Should I Go to the Emergency Room or Wait It Out?
The pounding of my heart echoes clearly in my ears. I can see the thumps through the skin on my chest. It’s erratic, beating slowly and calmly one minute, and out of control the next. It’s like a toddler is in my chest playing a new set of drums — no rhythm, just a mix of a few gentle taps and bundles of bashing booms.
Throughout my life as a lab rat, I’ve had many tests done to my heart. Every six months, I go through procedures to study its pressures. So far, my ticker has been free from disease. But scleroderma can attack at any time. And when it does, it comes for my organs hard and fast.
The wild thumps of my heart have not been letting up, so I called my cardiologist to make an appointment.
“If your symptoms worsen or you feel like this is an emergency, head straight to the hospital. Otherwise, we’ll see you in three weeks.”
Putting this decision in my hands is like handing me the controls to the next space shuttle launch. News flash: I’m not a doctor!
Better safe than sorry
It may seem like a no-brainer — go to the emergency room and get checked out.
While I agree it’s better to be safe than sorry, there’s more to it for people with chronic illness. Every few months, my story repeats itself. A frightening symptom pops up and I go to the ER. They run all kinds of tests and send me home because they have absolutely no idea what’s causing the issue.
If you’ve ever seen the movie “Groundhog Day,” you can appreciate the frustration this brings. Reliving the same scenario over and over makes me hesitant to return.
Not an easy decision
The emotional strain this puts on my family is extremely upsetting. Every time I leave for the hospital, my entire family begins to panic. It’s a lot for my husband, children, and parents to handle. Although doctors are likely to send me home without answers, test results can sometimes take days. My children usually get kisses before bedtime every night, and they know when I’m not there.
Equally burdensome are the financial strains. I already meet my high insurance deductible every year, so we won’t be going on lavish vacations anytime soon. When I add in a few hospital stays, vacations are the least of our worries. Those charges pile up even with insurance. For the amount of money we shell out to the hospital, we should have a beachfront vacation home by now!
As you can see, it’s not as easy as “your life is more important than money.” In theory, that’s absolutely correct. But mortgage companies, grocery stores, and gas stations don’t care if you have exorbitant medical bills. Living costs money.
To make my choice even more arduous, every now and then that ER visit lands me in the hospital for a serious issue. Just seven months ago, I was rushed to the intensive care unit in critical condition. I suffered a major blood clot in the artery that runs from my heart to my brain. I had more than six strokes and lost some of my vision and sensation on the right side of my body. The worst part was that I had waited a week before going to the hospital. My choice to wait almost killed me.
Cautiously making the best decision
On one hand, I want to get peace of mind from amazing doctors. On the other, I want to spare my family the burdens of that choice. I fully understand that not going could lead to unimaginable heartache for my loved ones. The “what ifs” weigh heavily on my mind. That’s why I monitor my vitals carefully.
For now, I demanded an electrocardiogram at my doctor’s office to rule out a heart attack and other critical issues. While I couldn’t be seen by my doctor, the staff did call to let me know that my heart’s signals are strong, despite the palpitations.
I have a bag packed in case my symptoms worsen and I make a quick decision to go to the ER. I’ve also scheduled additional appointments and diagnostic tests with my heart specialist.
This is my life. Scleroderma is unpredictable and relentless.
Making the decision to go to the emergency room can be extremely challenging for people living with chronic illness. If we went every time a frightening or painful symptom appeared, we would be permanent residents at the hospital. Worse, we might be called hypochondriacs.
Be patient with us. We have to battle our bodies every day. Support us while we make difficult decisions that affect us and our families emotionally and financially.
Note: Scleroderma News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Scleroderma News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to scleroderma.