When should I go to the hospital for an unusual symptom?
When in doubt, a columnist often turns to doctors and trusted loved ones
“Mom? My heart rate is really slow.”
I remember this moment clearly. In a time of poor health due to my pulmonary hypertension, there was a day when my heart, which was typically pounding, slowed to a quiet crawl. We were scheduled for a routine checkup the next day, and I was determined to wait it out.
I even went upstairs to get ready for bed. But my gut instinct told me I simply couldn’t wait the night. So I made the decision to tell my mom, and soon we were out the door and headed to the emergency room.
Throughout my life, confessions like this one have always been made through a thick voice and teary eyes. It’s the admission of a symptom that will undoubtedly require a trip to the hospital.
These statements are tied up in a number of emotions. In the moment, I feel fear of the unknown, along with guilt for the inevitable hours or days my family and I are bound to spend in the hospital. This is all compounded by the anxiety of physically managing a new symptom.
Over the winter, I put off a hospital trip simply because I couldn’t figure out how I would physically get from my room to the car, and from the car to the ER doorway. This was hazy thinking, and when I explained it to my family, the obvious answer was to call an ambulance.
A familiar routine
My most recent trip to the hospital was last Friday. That morning, I found myself having chest pain, an unusual symptom for me. I dealt with it the same way I always have. I spent a while in denial, rationalizing the pain in my head, and expecting it to dissipate.
But by 4 p.m., after a full eight hours of discomfort, I knew it was an issue that needed to be addressed. So, like many times before, I yelled down the stairs to my mother.
“Mom? I feel like I’m having chest pain.”
It was followed by an apology, the tears welling in my eyes for just a moment. It’s difficult that this is routine for us. That my mom is quick to snap into action, gathering bags of supplies before helping me get out the door. I wish we were a little less familiar with the choreography of this particular dance.
Similar experiences are stacked up along my health journey. And regardless of the outcome, they have never been pleasant. In a different reality, I would put off the decision to take action indefinitely. But that’s not a safe or practical option.
It begs the question: When is it time to go to the hospital?
Safe over sorry
It’s a question that floods my thoughts during an abnormal health flare. I’m always left wondering, “How serious is this? Will it go away? Or is something bigger in the works?”
For me, it’s usually once I feel the need to outsource these questions that I know I’m no longer equipped to manage things on my own. This might involve a call to my care team or simply admitting the symptom to a family member.
Often, once the reality is released from the tight hold I keep on it, things are set into motion regardless. Once I open myself up to a discussion with someone who is perhaps more clearheaded (and less stubborn) than I am, the course of action comes together pretty easily. And, admittedly, being safe rather than sorry is usually a good bet.
I hate going to the hospital. I hate the stress it puts on my caregivers and loved ones. I hate that it forces me to acknowledge a change in my health. So I put off care for about as long as I’m comfortable (barring recklessness) when something doesn’t feel right.
Truthfully, if and when something is wrong, I do always feel better knowing that capable hands are looking for answers on my behalf. For this reason, I rarely regret it once the decision is made and we’re making the all-too-familiar car ride toward the ER.
Note: Pulmonary Hypertension 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 Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.