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By Anne Marie Novinger
RN - retired, contributing writer 

Pain is an important warning sign


June 5, 2021

Something untoward happened to me in 2006. One January night about 8 p.m. I felt pain behind my right lung, back side of scapula. It kept getting worse. My husband George went to bed (not feeling very well) and then I packed a bag. I sat in a lounge chair and hoped it would go away. But the pain just got worse and moved around to the front of my chest, so at 2 a.m. I drove myself to our local Tehachapi Hospital five miles from our house. Dumb? We are on a dark street – no street lights – and our street number is out of sequence. Ambulances would have a hard time finding our house, I reasoned. I didn’t want to wake George since he was feeling a bit under the weather.

I parked right in front of the hospital, walked in and mentioned chest pain. Zap! A wheelchair came fast, and I had to submit to oxygen and all kinds of tests for hours. I had to have heparin (blood thinner) injected into my stomach muscles every few hours, too. Yuk. My arterial blood gases dropped from the 90s (ideal) to 45 three times. That low level is not compatible with life! But there were no beds anywhere for me in hospitals that took my kind of emergency. I had to wait for 17 hours for a bed to be found for me, and that was only because we knew a cardiologist there.

About 7 a.m. I decided I’d better call George and tell him what happened to me. He was really quite shocked that I was not in bed where he thought I was. He really didn’t believe me at first. He did drive down to my bedside and sat with me until he began falling asleep about noon, then drove home, encouraged by me.

A bumpy ambulance took me down to Bakersfield around 7 p.m. Then I was kept in the Telemetry Unit and monitored for four days. Many tests, some painful, invasive and risky. No heart attack. I requested no visitors except George, just phone calls. No definitive diagnosis ever, but the docs guessed that I must have had small undetectable blood clots in my lungs caused by a long turbulent plane flight where I was not allowed to walk around two days before the pain started. I had to be on oxygen round the clock here at home for months and also stop a medication which can cause clotting. My Bakersfield pulmonologist told me that I would do nothing but deteriorate. Yikes! I had had a wonderful life so actually I was ready to go, honestly.

After four months of the oxygen round the clock, I finally polled all my MD and RN friends who recommended an excellent pulmonologist in Pasadena. I went there ASAP. He said I had excellent lung function and that I didn’t need oxygen at all at that elevation. But I did and still do at bedtime at 4200 feet where we live. I also have severe sleep apnea, so I breathe oxygen every night at 2 liters per minute. So far so good, after 15 years! I can’t use the PAP machines because I cannot sleep with any of them.

Important things to know about this adventure:

If you are having chest pain or any other serious health event, call 911!

Have a patient advocate with you at all times or keep a notebook of treatments! I was almost given two shots of Heparin (the blood thinner) in error and this happened twice! Both times the nurse bringing me the second erroneous injection failed to check my records. The only reason I was able to stop the second dose was that I kept a notebook of all my medications and treatments and what time they occurred. Do be sure to keep track of what is happening to you. It might save your life!

Before having an unfamiliar procedure, be sure to read what you are signing! If I had done that, I would have refused one test that was painful and definitely risky, and turned out to be useless.


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