Take Care

By Debbie Koenig

Last April I had a heart scare, some pretty intense chest pains while walking. I wound up having a cardiac catheterization, an outpatient procedure in which they snake a thin catheter through an artery in the wrist up to your heart, to do diagnostic tests. That showed two small blockages, not enough to explain the pain but enough to put me on medication and regular monitoring by a cardiologist.

Last week, almost exactly one year later, I had a second catheterization. I’ve been having some severe pains in my left shoulder, neck, and back, and sometimes a heavy feeling in my left arm. Initially I dismissed it as muscle strain — I carry a lot of stress in my shoulders — but it never eased. When things started to tingle behind my shoulder blade I consulted Dr. Google, and those results made me nervous. A trip to my primary care doctor yielded inconclusive results: A blood test that indicates heart attacks was at the upper limit of normal, and an EKG was a little weird. The cardiologist didn’t want to do a stress test because I was in so much pain (if it was my heart, it could be dangerous). It might just be a pinched nerve in my neck, he said, but for safety’s sake he recommended another cath.

Desperate to avoid repeating this invasive procedure, I got checked for the pinched nerve via an MRI and a quick visit to a spine specialist. Two slightly bulging discs showed on the scan, but they weren’t bad enough to cause such pain. The spine guy said that if I hadn’t had the heart scare last year, he’d send me to physical therapy — but since there was a cardiac question, he, too, recommended the cath.

So yeah, I had the invasive procedure. (I took the hospital-bed selfie with my husband just before they wheeled me in.) And they found that nothing had changed in my arteries — the blockages haven’t grown. My pain isn’t heart-related. I still hurt, a lot.

I spent a half hour whining about this in therapy, how I’d lost so much time and experienced such discomfort, all to be left with the same pain. And as she so often does, my therapist found the bright side: I’m taking care of myself. I’m not ignoring symptoms or pretending they’ll go away on their own. People with emotional eating problems often have trouble putting themselves first, so this counts as a victory, a sign of progress, she insisted. I’m not quite as positive about things as she is (I did suffer for almost two weeks before seeking any help), but I see what she’s saying. Now, I just need to get myself to physical therapy. Living in pain, it ain’t fun.

Follow Debbie on Connect @debbieskoenig

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