Patient with Cardiac Symptoms Learns Valuable Emergency Department Lesson

For two weeks, Erica Smith struggled with chest pain, shortness of breath and dizziness. Her immediate family medical history includes those who died of cardiac arrest.

But she put off going to the Emergency Department (ED) for two simple reasons: she hates going to the doctor, and she didn’t want to waste anyone’s time if turned out to be nothing – especially those care providers dealing with real emergencies. Plus, she worried about feeling embarrassed if it turned out she had imagined her symptoms.

Smith, 41, heads up Springfield’s Helping Hands nonprofit, but previously she worked in healthcare communication. She has seen the studies and written stories about women who too often dismiss symptoms or put off healthcare because they don’t want to inconvenience anyone or “make a fuss.”

“I first called a primary care provider, then I went to see a nurse practitioner, and finally I went to ExpressCare,” she said. “Everyone told me to go to the ED, but I hesitated.”

A few days later, she went to the Memorial Medical Center ED. Although there were health issues, she wasn’t having a heart attack nor had she experienced one earlier. Her “worst” fear of being embarrassed had come true, but the ED staff changed her perspective.

“The ED staff helped me understand how my thinking was backwards,” she said. “They weren’t upset with me, nor did they feel I wasted their time. They conducted all the necessary tests to ensure I wasn’t having a heart attack. Before I could feel stupid or embarrassed, they emphasized that you don’t just go to the ED when things are so bad that it’s too late. You go to the ED when you experience real symptoms of an emergency situation.”

After meeting with Kristina Waggoner, APRN, at Memorial Physician Services – Chatham, Erica learned she suffered from a B12 deficiency, which can mimic cardiac symptoms in some people, and her anxiety level was way over normal. Addressing both the B12 deficiency and anxiety is lessening Erica’s earlier symptoms.

“I’m so glad I followed up with Kristina,” she said. “The entire experience has given me a whole new perspective, and I hope it can be helpful to others. It occurred to me how stupid I had been and how lucky I was that my ‘worst fear’ came true.”