The night I thought I had a heart attack….

Yesterday, I was sitting on my bed playing a mobile game when I started to feel like something heavy was sitting on my chest. It was followed by this strange tingling sensation down my arms, similar to that feeling you get when a body part has ‘fallen asleep’ from staying in one position for too long. Alarmed, I straightened my back and tapped the heart rate monitor in my smartwatch; terror grew when I saw that my bpm was continuously rising.

I thought I should go check my blood pressure so I got up from bed, put on my mask, and went out of the building. I walked toward the clubhouse and approached the guard on duty to borrow the BP monitor. Not knowing how to use the device, I struggled to wrap the cuff around my upper arm. The guard offered to assist and proceeded to check my BP. The LCD showed 98/75 within the normal range. I thanked the guard and walked back home, taking deep, slow breaths to help calm myself down. I thought that maybe I had an episode of an anxiety attack, in which case this wouldn’t be the first time. However, my previous panic attacks had triggers; this one appeared out of nowhere. As far as I’m aware, I’m doing okay; I’m not currently dealing with any pressing issues or challenges in my life.

I went straight to my room and lay down on the bed. However, the moment my head hit the pillow, the strange sensation has returned with a vengeance. Not only did my arms start getting numb, but the tingling feeling crept up on the lower part of my face as well. I began to feel lightheaded like I was about to pass out. I thought about trying to sleep it off, but I was home alone; nobody would know if God forbid something terrible happens to me. My heart thumped hard against my chest, unsure if it was due to this unknown condition or out of panic.

What was going on with me? Could this be a heart attack? As far as I know, heart conditions don’t run on both sides of my family. I’ve also been living a healthy lifestyle; I exercise at least four times a week, have been vegan for almost a year, haven’t been consuming fatty foods, and have been limiting my sugar intake of late. I’m 39 years old, weigh 42.6 kg, and am pretty skinny. Despite all these, is it possible I might be having a stroke?

I grabbed my phone and googled heart attack symptoms:

☑︎ Chest discomfort
☐ Upper body pain
☐ Stomach pain
☐ Shortness of breath
☑︎ Anxiety
☑︎ Lightheadedness
☐ Sweating
☐ Nausea and vomiting
☑︎ Heart palpitations

I ticked 4 out of 9; are these enough of an indicator to diagnose a stroke, or do I need to exhibit all symptoms? I wasn’t sure, and I didn’t want to ignore it. So I made the call to rush myself to the hospital.

I asked my neighbors in our group chat if they knew a nearby clinic still opened at that hour. One of them, Zaldy, replied that most clinics are closed already and that if I needed to go to the hospital, I might have to go to an ER. I sent him a direct message to get more information and shared what I had been feeling.

He grew concerned, especially when he found out I was alone but couldn’t visit me as he was in a work meeting during that time. However, he offered to call the guard so somebody could assist me. I thanked him and immediately changed into trousers and a black shirt. I picked up my tiny purse, checked my wallet and other essentials, then waited for help to come.

I wondered who among my friends could I reach out to, someone who lived nearby. The first person who came to mind was Che, who resides in Pasay, so I sent her a Facebook message; she didn’t reply. I figured she was already sleeping at that time. My other close friends live far away, like Cai, who just moved back to Valenzuela. I suddenly remembered Caresse, who lives in Mandaluyong. We’re not very close, and we’ve only reconnected recently after years of not seeing each other. Nevertheless, I know her to be a reliable person; hence I didn’t hesitate to reach out to her.

Good thing she was still up and responded to my message right away. After telling her what happened, she asked me several questions like she was trying to diagnose my condition; did I skip a meal, lack sleep, can I get up and walk, did I drink enough water, is the fan turned toward me, etc. I answered her patiently, although I was unsure what she hoped to accomplish. She tried to find me a hospital nearby even gave me a call to check if I was alright.

While we were talking, my doorbell rang. I went to get the door and saw a guard standing outside. He said that one of the other guards would drive me to the hospital. I grabbed my phone and purse, locked the door of my unit then went downstairs, where three guards were waiting for me. The one sitting on a motorbike told me that he would assist me. I hopped on the back of the vehicle, and as we sped away, I answered his inquiries about my symptoms.

We stopped by at two clinics; both turned us away as they were no longer accepting patients at that hour. The guard suggested that we go to PGH, and I asked, “Isn’t that a bit far from where we are?”

“No ma’am, it’s just a few minutes drive from here,” he replied.

The only PGH I know is the Philippine General Hospital located in Manila. If he claimed that it’s nearby, it means he’s referring to a different hospital.

My assumption was correct; he took me to Pasig City General Hospital (PGH). I haven’t been to a public hospital in a long time because when I needed a medical check-up, I would go somewhere affiliated with our HMO, mostly private clinics or hospitals. Of course, I could have gone to a clinic accredited by my HMO, but all I wanted at that time was to get medical assistance asap.

When you visit a hospital so late in the night, you go straight to the ER, so that’s where I ended up. First, I approached one of the hospital staff sitting behind a makeshift booth covered in a plastic sheet. After I explained what I came for, she made me fill out a patient form. She then checked my weight, BP, and heart rate before leading me to the adjoining room where they were tending other ER patients.

It was the beginning of a long, restless night. The weird sensation had subsided, but I didn’t want to go home not knowing what it was. I sat on an orange monobloc chair and waited for someone to attend to me. Meanwhile, my eyes scanned the room, observing other patients and watching the hospital staff busy aiding the sick.

A young boy, probably around ten years old, was sitting on a reclining bed; his left foot was hovering above a cardboard box. He started tearing up; his mom hugged him in an effort to console him. I was able to see his bloodied foot when he lifted it a little as he adjusted on the bed; I wondered what caused his injury.

The rest of the night came in a blur; the hospital staff walked to and fro; some wore dark blue scrub suits, some in red. Then, finally, one of them called my name and gave me a bottle to collect a urine sample. I would need to take a pregnancy test, she said, to which I tried to protest because unless God has chosen me to become the next Mama Mary, there was no way I could be carrying a child.

She told me that it’s their standard procedure for all menstruating women regardless of whether I was sure I wasn’t pregnant. Reluctantly, I went to the toilet to collect my urine. There was a big square hole on the door that they tried to cover with a blue plastic sheet. The thing is, the bottom part of the plastic was torn so you could see inside the restroom through it. I temporarily used my vaccination card to cover the ‘window’ to avoid giving everyone a peek show. There was no tissue, no alcohol, and no soap in the toilet, to my dismay. This is a hospital; shouldn’t it be a standard that soap is provided at the very least?

I approached the same nurse to submit my urine, but she didn’t want to take it and asked me to hold on to it. She then asked if I wanted to go and buy the pregnancy kit or do I want to send my companion (the guard) for an errand. In my head, I was like, Wait, what? We’re in a hospital, and she wants me to buy a pregnancy kit outside?

I replied that I’d get it myself as I didn’t want to inconvenience the guard further.

The nurse suddenly said that if I wanted to, I could write down a waiver stating that I’m 100% sure I’m not expecting. I wasn’t sure whether I’d be pissed (no pun intended). After that whole litany of pregnancy tests being part of their ‘standard procedure,’ now she was telling me I could sign a waiver? Couldn’t she tell me so before?

It wasn’t much of a waiver form, just a handwritten note on the back of the patient form saying, in these exact words, “Sigurado po akong hindi ako buntis” (I’m sure that I’m not pregnant). Under this statement, I wrote my name and signature.

I think I waited for about an hour before a doctor approached me. First, I explained to her my symptoms; then, she shot me several questions.

  • Are you dizzy or nauseous? No.
  • Did you vomit? No.
  • Are you diabetic? No.
  • Did you ever have low blood pressure? No.
  • Are you palpitating? Yes, I was palpitating earlier.
  • What medicines are you taking? I’m only taking vitamins C and B12.
  • Why are you taking B12? I’m vegan
  • How long have you been vegan? Almost a year.
  • Is this the first time you’ve felt this way while being vegan? Yes.

Then she ran some physical tests on me.

“Close your eyes then tell me if you’re feeling this,” she instructed.

She ran her fingers over my forehead, touched both of my cheeks, pressed her hands on my shoulders, glided her hands on the side of my arms. I felt all of these just fine.

She pressed her hands above my knees and told me to fight the pressure by lifting my thighs. Next, she reached down my shins and asked me to push her hands with my legs. After this, she told me to wait as I had to take more tests, but she said she didn’t think it was a heart attack.

I wanted to browse through TikTok or play a mobile game to help pass the time but decided against it to avoid draining my phone’s battery. So instead, I wrote down everything in my journal through this mobile app called Day One.

Moments later, the staff ushered in two men on a stretcher; both were bloodied, one was unconscious. A few police officers arrived and stood by the entrance, and I wondered if their presence had anything to do with those two injured men. I found out later on from the guard that it was indeed connected; those men had been shot down and that the unconscious one was already dead. I was shocked and felt sorry for them. They looked young, probably in their 20s; it’s sad that one lost his life just like that.

A woman donned in red satin pajamas walked in. It seemed like she didn’t come as a patient but was there to accompany someone. I wondered how big of an emergency they were dealing with that she wasn’t able to change into regular clothes anymore. Yet, she didn’t look panicked; in fact, I saw her a few times casually sauntering in and out of the isolation room.

Thirty minutes later, a nurse approached me with a makeshift divider and an ECG machine. The partition provided us with a bit of privacy in a room filled with people. She asked me to remove all of my jewelry and my bra. She then attached the electrodes to my chest and clamps on my wrists and ankles. While she was setting up everything, she asked whether I had someone with me, to which I replied yes, referring to the guard who drove me to the ER.

Where’s your family ma’am?” she asked.

“They live in a different city,” I replied.

“You’re alone at home?”

“Yes.”

She said it must be challenging, especially in emergencies like this; I agree but didn’t voice it out. It’s one of the disadvantages of living on your own; no one’s around to take care of you whenever you’re sick.

I know it would be hard for me if I grew old without my own family, which is why I’ve already considered living in a nursing home in my twilight years. I don’t want to be a burden to my siblings, and I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t want to tend to an old me either, not because they don’t love me but because they have their own family to take care of.

After another 30 minutes had passed, a nurse came to check my sugar level. An hour later, a male nurse approached me to extract some blood. By that time, I was already so tired and sleepy, I was barely connecting with my surroundings. Some of the patients, including the young boy, had been discharged already, yet I was still there. I knew then that I couldn’t go to work, not when I hadn’t slept yet. So I messaged my boss to inform him of what had happened and apologize that I wouldn’t be able to come to work. This sucks, really. How did I get to be someone who was never sick and hardly used her sick leaves to a person who always uses them? Earlier this year, I had COVID-19, and now this?

They did a second round of ECG on me after a while, after which a male physician approached me to shoot the same questions that people had been asking me the entire night. He also asked if I had taken a urine test yet; in response, I pointed to the bottle that contained the sample on the ground. He then caught the attention of the same nurse who instructed me to collect my urine earlier.

“Please assist her, she should take the urine test now so she could go home,” the doctor instructed.

The nurse saw my urine sample and acted surprised, “Oh no, it has been there a long time. You should have submitted it earlier.”

I tried my best to mask my annoyance. She refused to take my sample earlier, even when I asked a couple of times, yet now it’s my fault?! I forced myself to calm down and let it go because if the heart attack scare didn’t do me in, anger might finish the job.

After what seemed like forever, I finally got the diagnosis. The doctor reported that all of my tests were good; nothing in them indicated that I might be dealing with a severe condition. I didn’t have a heart attack; he said that this was probably a case of peripheral neuropathy. It’s a condition that affects the nerves, often seen in people with diabetes, autoimmune diseases, infections, inherited disorders, tumors, etc. I don’t have any of these, so I’m not certain what caused my peripheral neuropathy, and the doctor wasn’t able to tell me either.

He advised me to take Vit B complex (which I already do), lower my stress level, and get enough sleep.

I had to settle the bill of over 3,000 pesos before they discharged me. This got me worried as I was short with cash and they don’t take credit card or digital wallet payments. What era are they living in that they don’t even accept wallet payments?

I went back to the lobby and asked the lady guard if there was anyone nearby that could encash through GCash. She said no, but suggested I go to the Medical Social Service Office. I’m not sure why I had to go there because she didn’t provide any context, but I went anyway.

So I got in the room, there was a female staff member there who rose up from her seat upon seeing me. I informed her that the guard had advised me to go there and I thought it was because they could help me encash from my GCash, but the girl said they didn’t offer such a thing. Still, she asked to see my papers, so I handed them to her.

I heard her say, “They probably recommended you to me so you can get a discount.”

My ears perked up; a discount? Since they didn’t accept my HMO and my money wasn’t enough to cover my bill, the prospect of getting a discount was a huge relief. The girl did some computation, after which she handed me back my papers where the new total bill amount had been indicated. From P3,170, my bill dropped to P1,588. I was delighted; what a discount!

I paid the hospital bill, got my medical certificate signed by the doctor, and was finally cleared to go home. I apologized to the guard because he had to wait for me a long time outside, but he brushed my worries aside and said it was important I had company in such situations. He was right, and I was very grateful to him.

He dropped me outside of my building; I thanked him profusely and, once again, apologized for taking so much of his time.
I went home feeling a little bit better but entirely spent. Being a healthy person for most of my life, I tend to worry a lot when I feel like something is off. I keep thinking; I’m only 39, I’m still relatively young to be dealing with a severe illness. I have always made an effort to maintain a healthy lifestyle because I hate getting medical scares like this. Thank God it wasn’t serious and nothing that requires medications. But I know that I need to improve my sleep patterns; I’ll work on it moving forward.

I took a quick shower then went to bed, sleepiness preceding over the crumbs of my anxiety. It wasn’t a heart attack; I slept easy in the comfort of knowing.

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