Heart Attack False Alarm

I thought I was having a heart attack on Saturday night. There is only one thing worse than thinking that you’re having a heart attack and that’s having a heart attack. Just guessing.

It might have been the fried calamari that I devoured at The Libra Room where I was earlier in the evening. Or the three drinks. Or just general anxiety, but I was woken up out of a sound sleep with a feeling of congestion that moved to full blown pressure and pain right in the middle of my chest. There were no other symptoms. I tossed and turned. Surely it would go away. I was freezing. It was getting stronger. I waited 15 then 20 minutes. I became really alarmed. The clock said 1:49 am. But, that wasn’t right. I’d forgot to rewind an hour in honour of daylight savings. I got into a yoga pose on my bed. Maybe that would help. Why would I think that?

I got up. I paced. I pushed my hands against the middle of my chest. I picked up the phone. Should I? Shouldn’t I? I put the phone down. I picked up the phone again. Female. Over 50. Sedentary. Women’s heart attacks unique. The script was running in my head. Would I rather be dead or proven wrong in my self diagnosis?

I can’t stand going to the doctor, let alone calling an ambulance. I picked up the phone one more time. Do you know how hard it is to call an ambulance for yourself?

Police? Fire? Ambulance?


For which city?

New West!

“Do you have any baby aspirin?” asked the woman on the phone. She sounded a little frightened.

How would I get them to her? I thought.

Nope. Tylenol. Ibruprofen. Will those do?

“No. Stay on the line. Don’t hang up. If something changes, let me know. The fire truck’s coming.”

Holy mother of Mary. Firemen? In my apartment? Would you look at yourself? I have firemen coming into my messy apartment while I’m wearing checkered flannel pajama bottoms. That should have been the first clue that I wasn’t actually having a heart attack. I suspect people who are having a full blown heart attack aren’t especially concerned with fashion.

I managed to buzz them in and answered the door. First words out of my mouth? “I’m sorry.” It didn’t matter that I might be having a heart attack.  I’m still Canadian. We have a reputation to uphold. Let’s get the apology out up front and quickly.

They got right to work. Shortly after arriving, more people came in. It was like a party. I’m not sure I’ve had so many good looking guys in my apartment at one time. No, I’m positive. I haven’t. The advanced care paramedic unit arrived next. Crikey! I knew I should have shaved my legs. A guy is sticking those white tabs on me that hooks me up to a portable EKG machine. I’m beyond humiliation at this point.

Their leader, a woman, is barking questions at me. I don’t know about you but as someone who pretty much exists mainly above the neck, when people ask urgent questions about where you feel it and how it feels, I have to think about it for just a minute. I’m not so in tune with my body that I can answer that definitively and quickly while under stress. It might as well have been calculus.

Finally a third team, the regular paramedics, show up. They’re taking me to the hospital. I ask them if I can get dressed. They cart me off. It’s practically empty in there. I’m seated almost on top of a guy who’s lying on a stretcher in a neck brace. I’m so close to him I’m almost breathing on his forehead. I imagine the warm rush of garlic from the calamari I’d eaten earlier wafting over him. They take me to the waiting area. It’s uncharacteristically empty.

“This shouldn’t take too long,” said the paramedic. Famous last words. Right up there with “I’ll call you.” I wait and I wait. The waiting room was empty. A nurse comes in and takes my blood pressure. Takes my temperature. A woman with incredible skin does another EKG. The nurse comes back and hands me a jar to pee in and two wipes. I look at those packages. What are those for? Are those for me? Have they no toilet paper? Why do they think I’ll know what to do with these? I wipe the jar with them.

“The doctor won’t be too long,” says the nurse.

I wait and I wait. An hour passes.

“I think he’s in trauma,” she says. So am I, I think to myself.

Another hour passes.

“Actually, I just saw him in front of a computer,” she says. Another 20 minutes pass.

Finally, I just get up. “Maybe I’ll just leave,” I say to the nurses. “False alarm,” I say.

“It’s up to you,” says the one with the long black hair. “I can’t tell you exactly how long he’ll be. He’s the only one on right now.” I look again at the empty waiting room.

Another 30 minutes passes. I was torn then. I felt like I was on the phone with Telus or Rogers or maybe Shaw. I was trapped. I didn’t want to hang up. I didn’t want to lose my place in line. Maybe hospitals need that callback feature. I went back to my chair. Pulled on my coat. Leaned against the wall. Closed my eyes.

Where else would this happen? Could you ever go to a restaurant and have them look at you, size you up, and not bother to serve you because, well, look at you, you’re not starving. You can wait. Look at that guy over there. He’s only 110 pounds. He’s emaciated. Nope. That would never happen.

I mean, I have great sympathy for hospital workers but there’s a limit. Where was the doctor? Was he having sex in a supply room? Was he napping? Was he playing that popular video game, Metal Gear?

Yes. I get it. I wasn’t an emergency after all. Sorry to disappoint. I’m not going to heaven or hell tonight. Thankfully, I won’t be forced to witness my entire life flash before my eyes. Still, I’d rather not sit in a grungy waiting room at 3:00 am, especially when it seemed like a slow night. Was there a whole other ward hidden to me that was lined to the rafters with puking, cancerous, heart attack, super bug degenerating Canadians on their deathbeds?

Finally, a guy walks in. I can’t stop staring at his shiny bald head. I wonder if he’s actually just pretending to be a doctor. He asks me a few questions, the kind he could have easily stolen from Grey’s Anatomy. He pushes on my stomach and says something about gall bladder. Ultrasound. Wait here for a piece of paper. He’s gone.

When I finally leave, the nurses say goodbye to me in unison as if I’m a relative leaving on a long trip and they’re WestJet flight attendants. I walk home. A homeless guy approaches me. It’s now about 5:00 am.

“Do you know what time it is?” he asks.

I think it’s about 3:30, I tell him in  my disorientation.

“No way. It can’t be that early,” says the poor guy, thinking he’s can’t possibly have five more hours of aimless wandering before he can grab a coffee.

And you know what I really think? I think he may be right.  I think it may be later than we all think.


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  3. Good grief, Gayle! I’m so glad you’re okay. I’m so proud of you for calling for help and for going to the hospital. You were like Spike Lee – you did the right thing.

    I don’t think it was the calamari – I bet it was the pita bread. It’s tooooo leaden. I wouldn’t be surprised if it gave you some kind of esophageal spasm.

    Be gentle with yourself for a little while and give yourself HUGE kudos for seeking help. Big hugs.

    1. Laughing. Thanks Jo-Anne. Just for the record, I didn’t have pita bread. Well, even if I am Canadian, I’d rather be alive than no bother to anyone. Good to know that when you think you’re having a heart attack, they’re on it! 🙂 Have a great day.

  4. I am sorry Gayle, but I almost died laughing while reading the story of your maybe-near-death-experience! And then I thought “Have we not been here before????” In heart-attack alley?
    Please write me a list of steps to be taken when this issue comes up so that I can deal with it should it happen at TIgh -Na-Mara. Oh, have I ever told you how much I go to pieces in an emergency….?

    1. Have we not been here before? Well, you have, but I haven’t. Ask Bob what we should do? Make sure the cell phone remains charged at all times. That’s my advice. And, yes, I do know that you’re probably not the person I want with me when I’m possibly having a heart attack (not that I should joke about such things). Let’s see who would that be?

      1. This reply is a bit late – I’ve just revisited your page. Yes, I am sure there was an earlier similar heart attack possibility you shared with me … Am I thinking of someone else. Not to worry, you are now fine, thank God!

  5. What an experience. So was it gallstones? Last December I woke up with a really bad pain across my chest and that was determined to be the problem. Ultimately the stones I have are really tiny and are not considered a problem. They’re only a problem if they get stuck in the duct, which must have happened temporarily but somehow they got pushed out. I’ve been told that eating fatty foods can contribute to this. Maybe it was the calamari? Anyway I hope you’re none the worse for it and you’ve got subsequent advice from your doctor.

    1. Hi Christine, I don’t know. I haven’t called the number yet. It was scary though. It sure felt like the beginnings of what I imagine a heart attack would feel like. I need to get a doctor. I don’t even have one. I think it was the calamari as well.

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