Several nights ago, I was leaning back in my chair, as I often do, beginning to eat my dinner. My wife, Ruth, suggested that I sit up straight to avoid spilling food on my shirt, which I must sheepishly admit that I regularly do. After my next bite of food, I began feeling a bloating sensation that made me stop. During the past three years, I have felt this discomfort an average of every two months or so, but in all but one previous instance, it subsides within a minute or two of sitting still, taking some deep breaths, and using an acupressure tapping procedure that I’m expert in applying. This time, the bloating intensified from my abdomen to my solar plexus to the point that I labored to breathe, could hardly speak, and where I began spitting out long, thick strands of sputum. Sweat appeared on my forehead. No position I got into relieved my symptoms.
After about ten minutes of this distress, I asked Ruth to call 911. When the same syndrome occurred about three years ago, I had also called for paramedics, fearing that I might be having a heart attack. When the EMTs came out at that time, my symptoms soon abated and I declined their suggestion to take me by ambulance to the hospital. On this recent occasion, my symptoms also waned, but not as fully or rapidly. The team Physician Assistant (PA) read my EKG and detected a hint of an abnormality, so he suggested that I go to the ER to be certain that I wasn’t having a heart attack. Again, I was offered an ambulance ride as a precaution.
I typically trust my intuitions. My strong intuition was that I was experiencing a digestive issue, not any kind of heart disorder, let alone a heart attack. However, to be on the safe side, I had Ruth drive me to the ER. Per my nature, I joked a lot with the doctor and team of nurses as they proceeded to hook me up to an IV, do a chest x-ray, and run enzyme tests. Three hours later, I was informed that all tests were negative. Yet, the staff suggested that I remain in the hospital overnight for observation and take a stress test in the morning.
Without hesitating, I refused the hospital stay and stress test. The strong recommendations that followed included seeing my primary-care physician (PCP) the next day, immediately arranging an outpatient stress test and scheduling an appointment with a gastroenterologist.
I’m a long-term believer in parsimony: an economy of energy-expenditure, resources, expense, etc. I chose to merely visit my PCP the next day. Low-key and non-alarming as she is, my doctor listened attentively to my symptoms, performed a simple exam, and determined that I probably just had a recent buildup of acid in my gut. My doc looked at the EMT PA’s EKG and quickly pointed out that he put in a wrong lead, prompting a false concern. She ruled-out a stress test, told me to avoid a list of foods for a couple of weeks, and said that I’d only need to schedule a gastrointestinal exam if my symptoms returned. I also appreciated her suggestion to eat some digestion-enhancing foods like papaya, ginger and peppermint.
The past few days I have felt a new lease on life, which I’ve celebrated in many ways. I enjoyed an easy ¾-mile swim, dinner and games with several couples, a marriage conference, and large leads-group party, highlighted by three volleyball games.
More importantly, I have had a wake-up call in several key respects. I’ve re-learned not to sweat the small stuff, as in the grand scheme of things, it’s all small stuff! Besides checking my impulse toward agitation, I know that I need to schedule more downtime and relax before and during meals and to savor my food. I have been smug, believing that I could get away with eating an excess of not-so-healthy foods, in addition to my essentially good diet.
Also, I realize that I shouldn’t have ignored the bi-monthly indigestion clues, minor as they seemed, that something was amiss.
We’re all precious and need to treat ourselves as such, including making the most of the limited time we each have on this earth. As for invasive, expensive medical procedures, discernment is definitely in order!