6 Signs You Have NOT Had A Heart Attack

How many times over the last 10 years have you received e-mail forwards from well-intentioned  friends where the subject line reads something along the lines of  “5 Signs of a Heart Attack” or “3 Signs of a Stroke”?     Presumably these friends are trying to help you out in a sort of mutual recognition that medical malfunctions are becoming more of a possibility –  but in reality, if you are the one having the heart attack or stroke, you need the OTHER person to be recognizing the signs and symptoms because you’ll be too preoccupied actually experiencing them.   So when you forward these kinds of e-mails, just bear in mind that you are really serving your own self-interest rather than your friendship when you hit the “Send” button.

I know this for a fact because I happened to have what I thought was a legitimate heart attack recently when I was in the company of my 21-year-old son Nick and a young woman at my school, both of whom had never received these e-mails.   Consequently they didn’t know to ask me if I felt lightheaded, was short of breath, felt nauseous or dizzy,  or had pain in my arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach.

Instead, they looked aghast when I interrupted their conversation to announce, “I think I’m having a heart attack.”   And they asked me if I wanted them to call 911.  But you want to be the follower, not the leader, when you think you are having a heart attack, and this is why we should send these forwards to people who are only halfway2MiddleAge instead of to people who are halfway2dead.

Because trust me, when it feels like the middle of your chest is slowly but surely being compressed to the size of a cashew by some malicious unseen force,  you don’t need to read an e-mail or be a cardiologist to come to the conclusion that you might be having a heart attack.   Your mind hits the “Abort” button on whatever you happened to be thinking about at the time and it races straight to “Uh-Oh!  Heart Attack Happening Here” all of its own accord  — despite your  intense willing for the pain to just stop because the timing is inconvenient.  We were on the cusp of a 4-day Fourth of July weekend.

What would have been infinitely more helpful to me would have been an e-mail forward on the subject of “The Difference Between an Esophageal Spasm and a Heart Attack”  because it turned out I was having the former and not the latter.   And it turns out that the symptoms of an esophageal spasm are fairly identical to those of a heart attack.

When I was in the throes of my phantom heart attack, however, all I could think was, “I need aspirin”  because I’ve seen those commercials on TV where people claim their lives were saved by aspirin.   Because of these commercials,  I made a special non-multi-tasking trip to the store to buy aspirin.    There is no downside in believing that a cheap bottle of aspirin can save your life whereas I am still skeptical that a duck or a gecko knows more about insurance than my dear Christine does.  The aspirin, however, was at home in my one purse, and my heart attack was happening at school with a different purse.  This kills me because I am not purse person.

The main piece of wisdom gleaned from this portion of my misadventure is:  ALWAYS carry aspirin on you just in case you have a heart attack when you’re around young people,  because young people just don’t understand aspirin.   They have Tylenol, Motrin, Advil, Aleve, marijuana and Vicodin, but you might as well be asking if they have an anvil when you ask if they have any aspirin.

Now a hop, skip and a jump later,   I was in my school’s Student Health Center.   Here I learned another lesson.   Unless you want to end up in the hospital, just ask for aspirin without explaining yourself.   Don’t say, “Could I please have a couple of aspirin because I feel like I just had a heart attack….”    There are no take-backs on “I feel like I just had a heart attack.”   Just as you can’t go out and catch errant nuclear missiles with a butterfly net, so too can you not say, “No, no, no…..I just want some aspirin – not the  entire Emergency Medical System.”

So along with the aspirin, I got 4 handsome, young firemen-paramedics, an ambulance trip to the hospital and an overnight stay there.   Unlike everyone else who complains about their hospital stay,  I thought it was great.  I felt like I’d spent the night in a top-of-the-line Motel 6, and sometimes — if you’ve ever gone on an intentional “No Plans!” long-distance driving trip –  there is nothing better than a Motel 6.  The hospital upgrade includes an Ambien, which they don’t leave on your pillow at a Motel 6.   Consequently I barely remember being awakened throughout the night for various medical measurements.   And no alarm clock woke me up in the morning, so I slept longer than I ever sleep at home.   They served me breakfast in bed and you can’t screw up yogurt.  Since I didn’t have a roommate,  I was the boss of the TV clicker.     The only thing I wished was that I had my book with me.

But at a certain point I was just ready to go home  because I was painfully aware – unlike the rest of the vast medical team – that I was a fraud.   I knew I had not had a heart attack.   How did I know?   Here are some of the signs that you have not had a heart attack:

1.   You know you have not had a heart attack if, when a team of four handsome, young firemen/paramedics crowd their way into your miniature Student Health Center examining room and ask you to unbutton your blouse so they can attach the EKG stick-ons, your first thought is not, “Oh thank God!   The paramedics are here!”  but instead is, “Oh God!   What bra did I wear?”

2.  You know you have not had a heart attack if, when a team of four handsome, young firemen/paramedics crowd their way into your  miniature Student Health Center examining room and Mr. Main Paramedic asks you to unfasten your bra to attach the EKG stick-on’s ,  your first thought is not,  “I wonder if the EKG will show I’ve had a heart attack?”   but instead is, “When did my abs get so flabby?”

3.   You know you have not had a heart attack when, as you are being rolled into the hospital on a gurney and the place is packed with visitors and nurses and aides and doctors, you think to yourself, “I look healthier than all of these people put together.”

4.  You know you have not had a heart attack when your base-line thought throughout the entire medical episode is not, “Thank God I survived!” but instead is, “Thank God I shaved this morning!”

5.   You know you have not had a heart attack when every time a person enters your  emergency room cubicle, you hear in your head the sound of  a cash-register going “ching-ching.”

6.  You know you have not had a heart attack when, presented with a bill for prepayment of your co-pay by a cherub-faced admissions intern, your only thought is, “For this amount of money, I better have had a heart attack.”

But I didn’t have a heart attack.   I was admitted for an overnight stay because my EKG was abnormal, but it turns out that my normal is actually abnormal – if that makes sense to you.    It does to me.  I went in with heart attack symptoms and ended up with an accurate personality diagnosis.  Go figure.

—– Marci Crestani


3 Comments on “6 Signs You Have NOT Had A Heart Attack”

  1. hekatz says:

    Are you now going to be sending out emails that list the symptoms of an esophageal spasm? Otherwise, I could use an email that lists the effects of losing estrogen. I blame that for everything. So glad you survived your trip to the hospital. That is no small feat!

  2. Lisa says:

    This is just too funny. And familiar. I found your blog post by searching ‘how to tell the difference between esophageal spasms and heart attack’.


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