Monday, July 11, 2011

Chest Pains

Prologue:  This is a piece I wrote back in May 2011, several days after a second visit to Pink Bank Hospital emergency room in a matter of months.  This was very hard to write, and has taken me quite awhile to decide to publish it.  But there's something I want you to know........... 

Penned: June 1, 2011

I want to write about what happened to me last week. I don’t know if I can do this publicly.

It scared the crap out of me.

My husband was  away on business trip.  I was by myself.  It was Thursday afternoon. May 26, 2011.

Feeling a bit tired, I lay down on my bed and napped for about an hour.  After waking,  I got up and felt a pain in my chest area.  Sort of like I’d been sleeping in a weird position and the muscles had yet to properly straighten out.

But the feeling didn’t go away.  In fact it started to escalate.  My chest tightened, I began to feel slightly nauseous, and it hurt when I breathed in.  My abdomen became swollen and I felt full despite having eaten very little that day.

I started to feel very frightened.  Much of what I was feeling, was similar to how I felt back in March when I had the heart issue.  But this was different,  in that now my breathing seemed to be involved in a way that was painful.

I sat on the couch trying to convince myself it was nothing.  But experience told me otherwise.

I debated who to call first.

Since my husband was away, the closest people were my in-laws.  I knew that they would jump to it, and do whatever I asked.  But all I could think about was how much my call was going to freak them out.

Then I thought about calling my friend who is a nurse.  But she probably wasn't home and I didn’t want to leave her a message.

I realized my doctor’s office was now closed, but I could reach the on-call doctor.  I reached the answering service and when they asked me the problem to relay to the doctor, I heard myself say “chest pains”.  There, I’d actually said it.  Chest pains.  Then I started to cry.  I was alone and I was frightened.

The on-call doctor telephoned me within about five minutes.  Chest pains? Yes. As he was questioning me I broke down and cried like a blubbering mess.  He was calm and very nice, and quietly suggested that I needed to get myself to the emergency room and did I have someone to drive me?  Yes I did.  He said he would call ahead and let them know I was coming. Chest pains.

My mother-in-law arrived and we immediately set off.  She was driving like a maniac and kept asking me how I felt.  Chest pains? How are the chest pains now? I had to tell her to stop talking, slow down and just get me to the ER in one piece.  We drove the rest of the way in silence, whilst I sat there quietly freaking out. Chest pains.

Upon arrival at the ER I said “I have chest pains” and I was immediately asked to fill out paperwork.  Thinking when you are in this state is almost impossible.  Then they told me to take a seat and wait for the triage nurse.  But I’m freaking out, I have chest pains.  Please take a seat.  I sat near the station desk, and heard them talking about me.  I had become Chest Pains.  Not a person who is extremely upset and frightened.  Chest Pains.

After what seemed like an eternity but was probably only five minutes the triage nurse called me in.  Take your purse off my desk she chided me.  Then the questions.  The jaded questions.  Chest pains? Look at the smiley face chart.  Describe your pain on a scale of one to ten.   Describe your pain. DESCRIBE YOUR PAIN PLEASE.  I break down and sob.  I can’t speak.  I don’t know.  All I know is that something is very wrong.

Something inside the nurse softens.  Honey I’m sorry I know this is hard but we’ll figure this out.  I’m just going to write that you’re at a “9”.  Chest Pains is at a Nine.  Now I’m going to try and find you a bed.  Makes a call.  I have Chest Pains here who’s at a Nine, can you please clean out Number 6 for her.  Chest Pains. Nine. Number 6.  Where am I?

Now she feels really sorry for me and walks me back into the ER.  Number 6 isn’t ready, so I am placed on a gurney in the hall.  Chest Pains?  Yes.  Monitors are attached.  Number 6 will be ready soon.  Please go to the bathroom and put this gown on in the meantime.  I leave my underwear on.

I wait.  Two hours later I am shown to my “room” and I become Number Six.

More monitors.  More needles.  More Doctors.  More Examinations.  No Answers.

11.30PM.  Number 6? Chest Pains? Cat Scan? Yes.  Finally some answers.

1AM.  I hear the Doctor discussing my case.  Number 6? Chest Pains. Yes.  Cat Scan.  Less than 10%.  Good.

1.30AM.  Doctor stops in.  You have a small partial collapsed lung. A pneumothorax.  We’re going to keep you on oxygen overnight and watch you.  We hope it will just correct itself.  We don’t know why it’s happened but it doesn’t appear to be lung mets.  This is good news.  It could have been much worse.

Much worse.  Yes.  That’s true.  Just not today.

2AM.  Would you like a sleeping pill? 5mg or 10mg? 5mg please. Number 6. Chest Pains. 5mg.

8AM. Number 6? Chest Pains? Chest X-Ray.

9AM.  Dr Cuteness appears at my bedside and takes my hand.  Rachel I’m sorry you had to go through this. I don’t know why it happened.  You can go home now and I’ll talk to you on Wednesday.


The first time since the ordeal began that anyone called me by my first name in a way that connected me with what I had just gone through.

Rachel. I had chest pains.  I had a partial collapsed lung.  I have cancer. I am scared.


Epilogue:  The pneumothorax was small enough that I did not require a surgical intervention and so far appears to have healed on its own.  

Anna Rachnel is a pen name I created for myself when I first started blogging in 2009.  I was reluctant to reveal my real name due to a severe case of cyber-paranoia.  As the blog became more widely read, I started to question whether to keep the pen-name.  

What purpose was the pen-name serving, other than as a kind of security blanket?

Today it's time to shed the security blanket.  I have found my virtual identity.  I have found community.  I have found friendship.  I have found trust.  

Anna Rachnel has served her purpose.

My name is Rachel.  Rachel May.  I am named for my great grandmother.

This is me.  Rachel May.  June, 2011


  1. I just can't say how incredible you are:)

    Thank you, thank you for sharing this.


  2. RACHEL, you are one of the most awesome women it is my pleasure to know. BIG HUGS TO YOU! -Jacks

  3. Wow Rachel, you are one amazing woman. I was sobbing just reading this, so sorry you had to deal with this! many hugs, Elyn

  4. Glad to meet you Rachel. It took a lot of courage to share that story. Thank you and take good care, Debbie

  5. Oh Rachel, I can sooo identify! I woke up with chest pains 2 weeks ago and went to the ER with my son. They determined it was of "unknown cause," but it didn't relate to my heart. I blogged about it because I thought others should know.

    Today I am following up with my oncologist because the pain has not subsided. I had a chest x-ray at the ER but not a CAT scan.

    Pneumothorax is not fun. It happened to me when they put in a cath port into my neck to administer chemo. With much pain I had to stay in the hospital overnight. But it did heal up on its own.

    I'm with you, sister. And thanks for your courage in sharing. All those punched by cancer can relate to any ache or pain unexplained.


  6. Rachel, you have been a true blessing in my life. I feel so incredibly lucky to know you.

    Much love and I'm so glad I can stop calling you Anna. :)


  7. Hi Rachel! It's great to see you. I so relate to the security blanket. I think I'm the same way when I refuse to mention my blog. It's just a way of staying safe in a scary world. I'm glad you felt secure enough to come out to us. A beautiful post! You nearly had me in tears, but at the end you got me smiling... thanks!

  8. Rachel,
    I am so proud of you! Sharing personal stuff like this is not easy. Exposing feelings of vulnerability is even harder and also scary. Thank you for doing it anyway, my friend. You are amazing.

  9. Rachel, wow. Thank you for telling us. Who you are matters, at least to me.

  10. Rachel May, nice to meet you. I am Christina Bonazelli.
    I always look my doctors straight in the eye and say, "My name is Christina. Let's not forget that." :) Otherwise, my name would be invasive ductal carcinoma, 3B. Who wants that? :)

  11. Courage, Strength and, well, just plain AWESOMENESS :)
    It's great to meet you Rachel!


  12. Oh, Rachel!
    You've got so much on your plate, and you were alone when this happened. I identify so much. How scary this was. I remember the two times I was taken to the emergency room for heart problems--caused by chemo--once in an ambulance and once by my husband, James. Since James died, I have this nagging fear about if/when the next problem occurs: I live way out in the country and wonder who will be there for me?

    Thank you for sharing your story and your name. You are loved and respected by all.


  13. Hi Rachel,
    Thanks for sharing your name and your heartfelt feelings and experiences. Being authentic connects us with each other and helps us find common ground. I can relate as I've had a similar terrifying ER experience. Hugs and love to you.

  14. oh, Anna, i know now why i have to call you RACHEL!

    love xoxo
    Cathie (... or Catirosi)

  15. Dear Rachel, (!)
    Thank you for sharing this. What a scary event! What a miserable experience!
    Shelli @ The Dirty Pink Underbelly

  16. Rach, I've had the privilege of knowing you as Rachel for a while now, but congrats on "coming out." Reading about this ordeal again makes me cry -- again. I just hate emergency rooms. And me, a clinician. Sigh. Pretty much, you end up feeling like it's a liability to be conscious when they wheel you in. I'm just so glad it was "only" a pneumothorax. "Only." Hah! Then, of course, there is why did you have a pneumothorax? That's another blog post probably.

    The best thing that happened was Dr. Cuteness holding your hand and saying your name. Your real name. XXXXXXXXOOOOOOOO

  17. This was so beautifully written and honest, I have tears in my eyes right now! You are gorgeous and amazing Rachel! Thank you for sharing your experiences with us.

  18. Hi Rachel - I'm Jenny I recently have become less anonymous too after nearly three years of hiding behind jaydub26 and "Get Out Gertrude" - I have actually made them change my hospital labels to say Jenny instead of my full name Jennifer. Because everytime they call me Jennifer I feel like I'm not acknowledged as myself just what is written on the piece of paper - they may as well call out my hospital number, it would have as much relevance as calling me Jennifer. Tehre is power in our real names

  19. Rachel,

    This was so beautifully poignant, and I'm in tears. You are so courageous; thank you for introducing us to you at last! WOW. Your posting blew me away.

    Yes, emergency rooms and hospitals suck. I'm so sorry you have had such trauma.

  20. Rachel, you are an inspiration to others out there.. xx

  21. RACHEL! love that name!
    you are an inspiration to me.

  22. You are Rachel May and you are beautiful and you are brave and you are strong. And you are not alone. <3

  23. Rachel,
    Given that you are named after your great grandmother, you have clearly articulated that maternal strength. I suspect your grandma would be proud. I certainly am. Your cancer doesn't stand a chance. You are Rachel. :)


  24. Rachel,
    What an amazing post. I believe there are only a few true life changing events for all of us....I hope this was one of yours. I have been following your blog and know you have very strong opinions about breast cancer and not afraid to speak your mind. While I may not have agreed with all you have said, I listened and tried to learn from it. Today, I felt like you were really talking with your heart. If I never learned anything before, I did today. For me it had nothing to do with breast cancer. It was more about the fact that we are all human beings... most of us hiding behind something..... trying to live our lives the best way we can. Thank you for trusting us with your truth.

  25. Dear all. You have completely overwhelmed me with your wonderful and thoughtful comments. It's not often that I'm at a loss for words. As you know, this kind of a post is unusual for me, but the experience so deeply affected me, I had to write about it to make sense of it. For health profs here, know that even one nanosecond of humanity can make all the difference in a patients experience. We need it. Thank you all for your continued readership and indeed friendship. This community has come to mean more to me than I ever could have imagined.

    Lots of love, Rachel :)

  26. Rachel, what an amazingly honest & brilliantly written post, thank you for sharing. Love Chez. xx

  27. Reading this with tears in my eyes, thanks a lot!! :) While that was a terrible thing to endure, the fact is, you endured it. You faced it. You asked for help when you needed it, and you got through it. Good for you. THanks for sharing. It's hard to admit vulnerability, but that's what connects all of us cancer-chicks.

  28. Hi Rachel! Thank you for "coming out". I am so glad you are glad you went to the ER and so glad that you trusted us with yourself. Thank you for your writing, you made me cry.

  29. Wait. Your name is Rachel? Why have I been calling you fool all these years? How strange. Nice to see you finally out of the closet. Now I dont have to hide the fact I'm related to a super hero.

    PS: Do you want some more sweets, if so, which ones? Fool.

  30. Rachel.... you touch people deeply with your truth and honesty. I am so pleased to know you, and to call you Rachel. xxx

  31. Nicely done. It was one of your best posts yet. By becoming 'vulnerable' and shedding the security blanket you have validated everything we all feel as well.

    We are all scared. We all hate cancer.

    Hello Rachel. Nice to 'meet' you :)

  32. Bye Anna, Hello Rachel! I'm glad you are here, and glad you are blogging. Mary, Last Call for Margaritas

  33. I am in tears reading this Rachel and I am not sure why but I just feel all emotional at you shedding your security blanket. It feels like a defining moment somehow. I too started off blogging anoymously - hence the JBBC moniker. I did it for professional reasons because I didn't want my "cancer" identity to get in the way of my "work" persona. But then I realised that cancer is so much a part of who I am in every aspect of my life, that I wasn't being true to myself by hiding it. I am so proud of you for how you fearlessly shine a light on the reality of living with metastatic cancer and on another note..yay! I can call you Rachel now and not worry about slipping up when I leave a comment here. Marie aka JBBC

  34. Rachel is a beautiful name, glad to hear you're showing it off. Hello Rachel, it's nice to meet you :) I'm Catherine.

    PS- wow, did you ever nail the confusion of the ER. It's just that overwhelming - being called by your name must have felt like an island in the chaos.

  35. And the wonderful comments keep coming in. Thank you so much or taking the time. I read and appreciate every one of your comments. Thank you thank you thank you! Love Rachel :) xxxxx

  36. Oh Rachel my goodness. This is a little late, but I will use the fact that I can't usually access blogspot as my excuse! I too was blown away by your post, the sense of such deep gut wrenching fear by the chest pains, and then BANG - when you stand up and shed your protective identity shell. I very much identify with that need to maintain a protective layer and have massive respect and affinity. It is an honour to know you, and to meet Rachel. Big hugs xxx

  37. Rachel,
    My dear friend, Katie Hall, aka Uneasy Pink, sent me a link to your blog entry. She knows my passion for winning back your subjectivity within any objectifying situation (or culture) by having your own say!!!!

    Beautifully written, straight to my heart.

    Thank you, Rachel.

  38. Thank you Rachel - for finding and sharing your voice with us. You're a great inspiration.

    Much love and respect, Marlena

  39. Pleased... and honored... to meet you, Rachel. I personally thank you for sharing this with us. And I'm sooooooooo glad you are here to do so much sharing. God love you, girl. xox ♥

  40. I just came here from another site and all I can say is Wow.
    So happy to meet you Rachel. What an inspiration you are.

  41. Heard about you on journelingbeyondbreastcancer. Have added you to my Fav's. Thank you for your honesty. Looking forward to reading more!

  42. Wonderful post!!! Genuinely loved this kind of post. Although I want much more information on like precious subject matter. 
    Conquering Low Back Pain


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