I haven’t felt right in over a year. I’m scared, and I’m tired of it.
Last summer (around June 2010) I started experiencing episodes almost daily of pressure/light pain in my chest. Naturally, this came with (probably caused) other effects like difficulty breathing and general freaking out. I was 26 years old and had never experienced anything remotely like this. I could also sometimes when sitting around or especially when lying in bed feel what felt like my heart drop or some kind of a skipped beat in there. Again, this naturally freaked me out, causing anxiety and probably making things worse. This is a common theme with my problem, and one of the things I need sorted out. I was far from overweight (160 lbs) and exercised about 3 times a week cardio or weights, and have been running since I was 13. I tend to go through periods where I eat unhealthy easy food (I’m single) and other periods where I try to eat really healthy, though my weight has never fluctuated much. I was living in Mexico as an English teacher (doing my Hemingway a boss once said), and I was partying about every week, so naturally, this is still a prime suspect of mine.
During this time, my furtive research on the internet gave me a number of possibilities, including PVCs, heart attack, other arrhythmias, panic attacks, and a few others. I know I was acting paranoid about it, but goddarn it I had never felt MY HEART make funny movements before. Some days, my friends would convince me it would be ridiculous for me to be having heart problems at my age and that it was probably psychological, and certainly when I lay down at night and it was hard to keep my mind from being hyper-aware of my vitals, it was easier to feel such things. But then, other days, out of the blue, when thinking about something totally elsewise, I would feel a skipped beat and it would scare me.
Around this time, I was severely cutting back on partying, though I would still go out late and hold a beer. I didn’t want to explain to everyone I knew what was going on because quite frankly it was embarrassing, and even though I would probably get a positive response, I didn’t want the attention. Some friends knew, but even the typically cautious and responsible ones seemed to think it was probably more a problem in my head than a serious health concern.
So I continued to dally back and forth on it. Then, after one or two nights when I did try to get back to my life and went out drinking, I would feel better, but wake up the next day and feel progressively worse, of course.
Anyway, toward the end of November, I finally decided the problem wasn’t going away on its own, and I went to see a cardiologist. Again, I had been avoiding this for the embarrassment, my inexperience at 26, and because I literally had no money. Living in Mexico was a great experience and really helped my Spanish, but I never made more than 10k per year there. So, in order to do this, I would have to involve my dad, which is, again, an embarrassment factor and then it becomes a family issue etc. No, my job did not carry any kind of insurance. (I promise, all this detail is important to convey my mindset and my continued deliberation).
The cardiologist did a holter and told me I had a bradycardia of 55bpm with a minimum of 40bpm and a max of 95bpm. This cost my dad 400 dollars. Obviously the doctor wanted to do an echo test (like a sonogram I guess…this was mostly in Spanish). I debated it and decided I had to have it, so at a cost of another 700 dollars, I went to the hospital to get this test, and it came back all clear. So, I felt better, and over the next several weeks, my symptoms seemed to abate a bit.
Over time, my daytime panics stopped. The problem was that I always feel it when I lay down to sleep—something about the horizontal position and relaxing all my muscles around there and probably also the hyperawareness that sets in if I feel anything. Over the next few months the problem slowly changed too. I stopped having those scary PVC-like ‘stoppages’ and instead just experienced kind of a regular pressure—like a ‘tightness’ in my heart and in coming out of it, usually up toward my left shoulder. Also I worried about bradycardia and I checked my pulse if I felt these issues. A few times I caught it going what I thought was way too slow (maybe around 40bpm), but my dad said his used to be pretty slow when he was younger, and my sister’s is slow too.
But it was when I caught it going too fast, and I was having dull chest aches and pressure and couldn’t sleep again in March that I went back to the doctor, as he had said to come to him if I had any pain or anything changed. He did another holter, and this time, he found clear signs of a sinus pause. Another 400 dollars. He wanted to do another echo test (the sonogram). It would be another 700 dollars I didn’t have. I did some research online again, and decided against it at that time. I had hardly slept the night before and such things might be caused by combinations of sleeplessness, bad diet, stress, etc. Plus, I had just had one a few months before.
So, I tried pushing it to the back of my mind, and my final months in Mexico passed a little better.
I came back to the US in June, and had an experience here where I had chest pressure like before along with an elevated heart rate. I went to the urgent care facility where they eventually told me I was probably fine and after an ekg said that I did show some PVCs and should follow up with my general physician.
Which is where my current problem comes in. I just started a job here, but I will not have medical insurance on it for another nine months (and then it may be more expensive if they discover my history with this). Just when I think I am getting better, and I can get back to a normal life exercising and things (completely stopped with the partying a long time ago…don’t even drink caffeine anymore), something happens to raise the steaks. A month ago was in the kitchen preparing some food and talking to my father, honestly thinking about something totally unrelated to all of this, and I suddenly got extremely dizzy—more so than I have ever been. I think I almost passed out (not certain because I never had before). I had to hold the counter to stay up and I didn’t feel right for the rest of the day. Since that time, I have been worried again, and have not slept well. I was under a lot of stress at the time, but still, that isn’t normal.
All in all, I need to find out how much of this is anxiety, and how much could really be a problem.
No matter what the new discovery, I have been going back and forth on this like pong for over a year. I’m so sick of having nights where I am honestly not sure I’m going to wake up again followed weeks later by necessary feelings of ‘oh, **** it, if something is going to happen to me, it’s not worth worrying about. I’m alive and I’m young and the body is resilient.’ Some weeks I resolve to live how I want or die doing so, and I go back to exercising. Sometimes better sleep and fewer problems coincide with such a resurgence and other times, no. But then I’ll have a bad day and experience some symptoms (like my severe dizzy spell) that will send me right back into fear. I am sick of it. I am so sick of lying awake in bed for hours every single night. I can’t remember the last time I went to bed and just fell right asleep, short of already being beyond exhausted from the last few days of not sleeping much. Over the last year or so I have felt everything from ‘heart stops,’ fast pulse, slow pulse, sharp heart pain when breathing hard, or occasionally without, tightness of veins, panicky breathing, weak beats (when drifting off to sleep), twitchy veins, and other things. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to reassure myself that nothing is happening to me, that if this were part of a heart attack buildup or something it would have happened already. I’ve been around and around it all worrying in my head, and I don’t think it’s going to stop until either the doctors find something and fix it, or they do a thorough search, find nothing, and I go to a psychologist.
Yes, I know that this is an internet message board and that the correct answer is always to go see a real doctor. But please try to imagine my options here. This has been a long process where I have discovered from time to time that I might be exaggerating things, and that the situation is possibly not as life-threatening as I make it out to be. I have a tendency toward anxiety about this, but I used to be laid back. At the same time, what if that’s wrong. Some of these chest feelings I KNOW were not exaggerations. My dizzy spell was real, and out of the blue, and fits the profile of a worsening sinus pause.
So, in a realistic way, what do I do? The way I see it, I can either:
A) Wait 9 months for my medical insurance and go to the doctor then about this
B) Go to the doctor now and end up owing more money than I am going to make in five years and be uninsurable for the rest of my life
C) Possibly go back to Mexico and get medical treatment there. Yes, they DO have good doctors, and they are a lot cheaper than in the US, so if I am definitely going the pure cash route, this may be the way to go.
But if there isn’t much danger of my dying in the next 9 months, I should probably wait. What do I do? I just want to feel normal. I don’t want to not know if I am dying. And I don’t want another dizzy spell when I am, for instance, driving.