It’s been a crazy few weeks and, unfortunately, not in a good way.
Three weeks ago, I suddenly got a bad neck and back muscle spasm. It hurt to move, turn my head, sit down, or get up. I’ve gotten these before. They usually appear in stressful situations and disappear in a day or so. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the pain continued for an entire week. Just when I would think it was gone, the pain would return and pain medication only helped a little. The pain would even spread down my arms. One night, the pain across my body kept me up so late that it triggered a late night panic attack. Still, as difficult as this was, it was nothing compared to the next event that turned our lives upside down.
Friday June 12th was my mother-in-law’s birthday. It was also the day when she was retiring. Needless to say, we went out with B’s parents for a celebratory dinner. We ordered our food and began talking, but B’s mother kept rubbing her upper chest area – just under her neck. She explained that her chest hurt bad. We were worried, but she assured us that she was fine. B began looking up some symptoms on Google while mom also noted that she felt sweaty. She thought it was indigestion and took some medication for that, but the pain just got worse. NHL, sitting next to her, was getting worried (as were the rest of us) and kept rubbing her back and asking if she was alright.
By the time the food came, she was pale and looked like she was going to pass out on her plate. We finally decided that she needed to go to the hospital. She tried to argue but we countered that we’d call 911 if she didn’t go immediately. Besides, we would rather she go to the hospital and have it turn out to be nothing than not go and have it turn out to be something! My father-in-law exited the booth, followed by NHL, and my mother-in-law slowly exited. (NHL kept trying to hurry her up so she could quickly get the help that she obviously needed.) My wife saw them out to their car while I sat at the table with the boys.
With their food served and their grandparents gone, the boys dug in. B came back but (for obvious reasons) didn’t feel like eating. I was worried but had the opposite reaction. When I’m worried, I stress eat. Even more, I wasn’t sure if we would need to run out of the restaurant so I gobbled my food down quickly. (Given that I eat quickly to begin with, that’s saying something.) We got B’s food and her parents’ food wrapped up to go, paid the bill, and hurried to the car. B went to see her mother in the ER while I took the kids home to get them ready for bed. That night, B didn’t get in until well after midnight.
The next morning, B went back to the hospital. By this point, we knew what was going on. My mother in law had had a heart attack. It was a mild one, but a mild heart attack is still a heart attack. We knew that she would be in the hospital for quite a few days as they observed her and ran tests. Those next days went by like a blur. B’s brother came into town to visit his mother. I kept the boys busy while B stayed by her mother’s side. The boys and I even visited mom in the hospital a few times. (Since they saw her looking so weak and sick during her heart attack, we knew it would be important for them to see her feeling better even if it was in a hospital bed.)
Finally, after some confirmation that her heart was alright, she was released on Tuesday. Of course, she’s still going to need to take it easy for a bit, but she’s already doing better.
There are a couple of lessons here. First of all, Dr. Google can often get a bad rap. Yes, looking up random symptoms can lead you to hypochondria or make you think you have some disease that you don’t have. However, it can also help you discover the symptoms of something serious when you would otherwise just write it off as nothing important. Secondly, heart attack symptoms in men differ from those in women. The classic "movie heart attack" is a guy clutching his chest, perhaps complaining of pain in his left arm, and then collapsing on the floor. The real life symptoms of a heart attack can include heartburn/indigestion, sweating, arm pain in either arm, toothache, and even general malaise. Knowing the real symptoms and getting help quickly can be the difference between life and death. Finally, never be too proud to seek help or write off your suffering as not important enough to get medical attention. Time can be a big determining factor in the outcome of heart attacks and many other medical issues. The quicker you get medical help, the better.
Once B’s mother was on the mend, you’d think that our lives could return to normal, but B developed a sinus infection and then an ear infection. The pain and the antibiotics took their toll on her. She’s still in pain and having trouble hearing out of one ear, but hopefully she is getting better.
After a month of medical issues, I’m ready for a nice, quiet, boring stretch. Stay safe, everyone.
NOTE: The "Heart ECG Logo" above is by juliobahar and is available from OpenClipArt.org.