An ER visit (I’m OK!) — and lessons for women


By Caitlin Kelly


I awoke this morning at 4:40 a.m, feeling like my chest was being crushed.

I sat up in bed, trying to focus on whether this was a heart attack, knowing that symptoms are very different for women than men, and because of that often overlooked or ignored.

I had never had one, but knew to pay close attention to my body’s signals.


These include:


shortness of breath



pain in chest, jaw, back, shoulder and arm

cold sweat

light headedness


I felt light headed and, although there is no history of heart disease in my family, I’ve been taking a low dose of cholesterol medication daily for a few years.

We have health insurance and a very good regional hospital that I know far too well from multiple orthopedic surgeries since the year 2000, only a 10 minute drive from home.

The roads were empty at 5:00 a.m. so my husband got me there fast and theΒ  emergency room luckily, had only one other patient in their 30 rooms.

I was quickly given an EKG, X-ray and had four vials of blood taken. The nurse put in an IV line in case (as I did need) they would need to take more blood later.

The pain subsided and within a few hours, thankfully, I was pain-free, if exhausted.

I learned a lot.

If it had been (thank heaven it was not!) a heart attack, specific proteins like troponin-1 are released into the bloodstream as heart cells die. The first blood test showed I was probably fine, but the second one needed to be taken six hours after my symptoms — i.e. I arrived at the hospital by 5:00 a.m. but had to wait there til 11:00 for the second set of blood samples to be taken and results read and shared with me.

I also learned that if it had been a heart attack, I would have been sent to another larger hospital for the insertion of a stent.

I also learned that many people present at the ER thinking, like I did, they were having a heart attack but it was — as we think it was for me — a very bad case of acid reflux, an esophageal spasm. (Very unusually, I had eaten a very small snack at 11:15 the night before. Normally, I know better, and don’t eat anything later than 8:00 p.m. now.)


We are very lucky:

— we have good health insurance, so few fear of surprise huge bills for this treatment; we’ll see

— it’s a very good hospital, created by the Rockefellers who live a 10-minute drive east

— we didn’t need the cost of an ambulance (which, we hope, would have been covered); our town has a volunteer ambulance squad as well.

— my treatment was quick, respectful and detailed.

— the hospital was recently renovated so the ER, which we knew too well from a few broken fingers and my husband’s biking concussion, was very different from a few years ago. Now it’s attractive and very comfortable; I was a bit stunned to have a TV screen in the room with me. Each room had an internal privacy curtain and a sliding glass door and an overhead light that didn’t glare into my eyes.

It was so American — each room had a glass plaque by the door with the name(s) of the donors who gave the funds for it.

But I’m grateful as hell for their generosity.


If you’re female, please memorize these symptoms — and make sure your partner/spouse and/or family know them as well.


They’re easy to ignore or dismiss.



44 thoughts on “An ER visit (I’m OK!) — and lessons for women

  1. I am very glad to hear you were ok. Having a heart attack is a serious problem. I come from a long history of heart disease. Even, R.I.P my dog Sophie. But, I have suffered from Acid Reflux all my life, so I know the pain you felt. So, take care of yourself, and again glad you are ok.

  2. Good for you for not ignoring any symptoms! I went to the ER the day before Thanksgiving due to acid reflux. I figured it could be that, but I wasn’t going to chance it and ignore any type of chest pain or discomfort. I was there from 9 am until 4 pm. Two EKGs, six vials a blood, a chest x-ray and a stress test. All turned out fine. I was also lucky because our local hospital offers financial aid or free care if you fall under a certain amount of income. For once, I qualified. I wasn’t on the cusp like I usually am. Obviously, I don’t take advantage of it, but it’s nice to know that I have good health care within five minutes of where I live.

    1. Thank heaven!

      And I’m so glad you’re OK — and that you didn’t hesitate to get to the ER. I think many tend to dismiss the milder symptoms, but we didn’t.

      I will be visiting a cardiologist this week to follow up and get the stress test. I think it can be surprising how much blood they need to take!

      1. Definitely get the stress test. As they told me at the ER, the EKG tells half of the story. Once I had my stress test done and I learned my results were fine, my health anxiety disappeared.

  3. Robert Lerose


    I’m so relieved that it wasn’t a heart attack and that they discovered the likely cause. Still, I KNOW that it was a frightening experience. I’m glad, too, that you were not alone … although I’m sure Jose was frightened also. So give him my best. You learned things–and the reporter in you wanted to share what you learned immediately. You are a courageous and humane person. Take good care of yourself. We NEED you!


  4. i grateful for your good health, grateful that you had the insurance and care that you needed so easily available, and grateful for you to be posting this information for others, myself included.

  5. Glad to hear you’re okay – that’s a pretty scary experience. I had a case of SVT a few years back (I’ve since had the nerve that caused it fixed) and got reminded of a couple of things – we have fantastic health care (and yes, our taxes are relatively high but everyone is equally covered – my ambulance as well) and I need to enjoy my life more.

    Take care. πŸ™‚

  6. Very happy to hear you’re all right. What a frightening experience. I think women sometimes ignore symptoms – they brush them off. I know that I do. You’re story has made me reconsider.

    1. Thanks!

      This is why I decided to tell my story — it would have been easy to dismiss it (if it hadn’t hurt like hell!) because I looked up the symptoms and didn’t have all of them. I thought, better safe than sorry.

      I really want all women to know and memorize the symptoms, as I had. I had never experienced anything like it, and that unfamiliar feeling alone prompted me to go to the hospital.

  7. I’m glad you’re okay. I’ve only been to an emergency room once or twice in my life, and I can only remember one for sure. That one time, I was seen quickly and well taken care of, which was good, as I really needed it at the time. It would’ve been awful if I arrived at an overflowing ER with a harried staff and a wait time of four hours to be seen.

    1. I kept thinking how very very lucky we are to have an excellent hospital very close by (the other nearest one is huge and further) and at 5 a.m. on a Sunday was blessedly really quiet. It started getting busier around 8:00 a.m.

      It was (as I was then in much less pain) sort of fascinating to watch and eavesdrop on staff. πŸ™‚

  8. Glad you are OK! All best wishes for trouble-free follow up checks, and I hope all goes well. Hopefully you’ll be covered by insurance. Here in NZ, as we’ve discussed before, private healthcare is an option, not a necessity, although I find that many specialists are employed simultaneously by both systems, and it’s not seen as double-dipping.

    1. Thanks!

      A little fearful of some nasty bill, but we had to go, and that’s that.

      Will see a cardiologist this week to make sure I’m in good shape, but with all my spin classes, it’s hard to think I’m not.

  9. Carolyn

    So glad that you are well and it wasn’t heart related! I had chest pain after a bout of shingles so a complete cardiac workup was done and it turned out it was nerve pain and not cardiac, so I can understand the relief you must feel! Stay well…you need to keep writing, you have much to share yet…

  10. I think it’s great that you listed the symptoms for women that experience a heart attack. Heart Awareness is next month it’s so important that we all know the symptoms it doesn’t matter the age everyone needs to know. My cousin had an aneurysm back in November she’s 33 yrs old. She had most of those symptoms if not all of them. She’s doing good now!

    Also, thanks for explaining why they do the blood tests. I never knew exactly why the tests were done only knew it pertained to the heart. It’s important as women that we all know heart and stroke symptoms. Also, if anyone is experiencing headaches over a period time please talk to your doctor. We might think it’s nothing but it could very well be leading up to a heart attack or stroke.

    Glad you’re ok! It’s good that your following up with the cardiologist.

    1. Thanks!

      I learned so much — partly because I’m always a nosy reporter (even in a drafty medical gown!), partly because the doctor had the time and generosity of spirit to really sit with me and partly because the ER was just very, very quiet at 5 a.m. — they only have one MD there, so I was lucky in this respect.

      The blood tests were fascinating — apparently the “attack” isn’t nearly as quick as I think we believe but lasts about an hour.

      I’m glad your cousin is doing well…And, for sure, thank you for adding the detail about headaches.

      1. I’m glad you were able to be a nosy reporter. I have Marfan Syndrome which could lead to aorta problems. I’ve researched tests that should be done in the er if ever something should happen. I’m glad you shared about the blood tests that answered some of my questions. I didn’t know the actual attack could last an hour. It’s good that MD did a ekg.

      2. I was very glad the MD and nurses were completely straightforward with me because I can’t/won’t tolerate bland or vague answers!

        They did an EKG twice and kept a monitor on me during my time there. I forgot to mention they initially gave me 2 small aspirin and (!) nitroglycerin beneath my tongue.

        Sorry about Marfan Syndrome but good for you for doing the research so you can advocate for your needs. I am forever grateful I speak fluent English, have the confidence to ask a lot of specific questions and understand medical language (having covered it as a reporter.) It would be terrifying to have something like this in a place where I had no idea what was being said.

      3. MD and nurses did exactly what’s supposed to be done. You’re right about understanding the medical language it can be very beneficial.

        You hear stories how someone was experiencing the symptoms you listed and instead of going to the emergency room they stay home thinking it will go away. It ends up being too late

        Thanks again for sharing it’s a very important topic.

      4. Thanks!

        I’ve been tweeting it a bit as well and plan to pitch it as a story to a few outlets. I really had no idea about this and it turns out to be a common error many people experience.

        I ask a LOT of questions when I get medical care or treatment, and have been told many more than a lot of patients do. Maybe they fear the answers (!) or defer to medical authority.

        Sadly, a friend is now dying because NYC doctors told him his cancer was in remission — and it was not. Terrifying.

  11. Pingback: An ER visit (I’m OK!) β€” and lessons for women β€” Broadside | Kevin Dayhoff Time Flies

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