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


I think there are many things you could call me. You could call me stubborn. You could call me opinionated. You could call me outspoken. You could even call me anxious – when I am anxious – just don’t let that be the benchmark for my healthcare, or a Bingo call number, or a convenient thing to write when you can’t find anything else wrong, or are so intent on not listening to me that you can’t hear me.

So, Little Miss Anxious went to the ER in the snowstorm after pain so bad it made me throw up at home in the shower. Heart attack, stent, and now a complication from the procedure. Anxious, anxious, anxious? No. Heart attack, stent, complication.

Want to be my doctor?

Listen to me. No, really. Put down the stylus to that irritating little beeping machine you have attached to yourself, and look at me. Listen like I am giving you the secret to the meaning of life, because I am. Mine. And you’ll have to hope someone listens to you so you can get to the meaning of your life someday soon.

Respect me. And respect me even when I’m overweight and eat too much sugar. Even then, I am fully human and deserve the best healthcare you can give. Even when you tell me every single time I see you that I just need to sweat more and that yoga isn’t sweating. I beg your pardon, and here’s a free coupon to a yoga class, dude. Sweat on.

Drop the almighty thing you’ve got going on. Be fully human. Say “I don’t know” when you don’t, in fact, know. Let’s make this a partnership.

How to save your own life:

Value your life enough to make hard, and what could be unpopular decisions. I was leaving the next day to teach a writing retreat on Tybee Island. I knew I had to get this checked out, hysterical female messaging be damned. That decision saved my life. The retreat would have to wait.

Fire doctors who shame you in any way, shape, or form. Will I ever see that doctor again? No, I will not. Though I will write and tell him why.

Listen to your own body. We live disconnected from our bodies, and we must stop that. We are disembodied, clever heads walking around on bodies we don’t understand, know, or pay attention to. This will kill us. Start tracking what your body is telling you. Daily. Know when changes occur. Pretend this is your 8th grade Science Fair project and you desperately want an “A” because by god, Jackie Ervin is NOT going to beat you at the Science Fair again this year.

Listen to this story:

A woman had yet one more hard year, after three very hard years. She didn’t sleep for months because of her Autistic child becoming manic. Then, in November, she stumbled on an uneven stair, and hit her head very sharply. She lived with headaches, and developed double vision. She had her head scanned three times for different things, she had ultrasounds and CT scans with dye, she had an MRA to see if enough blood was going to her head, she developed debilitating vertigo, she developed a blood clot–all in two months–thought “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH” and her doctor even said, “This is all evidence of just anxiety.” And she thought, “well, maybe this is all the result of anxiety.”

And then she had chest pains, a heart attack, a stent, and another chance. Because she wasn’t just an hysterical female, and this wasn’t just anxiety.

Listen to your body. Ignore everyone else.

Please know the heart attack symptoms in women.

And yes, my patient number ends with “37.”

EDITED to include this note: We, none of us, are infallible. Not this doctor, not me, none of us. This is not an indictment of any one person as much as it is a warning and a “please note” and a “you’re in charge of your own body, life, healthcare, happiness” and a “keep seeking answers” post. I am not adding this addendum for legal reasons, but because it is important. Doctors are humans. All humans make mistakes, even those in uniform. And I wrote this story in part because this event was, in fact, part of a too-long pattern of not being listened to by this particular health care provider, and part of a too-long pattern of not being my most effective advocate for myself.

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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