Guest Post by Stepto: The View from the Back of the Ambulance

This is a guest post by Stephen “Stepto” Toulouse. Stepto currently works at HBO and is the former banhammer at XBox. He is an author, comedian, and leader of The Steptos.

He made a comedy album you can get on Bandcamp (cheapest option), iTunes or Amazon and wrote a book called A Microsoft Life. He blogs at


Try to imagine this conversation:

Brain: Man. I am getting kinda worried about the fact I’ve had this incredible cold and have not slept but 10 hours over the past 5 days.

Heart: Roger that Brain, engaging the engine at 110%

Brain: No wait I…

Chest: Heart? This is the Chest we’re gonna need to tigthen up a bit here to handle the new load.

Brain: No guys that’s going to make it worse because…

Heart: Make it worse? Roger that! Upping to 120%

Chest: Chest copies! cranking up pressure.

Lungs: Engaging gasping.

Brain: no guys this is going to make this bad because he’s going to think he’s having a heart attack–

Skin: Hey guys, we have the go ahead to go flush and get all clammy just FYI that’s what we’re seeing across the board here.

Lungs: Uh Heart, we’re pushing up respiration to 130% to help move this racing oxygen around. This triggers shortness of breath mode just FYI.

Heart: Brain we can’t keep this pace up how long were you needing this?

Brain: I never asked for–

Eyes: Guy’s I’m seeing some crazy stuff on Webmd regarding heart attacks and I know we have a family history so…

Brain: All right I’m getting angry here, let’s calm down immediately and–

Heart: Angry? Got it, crank it up another 30%.

Chest: Roger that cranking up the tightness.

And this is how I ended up calling 911 with racing heart, intermittent chest pressure, rapid breathing, anxiety etc. All of which had lasted off and on for a couple of hours.

My father’s side has had heart issues, most of my paternal grandfather’s siblings as well as himself died from heart related issues. So when, late Friday night, I began to feel what I thought were ever increasing and clear symptoms of a mild heart attack, I called 911. 911 sent a dispatch team out to the house while I laid down and Rochelle penned up the dogs and got me ready to travel if needs be. My anxiety level began to skyrocket when I realized I had just called an ambulance, sirens and lights blazing, into my “so quiet you can hear someone drop a coke can in another house” neighborhood at 4am on a Saturday morning.

Brain: Jeez I hope they don’t use the siren…

Heart: Aye sir cranking up to—


They arrived (sans siren) and hooked me up to all manner of bitchin’ equipment to scan my heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and a field EKG. while they shouted scary numbers to each other (“210 over 120″ “96!” “6.0221413e+23″) I got to become increasing agitated while I answered a ton of questions about where did it start, how did I feel etc. All while wearing enough leads and wires that I felt like one of the trees in Avatar.

After a scary few minutes the tech calmed me down. Started asking the “have you been getting sleep? Under stress lately etc.” They reassured me I was in no immediate danger looking over all my vitals and my EKG’s were normal. My heart rate was through the roof so they wanted to go to the ER.

The view through an ambulance was surreal and I guess an experience I have the good fortune to scratch off my bucket list without kicking the bucket. The techs told me all about the various gadgetry and we all geeked out over my iPad mini retina which they allowed me bring. In the interests of their privacy I didn’t want to tweet photos from there since it would be hard in the cramped quarters to remove any distinguishing characteristics but they did a great job in calming me down.

Once at the ER, a crack team of people informed me they would not need to crack open my chest. They ran a blood panel, took X-rays, and ran several EKG’s. About the only disappointment was the X-ray, where the technician put a lead cloth down to “shield my privates from being irradiated” and I complained it was OK, I wanted Hulk privates.

Everything came up Milhouse. I was given an IV of Lorazopram and that niftily settled my brain down. They explained my blood panel was fine, my heart was ok, the EKG’s were fine and that I did not, in fact have a heart attack. Instead I had a very sustained panic attack brought on by a variety of factors, not the least of which was an extreme case of sleep deprivation.

Now, I told you all that to tell you this.

My family on my father’s side as I mentioned has a huge history of sudden heart related death experience, an experience you only get to have once. I quibbled for a few minutes over bothering to call 911 until I remembered that. On the heels of Wil’s post about getting healthy, I wanted to throw out that assuming the presence of insurance (or even not), DO NOT SCREW AROUND with symptoms like the ones I had. It’s always better to know it’s not a heart event than it is to drop dead being so very thankful you didn’t wake your neighbors with the ambulance siren.

19 thoughts on “Guest Post by Stepto: The View from the Back of the Ambulance”

    1. So scary – glad it was nothing to worry about ultimately, but yes, I echo the don’t screw around advice.

      I’d also like to offer this: Heart attack symptoms in women often manifest very very very differently than they do in men. My mother died because over the course of a week she had a continuing series of small heart attacks that manifested as heartburn and reflux. She took over the counter reflux meds for a week before deciding maybe she should call the doctor. The doctor sent her to the hospital at 9 a.m for a cardiac cath and by 4 p.m. she had died.

      Had she gone to the hospital the first or second day, they could have done something, but by that Friday the damage to her heart was too great.

      We later found out that a lot of women do not have the racing heart, stress breathing, pain in the chest/arms symptoms that men do, for whatever reason.

      So as Stephen said, don’t screw around. If there’s any chance that it could be heart related, please don’t be shy about checking it out. My mom was only 62, which was way too young. If only we had known.

    2. When I told an EMT friend about my own panic attack and trip to the ER, he said that the EMTs would much rather go out for a dozen panic attacks than miss one heart attack.

      1. Shared this on Facebook with this intro:

        I have been here. Gawd, oh, how I’ve been here. That’s how I actually found out that I suffer from anxiety attacks – several really bad ones that really felt as if I were having serious heart problems, which in turn landed me in the ER because I didn’t know what the hell was going on.

        Thing is, as embarrassing as it might feel to end up in the ER because of damned anxiety attacks, it’s better to go and make sure you’re okay than to not go and end up dropping dead of heart disease. Especially if heart disease runs in your family (as it does in mine).

  1. Anxiety is a horrible feeling to have and yes you shouldn’t just think it’ll be over if you think it’s something else like heart problems, glad to hear your ok.

  2. Thank you thank you thank you for this post. Too many people hesitate to call with symptoms like this. My dad did, and it cost him his life. I regret every day that he isn’t here to see his grandson grow up.

  3. The chemist geek in me laughed so hard at Avogadro’s number there. But it also resounded with me to never take our bodies for granted. It is a marvellous machine with lots of little machines with even more miniscule parts that can all break down and we should never disregard the symptoms of illnesses.

  4. I recently took a troop of Girl Scouts to our local First Aid squad for a tour. There we were told many of their calls originate from people reporting, “I don’t feel right.” It isn’t necessary to diagnose yourself, leave that to the pros. And let me just add, during our 2 hour visit we saw a lot of EMTs sitting around watching TV. If you “don’t feel right” don’t worry, you’re not “bothering” anyone by calling for help.

    False alarms are the best alarms.

  5. Hey Stepto – glad you are alright. From a 15+ year paramedic here, you did right. Don’t hesitate to call – we like to say treat for the worst hope for the best. Always better to find out it was nothing than to realize to late it is something… Good to hear the crew was awesome – EMS is very under appreciated…until you need it. We don’t get the recognition we deserve – we’re not stopping murderers, or putting out fires…but unlike cops and fire fighters, we can, and often do, help before it turns in to a mess (not speaking poorly of my brothers and sisters in law enforcement or the fire service at all…). Take care.

  6. Just wanted to be clear that anxiety attacks aren’t “nothing”. While it could not be immediately life threatening, they can have very severe effects on your body and your mind. Always a good idea to go tell a professional how you’re feeling. Glad they gave you meds to help you feel better.

  7. 1/2
    We had a similar experience just before Christmas, and called the ambulance for my husband, early one weekday morning.
    He’d been suffering from severe indigestion for a week or two, so we had assumed such pain must be indigestion but when he woke with pain in his heart, I got worried. My maternal grandfather (obviously not related to my husband) died of a heart attack in his early 50s, he was on a business trip abroad and was convinced it was just indigestion burn so didn’t seek medical attention.
    It was our first time in the ambulance and they too were brilliant. The EKG showed normal but they wanted to have another one done in the hospital and also some blood work I think.

  8. 2/2
    And yes, he was fine and they confirmed it was most likely acid indigestion BUT they were hugely supportive of us calling emergency services to confirm, and said we should still do the same in the future if we had any doubts.
    We later learned that my husband’s father, who passed away over 10 years ago (in his late 70s) suffered from severe indigestion, which my husband hadn’t remembered. So it looks like an inherited thing.
    Glad you and my husband are both OK!
    (Sorry for two-parter – the Post Comment button disappears when I try and post a longer comment in one go).

  9. Glad everything came up Milhouse. I’d add on that this would be a good time to think about reducing your risks…follow up on your diet, cholesterol, exercise, and quit smoking if any of those apply.

  10. Last year, I was taking a very strong antibiotic for a suspected bladder infection. It caused such dizziness and heart palpations that I got very scared and drove myself to the ER. Turns out it was just the antibiotic and once I stopped taking it, I was better. I told the ER doc I would rather have him tell me I was crazy than run the risk of having a heart attack/stroke/whathaveyou. :)

  11. Been there, done that – anxiety and panic attacks are horrific. Like your lizard brain is stuck in the LION COMING! RUN FOR YOUR LIFE! position no matter what you tell yourself. And of course, you don’t know “if it is real” or not. I bought the Overcoming Anxiety and Depression infomercial set but don’t laugh, it was supremely helpful when implemented!! Part lifestyle (stop stimulants like caffeine, sugar, alcohol which can swing your blood sugar wildly, start mild exercise) part cognitive therapy (it matters what you say when you talk to yourself). Also helpful, I just ran across a post on this very subject over at Tim Ferriss’ blog linked below. Chronic anxiety is tameable – sometimes you need drugs to help – and sometimes you can go solo. But take action.

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