Friday, September 11, 2009

Survival of the Frantic

I'm going to live.

If you can believe medical science, that is.

My blood pressure Wednesday was 122/80 and Doc Bollywood (she's a mellower, less glam version of Divya from "Royal Pains") was pleased that my month-long log of home readings were generally good.

Except for one.

"That's the one I took last week in the midst of a panic attack," I said, pointing at the 137/93 scribbled in ballpoint blue.

"Any idea what brought it on?"

"Um ... life?"

She asked me about my history of attacks.

I had always thought they started in my mid-20s, but recently I realized I could trace them back to about the age of 7. I got sick at the local Friendly's, probably on a rancid Fribble, and as a result I had a morbid fear of eating out in restaurants for a while. Hey, if one is going to pass out and die whilst puking, there's comfort in falling face forward into a familiar toilet, know what I mean?

I remembered this long ago incident because, well, I had a panic attack in a restaurant this summer in New York City. It was the one hot and stifling day of the entire Northeastern summer and I think the 15-block expedition in search of Mexican food, whiny Things in tow, wore me down.

And gave me a sudden onset of advanced cancer. Things like that happen, don't they?

Actual scene in the restaurant this summer:

MY LOVE: "Are you checking your pulse?"

ME: "Uh, no. (Fingers instead start scratching common carotid artery in neck rather feeling it up.) Mosquito bite. Zit. Herpes. I need to use the bathroom. Back in a flash."

"How frequent are these attacks?" Doc Bollywood asked.

"Sometimes I'll go months without one. But in the last few weeks, they've actually be happening every few days. Even when I was on vacation, lying in the pool on a floatie having a beer. I had one over the weekend while grilling out on the deck with some friends. They don't paralyze me. I still can walk and talk and breathe and function physically -- though I did overcook the steaks -- but upstairs (points to head) and in here (points to chest), I'm a total mess for a hour. Or three. Five hours once actually."

"How do you handle this when they happen?"

"Sometimes I lie down and do deep breathing while watching home decorating shows on TLC. Most of the time I just try to go about my business while telling myself it's all in my head. Not out loud, though. That would be crazy."

"So this has all been happening more often in the month since you started checking your blood pressure," she said.


She then asked me to describe the symptoms.

Alternating hollowness and tightness in my chest that sometimes climbed into my sinus cavity and out my ears.

The occasional lump stuck behind my lungs like a swallowed hockey puck.

The magnification of every teeny ache, itch, twinge and tingle.

The feeling of uncertainty and dread, like from an impending Jeb Bush presidency.

We looked over my recent blood work (Cholesterol down! Vitamin D up!) and the complete, totally clean physical I had last year.

"What you describe doesn't sound like a cardiac event or anything," Doc Bollywood said.

"I know," I said. "I keep telling myself that. Unless my entire physical condition has changed drastically in a year."

She smiled.

"That couldn't have happened," I said, "could it?"

Doc Bollywood probably started regretting her career choice.

She said, otherwise, I appear perfectly healthy. Since my family has a history of high blood pressure, I should continue to monitor it, but only every other day or so instead of three times a day like I had been doing. Watch the salt. Keep a journal of my panic attacks to see if we detect a pattern to what sets them off. Get some more serious cardio work in three times a week to bring on the endorphins and release the imaginary stresses I've created in my life. Come back in two months and we'll take it from there.

"Let's see if we can stop this before it really starts preventing you from living."


"Living your life. Not 'not breathing.'"

I left her office, walked over to CVS, bought myself a little "freak out" journal to keep around with me and -- 48 hours later -- it's still stone blank.

Unless I've developed Alzheimer's ...


  1. Did you ever see "What About Bob?" Baby steps...take baby steps...

  2. Geeez man, you aren't even OLD yet!!! And let me tell you, no wait, let me tell My Love, men fall apart WAYYY earlier than we women do! (At 63, hubs has a shoe box full of pills, goes to 4 specialists and barely goes 3 days in a row without a complaint! I am FINE, btw! Just worn out from taking care of him and running to the drug store for more of his pills!) Based on my experience (and I know I am not alone!) I would tell My Love to run!!!

  3. Had my first panic attack ever while at a book study group for teaching this fall. Nipped that baby right in the bud, though. I quit my job.

  4. How's your coffee addiction?

    And PS, Everything about a Friendly's "restaurant" is rancid.

  5. You could be like my family and consult a medical journal every time you think something is wrong with you. You'd probably be able to confirm that you do have Alzheimer's.

  6. I've gotten to the point where I panic when I realize I haven't had a panic attack in a while...

  7. I didn't understand the whole panic attack thing until recently after learning my mother has them--she thought it was menopause. My wife is even worse and I have to keep a close eye on her in certain situations. One time in church she started in a full-fledge attack. We ducked out the door and I told everyone she had been overcome by the Spirit and was about to speak in tongues so we didn't want to interrupt the sermon. People bought it.

  8. I was going to say you are not having panic attacks - You are obviously peri-menopausal.

  9. I'm glad you don't actually have sudden onset cancer caused by a hot day in NYC. That would suck.

  10. Divya from Royal Pains...yum!

    Wait, that's not what this was about. Was it?

    (I get panic attacks when I think about hospitals. Try explaining that to a doctor)

  11. I'm impressed how you go to the doctor and get these things checked out. I need to get a second opinion and not keep taking Dr. Google's word about things. Glad you're doing well and your counts are good. I'll bump up the workouts if you'll bump up the workouts!

  12. I've never heard anyone describe panic attacks that are so similar to mine. Except you don't seem to get the crying thing. I get all the weird chesty sensations plus the crying. Luckily, those don't happen very often.

    Glad you're getting it all looked at.

    And when you feel the attack coming on, whatever you do, don't chug a mountain dew. Learned that the hard way.

  13. All things considered, at least you're not in Philadelphia....

  14. Hadn't noticed any panic attacks the last couple of times we blog 'n' grogged. Unless the black and tans masked the symptoms.

    I may start displaying that panicky feeling the next time we meet @ Monster B's, as I got really sick after the last two times I went there. Nary a rancid Fribble in sight.

    PS: Good idea linking the Fribble to its explanatory website. Non-New Englanders unfortunately don't get to enjoy the bliss that is Friendly's ice cream.

  15. Well, that doesn't sound very pleasant. At least the doc didn't think you were going to keel over dead; that would be very bad indeed. By the way, I miss Friendlies restaurants. I haven't eaten at one in years as they seem to only be a northeast thing. Clearly you had a bad experience though. I only ate the sundaes anyway - the oreo one!

  16. Yikes, dude, take care of yourself.

  17. Me too! I started taking Zoloft for anxiety a few months ago and that has helped...a little. Mine started after my son was born with health problems and the worry set in and has never left. Just thought you should know, you are not alone.

  18. nice to see I'm not alone. I have nights that I lay in bed thinking "what if I don't wake up?" that little twinge in my calf earlier 'could' be a blood clot...what if it travels to my lungs?! J is working all night at the deadbolt you can't open from the outside is locked, so HOW WOULD I GET HELP?! I am the proud owner of DNA that includes OCD and other unspecified anxiety disorders...lucky, lucky girl am I! (it's where the Tanqueray comes in handy ;))


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