The ER Doctor Told Her it Was “Just Anxiety”—and That Mistake Almost Killed Her

“He’s working with a med student shadowing him today. Do you mind being seen by her first?”

In the spirit of education, I said, “No, of course not.”

She had long strawberry blond hair and big glasses. We talked. “What brought you here today?” she asked. “Well, I was seen in the ER three weeks ago for a blood clot in my leg and they told me I needed to follow up.” I watched her write down “Deep Vein Thrombosis.”

“It wasn’t a deep vein thrombosis, but they did find a blood clot, and told me to follow up with you.”

She marked out “Deep Vein Thrombosis” and led me through my recent history since the Bad Fall Onto My Head on November 1st: concussion, double vision, vertigo, blood clot, and now this follow up, which also added recent chest pains to the list.

“Yes, a tight band of severe pain across my chest on the least exertion – going to get a cup a tea can cause it. Feels like your lungs feel in extreme cold when you have bronchitis and you take a deep breath. Significant pain and then I have to lie down for it to resolve.”

The doctor came in after a bit and explained things more thoroughly with this new audience, teaching while not listening, rather than just not listening.

We talked for a while. And then the bottom line, as the doctor talked to the med student.

“What we really are dealing with here is anxiety. Because it is anxiety that would take her to the ER on a Saturday with what might be a blood clot. Most people would wait until Monday and call here to get an appointment, but she went to the ER. This is just anxiety we need to be treating.”

“HELLO? I AM SITTING RIGHT HERE,” I thought to myself.


And then, I couldn’t help myself. I said both those things out loud.

That’s part one of this story.

Part two happened two days later, which happened to be last Saturday.

It happened in the big snowstorm of ’16, being picked up by firemen and transported over snow and ice to an ambulance that couldn’t get to our house in the snow. And then into an ER, elevated troponin levels, T-wave inversions on my EKG, suddenly things started happening very quickly, and an overnight stay, then a transfer to a larger hospital, then a heart catheterization that was almost turned into bypass surgery because of the 90% blockage in a main artery, then an unfortunate, big bleed that has left me flat on my back for the past 38 hours.

Yeah, that sounds just like anxiety.

And the sad fact is that I waited. I waited because I felt shamed into feeling like an hysterical female, shamed into feeling like I was just anxious. JUST anxious. Like anxiety itself is something that isn’t real when we know that it is. Like anxiety is something to be ashamed of or embarrassed by. When our lives, bodies, souls, are in distress, anxiety is a likely outcome. Wear it proudly. It might save your life one day, and it can be treated, too.

He is not the first doctor to do this, and it is not always men, either. When I had double vision after my Bad Fall, the female ER doctor lined my chart with “Anxiety” “anxiety” “Anxiety.” As if seeing double was a figment of my imagination because I might have been anxious about seeing double. #meta #SeeWhereThisLeadsTo? #endlesscircle

Patti Digh
Patti Digh
Patti Digh is the author of 8 books on global leadership and diversity, mindfulness, and intentional living, including the bestselling "Life is a Verb: 37 days to wake up, be mindful, and live intentionally." She is still in the hospital, and her patient number ends in "37."  Her blog is

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