By Barry Zander, Edited by Monique Zander, the Never-Bored RVers

We were fortunate to have several highly experienced nurses among the travelers on our caravan trip to the Canadian Maritimes this summer, including Sarah from Seattle, who gave me good advice when I was having severe heartburn.  With that in mind, she forwarded this article, which I found very interesting.  Maybe if you read all the way through it, Sarah may save your life (and it’s not just for females).  At the end I have printed comments to previous blogs.

Female Heart Attacks

The Emergency Room nurse who wrote this, begins … I was aware that female heart attacks are different, but this is the best description I’ve ever read.  Women rarely have the same dramatic symptoms that men have … you know, the sudden stabbing pain in the chest, the cold sweat, grabbing the chest & dropping to the floor that we see in movies.  Here is the story of one woman’s experience with a heart attack.

I had a heart attack at about 10:30 p.m. with NO prior exertion, NO prior emotional trauma that one would suspect might have brought it on.  I was sitting all snugly & warm on a cold evening, with my purring cat in my lap, reading an interesting story my friend had sent me, and actually thinking, “Aah, this is the life, all cozy and warm in my soft, cushy Lazy Boy with my feet propped up.”

A moment later, I felt that awful sensation of indigestion, like when you’ve been in a hurry and grabbed a bite of sandwich and washed it down with a dash of water, and that hurried bite seems to feel like you’ve swallowed a golf ball going down the esophagus in slow motion, and it is most uncomfortable.  You realize you shouldn’t have gulped it down so fast and needed to chew it more thoroughly, and this time drink a glass of water to hasten its progress down to the stomach.  This was my initial sensation – the only trouble was, I hadn’t taken a bite of anything since about 5 p.m.

After it seemed to subside, the next sensation was like little squeezing motions that seemed to be racing up my SPINE (hindsight, it was probably my aorta spasms), gaining speed as they continued racing up and under my sternum (breast bone, where one presses rhythmically when administering CPR).

This fascinating process continued on into my throat and branched out into both jaws.  AHA!! NOW I stopped puzzling about what was happening – we all have read and/or heard about pain in the jaws being one of the signals an MI (“myocardial infarction,” the technical term for a heart attack), haven’t we?  I said aloud to myself and the cat, “Dear God, I think I’m having a heart attack!”

I lowered the footrest, dumping the cat from my lap, started to take a step and fell on the floor instead.  I thought to myself, “If this is a heart attack, I shouldn’t be walking into the next room where the phone is or anywhere else … but, on the other hand, if I don’t, nobody will know that I need help, and if I wait any longer I may not be able to get up in a moment.”  I pulled myself up with the arms of the chair, walked slowly into the next room and dialed the paramedics [9-1-1-].  I told her I thought I was having a heart attack due to the pressure building under the sternum and radiating into my jaws.  I didn’t feel hysterical or afraid, just stating the facts.  She said she was sending the paramedics over immediately, asked if the front door was near me, and if so, to unbolt the door and then lie down on the floor where they could see me when they came in.

I unlocked the door and then laid down on the floor as instructed and lost consciousness, as I don’t remember the medics coming in, their examination, lifting me onto a gurney or getting me into their ambulance, or hearing the call they made to the hospital ER on the way, but I did briefly awaken when we arrived and saw that the radiologists was already there in his surgical blues and cap, helping the medics pull my stretcher out of the ambulance.  He was bending over me asking questions (probably something like, “Have you taken any medications?”), but I couldn’t’ make my mind interpret what he was saying or form an answer, and nodded off again, not waking up until the cardiologist and partner had already threaded the teeny angiogram balloon up my femoral artery into the aorta and into my heart, where they installed 2 side-by-side stents to hold open my right coronary artery.

…  my cardiologist was already to go to the OR in his scrubs and to get going on restarting my heart (which had stopped somewhere between my arrival and the procedure and installing the stents).

Why have I written all this with so much detail?  Because I want you … to know what I learned firsthand:

  1. Be aware that something very different is happening in your body, not the usual men’s symptoms, but inexplicable things happening (until my sternum and jaws got into the act).  It is said that many more women than men die of their first (and last) MI because they didn’t know they were having one and commonly mistake it for indigestion, take some Maalox or other anti-heartburn preparation and go to bed, hoping they’ll feel better in the morning when they wake up … which doesn’t happen.  … Your symptoms might not be exactly like mine, so I advise you to the call the paramedics if ANYTHING is unpleasantly happening you’ve not felt before.  It is better to have a false alarm visitation than to risk you life guessing what it might be.
  2. Note that I said, “Call the paramedics [9-1-1].” And if you can, take an aspirin.  Ladies, TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE!  DO NOT try to drive yourself to the ER – you are a hazard to others on the road.  DO NOT have your panicked husband, who will be speeding and looking anxiously at what’s happening with you instead of the road.
  3. DO NOT call your doctor – he doesn’t’ know where you live, and if it’s night, you won’t reach him anyway.   If it’s daytime, his assistants (or answering service) will tell you to call the paramedics (9-1-1).  He doesn’t carry the equipment in his car that you need to be saved.  The paramedics do, principally oxygen that you need ASAP.  Your doctor will be notified later.

I know this is not specifically RV-related, but I hope you’ll forgive me for addressing an issue that could be life-saving for RVers, both male and female.

From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.

Because of the numerous Spam comments on this site, the comments section has been deactivated.  Please email us at [email protected] and I will pass along your comments.    Learn about Alaska and see travel photos at (and much more to come when time allows).


FROM KATHY LAUTZ — Hello, Barry and Monique, Thanks for your blog. I enjoy it very much. I’m a solo traveler, which makes taking notes even more problematic. I got the bright idea recently to use my cellphone voice recorder to take notes. I keep the phone within arm’s reach and the program running (it won’t record if I’m not talking).  It’s a great way to instantly talk myself a note about something I see or want to remember or look up later. My verbal dictation to myself is fun to listen to, and once in the habit, the notes become a wealth of detailed information that I wouldn’t otherwise have.

FROM MARIAN McDONALD — We live in Anchorage and made many trips over the Alcan.  It is worth every second.  Go for it.

FROM PAM ROSE (The Rambling Roses) — My husband and I have been living on the road now for a year – I drive the motorhome and he rides his bicycle!  Anyway, we have been driving south on US 101, and just left Oregon and are now in the Redwoods of California.  Here are my questions: Do you know if Hwy 1 (branches off of 101 and follows the coast) is suitable for a motorhome?  My husband wants to ride his bike on 1, but I’m thinking of me staying on 101.  Any thoughts?  Question 2 is have you ever traveled through San Francisco?  We are heading towards LA (gonna catch the Rose Bowl Parade!) and we are not sure if I want to drive through SF or what I should do.  Any suggestions would be welcomed!

BARRY’S REPLY — In answer to your questions:  First, PCH (Hwy. 1) is a wonderful route to take.  You may have a bit of fog (that’s mostly in the summer), but it’s a beautiful drive.  The one precaution is, depending on the size of your motorhome, you may have to look for a state park that allows RVs over 18 feet.  There are some, but many are very old and not designed for today’s rigs.

And as for San Francisco, every time we get close, we have to steel ourselves for the trauma.  The traffic is heavy and it’s hard to maneuver on the many freeways during high traffic times.  But we’ve never had any problem going with the flow and getting through it.  The reward at the end of your driving patience will be stopping at Half-Moon Bay State Park.  Whatever you do, don’t go into downtown S.F. with the motorhome.  I was exhausted when we did it in our GMC truck without pulling the RV at midday.  If you want to see San Francisco, park your MH at Fisherman’s Wharf and hop on the cable car.

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