“I rolled my wheelchair over to the bookcase and pulled down the battered medical encyclopedia that I’d had for years. The book was maddeningly vague. It could have been anything, or nothing.”
This story was written in the seventies, so it pre-dates the internet as we know it, specifically, WebMD.
Several years ago, I started having a sharp pain in my chest, on the left side. It was the oddest, most startling sensation. The best way I’ve found to describe it is: it was as if someone was taking a large toenail clipper and snipping inside my chest. My heartbeat wasn’t irregular, I didn’t feel any lumps in my breast, and I could breathe just fine. So what the hell could it be?
I shrugged it off. Maybe I had pinched a nerve. But it would happen even if I hadn’t moved. Just SNIP! sharp pain, suddenly, without warming. I couldn’t even place it. Was it in my breast? In my muscle? Lungs? Heart? I didn’t know.
After a while of this, without it getting better, I went to my doctor. I told him it would come & go, different times of day, non-related to times of particular stress. He did all of the typical in-office tests: listened to my heart, my lungs, checked for lumps … but he found nothing either.
He prescribed more tests. In the lab.
A few hours later, I was having an echo-cardiograph done. This only amped up whatever anxiety I may have already been feeling. See, as kids, we all got echos done. We got echos done because we discovered that my sister had Marfan’s Syndrome, a genetic disease that, well, long story short, it effs with your aorta. Guys, it’s decidedly un-good. At the time, the doctors gave us other siblings the all-clear, but here I was in another sterile room with another lab coated woman slathering gel on my boobs and rubbing a metal balled mouse-looking thing over me while I could hear the steady whoosh-whoosh of my heartbeat amplified and on the screen.
The smell of the gel had gotten better, but unfortunately, it was still cold as hell on my skin.
Tests were inconclusive. In other words, no one could figure out what the hell was going on with me, so my doctor prescribed me acid-reflux medicine.
Nope, wasn’t acid-reflux.
He prescribed me anti-anxiety medication.
Nope, wasn’t panic attacks (i’ve had those; they feel much, much different), but hey, thanks for the Valium.
After a while, the pains lessened until they just went away.
Until they came back.
It had been months. Then, without warning, BAM! snip snip snip. This time, they were more frequent and more painful.
I got seriously freaked out, so I consulted the internet.
We know the road well, don’t we? You put in your symptoms – in this case, moderate, sharp, sudden pains on the left side of my chest – & you get a list of possible causes. Except when you enter moderate, sharp, sudden pains on the left side of my chest, there is a big red box that pops up, telling you to seek help at your local Emergency Room immediately.
Do not pass Go; do not collect $200.
So. Hell. I walked the three blocks to the closest hospital, told ‘em I had chest pains.
I felt a fool.
They don’t mess around, but I could sense that while they were doing their jobs (chest pain = VIP treatment), they were also kinda like, “Bitch be exaggerating.” I got every test you could possibly do, save a colonoscopy, pretty much. EKG, MRI, other tests that involve letters…. The scariest portion of the whole night was when they thought it was a blood clot, given that I was a woman over thirty who was on the pill. So they Xrayed or whatevered my legs, too.
Several - several - hours later, they sent me home with nothing but a personalized plastic bracelet and an enormous medical bill.
To this day, I still have no idea what causes the pains. Right now, they’re latent / in remission / not snip-snip-snipping my goddamn chest, but who knows when they’ll show up next.
So I can’t even imagine what it must have been like for poor Astronaut Arthur here, with his big medical book and itchy hands and HOLY CRAP WTF IS GOING ON?!