I’m home from the hospital and did not have a heart attack or anything life-threatening. I’ll see my primary care physician later to check out other explanations.
During my stay in the hospital, I waited a lot and felt too tired to even read a lot of the time. This gave me time to think about the very mixed feelings I had about the chest pain, going to the ER, having tests, and not knowing what was going on. First as a child and later as a grown woman, I have always been torn between pretending nothing was wrong and desperately wishing someone would rescue me.
So in the hospital, part of me said, You shouldn’t have even come here. There’s nothing wrong with you. You always make stuff up, over-dramatize the smallest thing so you will get attention.
When I was little, I used to have bad asthma attacks, often in the middle of the night. My mom got up, gave me my medicine, and took me to sleep with her in the guest room. It is one of my memories of feeling really cared for by my mother. Safe.
But on the other hand, when I was about eight or nine, she and my dad were going on a vacation together (very unusual) and leaving us with an older woman they had hired to take care of the four of us. I was very afraid of getting sick while she was gone.
“What if I have an asthma attack when you are gone?” I asked her.
“Then Mrs. WhateverHerNameWas will give you your medicine,” she told me.
“But what if I throw up that medicine?” I worried.
“Then she will give you some more.”
“Won’t you come home and take care of me?” I asked.
“No, you’ll be fine with Mrs. W.”
I did get sick, and I did throw up my medicine. And Mrs. W took care of me, and my mom didn’t come home early. My mom later used that as an example–often–of how I used my health to try to control her. She told me I was manipulative. I felt very ashamed, and I started trying to downplay my symptoms when I felt sick, so she wouldn’t say that anymore. It wasn’t a big deal to be sick or upset, not if my mom didn’t think so.
Some of that still lasts in me. I am afraid of making too big a deal about things. Why did you come to the hospital? You are just wasting resources that could be used to take care of people who genuinely need them.
Here’s another twisted side of this kind of thinking. In a way, it makes me want to have something serious be wrong, so no one will think I am making too much of it. I was in the hospital, not wanting to have a damaged heart, but half hoping that it was something kind of scary. That way I wouldn’t be making a mountain out of a molehill.
I know this perspective has sometimes hurt me. I have postponed going to the doctor until infections have grown so bad that I’m left with permanent scars.
Or another example: I am allergic to nuts–peanuts, cashews, almonds, hazelnuts–super allergic. Although we realized I had this allergy when I was four or five, I never knew how dangerous it was. It was in my twenties, when I became seriously ill from one spoonful from a pot of chili that (I didn’t know) had one cup of peanut butter in gallons of chili, that I heard from a doctor that this was a life-threatening condition. Even after that, I did not want to make a fuss at a restaurant, did not want to interrogate the waiter about what was in food, did not want to tell my friends that I can’t safely eat at a Thai restaurant. I’ve ended up in the ER because I didn’t want to bother anyone, didn’t want to call attention to myself.
(I’m better about this now. I suggest alternatives to Thai restaurants when going out with friends, and I send waiters to the kitchen to ask about ingredients. But this is new in the last five or six years.)
There’s another side of all this, too. It’s the wishing for a rescuer. When I was younger, I used to have crazy crushes on men who did something “gentlemanly” that in some way suggested he would protect me. I couldn’t ask for this directly, of course–too needy, too embarrassing. I might say something indirectly, as a hint, but it was generally so obscure that no one noticed.
I’m not really worth rescuing, was the message I took from all that. I’m inappropriately needy. I don’t matter.
I also dated some men who didn’t really interest me at all, who weren’t necessarily all that smart or kind but had, in one moment or another, made me feel “protected.” I’ve made so many poor decisions in my life, all because I have wanted someone to see that something is wrong, but I didn’t dare ask for it directly. All this was in swirling in my head at the hospital. Childhood wishes and fears are so woven into my adult thinking.
Now I’m home, and the grown-up wise woman part of myself reassures me, No, seriously, I had real symptoms that can mean a heart attack. The nurse on the phone, the doctor in the ER, the doctor on the respiratory cardiac floor–they all told me it was good to come in with those symptoms. Even when I left, the nurse told me, don’t let this keep you from coming in again sometime if you have chest pains. I’ve seen people do that because they think, oh, it’s nothing again, and then they wait too long; some of them die.
It’s about time to let the wise woman make decisions about my health, I think.