I’ve always been an avid basketball player. Of all the sports out there, I find basketball to be one of the few sports that has the fewest barriers to start playing. But living in San Francisco, a city that tends to be fairly cold year around, I find it difficult to play ball outdoors. So back in December 2006, I found one of the few full-fledged indoor basketball courts near San Francisco – a ClubOne facility in Oakland. I headed over there and played ball. I played for about 4 hours straight. The last time I’d exerted myself like that was back in high school.
Soon after I was done, I noticed that I was surprisingly short of breath. I sat in the locker room thinking about how I’d gotten through 4 hours and not felt a thing (I’ve since noticed that typically the adrenaline overrides any sensations that I may have been feeling while I play). What was bothering me even more was this heavy feeling I had in the left side of my chest. Against my best judgement, I decided to suck it up and go home. I was convinced that I wasn’t having a heart attack – I was 26 and in pretty good shape. There was no way. Right?
I woke up the next morning, and didn’t feel any better. My chest pain had gotten worse. So I headed to the ER at UCSF Parnassus and got myself checked out. After an epic wait of about 3 hours, and some fairly simple tests, the physicians concluded that I was perfectly fine. The diagnosis was … fatigue. The medication … advil. I was asked to go home and rest. Several days passed and the chest pain got better but it didn’t go away entirely. I did my due diligence and Googled the heck out of this condition. Try googling for “chest pain”. Trust me, it will scare the living daylight out of you. You will be convinced that you’re having a heart attack.
That was in late 2006. Since then, the chest pains come and go intermittently. They are extremely painful when they happen. The issue usually gets aggravated after an exerting workout. Sometimes, I think I’m on the verge of a heart attack.
I followed through after going to the ER back in 2006 and got tested by a cardiologist who concluded that there was nothing wrong with my heart whatsoever. I saw a doctor who was convinced that I had acid reflux (GERD) that was causing me the discomfort. I got on medication for fixing acid reflux. Another doctor was convinced that it was likely an issue with my throat. I was asked to participate in a swallowing study (no jokes – and I did them). Nothing was wrong. These doctors were using a process of elimination to try to figure out what was wrong with me.
There have been days when I’ve told myself that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with me. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, I’d feel otherwise (I used to work out regularly on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays – the day after the workout, I’d feel like the muscles in my chest were in a knot). So I stopped working out. And I felt better.
A couple of years ago, I found a new medical practice – the OneMedical group. I had a new “group of primary care physicians”, as opposed to just one. At the time, I was also having frequent headaches that I attribute to my bad allergies. Finally one of the doctors at OneMedical asked me to see Dr. Greenberg about my headaches. Here we go, I thought – more referrals, more running around. I went to Dr. Greenberg and he spent a solid 20 minutes asking me questions – that was unlike anything any other doctor had every done. He asked me if I had any other conditions that he should be aware of – I casually told him about the chest pains not really expecting any kind of a response.
Me: No other conditions really, just these occasional chest pains – my doctor thinks its acid reflux. I’ve had it for years.
Dr. Greenberg: Ah, Costochondritis.
Me: Wait, what? You have a name for this condition?
Dr.: Yeah, it’s not uncommon and it’s benign. No big deal. Let’s get back to the headaches.
Me: So I can ignore the chest pains? Will they go away?
Dr.: Oh yeah. Think about it – your ribs expand and contract all your life as you breathe. Occasionally, they cause discomfort if you exert yourself too much. They may not go away but nothing to worry about. Apply Volatren the next time you feel discomfort.
Holy shit. Here I thought I’ve been having mini heart attacks for the last 4 years. I’ve been diagnosed. And of course better yet, it’s not that big a deal!
Costochondritis. The other chest pain. From wikipedia:
Costochondritis is a benign inflammation of the costal cartilage, which is a length of cartilage which connects each rib, except the eleventh and twelfth, to the sternum. It causes pain in the chest that can be reproduced by pressing on the affected area between the ribs. This pain can be quite excruciating, especially after rigorous exercise. While it can be extremely painful, it is considered to be a benign condition that generally resolves in 6–8 weeks. Though costochondritis appears to resolve itself, it can be a recurring condition that can appear to have little or no signs of onset. These episodes can be years apart from one another. Treatment options are quite limited and usually only involve rest and analgesics but in a very small number of cases cortisone injections and even surgery are sometimes necessary.
So, why am I writing about this? Why now? A few months ago my friend Cyrus pinged me on IM and told me about a friend of his who was googling Carnaval in Rio. Turns out she stumbled upon my post on Carnaval and saw a picture of Cyrus in my post. What a small world I thought…
So I’m writing about this chest pain I’ve had on the left side of my chest for the last 4.5 years in the hope that somehow this post will get indexed. And that someone googling for chest pains who is not really having a heart attack (if you think you’re having chest pains and you’re really having a heart attack, trust me, you wouldn’t be googling it at the time) and has been through their fair share of doctors who are at best ‘guessing’ about a patient’s condition knows that there is likely another reason.
PS: I’ve been quiet about this recent onslaught upon Google and search result quality in general. This is a great example of where something like PageRank can work against you. Basically, if I were to trust Google’s results, I would have been convinced that I was having a heart attack.