnel who attended to my care on that warm day last summer.
Less than a year before that summer day, the medical staff who had seen to my care the first time I went to the emergency room had been just as wonderful. I had experienced extreme heart palpitations at that time as well, but didn’t pass out. I was referred to a cardiologist, who ran all the tests: heart monitors, CT scans, ultrasound, MRI, etc. The diagnosis is an “electrical” issue that causes my heart to randomly speed up to 180+ beats per minute several times a day.
This scared the crap out of me. But I was assured by the doctor that it wasn’t hurting me or my heart. No medication prescribed. No follow-up necessary.
Still, in my heart (pun intended) I knew something wasn’t right. I’m not medically trained and I trust that my doctors know what they are doing. However in hindsight, I should have trusted my instinct and gotten a second opinion. Another opinion may have known that one day my heart wouldn’t be able to recover and return to a regular heartbeat after a speedy episode. It may have prevented the brush with disaster in the car.
That first cardiologist I went to left Spokane for another practice a few months before the day I passed out. He may or may not have been right in how he handled my case. I will probably never know. I do know that he did request all those tests and those results were readily available, and helpful, in assessing my second emergency room visit last summer. For that, I’m thankful.
Even though heart disease didn’t run in my family, it does now. These days, I’m taking care of my heart. I put my best effort into eating right, getting some exercise, keeping blood pressure in check, and trying out relaxation techniques. And, from now on, I will listen to my heart, both figuratively and literally.
I share this story as February is American Heart Month. A month with new meaning to me. I hope by sharing this heart story that you may take time to consider your own heart this and every February. Don’t take it for granted, take care of your heart.