Heart attacks, strokes and cardiac arrests are still occurring during the pandemic, even if they are not being reported nearly as much. My heart stopped while our country was in quarantine, and my hesitation for treatment nearly cost me my life.
On a Sunday night this spring, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I started feeling a shortness of breath, sweating and pressure in my chest. I knew that certain emergencies require immediate medical attention and that every second would count if I was experiencing something serious. Despite that, I brushed off my symptoms and tried to push through.
The next day I woke up and went to work, still not feeling great. In retrospect, I was experiencing classic cardiac failure symptoms, but I feared I was suffering from coronavirus. I contemplated doing nothing at that time – for fear that if I didn’t already have the virus, entering a hospital would unnecessarily expose me to COVID-19. I am in my mid-60s and fairly healthy but did not want to take any risks. Little did I know that taking this extra time to consider my options was really the biggest risk of all.
After about 24 hours when the pain had not subsided and in fact was getting worse, I decided to call my primary care provider. The providers office instructed me to go to the ER immediately after I described my symptoms.
I drove myself to Lankenau Heart Institute and was quickly diagnosed with Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD) and congestive heart failure. Doctors told me that I had suffered a heart attack upwards of a week prior, which caused my extreme discomfort and created a hole in my heart which was causing fluid to build up in my lungs. They said that these conditions are life threatening and critical, and usually not seen by doctors because they are commonly treated earlier on, which helps to prevent much of the damage. Because I delayed care, doctors explained that what would have otherwise been a “simple” heart attack became a much more complicated surgery. I am truly grateful for the skill of my physicians and know that I am lucky to have come out of this alive!
Home is meant to be our safe place, but heart attacks and strokes don’t stay home. I learned very quickly not to avoid the ER out of anxiety or doubt – even now!
The American Heart Association’s mission is more important than ever, reminding everyone if they are experiencing the symptoms of heart attack or stroke, call 9-1-1 immediately. Don’t wait. Don’t die of doubt. To learn more about those symptoms, visit Heart.org/DontDieofDoubt.