Every once and awhile I have a panic attack — the experience of thinking you’re having some sudden life-threatening emergency. I haven’t had one in about six months. But I had one at work today. It started when my lips suddenly felt cold. Not a usual sensation unless you’re drinking ice water, which I wasn’t, and it was so peculiar that I immediately worried that maybe my blood pressure was dropping, and questioned if this was the first sign of a heart attack. With that thought, the panic attack began full swing. Adrenaline poured into my bloodstream, making me tremble. My vision, the focus of my eyesight, drew tight so that I was no longer taking in the full peripheral view; I believe this is some kind of autonomic response intended to focus your eyesight on whatever is attacking you, which nature presumes is immediately in front of you…but in this situation it is your own body attacking you so the vision change doesn’t do any good at all, in fact it is disturbing. My breathing became totally off-kilter. I moved from my “exercise ball” chair to my regular desk chair to protect myself in case I’d lose consciousness. I tried putting my head down between my knees to see if I felt any better, but I didn’t notice any difference. The irregular breathing caused by the stress was making me light headed regardless of position. I fortunately did not feel any pronounced pain anywhere in my body, not my left shoulder, not my chest, so if this was a heart attack I figured it was a really mild one, some minor artery… Or maybe a valve problem! I could have gotten infective endocarditis from repeatedly trying to slice a wart off my toe, after all I have accidentally bled from that so bacteria could have gotten into my blood stream (even typing that now a few hours later scares me!).
It was near closing time, so I faced the question of how was I going to get home, considering my car was on the fourth floor of a parking garage two blocks away, and I wasn’t sure if I’d stay conscious if I even stood, since I didn’t know what was happening to me. I tried standing a few times and can’t say I felt any better. I told myself I was experiencing the effects of adrenaline, and not a heart attack or other circulation problem, but my lips was evidence that something was wrong, and it was hard to deny that evidence. They weren’t blue though, I checked in a mirror. Could I ask a coworker to walk with me to the parking garage, so they could get help if I collapsed? That would be an embarassing request, and they might call an ambulance just from hearing me express the concern, which would cost me thousands of dollars, an unforgivable amount if it turned out to be nothing as I expected it would be. So I decided I’d walk, slowly and alone, to the parking garage. By the second block my teeth were literally chattering – in 67 degree weather.
Yes, it may be a bad idea to drive a car while feeling this way. But at least one is seated while in a car. If I happened to pass out, my car would probably just roll to the side and crunch some parked cars. I could manage that. If I could get up to the fourth floor of the parking garage. On the stairs, I told myself that if this was a heart attack or other heart problem, I would surely find out on the staircase. If it was my heart, these steps would prove it. I’d cluch my chest and die, or nearly. And if I didn’t, then it probably wasn’t my heart and I’d probably be fine.
I took the stairs slowly, but made it up to my level ok. And I drove home ok, radio off, praying for no red lights, glad for every mile I made across the brief distance from work to home. Made it home, 45 minutes into the panic attack.
It’s now seven hours later as I type this blog, and I still don’t know what was wrong with me. I don’t feel terribly well, but I don’t feel terrible either. The thought that maybe I do have endocarditis is still scaring me, because it’s a subtle enough problem that it could account for the initial sensation and maybe the subsequent sensations too. Subtle enough for me to misread as nothing, to get lost among the symptoms of the panic attack. This was certainly a panic attack. But what caused it? Why did my lips suddenly get cold? That is the question that remains, and will linger in my mind until I have a day when I feel totally fine. Then I’ll forget this ever happened.
If I had a futuristic heart-checker-outer, I’d be scanning myself right now. Unfortunately, no such device for the next century or so, not for casual use anyway. So basically I just have to wait and see if I die tomorrow, and if I don’t, then I have to assume I’m ok.