a doctor welcomes a heart failure patient into her office. The patient keeps track of a checklist of questions.

My Age Nearly Killed Me!

I don’t blame my doctor for almost dying. Looking back, it seemed obvious, but that’s because I now know the end result. It’s true, my doctor did not explore the possibility that I had heart disease. Being 30 years old and in relatively good shape, I understand why that area was never explored and probably never even considered. Heart conditions, like many other diseases and illnesses, have similar or identical symptoms to other, more common conditions, and are unfortunately thought to only affect older populations.

Fatigue

All the symptoms I had were easily chalked up to other possibilities. My fatigue was attributed to my job. I worked long hours and a schedule that rotated at least one time each week. Anyone is going to be tired when you work a night shift, have one day off, then work an early morning shift. It is very difficult for a body to do this month after month. You can see why I agreed with my doctor when it was assumed this was the root cause of my constant fatigue.

Heartburn

A feeling of heartburn was also brought up. I was unable to get rid of the feeling with antacid or drinking liquids. The doctor thought that it could be reflux and possibly was irritating or eroding my esophagus. For this, an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor did a scope of my throat and stomach to assess for damage. There was none. No follow-up or search for an alternative cause was explored. In all honesty, at the time, I was mainly just happy that my esophagus was okay.

Chest Pain

The last of the major symptoms I had was chest pain. Believe it or not, this was the one symptom that I did not discuss with my doctor. When it was happening, it was concurrent with the heartburn feeling and was similar to the pain I would experience when I pulled a chest muscle. If I really tried, I was able to induce the pain by moving my arms or stretching my chest in certain directions. Doing this, I was able to validate the origin of the pain in my mind and dismiss it.

Looking back and being completely honest with myself, I have no doubt that even if I brought this up to the doctor, I would have explained it in a way that my doctor would have agreed with my self-diagnosis.

Was my doctor in the wrong?

Personally, I don’t think so. It would be easy to cast all blame at the doctor, but as an adult, I must accept at least some if not all responsibility for my own actions. Yes, it was my doctor's job to try to find the cause of my problem, but these symptoms have so many possible causes so it’s often a crapshoot when trying to find the cause.

The person who I should blame is 30-year-old me. I was concerned about my symptoms but did not research possibilities to discuss with my doctor. I dismissed symptoms and did not push my doctor to explore all possibilities. On top of that, when any doctor could not find a cause for my symptoms, I let it go assuming it would resolve itself.

Lessons learned

What is the one thing I learned I hope everyone can take away from my experience? You must fight for your health. When you go to the doctor and present concern, typically they will consider one or two possible causes that are the most common they see. After you leave, unless you see a specialist, you are the only one that knows if the prescribed medication or treatment works for you. Your doctor will not follow up with you. It is your responsibility to contact your doctor for a follow-up or a different treatment option.

Changes to be made

In my opinion, our approach to treating health concerns needs to change. We live in a world where we are treated from the least to most serious possible causes of symptoms. Often excluded are diseases that have unique presentations, leaving us vulnerable. What if someone with heartburn was not only given a medication to treat it, but also given a referral to a cardiologist? An appointment could be made and that person could decide to cancel the appointment if they thought the treatment given worked and did not want to see a specialist.

That same person, if the heartburn medication was ineffective, would now have an appointment with a doctor that could evaluate one of the most serious possibilities of heartburn with a few simple tests. How many lives would be saved if we took every complaint seriously and hoped for best, but planned for the worst? How much sooner could heart failure be diagnosed and precious heart function preserved? I will never know if this would have helped me, but it couldn’t have hurt.

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