„We were a strange group of people, and we’d never met, out there. But here, in a hospital corridor, it’s different. We were brought here by the same idea – this is where we’d find help.
Let me tell you about him first. A man in his fifties. I notice him when he enters the corridor because he’s extremely smartly dressed and smiles warmly at me. A few moments later, he comes back out of the OR into the corridor and sits down next to me. He’s getting an IV for his chronic headaches, which no one knows how to deal with and which only respond to really strong drugs straight into a vein. We get to talking. He asks why I’m in the hospital. I say I have chest pain, I’m dizzy, the pain shoots up my left arm and into my jaw, my body tingles, I sweat unnaturally.
You’re having a textbook heart attack, he tells me.
But you’re so young and you look so healthy! Why don’t they do something about you, why are you sitting in the corridor? So I tell him that I was brought in by an ambulance called by my colleagues at work after I suddenly slumped at the knees in the middle of a work meeting, that I had already had nitro that made me feel even worse, that I’ve already had two doses of beta-blockers to reduce my frantic heartbeat, and an opiate for the pain and something for my nerves, that they’ve done everything to me, and now I’m sitting here waiting because they want to do more tests for troponin in a few hours, because I had some in my blood tests.
The cardiologist stays two meters from me, did not give me an eye contact, he knows these young girls like me and myocardial bridges are benign – he’s leaving and my young ER doc is left with me, he apologizes for the cardiologist and his speech, he really wants to help me, but he has now exhausted all possibilities of what to do with me. But I am used to this, already. I take his hand, which is totally inappropriate, but I know it’ll get his attention. You want to read some studies, I ask him.
Somehow I am invisible to cardiologists, everyone already declined to take me as a patient before, myocardial bridge is not a diagnose. So I am trapped in ER, tagged as a difficult patient, labeled as anxious, even when I am super calm right now. I’m just going through the pain from hell, please excuse me for having tears in my eyes.
I’ve been here before, at this point. Twice. But I didn’t know I had a cardiac anomaly before. The stranger asks – and it still hurts, the pain hasn’t subsided after the medication? And I say, yes, it hurts. It’s a heartache. I know it now.
I smile at him because this time I’m not alone in that hallway for hours. I have him there. And we’re strangely close, knowing we have each other for this moment. Two strangers connected by pain. His wife died recently. He doesn’t want another one, she was the love of his life. Now he lives for his daughter who studies abroad. He owns a currency exchange. He moved to Prague 20 years ago from Arabia and loves it here. Prague is so beautiful, he tells me. I can’t imagine a nicer place to live. He doesn’t miss his home country, though he loves to return from time to time. He thought he was alone in this, in the fact that none of the doctors know how to help him, it makes him anxious that he is not alone and that I am in this with him.
I tell him I studied psychology – maybe you are hurting from your loss, I did read some researches about loss and mystery migraines. What loss is hurting you, he asks me?
Then comes the other one. Actually, he doesn’t come, they bring him in. He can hardly walk and looks spectacularly unhealthy. He’s wheezing, wheezing, coughing, glassy-eyed, and I can smell cigarette odor even through the veil over my mouth. He’s in his sixties. He’s also on an IV. The Stranger and I look at him with pity. He asks me if I could get him something to drink, saying that he’s been in another corridor for hours before and no one has noticed him and he can’t get the water. He doesn’t have any money on him and they don’t take cards in the machine. The Stranger and I pool together enough change to buy tea for all of us. We drink together, what a tea party. The other says – how I look forward to going home for a drink and a cigarette, I haven’t smoked for six hours. He doesn’t ask what’s wrong with us and we don’t ask him. He tells us how he has a nice daughter-in-law, that she’s a nurse, and that she’ll come for him. The ambulance only took him in slippers and it’s cold outside and he can’t walk properly anyway, so they just have to come and get him. His son is angry with him, he’s all upset because of his drinking and smoking, that’s why his daughter-in-law is coming to get him, she feels sorry for him, his son doesn’t have the nerve anymore. I’ve worked hard all my life to get him a degree, he says. His wife died five years ago, so he started drinking to drown the pain of the loss. And it all got out of hand and now he’s got a lot of illnesses, a lot, he says. He wants to drink himself to death because he’s tired of being here without his wife.
The young doctor comes in to tell me the troponin isn’t going up and here’s the discharge papers, again apologizing that he can’t do more for me. He didn’t know about myocardial bridges, but he looked at my website and did read all the studies. My diagnosis this time is not panic attack surprisingly – in papers there is written chest pain due to myocardial bridge, unresponsive to meds. He never heard about MINOCA before and I think I will survive again, so I just want to go home now. I say goodbye to them all.
And for the first time, I’m not anxious from medical care like I was twice before. The hours spent in therapy because of the way I was treated at the hospital before are behind me, calmness is my superpower now. You know, young girls like me. It is probably reflux or panic. The cardiologist did not even make an eye contact with me again, like I was invisible, myocardial bridges are benign and fucking troponine and fucking hysterical girls like me, he does not have time for this. But this time I know I was not invisible to all and not alone – two men with a broken heart were there for me for hours and my ER doc was gold. And you know, calmness is my superpower now.“