This is a letter by a female ER nurse, explaining her personal heart attack experience, describing the symptoms to watch out for, and the things you need to do when experiencing a heart attack.
Heart Attacks and Women
I wanted to send this letter to my female friends, to tell them that it’s real that women rarely experience the same dramatic signs as men do when having a heart attack. I mean about the well-known warning symptoms like cold sweat, sudden stabbing in the chest, grabbing the chest, and falling on the ground as presented in the movies.
This April 2016, at about 10:30 p.m. I had a totally unexpected heart attack. I rehearsed with my Note-a-Belles for about 2 hours, and then after about 1 ½ hours, with no prior emotional trauma or exertion, I had a heart attack.
It was a cold evening, and I was sitting all warm and snuggly with my cat in my lap while reading a great story. I remember I was thinking “This is the life, all warm and cozy with my feet propped up”.
A few minutes later, I had a terrible feeling of ingestion, you know when you rush and grab a bite of sandwich followed by little water, making you feel like you have swallowed a golf ball and you feel it’s slowly moving down your esophagus. A most unpleasant feeling.
You regret not chewing it more thoroughly and gulping it so fast, so you think a glass of water will speed up its path toward the stomach, but it doesn’t. It causes you even more discomfort as your throat muscles and esophagus are in spasm so it hurts to swallow even though it’s water.
The Initial Sensations
This feeling of ingestion was my first sensation, but, the problem was that I hadn’t eaten anything for about 5 hours, since 5 p.m. The discomfort appeared to subside, but then I had a second sensation. I felt squeezing motions racing up my spine, which I think were spasms in my aorta, accelerating their speed while running up and down my breastbone (sternum). I continued feeling this sensation in my throat and then in both jaws.
And at that moment I realized I was experiencing a heart attack, as I knew the pain in the jaws is one of the warning signs. I said, “I think I’m experiencing a heart attack”.
I dumped the cat from my lap and lowered the footrest. I didn’t have much strength to make a step, so I fell to the floor. I thought that if I was experiencing a heart attack, I should not be able to walk to the phone in my next room to call for help, but if I don’t go, no one will know that I do need help. Waiting any more seconds might mean not being able to get up from the floor.
Calling For Help & Magnesium
I managed to stand up supporting myself on the chair and slowly walked into the room where the phone was and called the paramedics. They started asking me about my symptoms.
Without being afraid or hysterical, I calmly explained to her that I was having a heart attack since I felt pressure building under my breastbone and continuing into both jaws. She said to unbolt my front door if it was near to me and to lie down on the ground and wait for the paramedics who will come immediately.
I’m allergic to Aspirin so I didn’t take it. Instead, I took a 100mg magnesium oxide capsule that I keep on the kitchen counter, my kitchen being on the way to the front door. I took the capsule with about ¾ glass of water for a quicker dissolving in my bloodstream. As magnesium dissolves, it relaxes the blood vessels and expands them, letting the blood get through the vessel constructions.
I lay down on the ground next to the door and lost consciousness. I don’t know when the paramedics came, their examinations, or getting me into their ambulance. I remember I briefly woke up when we got there and saw the medics as well as the cardiologist in his surgical blues pulling my stretcher out of the vehicle.
The cardiologist was asking me some questions, most likely if I had taken any medication, but I couldn’t answer and lost consciousness once again. I woke up when the surgery was already done. The teeny angiogram was already threaded through my femoral artery, a balloon inserted in my aorta, and 2 side-by-side stents installed in my heart to keep my right coronary artery open. I was in the coronary care unit, lying on the bed and looking up at the anxious faces of Wendy, Mark, and Karen.
They have called my kids as they had my emergency info from the last time I was a patient at St. Jude, which was in 2002 when I received my TIA treatment. I was in 2 days in CCU, and then 2 more in the general ward, before being discharged.
You would think that all of my actions and thinking at home must have taken about half an hour before calling for help, but they took only 4-5 minutes, and my house is several minutes from St. Jude.
Be Aware of the Following Things
I work in Internal Medicine Clinics as a Certified Medical Back-Office Assistant and I have written my story with so many details to inform you of what I learned from my personal heart attack experience as a heart attack survivor. I helped myself because:
1. I was aware that something strange was happening in my body. I didn’t have the typical men’s heart attack symptoms but felt other strange things (until I felt that sensation in my sternum and jaws). Apparently, a lot of women die of their first heart attack, unlike men, by mistaking it for ingestion. They take some heartburn preparation, like Maalox, and go to sleep thinking they will wake up feeling much better…which doesn’t happen.
I strongly advise my women friends to call the paramedics whenever they notice some unpleasant change in their body, which doesn’t necessarily have to be ingestion. A false alarm visit is always better than risking your life by guessing what the cause of your discomfort is.
2. I called the Paramedics, and not tried to drive myself to the ER. Driving in such conditions can put you and others on the road in additional danger. Even if you are not the one who’s driving, some friend or family member, s/he will probably be all panicked and looking at you instead of the road most of the time. You might be even pulled over by the cops for speeding, and this is another wasted time. Also, don’t try to call your doctor, because s/he doesn’t know your address and doesn’t have the necessary equipment for a heart attack in his car. On the other hand, paramedics do, especially oxygen that heart attack patients require ASAP.
3. My normal cholesterol levels didn’t lead me to believe that I can’t have a heart attack. Even research shows that increased levels of cholesterol are not always the cause of heart attack (unless extremely high, and/or followed by hypertension).
Heart attacks are usually caused by long-term inflammation and stress in the body that deposit all kinds of deadly hormones in your system which sludge things up. Also, family genetics can play a part here. As for myself, I can say I was under long-term stress in 2005 and 2006.
What Every Woman Has To Know
- Not every MI symptom is a pain in the left arm. Pay attention to intense pain and pressure in the jawline and under the breastbone (sternum), and ingestion signs, especially if you haven’t consumed anything in the last couple of hours.
- During the course of a MI, you may never have the initial chest pain, but pressure or heaviness under the sternum.
- Other common symptoms are intense sweating and nausea, but not necessarily in women. Around 60 percent of those who experience a heart attack while asleep, never wake up.
- You might be even woken from a sound sleep if you have intense jaw pain. Be aware of this and be careful. The more you know, the more chances you have to survive.
One of my cardiologist friends told me that if everyone who reads my story shares it with at least 10 people, we can save at least one person!
Via American Mobile