“What brings you in today?” A physician in dark grey scrubs sat in a chair, holding his iPad and stylus, eager to obtain the necessary information.
“I’ve been having a lot of chest pain lately.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. I know you’ve already been through the initial triage with the nurse and you’ve already had your blood drawn. I’m just waiting on those results. Can you tell me a little bit about your chest pain?”
“It feels heavy and deep. Right here.” I pointed to the center of my chest.
“Hmm. When did it start?” He was a fast typer.
“About 2 weeks ago.”
“Does the pain go anywhere?”
“Do you have any other symptoms with it, like shortness of breath, headache, vision changes, stomach pain, sweating, numbness/tingling, anything at all?”
“I’m just tired.” His questions were making me more tired.
“Ok. And when you first arrived, you mentioned that your pain was about a 9/10 and we gave you some medication to help with the pain while we drew bloodwork and started the work up. What would you rate your pain now?”
“About a 7/10.”
“Ok, good. So the medication helped a bit.”
“Yes, it did. Thank you.” I mustered a small smile.
“So your EKG is slightly abnormal but you don’t have any past medical history of any heart disease so we’re going to have to keep you here a bit longer to make sure your heart is all clear. I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
“Well, what do you think is going on?”
“The first thing is to make sure it’s not a heart attack. If it’s not that, then you can go home and follow-up with your primary care doctor and he or she will figure out the rest.” He smiled at me.
“Oh, I see.” He seemed young. Naive. Happy. Life hadn’t hit him hard yet.
“I’ll be back in a few minutes to check on you.” He folded the iPad in its cover, tucked the stylus in his scrub shirt, and quickly skirted out of the exam room.
I looked at the small tv in the top corner of the room, not caring that it was on mute. As I watched an old episode of Breaking Bad, I inhaled the scent of lemon scented antiseptic, I clutched the warm blankets on the bed, and listened to the rhythmic beeping of the machines behind me.
Then it came, like a thief in the night. The heaviness. The pain. In the middle of my chest. Seeping deeper and deeper, filling my heart, expanding into my chest, and filling my lungs. I massaged my chest with one hand and reached for the nurse button with the other.
I felt the sweat drip down the small of my back as I clenched my fingers down on the nurse button and watched the red button glow bright.
I whimpered a small cry and leaned back into the pillow behind me.
And as quickly as it came and as quickly as the nurses arrived, it left. It felt good to breathe again.
“Honey, are you all right?” She rubbed my back as I sat up on the side of the bed.
“I’m not sure. It hurt and it was hard to breathe for a few seconds.” I rubbed my chest, hard to believe that the chest pain was actually there just moments ago, overtaking me.
“Well, your vitals are looking OK right now but they did spike for a sec. I’ll get the doc, love.” She waved at one of the nurses to follow her as she walked out.
I felt dumb. Maybe it was all in my head. I should be stronger. The hospital should be for real emergencies. People are dying every day and I’ve come in here for some random chest pain that comes and goes. I shook my head and laid back down to continue lip reading Breaking Bad.
“Hey, Mrs. Scott. I was told that you had another chest pain episode just now?” Mr. grey scrubs had returned with his iPad in hand.
“Yes, I did.”
“Ok, we have Cardiology on board and they’re going to do a full work-up here with a stress test and echocardiogram to figure out what’s going on but I wanted to ask another question.”
“You mentioned this started about 2 weeks ago. Anything change within the last 2-3 weeks? New medications? New foods? New activity? Anything that you can think of that may have instigated this?”
I couldn’t hold it in any longer. The tears came flooding. I sobbed, then cried, then wailed. I buried my face into the blanket and cried like a child who lost their puppy in the neighborhood.
“Mrs. Scott? I have some Kleenex and a bottle of water for you.”
I looked up and he was now sitting on the bed next to me with those items in hand.
“I buried my son.”
He set the items down on the end table and gently placed his hand on top of mine.
“I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine what it’s like to bury your child but I did bury my brother last year and I know that’s a void you can’t fill.”
I sniffled, reached for a Kleenex, and looked up at the ceiling, embarrassed to think that this young man was naive of the harshness of the world.
“It is very possible that you have Takutsubo’s Cardiomyopathy. It’s a heart condition, more common in women, that occurs in extreme grief. It can mimic a heart attack and even show some EKG changes. I’ve seen it before.” His eyes swelled. He paused and looked away for a second. “My mom experienced it last year. She took my brother’s loss pretty hard and ended up in the hospital for chest pain as well.”
“Is there a cure?” I sniffled.
“First, let’s get you cleared by Cardiology and make sure it’s not something else. But, you do have a broken heart and your grief is overwhelming. And I’m sorry. I will pray for you. I’ll pray for your peace. I’ll also refer for you some grief counseling. Just take it one day at a time and although your void will never be filled, you will find God’s peace and the ability to continue living.”
“Thank you.” I grasped his hand and looked into his baby blue eyes, also filled with tears.
He nodded his head, patted my hand, folded up his iPad, and left the exam room.
I wrote this blog in honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, since Takutsubo’s Cardiomyopathy was named after a Japanese cardiovascular specialist in 1990. I also wanted to write this in honor of Mother’s Day, for all of the mom’s out there who have lost a child, whether it be physically or emotionally. The struggle is real. The heartbreak is real. But as the Bible tells us in Isaiah 9:6, Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Seek him in your void, and he will provide the peace you seek.