Working through a heart attack

The other morning I started feeling weird and not very good. I ignored it for several hours, but I kept feeling worse. I very recently started taking a new supplement for my migraines, and I realized that I hadn’t done very thorough research on its interactions with the other drugs I take. Maybe I shouldn’t actually take it… Thanks to socialized medicine, I can talk to a registered nurse or pharmacist whenever I want. My question, “could my supplement be causing my symptoms?” was ignored. Instead, they sent an ambulance.

I did not think there was an emergency. I could move around quite easily. I was a bit distracted by not feeling well, but by and large, I could do all my normal activities. I assumed I’d be sending the EMTs on their way likety-split. Instead, within a few moments of beginning the physical exam, they’d whisked me into the ambulance.

Bloodwork, tests, and thorough interviews followed in short order at the hospital. I left with paperwork for specialists with URGENT stamps all over it once they’d assured themselves that I wasn’t going to keel over on them right then.

This experience was illuminating for a few reasons. First, how migraine is treated in the ER and second, how different kinds of illness impact me.

Compared to times I’ve been to the ER with a migraine, there was basically no waiting once we arrived. Clearly, triaging makes sense – a potential heart attack patient always outweighs someone who has a migraine because the migraine patient is so much less likely to die right there in front of you. But sitting in a bright, loud waiting room for 6 hours with a very bad migraine after being in terrible pain for days on end? It’s nightmarish. ER doctors often ask why I waited so long to come in. Apart from the fact that the drugs themselves are quite unpleasant and carry serious risks, the barrier of the waiting room is often what keeps me away until things are truly dire.

I had a sky high heart rate and arrthymia and many very uncomfortable symptoms typically associated with heart failure. I was also well enough to work almost all day (as long as working didn’t involve walking very far…). The times I was sickest? After I had my blood drawn. (The ER phlebotamists were amazing, but I am a pansy.) I often feel very frustrated with myself for not working during mild migraines. The pain isn’t that bad! If I can watch Netflix, why can’t I watch a lecture? If I can read a novel, why can’t I read a paper? This experience reminded me that migraine is a special beast. First of all, the pain is that bad. Secondly, migraines are not just pain. It’s just not realistic to expect myself to be able to do complex intellectual work during a migraine on a regular basis.