“Doc, last week, I thought I was having a stroke. My vision went from wavy to black then came back slowly. I just thought I would mention it while I’m here.”
“Doc, last Sunday I had severe chest pain. I thought I was having a heart attack. It lasted 2 hours and then went away. I’ve been achy and have not felt right since.”
“Doc, for the last few months I’ve noticed blood in my stool. Sometimes it turns the water red. Should I be worried?”
I’ve heard some form of the above statements on a regular basis and I was always amazed that my patients respond to such potentially life-threatening symptoms in so nonchalant a manner. While they obviously survived to tell their story, many don’t.
Unfortunately, people die at home while pondering the question, “Am I having a stroke, heart attack or gastrointestinal bleed.” Their loved ones find them slumped over the kitchen table or lying on the floor. Others are found in time, only to end up in a nursing home or as a cardiac cripple. It’s the sad truth.
There is a golden period in which to salvage heart and brain from the ravages of stroke and heart attack, a time to stop the bleeding before you exsanguinate. Why do people wait at home, pondering such an important question? Sometimes, it’s simply denial. “I exercise every day. It can’t be my heart! No one in my family has ever had a heart attack.” Sometimes patients tell me, “I didn’t call because I didn’t want to bother you,” or “I felt foolish. I was just being a nervous ninny.” There are dozens of excuses for not acting on their concerns.
“I figured I would wait a while and see what happened,” is my favorite. I want to respond with, “That’s a great idea! Wait to see if you can lose your ability to speak, start dropping things or simply die with extreme chest pain.” Yes, waiting to see what happens is a gamble. It’s like rolling the dice. Sooner or later, you crap out!
If you are alone and think you are having a heart attack, stroke, or start to hemorrhage, dial 911 while you can. If you wait too long, dialing the phone may become an impossibility. What have you got to lose? Afraid you’ll look foolish by calling 911 when it’s really nothing? Don’t be! Be happy you are alive!
Doc to spouse of patient currently fighting for his life in the ER – “Why didn’t you call the paramedics?”
Spouse – He/she said “If you call the paramedics, I will never speak to you again!”
Doctor – “Didn’t it dawn on you that if he/she dies, he/she would never speak to you again?”
I can’t count how many times a loved one has told me that they did not call 911 because of the above statement. Remember my answer and if your stubborn spouse gives you trouble, ignore them. Call for help. If he/she lives and never speaks to you again, at least they are alive.
By the way, in my experience, 7 out of 10 times your intuition is accurate. If you think you could be in trouble, you are! As I always like to say, the life you save may be your own. Be happy and “Wellthy!”