Cristina's Heart Scar, Chapter 2: The First Heart Attack, Part 1

It was the start of November and you could feel it in the air, fall in New York was kicking into high gear: the leaves were turning, the air was chilling, boots and jackets were making their way out of people’s closet, pumpkins adorned sidewalks, white truffles, scarves, hot drinks, the smell of cinnamon. All of my favorite things were swirling about the city, it was the first week at my new job, and it felt like a turning point. I had graduated from an Ivy League school, I was done with the obligatory first-year-out-of-college assistant job, I was living in New York and starting a new job as a Public Relations Associate. I could already see myself taking the fast track to VP level, having my own office, handling the firm’s largest accounts, making a career for myself. I was motivated and determined to succeed.

The first few days were great. I got acquainted with the office, new co-workers, new accounts and dove right into work – eager to help out wherever I could. That Wednesday night my roommate, Lizzie, and I ordered pad Thai for dinner, watched an episode of Sex and The City on the couch, and went to bed at a decent hour.

On Thursday morning my alarm went off as usual. From the minute my eyes opened, my body felt off. I was nauseous and felt a sharp pain in my chest. “Ugh, that pad Thai gave me such bad reflux,” I thought. I grabbed a Tums from my night stand, shoved an extra pillow under my head, and hit the snooze button to rest while the Tums took effect. I actually fell asleep during that snooze, and when my alarm went off the second time, I shot up in surprise and in so much pain. Pain in my chest, pain in my neck, pain in my throat, and horrible nausea.

I ran to my bathroom and tried to throw up, thinking that would help, but couldn’t. So I took some more Tums, drank some water (both of which did nothing to help the situation), and somehow managed to get dressed. I remember trying to tie up my hair in a pony, and thinking “My left arm is so sore, I must of slept on it weird.” Now, knowing what I do about heart attacks, that should have been a clear warning sign. Needless to say, a sore arm was the least of my worries. I was feeling awful, but had to get to work since it was my first week. I left my apartment and splurged on a cab.

When I got to the office, still feeling terrible, I slumped in my chair holding my chest willing it to feel better. I tried to eat a granola bar at my desk, but I could barely get it down, so I gave up. Each minute sitting there felt like hours. I don’t know why I didn’t tell somebody and just go to the doctor! I was so worried about impressing everyone at my new job, and it was my first team meeting that morning, that I didn’t think leaving the office was even an option. In retrospect, I was so naive. They all would have understood if I was sick and had to see a doctor. I still can’t believe I never asked to leave. I actually remember sitting in my chair and thinking, “What if I stand up and pretend to pass out, then they’ll have to let me go home.” How insane is that?!

When the time came for the team meeting, of course I ended up sitting next to one of the firm partners. It was almost an hour long meeting and one of the worst hours of my life. The pain in my chest had reached an all-time high, and I was uncontrollably shaking. I wrapped my scarf around my shoulders and tried my hardest to keep still, but I couldn’t. I still wonder what that partner thought. He never mentioned anything, but it would have been impossible for him not to notice that I was practically convulsing. All I thought through entire meeting was that as soon as it was over, I would run to the bathroom so I could be alone for a few minutes.

When it finally ended, I left that room faster than anybody, grabbed the bathroom key, was almost to the door when a senior associate stopped me. She wanted to discuss a new account we’d be taking on and how I’d be able to help. I stood there, nodding along for a few minutes, thinking, “Don’t throw up, don’t throw up, don’t throw up,” hoping she’d stop talking soon. But she kept going. Finally the nausea become so overwhelming that I interrupted her, “Sorry, I really have to go to the restroom,” and ran out the door before she could respond. I went straight into the biggest stall and just laid on the floor in a ball. Disgusting, I know, but I didn’t care. The pain was excruciating. The only way I can describe it is like being stabbed in the chest, over and over and over again.

As I’m writing this, it’s crazy to me that not once did I even consider this was heart related. Even after a year of worrying that I had heart issues. It just didn’t feel like what I thought a heart attack should feel like. My heart wasn’t pounding or racing, I didn’t feel pressure or heaviness, my breathing was totally normal. And I was so nauseous (which I didn’t realize was a common symptom of a heart attack.)

Eventually I got up, put some water on my face, went back to my desk, and texted my mom. I didn’t want to worry her, but I remember telling her it felt like the absolute worst stomach ache I’ve ever had, but in my chest. She suggested I try taking some Advil, which I did. It actually helped a little!* I was still in pain and feeling awful, but it was slightly better. For some reason I fell a sleep in my chair for a bit after that, I don’t know why, maybe it was the slight relief in pain. My boss was the one who woke me up, which was completely humiliating. “I think I’m getting sick,” I told him looking up from my chair. He somewhat smiled, politely ignored the fact that I was sleeping on the job, and asked if I’d be willing to take on some extra work. “Of course!” I responded, as exuberantly as possible, trying to make up for falling asleep.

Miraculously, I made it through the rest of the day (thanks to all the Advil I was taking!), left work and splurged on a second cab. I called my mom on the way home and told her about my terrible day. She said to keep taking Advil since that was helping, we both thought I probably had some sort of virus.

When I got home I sat with Lizzie for a little and told her how bad I felt all day. I tried to eat some pasta, couldn’t really, so decided to take more Advil and go to sleep early. I woke up once in the middle of the night with terrible pain, I took another Advil and went back to sleep.

To be continued next week. 

xo Cristina

PSA. Every 40 seconds somebody in the U.S. has a heart attack. Educate yourself on heart attack symptoms for men and women (they’re different for each gender), so you can respond properly. Although causes of chest pain can vary, if you or somebody around you is experiencing signs of a heart attack, call 9-1-1 immediately.

*My doctor says the Advil probably helped because it was thinning my blood.