Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 4:39 PM on Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Health Lesson No. 1: Listen to your pain

Piont of View


This is a letter to all those folks out there — men and women — who tend to be stoic about their aches and pains. My message to them is simple: Don't underestimate your pain.

Many of us live with some pain every day, day in and day out, and we tend to take it for granted and to ascribe all our aches and pains — however new or different — to whatever causes our every day pain. That can be a big mistake.

I am one of those. When dealing with pain, I take a low dose pain killer and try to wait it out. I figure if it continues for more than a week, I will see a doctor about it. That tendency almost cost me my life. And you could find yourself in the same position.

On Dec. 16, I awoke just after midnight with severe back pain. It was worse than normal, but I figured it was the same old back problem, only a little worse. It hurt so bad, it hurt clear through to the front. It hurt so bad, my teeth hurt. I noticed a little ache in my left arm, but wasn't too concerned since left-arm pain isn't necessarily an indicator of heart problems in women. So I took my two Tylenol and a Benadryl and sat up for two to three hours until the pain subsided. By 3 a.m. I was feeling better, so I went back to bed.

Got up at the usual time and the pain was still there, not as bad, but noticeable. Two more Tylenol. The pain kept ebbing and flowing, but still I thought it was the same old, same old. However, since my sister had a doctor's appointment in the afternoon, I figured it wouldn't hurt to go with her and have someone check me over. Finally, a good decision.

Susan Parrish, the PA at Homer Medical Clinic, had an electrocardiogram administered, checked my symptoms and sent me straight up to South Peninsula Hospital's emergency room. By the time I got up there, the pain in my chest was a good deal stronger — to a level of 8, I told the nurse. They hooked me up to everything, took a blood sample, gave me aspirin and nitroglycerin. Once again, the pain ebbed. They decided to keep me overnight for observation, just in case, but before they even finished the paperwork, my heart went into fibrillation.

All I remember about that is that I felt very dizzy. I said so to my sister, and immediately passed out. They tried compression first, unsuccessfully, and then resorted to the paddles to administer a shock. It took them two tries to bring me back. (I owe a sincere debt of gratitude to Susie Parrish, Dr. Hahn, and the entire emergency room staff for their efforts to keep me alive.)

And here's the thing: If I had stayed at home as I originally intended, I would have died that night. But because I was where I needed to be, I survived.

Here's the other thing: My experience isn't all that unusual. Back pain is often an indicator of a heart problem, especially in women.

So, even though you may have pain on a regular basis, if it feels at all different from the usual, don't wait. Get someone to check it out immediately. It might save your life, or the life of someone you love.

Jan O'Meara is a long-time Homer resident, former staff writer for the Homer News and the former adjunct professor of Alaska history at the Kachemak Bay Campus of Kenai Peninsula College. She currently is publishing Alaska educational material and helping other people publish their own books.