Dismissive Healthcare Cost Lives
I had a chest pain, and after my trauma dealing with hospitals earlier this year post Covid-19 (you can read about my struggles with healthcare and Long Covid here and here), I now have health anxiety, I was sure it was a sign of trouble but to avoid a pointless trip to ER just in case, I took some bepto, and found it went away… until the next night, when it came back way more severely. This time bepto did not help, nor did an Ativan (just in case it was anxiety). And then, as my left arm went numb, I quickly decided it was best to call an ambulance.
The wait was long but I had a nice doctor and nurse and felt well taken care of. They assured me the x-rays were clear and the bloodwork showed no escalation of Troponin, and felt that it was likely anxiety. I went home knowing I had an upcoming appointment with my doctor and felt things were okay. I mean, after all as the health care profession has declared repeatedly to me all year, I present as “young and healthy”.
So, when the morning after next, I suddenly awoke in a world of pain and unable to talk I found it hard to make the choice to go to hospital knowing I’d likely be sent home. I mean, I was so traumatized from being neglected earlier this year that I nearly made the really bad decision NOT to go to the hospital. But, I have lost two Aunts, both of whom died after being sent home from the ER. I couldn’t shake that thought, and opted to risk embarrassing myself by calling an ambulance again.
Instead of being ignored, I was admitted to cardiology for 4 days while they ran the generic tests, echo, stress, heart monitoring and 4 hour repeated vitals checks. They still couldn’t find anything wrong. By the fourth day they were convinced I’d had a panic attack, even as I begged them not to send me home, to please keep looking. But they managed to convince me I was wrong, that I didn’t in fact know my body and what my anxiety looked like. I gave in and agreed to speak to the psychiatrist. I got sent home with a prescription for anti-depressants.
I headed home, exhausted and dejected but also accepting, thank fuck it’s not my heart and if I do need help, I can woman up and accept that. The next day that my Mom and I head to pharmacy to get the new ‘script; it was then that I had the heart attack.
I almost passed out at the dollar tree, I was sweating, my chest was hurting, my left arm was tingling and numb, but hey, it was just a panic attack, right? We make our way home and throughout the day, the pain doesn’t stop. It comes and goes in waves and steadily gets worse. By 2am Mom decided we are driving to the hospital, and she stays there all night in the waiting room with me. Finally around 7 they start taking blood. I feel like I am dying, Mom notices the pain seems to come about every 25 minutes and lasts about 2 minutes, like contractions but doc assures me still, this looks like anxiety. After all, I am “young and healthy”.
Then, something happens, the ER doc decides suddenly to order another x-ray and second round of blood. The pain is bad, so bad I barely register when he comes back in and says, “Sometimes when a Doctor reads past notes it can leave a bias, this happened here and for that I am sorry, your bloodwork this second time shows an elevation in Troponin, and that absolutely cannot be excused by anxiety. You may have pericarditis; I am admitting you back to cardiology so we can run more tests.”
Later that day I find myself back in the same room I was in just days before; the Cardiologist visits and once again declares that he thinks it is just anxiety. I roll my eyes. At this point I know something is happening. I felt it. He says they will schedule an angiogram to be safe and to absolutely rule out the heart. It is the weekend, and they out-patient angiograms to a different hospital so I settle in for a couple of days while we wait.
Monday morning, I find myself transported to the other hospital. I read up on the procedure and prepared myself mentally. But I had no idea… a part of me hoped it would come out clear. But another part of me feared that. I feared not knowing and at this point, I wanted answers.
I was awake through the angiogram, so I heard everything as it transpired, though I didn’t really understand until they explained to me afterwards. One of my arteries had been 95% blocked, and I had a heart attack when a blood clot tried to pass through. They had ballooned and stented that artery.
It is lucky that I had been persistent and kept seeking care. It was lucky because they caught this fast enough that I lived and that there was little to no muscle damage.
I still have 3 more arteries that ar 40-50% blocked, and have to learn to live with coronary artery disease for my now lessened life span, but hey, I am alive.
The following day, back at the original hospital, the Cardiologist came up to my room to, in not so many words, apologize. As he went on to say it was a humbling experience for him and such and such, I couldn’t help but feel smug, but mostly I thought about my Aunts. If only they had been persistent, if only they had not been dismissed, they might both still be alive today.
There is a phrase that isn’t uttered nearly enough in Healthcare, “Treat the patient, not the labs”. Dismissive healthcare costs lives. There is a lot of great material circulating telling us, as patients, that we have a right to advocate for ourselves (especially women – who seem to be dismissed far more often than men) but the problem with that is, if we are sick (hence seeking medical care) we may not always be capable of doing that, and many of us do not have someone who can do it for us.
The solution needs to be with the medical care itself. Doctors cannot be hesitant to order tests because of lack of funding. That shit needs to stop. My life is more valuable than the price of an angiogram.