Because the pain felt like a severe case of heartburn, like a burning sensation, I'd even drink milk, have a lot of water, and take acid reflux medicine to ease the sensation, but none of those remedies worked. Sometimes during these episodes, the left side of my arm would tingle and start to feel weak.
I figured my hectic life that was causing the pain. But I didn't ignore it; I made an appointment with my primary care physician. Thing is, when you schedule a doctor's appointment, you don't always get in right away. So by the time my scheduled visit came, I wasn't experiencing chest pain at that exact time.
It was hard for the doctor to determine what was going on because in his eyes I looked completely normal. I did my best to describe the pain severity and frequency. "Well, you're a single parent. You're working full time. It's most likely anxiety," he said.
I explained to my manager I wasn't feeling well and that I'd be taking the day off. All along I've been told that these chest pains were no big deal, so I thought I could use the day to just take it easy and let the feeling pass. But it was the height of the pandemic, and my manager said that since I work with patients, I had to get tested for COVID-19 before returning to work the next day.
I called my brother and asked if he could drive me to a testing site and watch the kids while I was inside. And truly, I don't remember anything after that phone call to him. I don't remember him coming to get me; I don't remember him driving back and forth between different hospitals as he got the runaround for where to go for the COVID-19 testing. I was awake, but I was incoherent.
As my brother was driving to the correct COVID-19 testing hospital, he looked in his backseat and saw that I was losing consciousness. At this point he ditched the COVID-19 test and took me to the emergency room instead. He wasn't allowed in due to COVID-19 protocols, so he dropped me off, gave the staff his phone number, and told them to call him when I was ready to be picked up. He thought it'd be a quick visit, assuming that I was having an anxiety attack just like the doctors have been saying for the past few months.
So when six hours passed and there was still no call for him to pick me upâ€”and no response from me to any of the texts he had been sending meâ€”my brother got through to a doctor. "We need a verbal consent over the phone to perform surgery or she won't make it through the night," the doctor told my brother.
I had apparently had a massive heart attack and was now in heart failure, meaning my heart wasn't pumping blood as well as it should. Doctors aren't sure why this all happened: I don't have a family history of heart disease, and I don't have risk factors like a history of smoking or being overweight.
Waking up in the hospital
I don't recall anything about my time in the emergency room. But later I found out that they were going to discharge me with a diagnosis of an anxiety attack. Then someoneâ€”I'm not sure whoâ€”walked by my bed, saw how I looked, and told doctors that they didn't think I was having an anxiety attack. I was sent to the catheterization lab, where they did tests on my heart and discovered that I'd had a massive heart attack, and the left side of my heart was in heart failure.
I had a blockage in my left ventricle. My ejection fraction, which is a measurement that tells how much blood the heart pumps, was less than 15%â€” severely below the heart's normal pumping ability range of 55% to 70%.
To get my pumping ability up, they implanted a left-ventricular assist device, or an LVAD, during my open-heart surgery. The device helps my heart pump blood to the rest of my body. I still have it, and I carry the pump's control unit and battery in a backpack that I now wear every day.
After my surgery, I didn't regain consciousness until the middle of May. When I woke up, one of the first things I looked for was my computer so I could log on for nursing school. I hadn't yet known what had happened to me; I didn't realize I'd missed out on the last two months of nursing school. Then I heard one nurse tell another nurse that the 30-year-old woman in the bed came in with chest pains and had a massive heart attack. I still had a tube down my throat, so I couldn't talk to ask her what she meantâ€”She can't be talking about me, I thought.
A long road to recovery
My recovery wasn't easy. The heart failure cut back the normal blood flow to my kidneys, so my kidneys began shutting down. To get my kidneys functioning, I was put on dialysis, a treatment that helps remove and prevent a buildup of waste, salt, and extra water. I was on dialysis for two or three weeks, and the process was taxing, lasting from morning until the afternoon.
Still, I know I shouldn't have reached this point. When something is wrong, you want people to listen. I'm hurt that I wasn't believed, written off as having anxiety. If I would've been listened to, maybe my heart issues could have been caught sooner, and I would have avoided this altogether. Closer analysis and further intervention might have meant getting to the bottom of all this earlier, possibly preventing what I went through. Still, I don't blame anybodyâ€”everyone is human and can miss things.
There are two people who I know God put into my life to save me. One is the person who walked by my hospital bed and insisted I get further testing. The other is my manager. Had she not required that COVID-19 test, I would have stayed home waiting for my chest pain pass, as usual. Plenty of times prior, my dad would ask if I wanted to go to the emergency room during one of my chest pain episodes. I would turn him down, saying why bother if I'd just get sent home again. I am grateful, and I'm blessed.