by Rebecca Fortunato
I waited two weeks to see him. This doctor was touted as the best cardiologist in Thousand Oaks. As I sat in his well-appointed waiting room, I realized that I was the only person there under the age of 50. What was worse is that I was the only woman there.
In the examination room, the doctor perused my chart and began with the questions: "So, you're experiencing chest pain?"
"Yes, I am," I replied.
"Well, we'll run a few tests—see what we can find out."
Over my next two visits, he ran a battery of tests: an EKG, chest x-ray, echocardiogram, exercise stress test and CT scan.
I wasn't sure what possessed me to do so at the time, but after my first visit with this doctor, I contacted the Women's Heart Center at Cedar Sinai. I was told that there was a six-month wait. Nonetheless, I gave my name to the receptionist and asked her to call me if there were any cancellations. She promised she would.
Now it was time for the results. I remember being very excited. "Surely," I thought, "he must have found something." Good, bad or indifferent, I needed to know what that something was.
I waited for over 15 minutes, and then the doctor rushed in, leading me to believe that he was in a hurry to get this over with. He sat down and flipped through my chart. He then looked at me and said rather curtly, "Well, there's nothing wrong with your heart."
I was stunned. "Really? Are you sure?"
"Yes, all of the tests came back negative." His response was indifferent.
"Wow, OK," I said. "Any recommendations as to what I should do next?"
"I'd recommend seeing a good gastroenterologist," he replied. "In the meantime, I'm going to prescribe you some Xanax."
"Why would you prescribe Xanax?" I said, somewhat offended.
"Well, it has been my experience that women your age who complain of chest discomfort are under a lot of stress."
Insult to injury anyone?
As I was leaving his office, floored as to how completely I was blown off, my cell phone rang.
"Hello, Rebecca? This is Deborah calling from the Women's Heart Center at Cedar Sinai." With that phone call, the course of my life changed.
How to Walk Away
I say "how" instead of "why" for several reasons. For all his accolades, this doctor was unprepared to diagnosis a young woman with heart disease. The tests offered, while standard, could not diagnose ischemic heart disease. But how was I to proceed? Where do you go when you've just left "the best" cardiologist in your area with a prescription that you'll never fill?
The first thing you do is get your facts straight. While few people live within driving distance of a state-of-the-art medical facility, most have access to the Internet. Research your symptoms. Reach out to others in the community who share your experience. Talk to your family and friends and get their advice. Insist upon the care you deserve, and don't stop until you've received the peace of mind that comes with a diagnosis.
Here are some sites that have helped me wrap my head around my condition. If you are experiencing similar symptoms, perhaps these sites will help you too.