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As bad as I hate to say it, I have suffered a panic attack once or twice in the past. Needless to say, I didn’t like it. I was familiar with the feeling of helplessness and anxiety, the racing heart, and that adrenalin-fueled desperate need to fight or fly that marked a panic attack.
I don’t think this was it, but I’m not so naïve to fail to note the similarities.
I thought I was dying. Trying to take deep, calming breaths, I sat on the couch in the living room and tried to take control. My breathing was shallow and difficult – like it was the first time – but my heart beat so quickly that my fingers began to turn red and when I tried to pick up my phone, I was unable to operate it.
I dropped the phone and sat for some time, doing nothing but taking controlling breaths, as long and deep as I could. When I had control of my hands, I picked up the phone and called my doctor. I left a message about my condition and asked for someone to call me back.
I hung up and still sat there. Taking those controlling breaths, I realized I should call 911.
I didn’t. Just about the moment I’d decided I needed to do it, I couldn’t. Oddly, I focused on the realization that I had managed to grab a few little bite-sized chunks of control, and I held onto that. It seems to me that the moment I realized that I held some control, my heart slowed just a bit.
I knew that if I called 911, I would lose control. I’d be on their schedule, I’d have to get them in the gate, and go with them in their bus, and do whatever they wanted me to. And, speaking with complete honesty, I didn’t think I’d survive that.
I needed that control.
I called my girlfriend at work and told her what was happening. I asked her to get here as soon as she could, but safely.
She did. Knowing that she was coming gave me a bit more control. Very slowly and deliberately, I took the meds I was scheduled to take a bit later. I put the pill bottles in a zip bag, grabbed the clipboard with the pertinent medical information on it, and even let the dog out to handle his early-morning business. I put on my shoes and waited.
My girl picked me up and got me to the emergency room very quickly. I sat in the passenger seat and took those breaths and tried to ignore the rapid beating.
I survived, but I’m guessing you already knew that. The staff at the hospital was tremendous. They got me triaged and in to see someone in about a minute. I grew calm and my heart slowed down. By the time I was laying in bed with all the little various wires and whatnot attached, by beats per minute were down to 94 – which is almost 40 points lower than the last time they’d checked it with an EKG.
I was exhausted, freaked out, emotional… and my heart was beating better than it had since this whole thing had begun.
My girl was as frazzled as I, if not more. I may have been the guy in bed, but she was the one sitting there next to me, asking good questions of the doctors and putting things in perspective.
We went home that night, and I had orders to stay mellow over the weekend. My doctor called the next day to tweak my meds and reminded me that I had an appointment to see the cardiologist.
The emergency room doctor had given me some shocking, but wonderful news. The cardiologist had a different take on things… but it was still good.
Next time: The Good, the Bad, and the Unimportant.
Read "Heart Sick" here.
Read "Heart Sick Pt. 2: Pills, Pills, and More Pills" here.