Let’s start with two key messages, one, I am not a medical doctor and everything in this post is for entertainment value only, two, and with that said, if you ever experience chest pains err on the side of seeking higher medical care. My diagnosis (talked about later) was only possible using equipment available at a well equipped facility like a hospital. With 20/20 hindsight I would have gone to the ER sooner.
Rewind around three weeks and you find me preparing for the AMS Radar conference in Japan as well as giving an interview at WTTW on Hurricane Dorian (I am now somewhat of a regular on the show, we have a great relationship where I am using my skills as “chief weather explainer”). The day after my appearance I developed what can only be described as “body soreness”. I had felt this before and, after some difficulty breathing had developed, back in February, I was diagnosed with Pleurisy likely stemming from a lung infection (a diagnosis, it would turn out, that was false). My first mistake was not going to the ER when the chest discomfort first started, opting instead to seek my insurers permission to go to an out of network urgent care. This would end up being a mistake on so many levels, but it was my Australian side which made me want to seek a less extreme solution first as not to burden the system. With a diagnosis (false) of GERD and possible gallstones (very false) I headed home to heal up in time for my travel to Japan with antacids and antibiotics.
Now, let me continue by laying out some truths: We all do things for a reason. What is sometimes perceived by others to be irrational can be completely rational and justifiable to the individual carrying out the action. In my case the upcoming trip to Japan had a very high cost of cancellation. The trip had high professional and personal value. Professional as I was establishing our open science agenda on a whole new continent, personal as Louise, who has deep connections to Japan, was accompanying me, my first time mixing a work trip with personal time in my 10 years at Argonne.
So it was with great distress, with 8 days to go before our travel begun, I headed to the Emergency Room at Hinsdale Hospital due to unbearable pain (referred to my left shoulder, a symptom that screamed heart issues). Now is a good time to re-read the statements at the start of this post!
On admission to the ER the ruling out of conditions began. EGC normal, CAT scan shows no sign of lung related blood clots (scary! Symptoms include sudden death). No fluid build up around the ankles (sign of congestive heart failure). Chest X-ray did show some signs of fluid on the lungs and, a key symptom, my Blood O2 was hovering around 84% saturation leading them to put me on Oxygen. I was admitted to the Hospital with suspected pneumonia. Here is where the hospital care system kicked in and was very good. You got assigned a primary care physician who can then call on experts. My primary care physician assigned a Pulmonologist and a Cardiologist. This is where my try journey to a diagnosis began as I started an set of comprehensive tests. BNP test came up negative, lowering the chance of congestive heart failure, ultrasound showed normal flow but showed some minor build up of fluid around the heart leading to a diagnosis (that Louise had theorized doing some Google-MD-ing) of Pericarditis. Pericarditis is a nasty little affliction caused by inflammation of the surrounding tissue and fluid of the heart. It is actually correlated with increased exercise! A final test, a brutal two hour heart MRI, saw me discharged after a two night hospital stay with some very powerful anti-inflammatories. And four days later I deemed my health good enough to travel (see early statement on rationality). What followed was a successful but very carefully executed trip to Japan where I took very keen care of my health. Over time the good days have become more frequent than the bad days but the condition has lingered and I am heading to the Cardiologists office this afternoon.. When you read the literature about Pericarditis you can read a lot about “What” but precious little about “Why?” or “What the hell do I do to stop this debilitating thing happening?”…