I’m a champion sleeper, but every now and then, insomnia finds its way to me. Sometimes, I do it to myself with an ill-advised afternoon coffee; sometimes, it’s just my turn. Have you found that insomnia heightens your senses? On the nights that I can’t sleep, I can hear the ice maker in the kitchen, I can hear the tick of every clock in the house, and I can hear the interest clinking on my student loans.
A couple of months ago, as insomnia released me from its clutches around 2am, I felt chest pain. I chalked it up to a new workout routine, kept my eyes clenched shut, and waited to drift off again. And then the pain moved into my arm, and I freaked out. What did my freak-out look like? I consulted Dr. Google.
Y’all. Consulting Dr. Google is the fastest way to convince yourself that you’re dying. The sites I found (WebMD, Mayo Clinic, WikiHow, etc.) all said the same thing: women’s heart attacks look and feel different from the “Hollywood heart attacks” we see in the media. All of the sites advised heading to the emergency room immediately if a woman experienced even two of the dozen or so symptoms they listed.
The rational part of my brain (and yes, sometimes it’s only the tiniest sliver) knew that I wasn’t having a heart attack. This is the conversation that I had with myself:
Rational me: It’s not a heart attack. You’re young and healthy.
Irrational me: Some of the women quoted on these sites were ten years younger than you when they had heart attacks. And you’ve only recently gotten healthy.
RM: I’ll wait until the morning.
IM: You might be dead in the morning, and then how stupid are you going to look? When they finally find your rotting corpse, which could take DAYS or even WEEKS, they’re also going to see that you did a Google search on heart attacks and that you had some idea you were having one but IGNORED it at YOUR PERIL. LITERALLY AT YOUR PERIL.
RM: Ok, but I’m not calling an ambulance and waking up the neighborhood with sirens and lights for what is probably nothing.
IM: I mean, I guess if you have a horrible car accident, at least there’ll be minimal traffic. Nobody will accuse you of being rude.
I drove myself to the free-standing emergency room closest to the house. The staff there was awesome. At no point did they treat me like the crazy person that I am. The intake nurse said that while heart attacks are rare in women my age, nobody should be cavalier about chest pain, and I did the right thing. They took my medical history, attached a tap to a vein in my right arm, hooked me up to an EKG, did a chest X-ray, and ran a lot of tests. Seven hours later, they discharged me with a diagnosis of not a heart attack and a referral to a cardiologist.
I had every intention of skipping the cardiologist visit, and then I called my sister to tell her what happened. My sister, who is in medical school, yelled at me and made me go to a cardiologist she knows well and respects. He hooked me up to an EKG, and then had me return a few weeks later for a stress test.
All I knew about stress tests before this incident was that they put you on a treadmill and make you walk until you can’t walk anymore. I am not an athlete, but I’m relatively young and healthy, and so I expected to be at the doctor’s office for a couple of hours in my workout clothes. Here’s what I learned about stress tests:
- Don’t bother wearing workout clothes above the waist. They hook you up to the EKG while you’re on the treadmill, and your sports bra (if you wear one) and your shirt will get in the way. You will be on the treadmill naked from the waist up but for a paper vest.
- Because they know you will be sweating, they use medical grade sandpaper and rubbing alcohol on your skin where they attach the electrodes. I scrubbed adhesive off my torso for five days.
- You do not get to pick the speed or intensity of walking on the treadmill. It starts out like a regular warmup, and then they increase the speed and incline at their discretion. I lasted less than ten minutes.
- If you’ve been following along, you’ll notice that this means I was running on the treadmill without a sports bra. No, I am not a busty woman. Yes, it was still uncomfortable.
The doctor’s office called me a few weeks later to confirm that I’m relatively young and healthy, and my heart is fine. Also, I found out my resting heart rate is 50, which rocks (normal is between 60 and 100). I guess I can thank Dr. Google for that much.