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Attack of the Panic Attack!

panic attack

Free stock photography suggested Godzilla with a pen knife for a story about a panic attack. Um, DUH.

Or How a Panic Attack Stole my Superpowers

My husband Mike and I were winding down from an uneventful Saturday, catching up on some televised drivel that made me appreciate how DVR’s have stolen the last bit of my functioning gray matter, when I suddenly felt flushed. I’d been struggling with heartburn all day, but this was a new sensation, more akin to nausea. I stoically sat through an episode of House Hunters, waiting for it to pass.

By the time they said “man cave” for the third time, I knew that things were not all right. I was breathing, but it didn’t feel like breathing.

“I think I have to go to the hospital.”

Mike jumped from his chair, terrified and fussing as we grabbed insurance cards and headed for the emergency room. Arguing over the most direct way to the hospital, a terrified Mike interrupted to tell me how much he loved me.  I wanted to comfort him and say all was well, but found myself unable. Worse than the shortness of breath, worse than the nausea; I was scared. That was something horrible and new.

By the time we reached the hospital, (translation for my British readers: “By the time we reached hospital”) I’d begun shaking. My shoulders jerked. I felt cold. Waves of nausea continued; my scalp tingling, my breathing ineffective.  I walked through the emergency room’s automatic door expecting people in white to sprint towards me, screaming for crash carts and jerry-rigging tracheotomy tubes out of ink pens.

No one seemed to notice me.

“What’s wrong, dear?” asked the reception desk nurse, as if I wasn’t obviously dying.

“I’m having trouble breathing,” I said. I felt my eyes tear. In my head, I told myself to shake it off and stop being a little girl. It had the opposite effect.

The nurse handed me a form and motioned to the waiting room.  Mike tried to take the pen from me, but focusing on the paperwork helped distract me from my distress.

I was angry. Television taught me that “I’m having trouble breathing” was the passphrase to instant hospital admittance, and yet there I was, trying to recall my social security number. Could it be television hospital dramas weren’t entirely accurate?

Across from us sat a man with stained gauze wrapped around his arm, his pant leg soaked with blood. Scattered across the waiting room, other pale-faced people sat flanked by loved ones. How funny that the one moment when you really think you should be the center of attention, is the same moment a dozen other people in the room feel the same way.  I realized the nurses must be numb to almost every horror. I could bowl a human head through the front door and they would just place a pen and a proof of insurance form in its mouth.

Five minutes later, I lay in a curtained cubical attached to an ECG machine searching for signs of a heart attack. In my younger days, the idea of a heart attack would have been ludicrous. Now, a little over 40, I realized the nurses thought a heart attack was a very real possibility.

I felt humbled.

“Hm…” said the nurse, reading the ECG results. “Hm…” She tapped the machine and knitted her brow.

Great. I thought. I’m dead and they just don’t know how to break it to me.

“I don’t think this machine is working,” she mumbled.

Two more people stopped by until someone realized the blankets meant to keep me from shuddering were skewing the readings. They repeated the procedure, and, satisfied with the new results, unclipped the sticky pads from my body.  I continued to fight nausea and take slow deep breaths to stop the shaking. Things were starting to feel a little better.

“You don’t seem tacky,” said the nurse.

I looked down at my cheap “Dunder Mifflin” novelty tee and traffic-cone-orange sweat shorts.

“Have you seen this outfit?” I asked her.

She had already disappeared, having mentally filed me under “not dying.”

Michael held my hand and rubbed my shoulders to keep me warm. By the time they took blood samples, I felt much better. The nurse fingered the crook of my elbow, looking for a vein.

“Do you care where I put the needle?” she asked.

“No. Either way my career as an elbow model is probably over.”

She laughed. “You have really tough skin.”

“I know. That’s why I don’t do heroin. I kept bending all the needles. It was frustrating.”

She laughed again. Mike gave me the stink-eye. You just scared the life out of me and now you’re a comedian, said his stare. Not funny. Not yet.

I nodded and fell silent.  Never again could I tease my husband with his blood pressure medicine and cholesterol concerns about my superior genes. I used to tease him by saying, “I am strong like bull!” in a thick Russian accent. Now, I had lost the right.

They gave me a saline drip and sat me in a room, Mike and I staring at each other, catching our breath.

“Aren’t you glad we didn’t go to dinner tonight?” I asked, remembering deliberations from earlier in the evening.

“Oh yeah,” he said, his eyes tired. “This is much better.”

Eventually, the doctor stopped by to discuss my test results.

“Thyroid is fine. You’re not dehydrated, your electrolytes are good, and blood is perfect…” she told me. “Your symptoms resemble a panic attack.”

A panic attack? Me?

“A panic attack!” I scoffed. “We were watching television! I’m not stressed at all.”

The doctor shrugged. “Sometimes you can’t know why panic attacks happen.”

I sighed. The only thing worse that falling ill for a reason was falling ill for no reason.

“Get a check-up,” she said. “But I’m 99% sure you had a panic attack.”

I sighed, disgusted with my treasonous body.

Exhausted and up way past our bedtime, Mike and I signed a few more papers and headed home.


The next day I told my mother about my panic attack and she seemed baffled. Two months later, she let it slip that my father had a panic attack… or 12. Oh, and once SHE had a panic attack.

“You didn’t think to tell me this when I HAD a panic attack?” I asked.

She shrugged. I think she wanted me to think my distress was caused by too much drinking. Moms are sneaky like that.


So, I had a panic attack. I’m not dying, yet. That’s good. But, apparently, I’m not indestructible anymore either. If I can have a panic attack, who knows what other perfectly human things can happen to me.


Discovering you are not a super hero is not something I recommend. Avoid it as long as possible.

Amy Vansant

Amy Vansant

Amy Vansant is a USA Today and Wall Street Journal Best-Selling author specializing in fun, funny fiction --- even the murder mysteries.
Amy Vansant

32 Responses

  1. Kari

    I could totally see this happening to me.
    In fact, I may have had an anxiety attack or two in the past.
    And thought it was just heartburn.
    I am riddled with different neuroses every waking minute.
    I am glad you are fine now….are you fine now??….and could share it on here.


  2. Brandi

    But seriously, you should try some yoga…it will help with your anxiety through deepening your breath… or at the very least it could give you more comedic material to write about 😉 try a gentle class… or hit up a senior center


    • Amy Vansant

      I probably should – I’ve thought about it but the old “how do I squeeze another hour into my day thing” remains a problem. We take long walks with the dog, so that’s sort of my quiet time.
      Amy Vansant recently posted..Funny T-Shirts


  3. Lance

    as you know I have an anxiety disorder so I average about three to five of these a year. More if I don;t take the meds.

    when I was younger anxiety/panic attacks weren’t as common or maybe just not as diagnosed. They’d treat me in hospitals as if I were a drug addict or heart patient…it was kinda cool.

    Now, it’s, “change your meds pay up front, and get out”.

    glad you’re okay. If you ever need to talk about this, you know, not all smart assy ob the web, let me know.
    Lance recently posted..100 word song – Come Around


  4. Tim Sayles

    I’m glad you’re okay, Amy . . . and thanks for the belly laughs! “Have you *seen* this outfit?* … Heeeeee!


  5. Tim Sayles

    And what *else* would you use for art than a miniature Godzilla with a pen knife? Kind of a no-brainer if you ask me…


  6. SarcasticNinja

    I once fainted mid-sentence in conversation with a friend. I woke up feeling quite ill with my face flat on a power strip and the friend on the phone with 999. By the time the ambulance turned up I was fine, and he was all, “Oh. Well, sometimes people faint for no reason.” Comforting!

    I’m glad to hear you came out ok. Stay well!
    SarcasticNinja recently posted..St. Anthony and the Funnel of Doom


  7. Pearl

    Very funny!!

    I had a panic attack at work a few years ago. I was suddenly convinced that something horrible was about to happen and that I had to GET OUT of the building immediately.

    The only thing that happened was that I cried in the car on the commute home and lost half a day’s pay.

    Pearl recently posted..And A Tiny Kitty Shall Lead Them


  8. Pamela

    Panic attacks are awful! I have lived with them for 34 years now. I am so proud of you for sharing, and making me laugh along the way. The panic passes but in the moment you feel like your world will end. Unfortunately none of us are super heroes and wearing tights and a cape doesn’t make it so…I’ve tried 😉
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  9. Nina Potts

    Welcome to the panic attack club! The only real sign of membership is Xanax. Be careful with it… I almost accidentally killed myself with it once… Oh, and you can’t drive if you take it, you’ll get a dui.

    Others may have already said welcome to the club, so I’m just repeating them, because I didn’t read the comments, its 2 am and I’m also busy watching Buffy and deciding if now is the time for sleep.
    Nina Potts recently posted..Randomy randomness
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  10. Shea

    Thank you for sharing this!! I have a panic attack at least three times a week. Sometimes I know what triggers it, but most of the time, the attack occurs when, like you, I’m winding down for the evening or about to go to sleep. The nausea is the worst. Or maybe the doctors just saying “you need to calm down and not stress so much” is the worst. It’s sucky all the way around. I feel like I should hide it when it happens (especially if if happens in front of my students or my son) and it helps so much to see someone being open and honest about anxiety issues. Thank you.


  11. Pam

    Scary, must have been so horrible. Hope you’re ok from now on.

    Right, now the sympathy bit (genuine!) is out of the way, I liked your translation for British readers but you know what? You’d already bamboozled them by saying “I suddenly felt flush”. That’s a GOOD thing! It means you have money!

    What you meant was ‘flushed’, in British English. Which is how you feel when you have a hot flush – or have a flash, in American English. Which is something that’s even less desirable in British English than a flush… It’s all very difficult. But I do hope you don’t have a recurrence.
    Pam recently posted..Twelfth Night – or is it?
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