“It’s definitely not your heart – it’s just acid reflux!” That was the first regrettable (and wrong) thing that the E.R. doctor said to me, despite my textbook heart attack symptoms of crushing chest pain, sweating, nausea, and pain radiating down my left arm. When I raised the topic of stupid comments on Inspire’s WomenHeart online community, cardiac survivors jumped right in.
These women were all too happy to share some of the real-life comments that physicians have actually said out loud to them. Most of these dismissive comments were made shortly before these patients subsequently had to undergo life-saving cardiac procedures. Each comment is true; the names of the physicians have not been disclosed in order to protect the stupid (a word, by the way, which I’m using here in its most charitable dictionary definition: “lacking common sense, dazed, unable to think clearly”). Here goes:
TT, age 49, USA:
- “Well, you’re just like any other 80 year-old patient I see.” (I’m 49!)
- Me: “I’m short of breath!”
- Cardiologist: “You’re just out of shape!”
- Me: “I have a crazy heart rate – I feel like I have a vibrating pager in my chest!”
- Cardiologist: “Maybe your breast is just buzzing.”
- (triple bypass surgery)
MJ, age 37, Finland:
- Cardiologist, after I had suffered an odd burning in my chest for months every morning: “I think you should go to a therapist. I would call your symptoms a Housewife-Syndrome.”
- (triple bypass, five stents)
MB, age 37, USA:
- Cardiac surgeon: “You have from six weeks to 20 years to live!” – and then left, with no explanation.
- Therapist: “Suck it up – why do you have to wear v-neck shirts? It doesn’t make sense that your bypass scar is sensitive.”
- (quintuple bypass)
G, age 66, Canada:
- The doctor kept telling me I was just having a gall bladder attack when my heart attack became full-blown. Later, when I had to go back to hospital with a possible blood clot in my leg (the harvest field where a blood vessel had been removed for my heart bypass surgery) she said: “Well, I guess I was wrong about your heart attack!”
- (two stents, quadruple bypass, sternum removal)
S, age 70, USA:
- When I complained to my (former) cardiologist that I had shortness of breath when I climbed just one flight of stairs, her reply was: “So do I!”
- (atrial fibrillation)
BA, age 44, USA:
- Cardiologist #1: “Don’t know what the pain is, but it is definitely not cardiac.”
- Cardiologist #2: “Your arm hurts when you walk because you swing it too much. You get out of breath when you climb stairs because it is just you. Your stress tests are all bad, but we just won’t do anymore because we know they will be bad, but that is okay.”
- (Inoperable Coronary Microvascular Disease, vasospasms, pulmonary hypertension)
HS, age 54, USA:
- “But you look so good on the outside!”
- “Lose a little more weight – you will feel better!”
- “If you got rid of some stress, that would help a lot!”
- 1st cardiologist after I spent one week in CCU: “It’s just a virus!”
- Endocrinologist, after three more months of constant chest pain and shortness of breath: “You should keep running and swimming. There is no way YOU will have a heart attack!
- 2nd cardiologist, after two MORE months of constant chest pain and SOB: “You are just a complainer – it CAN’T be your heart!” (too young, too fit, too everything)
- 3rd cardiologist, after two more weeks of crushing fatigue and pain – “If it isn’t pheochromocytoma, then it must be in your head. Take Wellbutrin!”
- 3rd cardiologist, after a cardiac MRI shows mitral valve insufficiency: “I don’t believe in that diagnosis, so it can’t be your heart!”
- 3rd Cardiologist, after another month: “If you’d taken Wellbutrin like I said two months ago, we wouldn’t be here today!”
- Endocrinologist, one month after I returned from Mayo Clinic for treatment – with good results: ” I think the diagnosis is wrong. The treatment is wrong, and it is all the placebo effect. You’ll be back with all the symptoms in another few months.”
- P.S. Can I please tell my insurance NOT to pay these idiots?!! PLEASE, PLEASE?
B. age 51, USA:
- “I’d much rather tell a patient he/she had heart disease than cancer.”
- (double bypass, two stents, Prinzmetal’s angina, vasospasm)
S. age 43, USA:
- Cardiologist, yelling: (after I almost died from sepsis, one week after being admitted to the CCU, and feeling very groggy from pain meds): “Wake up!” You had a heart attack! Wake up!!”
- (two heart attacks, four stents)
BH, age 34, USA:
- First doctor (in hospital where I’d been admitted for lungs filled with fluid): “I don’t think you need to be here!”
- Second doctor (a few hours later): “You have congestive heart failure.”
M, age 54, USA:
- I worked as a mail carrier. After I told my cardiologist that I needed to find a new job, he said: “Well, you’re gonna need one where you can lay down a lot. How about a mechanic? Or a prostitute?”
- (Prinzmetal’s angina)
SP, age 59, USA:
- “Why don’t you come back in two weeks for an angiogram when I finish my vacation?”
- (Instead, I sought a second opinion and needed emergency surgery for a massive “widow-maker” heart attack caused by a full blockage in the Left Anterior Descending coronary artery).
- First electrophysiologist: “Go for a cardiac ablation and don’t be afraid to get out of the box of fear!”
- Second EP: “Don’t do that!
- Me: “Why not?”
- Second EP: “Because you’ll die, of course!
- ER nurse: “You’ll have to stop asking questions of the doctor. He’s a very good doctor, and he does not like to be questioned!”
- Doctor, later: “Things could be a lot WORSE, you know!”
- Same doctor: “Can’t you just PUSH THROUGH the fatigue?”
- (heart attack, stent, inoperable coronary microvascular disease)
- “Honey, you have just moved away for the first time. You are probably lonely for your mother. I would go and have a baby if I were you!” - all without ever putting a stethoscope to my chest.
- (aortic and mitral valve replacement, pacemaker)
- “Well, you are fixed, right? You have those bypasses. And the stents. They fixed you right up. Nothing more to worry about…..”
- (triple bypass, stents, aortic rupture)
- “Are you SURE you didn’t abuse drugs?”
- (dilated cardiomyopathy)
- When asked if I had any chest pain, I replied : “Yes, a sharp pain when I breathe.”
- Doctor: “It’s probably psychological!”
- (three stents, peripheral artery disease)
- “Your second cardiac enzyme blood test for troponins came back elevated. You’ve had a heart attack. You’ll be airlifted to another hospital first thing tomorrow morning. Oh, and we’ve admitted you, but there are no beds in the CCU, so you’ll have to stay here in the E.R.”
- (And then he left me there…..all alone. Thank God for the sweet nurse who heard me crying and came to speak with me).
- “You’re still on pain meds? You need to get off those. I have patients much older than you who are off pain meds by the time they leave the hospital.”
- (after quadruple bypass surgery with infection in my incision)
- First ER doc: “You are having an anxiety attack. We will probably send you home tonight.” (two days later, heart catheterization confirmed a heart attack and blockages in four arteries).
- Second ER doc: ” Dizziness is not a symptom of a heart attack. It is probably your sinuses.” (second heart attack and emergency quadruple bypass surgery the next day).
RP, age 41, USA:
- Cardiologist: “Maybe we should try some anti-anxiety meds.”
- Me: “Well, if it will help me not have chest pain when I carry laundry upstairs, then okay.”
- Cardiologist: “Maybe not…”
- (heart attack, two stents)
JIC, age 65, USA:
- “Dear, you’re a cardiac nurse, you’ve seen too much and are just ‘assimilating’ these cardiac symptoms. I have had over 10,000 heart patients and I have only ever seen one vasospasm. Your coronary arteries are clear. It’s your gall bladder.”
- (cardiac arrest, microvascular disease, vasospasm)
- Me: “I have been having terrible trouble with my heart racing too fast when trying to use the exercise bike.”
- Cardiologist: “Well, of course it will go faster if you are exercising. Mine would too!”
- (heart attack, coronary artery spasm)
PUR, age 44, USA:
- Doctor: “Fortunately, you do NOT have an abscess in your esophagus!“
- Me: “But what about my ascending aortic aneurysm?
- Doctor: “We only CT’d your neck, not your aorta.”
- (congenital heart disease, aortic valve replacement, cardiomyopathy, atrial tachycardia).
WF, age 53, USA:
- After I told my previous cardiologist that I couldn’t deal with not knowing if my heart would ever go back into regular rhythm, or tolerating the shortness of breath and rapid pulse (160+) when I was in atrial fibrillation, his response was: “When I ride my bike or run a marathon, my heart rate is way up, and I am okay. You’ll be okay, too. You’re too young to have to worry about that.”
- (atrial fibrillation arrhythmia)
BE, age 51, USA:
- Me: “Am I well enough to go on my vacation?”
- Cardiologist: “Well, not really, but you should be fine. If you’re asking me if you will have another heart attack and die while you are gone, I don’t think you will. But people drop dead for all sorts of reasons every day, so….” - and then he shrugged his shoulders and left the room.
- (double bypass, two stents, Prinzmetal’s angina, diastolic dysfunction)
KI, age 47, USA:
- “Eat butter only on your birthday!”
- (SCAD – Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection)
CS, age 70, U.K:
- Me: “The heart medications I’m on are causing my legs to swell up.”
- Cardiologist: “Buy baggy trousers!”
- He is the same one who told me I could no longer work, but added: “Go home and live a quiet life without any worries!”
- (inoperable coronary artery disease)
SE, age 50, USA:
- First cardiologist, 1999: “WOMEN DON’T HAVE HEART PROBLEMS!”
- Second cardiologist, recently, to my husband: “Her artery (80% blocked) is causing a ‘small amount of pain, and she is getting anxious and making it worse.” (I gave birth to six babies with NO anesthesia. I think I can handle a “small amount of pain”!!)
LM, age 43, USA:
- Cardiologist, filing his nails leaning against a table: “There’s nothing wrong with you other than you have a fatty liver from high cholesterol from the way you eat.”
- Me: “Well, what was my cholesterol level?”
- Him: “I dunno. We didn’t do a test.”
- (arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia)
My husband swears this groggy conversation actually happened in the ICU:
- Cardiologist: ” And what brought you to hospital?”
- Me : “An ambulance.”
- Cardiologist : “No, why are you here?”
- Me: “Isn’t this the Hilton?”
- Cardiologist to other cardiologist: “We have a live one here!”
- Me: “Gosh, I hope so. Let’s try and keep it that way.”
- (congestive heart failure, ICD (implantable cardioverter-defibrillator), familial dilated cardiomyopathy)
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♥ This article ranked in the Top 10 Most-Read Posts here on Heart Sisters for 2011.