You may recall, a few weeks ago, when I posted about having a week from hell due to almost passing out at work and burning my hand on a pan. I had no idea the following weeks were going to pivot into something terrible.
A few days after writing that post, on Monday (8/5), I went back to the gym early morning and felt great. Well, sort of. I was pretty worried that maybe I shouldn’t be working out yet after almost passing out the week before at work and felt a little hesitant when I was at the gym. But I made it through and thought, “Okay, maybe this isn’t so bad. Things are okay again.” So I got ready for the day, and decided to head to Target before going to work to get my boss a present (she’s pregnant and just found out the sex). On my way to Target, I felt extremely anxious. My Apple Watch told me my heart rate was at 130 as I was driving, but I chose to ignore it and I powered through whatever the hell was going on.
As soon as I got into Target, I decided to get breakfast at Starbucks as I thought maybe I just needed some food. While waiting for my order, I suddenly felt very dizzy. My vision was getting limited, as if there was a black vignette around the picture I was seeing, and I could tell my heart rate was elevated without even looking at my watch because it felt like it was beating out of my chest. My chest hurt, I was sweating like crazy, and I was so scared something either was really wrong with me or that I was going to pass out. Honestly, I thought I was going to die in the middle of the Target at 8am, surrounded by no one I knew.
I tried going to work because the feelings slightly went away, but I was still terrified and my heart rate was steady at 110. I could barely concentrate, and went home and worked from my couch instead. In hindsight, I probably should have got help right away but I was hoping it would just clear up soon like it did last time. When lunch time came around, Lenny came home and the dizziness and increased heart rate started happening again. I cried on his shoulder, called my mom, and she told me to call my doctor.
I should mention that I’ve been feeling slightly hesitant about my doctor in Vegas after my last few visits with her. During my last visit I told her about how I was getting a really itchy face after eating and was trying to determine if I needed to see an allergist, or if it was as simple as her ordering a blood test. I’ve never had an allergy so I wasn’t sure how to approach what was happening. Instead, she surprised me and told me that I needed to immediately get both an ultrasound of my thyroid along with an MRI of my head because I probably had paralysis caused by my brain.
Oh, okay. No big deal. I was freaking out after this appointment, and started questioning what was happening with me. Did I ignore warning signs of a tumor when all this time I thought I had a simple allergy? When I called to schedule my appointment for these tests, it was going to be a little over three weeks before I could get in. I was extremely on edge and really thought I was in danger.
Fast forward a few days, and I figured out that maybe the cause of my itchy face was actually a reaction to diet soda. I’ve been drinking quite a bit of Coke Zero (a weakness, lol) and it seemed to be the only constant when this reaction was happening. I stopped touching anything with aspartame and next thing I know… no itchy face!
But the voice was still in the back of my head: what if something is really wrong with me?
Anyway, this brings me back to the almost-passing-out-at-Target day: I call my doctor, despite feeling like a billing agent, and they tell me to come in later that day. I leave the house around 4pm after giving a big goodbye to Lenny (who was also leaving to head out to Salt Lake City for a work trip), and drove to my appointment, trying not to lose my vision and to keep my heart rate down.
My doctor sees me and immediately sends me to the hospital, afraid that I have a blood clot or that something might be wrong with my heart.
I felt oddly calm despite being sent to the ER. I was under the impression I was about to receive some answers, and I couldn’t wait to talk to a doctor that wasn’t my own and get some opinions around what was happening to me.
This is where my friend Alex stepped in – he drove across town, picked me up at the doctor’s office, and straight to Summerlin Hospital. He then waited at the hospital with me to make sure I was okay. Alex, you are an angel. I really do owe you and Katelyn a lovely night out.
So, the ER sends me in immediately for an EKG: they determine my heart is fine. They have a lot of things attached to me to monitor my heart and blood pressure. Not too long after being there, my beautiful friend Skylar shows up. She unfortunately has to witness me go through an “episode”: dizziness is back, and apparently not only did my heart rate go up to 150 but my face turned white and my lips blue. After that, the doctor decides I’m being admitted.
Still no answers. A random doctor came in and told me I could never take birth control again, with no explanation. I kept telling the doctors that I have really bad anxiety and asked if that could be a part of the problem (or if they had a way I could calm down), and it was pretty brushed off. All I wanted to do was sleep and for my heart rate to go down below 100.
Skylar and Alex went to get my car from the doctor’s office and drop it off at my house, and they even fed my dogs, grabbed my phone charger, and any clothes I needed. When they came back, Alex left and Skylar’s boyfriend Kyle joined us: with dinner! I cried when I was alone not just because I was extremely overwhelmed but also because I couldn’t believe how thankful I was to have that support, especially with Lenny being on a plane to Salt Lake City, unaware that I was being admitted to the hospital. Skylar and Kyle stayed with me until I was rolled into my new room where I’d be staying for an indefinite amount of time.
Don’t worry, they captured me on the way up:
Skylar and Kyle, the angels, left the hospital to go pick up my dogs to stay with them. Skylar came back to the hospital to not only give me my keys but to deliver some pajama pants.
Meanwhile, I was watching Forensic Files on repeat, enjoying the company of my amazing nurse, and trying to get my heart rate down. Eventually they gave me a Xanax to help, but I didn’t sleep until about 3am and woke up close to 5:30am.
In summary, I did an echo test (basically a heart ultrasound), had my heart rate monitored all night, lots of blood work done, got a CT scan of my head in the morning (it was freezing cold), blood work sent out for my thyroid (which was fine, btw), and an ultrasound of my throat. I was eventually discharged at around 8:30pm after the cardiologist determined that I was okay but that I would need to do a follow-up with him immediately.
Still, no answers.
I saw my primary doctor in Vegas the next day. She told me absolutely no more caffeine, not even tea, and no more working out aside from a brisk walk.
I did a follow-up with the cardiologist on Tuesday, a week after my hospital visit. I was feeling pretty off until then, having random episodes of feeling dizzy and withdrawing to stay inside as much as possible. I was so relieved when Lenny got back from his work trip because I was too scared to drive or even venture out to the grocery store.
The cardiologist didn’t have any answers for me, but recommended that I do something called a tilt table test and that it would help to see what’s going on with my heart rate and blood pressure when I feel dizzy. I got it scheduled for a week later at Sunrise Hospital.
This was the aftermath of the test. Let me start off by saying that this was the absolute, most uncomfortable experience I’ve been through. They strapped me to a table, and then elevated me to about 75 degrees in hopes that I would faint. Apparently, if I faint, the test is over and I “pass”. If I don’t faint, I get to be elevated for 30 minutes.
I was so anxious. After a few minutes, I started to feel very dizzy. The guys who were monitoring me said my heart rate was at 160, and I started to feel sweaty everywhere even though the room was freezing cold. My fingers felt like they were tingling, and my vision was going out. I felt nauseous. All I wanted to do was break out of those straps and sit down, but I couldn’t. I wanted it to end. So I told myself to just let go and pass out so that the test could be over. My body would not let me. Instead, I was able to somehow bring my heart rate down to 55 and all the crazy symptoms went away. I chatted with the guys casually until the end of the thirty minutes and felt great.
I still had no idea what the hell was happening to me.
In a nutshell, this has been a very, very expensive process despite my insurance being pretty great. I finally have a high-paying job where I’m able to make a real dent in my student loans, credit, etc, and I ended up racking up so much money on my credit card to cover the costs of all my doctor visits, follow-ups, the hospital visit, extra tests, etc.
The cherry on top? My primary doctor tried billing the wrong insurance and sent me a fat bill for not being insured. I’ve called every day to get a hold of the billing department and haven’t heard back from anyone.
So unfortunately, my big dent no longer exists and I’m working my ass off to get some extra commission to pay off all the medical bills. It was pretty enlightening to see why so many people can’t afford health care (even with insurance!) – I just assumed that a lot of this stuff would be 100% covered by insurance and didn’t realize much copays would add up.
So, what’s my theory about what’s happening to me?
I’m almost positive now that these are panic attacks. I had no idea what panic attacks were until I started googling the shit out of my symptoms. Apparently panic attacks mimic a heart attack: sweaty, dizziness, chest pain, elevated heart rate, etc. And they happen randomly, multiple websites even giving examples of being in the middle of a meeting or while being relaxed. Essentially it tells your body that you’re in danger and puts you into fight or flight mode.
My mom sat next to a friend of my sister’s at a softball game and found out she went through the same exact thing as me, and after multiple hospital visits and additional tests, the only logical conclusion was panic attacks. After hearing this, I did even more research and discovered that I should find a therapist to attack my anxiety and see if that would help. I even bought a book on how to manage panic attacks and come down from them.
I was on a plane the other day to San Francisco and felt it happening. Deciding this was actually a panic attack, I followed the advice given to me in a book and was able to bring myself down to “normal”. I felt oddly great after because this maybe meant that I found my answer to what has been causing this all to happen.
I had my first therapy appointment last week and found out something interesting (that I wasn’t aware of): you can’t actually faint during a panic attack. I’ve been so scared of passing out in public and it really contributed to my anxiety. I had no idea that when your heart rate is elevated that it can’t happen. So that’s been helpful.
I am really excited about my therapist. She made me feel like I wasn’t insane and that this was something I am going to get through. There are a lot of things we’re going to focus on: self image, past relationship trauma, and managing my panic attacks. She gave me some great advice to ground myself when having one (relax my body and try to point out things in my mind that are around me), and to remind myself throughout the day to unclench any parts of my body: I didn’t realize how often my whole body is tense.
So why did this all start happening? My therapist thinks it was a huge combo of Lenny coming back from deployment (big change), getting a new job (big change, despite the job being less stressful), planning a big event (my 10 year reunion), trying desperately to lose weight and not making much progress, and the news from my doctor that my food allergy might actually be a tumor (although, it wasn’t).
I’m making some big changes going forward. I’m still focusing on weight lifting, but I’m going lighter on the weights. I’m also balancing out my routine by adding in yoga, meditation, pilates, and swimming. I downloaded a meditation app on my phone to do before work each day. I’m not pushing myself at work. I’m reading more (about to start my sixth book in two weeks). I’ve been spending less time on social media. I’m starting to say yes to things more that I want to do, and saying no to the things that are spreading me too thin. Another fun thing I’m doing is actually making eye contact with people who walk by me in the hallways at the building I’m in at work and saying “Good morning” or “hello”. I am getting coffee in the mornings, and redirecting my diet to not be restrictive and to just be cognizant of what I’m eating – focusing a lot more on mediterranean style foods and to not feel guilty for indulging in a treat or two.
Also, I’m sleeping more, and enjoying any cuddle time I can get with the dogs:
This has been a beyond stressful experience for me, both mentally and financially. There were a lot of times I thought I was going to actually die (apparently also a side effect of panic attacks). A few times before going to bed I kept telling my family how much I love them. I felt like this feeling would never go aware and that I would forever have trouble sleeping, feel weak all hours of the day, and be terrified of going out in public. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.
The most frustrating part of this whole ordeal is that not one doctor has brought up that this could be anxiety-related. That all of it has been, “Come back and see me.” and not “Here’s what I’m thinking this could be, so we’re going to do this test to rule out this diagnosis.” I’ve felt very in the dark about why tests are being done and I’m still very upset that my doctor ordered a MRI because I was having an allergic reaction.
There is definitely a stigma around anxiety. I’m hoping that by being open about what’s happening to me that someone can read my story and not feel as scared as I did. I’ll try to keep everyone updated on my progress as much as possible.
Thank you to everyone that’s been so supportive. Once I have emerged from my medical debt I will pay you in food and gifts.