Probably the first time I legitimately thought I was having a heart attack happened during church about a week after I heard back from my doctor. More than any other time, I felt short of breath, pressure that felt like a weight on my chest along with other little stabs of pain. We didn’t even wait for church to end. I leaned over to Elly and said, “We need to go. I’ll explain on the way.”
So we picked up the kids from the nursery and headed to the car. After we got the kids buckled in, I told Elly, “Something doesn’t feel right. I need you to drive me to the ER.”
When we got to the ER, they checked me in very quickly and did another EKG almost immediately. They found the same thing the first EKG revealed—a right bundle branch blockage—and also like the first one, they found no signs my heart was in distress.
This was when I really began to understand the effects stress and anxiety can have on the body. While I had hoped that talking with my doctor would relieve my anxiety, it unfortunately didn’t help. Cardiology is not his specialty, so rather than try to give me a full explanation of my condition and test results, he referred me to a cardiologist. The thing that made it difficult was that they couldn’t get me an appointment until a month later. I obviously didn’t want to have to wait a full month to get any answers, but it didn’t seem like I had another option.
Looking back on it, I should have told myself, “Well, they don’t seem too worried about it. If they thought my life was in danger, they would have admitted me to the hospital. So why should I be worried?”
Unfortunately, my mind took the gloomier and worst-case-scenario view and I ended up worrying more. It was all that stress that landed me in the hospital just a few days later, and it wouldn’t be the last time either.
I had pretty much figured out after the first visit to the ER that anxiety can produce very real physical symptoms. So after that point, I tried to be more conscious of my anxiety in conjunction with my physical symptoms. Although most of the other physical symptoms went away after a short period of time, I persistently felt short of breath. Additionally, even though I figured my symptoms were stress-induced, I wanted to err on the safe side.
A couple weeks later we were in KC for my father in-law’s birthday when I began to feel a weird tingling feeling in my left arm, up into my jaw. This, being a symptom I hadn’t felt before, got the worry train rolling again. So again I paged my doctor, but got a different doctor on call. I gave her a brief history and explained what I was feeling and of course she recommended going to the ER just to be safe. (Remember what I said about going to the ER in Kansas City…)
Same song, third verse—right bundle branch blockage; heart wasn’t in distress. (As a side note, I felt the same symptoms again the following day shortly after taking a new allergy drug I had taken for the first time the day before. So apparently, it was just some side effect. So thank you very much Claritin-D. You owe me $1,000!—Ok, not really.)
At this point, I was getting pretty annoyed. Not having any answers (which none of the ER doctors could supply) was causing me tremendous anxiety that was very difficult to control. I finally called my doctor.
“I’ve been to the ER twice in the last 2 weeks because I don’t know what’s going on with my heart. Is there any way we can get my appointment with the cardiologist moved up?”
The best they could do was a week sooner, and I took it gladly.
When I finally met with the cardiologist, he was able to tell me more about my condition. He explained that a right bundle branch blockage is an electrical shortage on the right side of my heart. Under certain conditions, rather than my heart receiving one electrical signal to beat, it receives a burst of signals, which can cause the heart to beat very rapidly.
“Under what conditions?” I asked.
“Stress, fatigue, exhaustion, dehydration, excessive caffeine consumption…”
After he said that, I understood what had happened on the course. I was behind in a match play tournament, it was a very hot, sunny day and the only drinks I had had on the course were two caffeinated sports drinks.
I was nearly satisfied with that answer until I thought of another question, “so what did they see on the results of my myocardial perfusion scan that would cause them to say my results were only ‘slightly positive?’”
He didn’t know. So he went and looked at the results himself.
When he returned, he said that there was one tiny spot that showed up on the results, but he couldn’t say for sure what it was. Consequently, he recommended yet another test—a cardiac CT scan, which would reveal if there was any blockage in my heart or blood vessels. Not wanting to waste time, he scheduled it for the next day.
Like the other tests, I would have to wait for the results. It wasn’t easy. I called the cardiologist’s office several times over the following two weeks, each time receiving the same answer.
“No results yet.”
Finally I received a letter. My cardiologist wrote that he was “very encouraged” as the test revealed that I had no significant blockage. It wasn’t really specific, but I took it as good news, which brought me much relief and I finally felt like I could stop worrying about having a heart attack. The electrical issue was still something I would have to learn to manage, but it wasn’t life threatening.
What was so amazing to me was that despite the fact that most of my test results were positive, Satan could take such a small seed of doubt and turn it into a mountain of fear. It was a level of spiritual warfare that I had never dealt with before. And it revealed to me a big area of my faith that needed a lot of attention…
To Be Continued…