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Word of the Day: Esophageal.

Did you know that mounting anxiety can cause esophageal spasms?

Picture that, if you wish, the small flap that keeps all things stomach-related down where they should be, spasming like a seizure in the middle of your chest.

(And I thought Cameron Diaz was being dramatic with her esophageal spasms in the movie The Holiday.  They’re actually a real deal something.  And it hurts like hell.)

And did you know that esophageal spasms can cause severe acid reflux that can mimic the same symptoms as a heart attack?

I didn’t know these things. I know now, though.  Yep.  And I’m as clear as a girl can be who was under the influence of Dilautid during the doctor’s explanation.

Yesterday morning, I had this most fierce burning in my chest.  I mean, I’ve had heartburn before, when I was growing each of my children.  But this was a stabbing burn that spread down to my stomach and radiated to my back.

I tried lots of things that should help.  I drank water, water, water.  I pounded a half-bottle of Tums.  I lay down.  I sat up.  I reclined, half elevated.  Nothing would make this fire inside me stop or even subside.

FYI: When you call the doctor and, with shallow breath and broken words, list symptoms of fierce chest pains radiating into your back, be ready to welcome the paramedics into your home in the next 9-12 minutes.

My bedroom filled with 6-8 men with their equipment. Oh, yes, I’ve seen this before.

They placed sticky probes in places I only know because today there are red welts to show they were there at all.  They had me in an ambulance (stat!) and on our way to the hospital in an impressive amount of time.  One paramedic shoveled a path a path through the snow with my son’s child-size yellow shovel.

I have learned before, in my hospitalized unconscious state, I ask people to take pictures of me.  And that’s just all kinds of weird.

Yesterday, I also learned that I have very specific preferences of shoes and socks on my way out the door in an emergency.  Gracious are the people (my mom) who recognize and honor my peccadilloes, odd as they are.  Odd as I am.

Oh, and it turns out, I thank everyone.  Obsessively.

In the ambulance, they tried four times to get an IV going.  Four times with zero success.  On came the tears.  I don’t usually cry over an IV needle, but for crying out loud. I mean, really.  (Apparently I have ‘rolly’ veins.)

I kept crying to them, “Did you get it?  Did you get it this time?”

“We’re sorry, Tricia.  We need to try one more time.”  And another time after that.

I began to picture the sweet faces I had sent to school just an hour before.  God, please let me be okay.  And if you can swing it, let me be fixed and at home before the end of their school day.  These silent prayers, the vivid images of their faces and their worries, brought a wave of tears entirely separate from the incessant probing into my hand.

The paramedic finally gave up, chose to leave the IV to the hospital staff, bandaged my bleeding hands, and said, “I don’t have any Kleenex, but I can give you this.”  He placed a handful of gauze bandages into the palm of my hand so I could dry my tears.

Except my arms were belted down for safety in the vehicle.  So, thanks for the thought, but mascara will continue to flow into my ears until my arms are freed – or my mom is nearby.

In the ER, they ran test after test.  EKG.  Bloodwork.  Ultrasounds. Heart.  Lungs. Gallbladder.  Liver.  What is going on in this girl?

Several hours later, we learned what I wrote above: esophageal spasms from extreme emotional trauma, severe acid reflux that mimics a heart attack.

The nurse said, “Tricia, for every single thought you have, your body gives a physiological response.  Every single thought.  Your subconscious mind can process 40,000 bits of information per second, while your conscious mind can process 40 per second, and your body is responding to all of these.  Is there an emotional trauma you’re dealing with?”

Um, yes.

“You need to take every thought captive.  If your mind starts repeating like a broken record, scratch the record and start over.  Break the thought patterns, and you can change your physiology. And remember, worry is only a prayer for something you don’t want.”

He was kind and gracious.  Attentive and responsive.  And he took out the IV with almost no pain to the patient.

And in God’s goodness, I made it back home before the boys finished their school day.

All the tests proved one very affirming fact: my heart is okay.

Broken, but okay.

Tricia Lott Williford

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  1. Tricia, this is Josh. Robin told me to read your post, and having done so, all I can say is you and I need to do coffee. (Not really, but this is too uncanny!)

    What you’ve written (comical as it is, at times) is exactly what I suffered from for 3.5 years (2006-09). No joke! In all that time, despite a myriad of trips to the doc, I never received an accurate diagnosis. Frustrating! Finally, about the time my symptoms fully abated, I discovered my problem: cricopharyngeal spasms (a sibling of esophageal spasms). This included, as you shared, shortness of breath, soreness in chest and back, acid reflux, and the constant feeling that I had a golf ball lodged in my throat. Basically, rarely did a day go by that I didn’t think I’d keel over and drop dead of a heart attack! What a miserable existence!

    Bottom line, I feel (or have felt) your esophageal pain. So sorry!

  2. Oh, sweet friend… heart aches for you! I am praying, praying, praying, on your behalf! I am so sorry for the pain you feel! I hope to help carry this with you through prayer!

  3. I am glad that you are okay and especially thankful that it was over before the boys got back home! Praying for you!

  4. I’m echoing Janet’s prayer, too. You play it all down, but this is more drama than even a person w/o any significant anniversaries coming up should have to deal with!

  5. How Ironic I had just said a prayer for you that God will help you through this difficult season for you, praying that he would give you a peace and happiness, then I read your post, I will be praying that God will be with you and comfort you and give you happiness over the next several days. I wish you a Merry Christmas with all of my heart. God Bless

  6. Glad you’re okay. I have veins that roll too. I warn them now in hopes there are less tries.

    In my prayers!

  7. i’ve never commented before, but i read every day. 🙂 you were my counselor at camp carl wayyy back in the 90s.

    but dang. that quote from your nurse. was she jesus in scrubs or something?

    • Thank you for posting today and for reading everyday, Chelsea!
      Weren’t those great words from the nurse? Unbelievable nuggets of truth, presented in blue scrubs.

      p.s. I loved those summers back in the late 90s. I bet you could tell some ridiculous stories about me. 🙂

  8. How in the world can you communicate such trauma and intense grief with such hilarity? Your words are delicious to the eye of my soul. What a gift from God. Praying for peace….if that’s possible?

    • Carol, we’ll take every semblence of peace we can find. Thank you for praying. 🙂

  9. Ditto what Janet just wrote. I couldn’t have said it any better. Lots of hugs!

  10. BAWLING. I am so glad your boys weren’t there to witness that. I am so glad that your broken heart is physically ok…although emotionally a wreck. I am so glad that God placed that nurse into that room to say those wise words to you.

    Your poor mom. (I am old enough to be your mother…I know she would have been worried.)

    Thanks for sharing that.

    Lord, help me remember that my sister is hurting. Help me to keep her in my prayers constantly over the next few days. Comfort her, strengthen her, help her, guide her and keep her. May she make happy memories with her boys and other family members. Thank you that You know her heart better than she does. Heal that broken heart, Lord. In Jesus’ precious name, I pray.


  11. How scary! I’m so glad you were back in time for your boys and they are none-the-wiser.

  12. Oh, Tricia. You are strong. And brave. And amazing.

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