Late Sunday evening, I went to bed not feeling well. I woke up in the middle of the night, in pain and still not feeling quite right. I was able to get back to sleep, but when I awakened in the morning, I was still in pain and feeling quite out of sorts. I had pain in my left shoulder and neck and I was feeling, well, wiped out. I was lethargic and slow and everything seemed to take more energy than usual. I usually leave for work before my wife is awake, but I shook her awake and suggested we take a trip to the emergency room. I described my symptoms to her and she agreed. She had been through this with me twice already and she knew the drill. At my age, when you feel like I felt, you go to the doctor immediately.
I was convinced I was having a heart attack. I had experienced two false alarms in the past and I was pretty sure this was the one. Chest pain? Check? Shoulder and neck pain? Check. Anxiety? Check? Labored breathing? Not too bad, but enough to count as a check.
I explain everything to the nurse at the check-in desk at the emergency room and they waste no time. I’m the only patient at that time of the morning and I am taken in immediately and blood is drawn. A lot of blood, or so it seemed at 6:30 in the morning. The nurses are doing their best to keep me calm and my wife is holding my hand. Like I said, I had been through this before, but it still didn’t make this trip any easier. Eventually, I am put in a wheelchair and taken in the back to a curtained cubicle where I am hooked up for an EKG and a machine that checks my vital signs every three seconds. There’s an IV in my arm and a thing clamped on my finger and I am told to relax. I get a round of chest X-rays.
Relaxing is the last thing I want to do. I’m scared. I have my iPhone, so naturally I connect to the wi-fi and start checking my symptoms online. About a dozen websites tell me I am definitely having a heart attack. Three tell me I am having something gastrointestinal. Two websites tell me I have a muscle disease common to horses in eastern Europe. The last one I checked said I was either pregnant or I needed an oil change. Apparently, those two links took me away from WebMD.
I eventually get to see the doctor, a friendly and kind woman who asks a couple of questions and then goes away. The nurse, a guy named Gary, comes back in and tells me the doctor wants me to get a CT scan, to check for blockages. I am thinking the doctor could have told me that when she was in the room, but I guess the doctor is supposed to ask me questions, formulate answers and then tell the nurse to tell me what she had to say. Gary had a look on his face that said “I coulda told you that without the doctor.” I was thinking pretty much the same thing. I spent five hours and 40 minutes with Gary and 20 minutes with the doctor. I don’t know the doctor’s name, but I know she had glasses.
I sat in the hospital bed, under a warm blanket. They took five more tubes of blood from me, and I can tell you it’s quite chilly when there is no blood left in your body. Eventually, a smiling woman named Annette came to get me for the CT scan. Another wheelchair ride to another room. In this room is a large tubular thing with a pillow and a blanket on a sliding tray. I was pretty sure I was still alive, and didn’t plan on getting on a slab so soon. Annette hooked something up to my IV and told me I’d be feeling kinda hot in a few minutes. I thought she meant sweaty hot, but in a few minutes I felt like I was the Thanksgiving turkey. Once the little timer popped out of me, Annette pulled me out of the machine and put me back in the wheelchair and sent me back to my wife in the cubicle.
Three hours later (my wife told me so, because after being drained of all my blood and baked at a low temperature, I took a nap), the results of the CT scan came back. I was fine. No blockages. My vitals were good, my heart was strong. I was able to go home. The moral of the story is this: when you don’t feel right and you are of a certain age, go to the doctor. My own doctor told me he would rather see me and it be nothing to worry about than for him to see me in the hospital after having a heart attack. I was told to follow up with my primary doctor for a referral to a GI specialist. I made the appointment as soon as I got home.
I scheduled it the same day as my oil change.
Contributing columnist and Baltimore native Joe Weaver is a husband, father, pawnbroker and gun collector. From his home in New Bern, he writes on the lighter side of family life.