Did you know that mounting anxiety can cause esophageal spasms?
Picture that, if you wish, the small flap that keeps all things stomach-related down where they should be, spasming like a seizure in the middle of your chest.
(And I thought Cameron Diaz was being dramatic with her esophageal spasms in the movie The Holiday. They’re actually a real deal something. And it hurts like hell.)
And did you know that esophageal spasms can cause severe acid reflux that can mimic the same symptoms as a heart attack?
I didn’t know these things. I know now, though. Yep. And I’m as clear as a girl can be who was under the influence of Dilautid during the doctor’s explanation.
Yesterday morning, I had this most fierce burning in my chest. I mean, I’ve had heartburn before, when I was growing each of my children. But this was a stabbing burn that spread down to my stomach and radiated to my back.
I tried lots of things that should help. I drank water, water, water. I pounded a half-bottle of Tums. I lay down. I sat up. I reclined, half elevated. Nothing would make this fire inside me stop or even subside.
FYI: When you call the doctor and, with shallow breath and broken words, list symptoms of fierce chest pains radiating into your back, be ready to welcome the paramedics into your home in the next 9-12 minutes.
My bedroom filled with 6-8 men with their equipment. Oh, yes, I’ve seen this before.
They placed sticky probes in places I only know because today there are red welts to show they were there at all. They had me in an ambulance (stat!) and on our way to the hospital in an impressive amount of time. One paramedic shoveled a path a path through the snow with my son’s child-size yellow shovel.
I have learned before, in my hospitalized unconscious state, I ask people to take pictures of me. And that’s just all kinds of weird.
Yesterday, I also learned that I have very specific preferences of shoes and socks on my way out the door in an emergency. Gracious are the people (my mom) who recognize and honor my peccadilloes, odd as they are. Odd as I am.
Oh, and it turns out, I thank everyone. Obsessively.
In the ambulance, they tried four times to get an IV going. Four times with zero success. On came the tears. I don’t usually cry over an IV needle, but for crying out loud. I mean, really. (Apparently I have ‘rolly’ veins.)
I kept crying to them, “Did you get it? Did you get it this time?”
“We’re sorry, Tricia. We need to try one more time.” And another time after that.
I began to picture the sweet faces I had sent to school just an hour before. God, please let me be okay. And if you can swing it, let me be fixed and at home before the end of their school day. These silent prayers, the vivid images of their faces and their worries, brought a wave of tears entirely separate from the incessant probing into my hand.
The paramedic finally gave up, chose to leave the IV to the hospital staff, bandaged my bleeding hands, and said, “I don’t have any Kleenex, but I can give you this.” He placed a handful of gauze bandages into the palm of my hand so I could dry my tears.
Except my arms were belted down for safety in the vehicle. So, thanks for the thought, but mascara will continue to flow into my ears until my arms are freed – or my mom is nearby.
In the ER, they ran test after test. EKG. Bloodwork. Ultrasounds. Heart. Lungs. Gallbladder. Liver. What is going on in this girl?
Several hours later, we learned what I wrote above: esophageal spasms from extreme emotional trauma, severe acid reflux that mimics a heart attack.
The nurse said, “Tricia, for every single thought you have, your body gives a physiological response. Every single thought. Your subconscious mind can process 40,000 bits of information per second, while your conscious mind can process 40 per second, and your body is responding to all of these. Is there an emotional trauma you’re dealing with?”
“You need to take every thought captive. If your mind starts repeating like a broken record, scratch the record and start over. Break the thought patterns, and you can change your physiology. And remember, worry is only a prayer for something you don’t want.”
He was kind and gracious. Attentive and responsive. And he took out the IV with almost no pain to the patient.
And in God’s goodness, I made it back home before the boys finished their school day.
All the tests proved one very affirming fact: my heart is okay.
Broken, but okay.