August 27, 2003

Scariest day of my life

Seriously. I'm fine now, but it was worrisome for a while there.

This morning, I initially got up around 8:30, chatted with Theresa on the phone for a few minutes and Sam in person for a few minutes; decided that despite plans to print out my thesis, I wanted the sleep more, and went back to bed. Felt totally fine, though, aside from being tired.

Got up again around 11:45. And... my chest felt tight when I breathed. Mild hypochondriac that I am, my first thought was "omg a heart attack!" before rational mind kicked in and said "no, 25-year-olds don't have heart attacks. Calm yourself. It's just some random thing, it'll go away." So I took my shower and, around 12:15, headed to the annual CS department picnic at Pembroke Field, a block away from the house I'm staying at.

On the way there, the chest pain was getting worse. It localised to the left side, and my inner hypochondriac was going nuts, but I told myself that not only was it probably nothing, if it were something, far better to be in a place with lots of people around. So I went on in.

As I got there, I talked briefly to Shriram and Kathi, leaning on a chair; I realised I was actually leaning on it for support, which was a little unnerving. After that I headed toward the food table and Jennet said hi, so I wandered over there, grabbed a soda, and sat down to talk, except that I didn't talk much and was kind of zoned out. This was when I broke out into a cold sweat all over; my autonomic nervous system was discovering that shallow breathing from the diaphragm hurt least, and was compensating accordingly. Genie picked up on my distraction, but I smiled and brushed it off. Maybe food would help.

I grabbed a cheeseburger and went and sat at yet another table to eat it. I didn't really want it, but I forced a bite, then another; the chest pain was getting slowly worse, and at some point I realised that even if this was not a heart attack, there was something desperately wrong and I needed some attention. I believe I said, "Something is wrong", while clutching my chest; Paul asked if I was nauseous, and I managed to say, "no, my chest hurts, and there's something really wrong." Speaking is hard when you can't breathe, y'see. Kevin Ingersoll was immediately on top of things, called over Mark Oribello who is an EMT (and volunteer fireman in Warren, RI). I guess this must have been about 12:45.

He started asking questions, like where it hurt, when it started, was I allergic to anything, and called Brown EMS right away. They arrived in maybe four or five minutes, and drove onto the field---my main thought at this point being, "how embarrassing", because a solid 80% of the students, faculty, and staff of the CS dept were there at this point. Someone at my table made a comment about it, wondering what it was there for; I said, "yeah, um, that's for me", eliciting an "OMG what's wrong???" But by this point Mark had relayed my condition in clipped medical terminology to the EMTs, who then got me on a gurney and rolled me into the back of the ambulance.

I was totally in serious pain at this point. Laying down, or even half-sitting up, was really not the optimal position for minimising the pain, not that I had other options, being belted onto the gurney. They did triage stuff for a few minutes, then carted me off to Miriam hospital. Among other things, they stuck an IV in me, which I was expecting---and I warned them I was desperately needlephobic, and that they should probably hold off on the IV until after they got my blood pressure---though not that it would take them three tries to get it in. Dammit. (They seemed impressed that I remained analytical enough to be making comments like that, though.) They also gave me three baby aspirin and a nitroglycerin pill---on this last, they were pretty sure it wasn't a heart attack, but if it were, that would have helped. (It didn't help.)

I got to the hospital and was checked in at 1:17 (that's what it said on the ER whiteboard that I could see from my room). A lot happened there, but most of it was me explaining about five different times what-all had happened; they gave me a dose of Toridol, which is a heavy-duty anti-inflammatory, and that seems to be the thing that really helped. After that I got an EKG and a chest X-ray, and by the time I was done with the X-ray it wasn't hurting at all.

The doctors (one a resident, one in charge) explained that honestly, they weren't sure exactly what it was---probably just an inflammation. My heart is fine and my lungs are fine. I'm on relatively high doses of ibuprofen for the next few days, but they both thought that even driving to Illinois on Friday shouldn't be a problem.

Since checking out of the hospital, I have walked around a little bit, and a two-block walk does bring the pain back (though on a smaller scale); resting and talking makes it go back down. When I walked back home, I took it really slow and it got only a tiny bit worse. The ibuprofen definitely makes a difference.

So in the end, I'm fine, though it was pretty scary. Calling the ambulance was definitely the right thing, and Kevin and Mark are definitely my heroes today for helping out.

The real moral of this story, though, is never let your health insurance lapse. Brown's health insurance ends on 15 August every year, and my insurance through Knox doesn't kick in until 1 September, so thank God I bought short-term coverage for this gap period I'm in right now. I took a $500 deductible, so it still won't be cheap, but it certainly won't break my bank, either. Whew.

"As a widespread phenomenon rather than a nuisance, piracy occurs when artificial restrictions in the market jack up prices beyond what people think are reasonable. The "regulation-enforcement-more regulation" strategy is a bottomless pit which continually recreates (on a larger scale) the problem it supposedly solves." --Eric Flint

Posted by blahedo at 7:54pm on 27 Aug 2003
Holy crap, dude, seriously. Also, good fricking thinking on the stopgap policy. Posted by Kimmitt at 8:46pm on 27 Aug 2003
So, when you went with the stopgap policy were you thinking of Mike's finger? Posted by lee at 1:15pm on 28 Aug 2003
Wow. Good thing you're okay. I'm also a hypochondriac (I get it from my dad; it's hereditary, y'know?), and that combined with all the stories I've heard (dad's an EMT), I probably would have gone to the hospital much, much earlier. Stomach pains still give me appendicitis fears, even though I am usually a rational human being. :-) Posted by Chris at 7:19pm on 28 Aug 2003
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