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  • douglakemd

My first esophagus attack

Waves of severe chest pain.

Squeezing pain in the middle of my chest lasting 3-6 seconds that let off.

Is this a heart attack? 9-1-1?

Am I going to die?

Is pain radiating into my left arm? Not really, but I feel it in my lower neck.

Is it radiating into my jaw? No.

Tension fills my shoulders, and I wipe my clammy hands on the napkin in my lap. I’ve never had pain like this before. Is there any aspirin around?

Another wave of tearing pain hits my chest. I hunch forward in my chair, and my legs push me back from the table. Deep exhale.

No, really, am I dying?

Stop. I ran a 5K in 19 minutes this morning, and I’m a 26-year-old medical student. This can’t be a heart attack.

Then what causes waves of chest pain? Why do I feel like someone grabbed a lemon squeezer from the kitchen and squeezed the middle of my chest?

Aortic dissection? Is my aorta rupturing in my chest?

Stop. It happened right after I ate that piece of the turkey thigh. It must be that. I hope it is that. Could food stuck in my esophagus feel like a vise gripping my chest?

Is this reflux?

No way. I’ve only eaten a protein bar and Gatorade, and that was after the 5K, almost 6 hours ago. I’m starving — I could eat a horse. There’s nothing in my stomach. It’s not reflux.

What is this?

Eighteen years ago, I was a 3rd-year medical student, and food got stuck in my esophagus and caused what I call an Esophagus Attack. Since then, I studied this problem. I have diagnosed and supported thousands of patients with this dilemma.

I meet every patient and say the same thing, “I’m the doctor who interprets medical imaging and performs minimally-invasive procedures.” My job is to help primary care providers (family medicine doctors, internal medicine doctors, nurse practitioners, APRNs, etc) understand what is wrong with medical imaging. I won’t bore you with my biography — it’s online, but I went to the equivalent of the 26th grade. Only after practicing medicine for 10 years did I realize how little I knew.

I practice full time at the McFarland Clinic, PC in Ames, Iowa. My part-time job is at Stanford. One week each year I’m part-time faculty as Adjunct Clinical Assistant Professor in Radiology. Stanford Radiology awarded me two teaching awards. The White House invited me to speak and advocate for greater health insurance options for Iowans.

I’m happily married to a better person than me and I have three fantastic girls. My son Ben is in heaven and I’ll share more about Ben in my next post and why I’m called to share here.

I haven’t been scoped, biopsied, or formally diagnosed. Yet. I’ve shared my experience with a talented friend who’s a fantastic gastroenterologist. We agreed I had EoE based on history. Food gets stuck for me weekly and I’ve been an allergic person since I was a teenager. My successes revolve around minimizing my disease with lifestyle changes, diet changes, and eating (mostly) clean. My failures are many. I didn’t tell my wife for years. I didn’t tell family members for decades. Surrounded by doctors, people dedicated to helping others, I clammed up. I hid this, like a dark emotional secret, for years.


Photo by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash

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