Heart Attack Symptoms: Call an Ambulance Immediately — Do Not Drive to the Hospital


Don’t assume all you have been told is all you need to know.

One of the statements I came across when researching the material for this website is “Don’t assume all you have been told is all you need to know.”

Incredibly, although I had had three stents and obviously was at risk of a heart attack, not a single provider – and we are talking numerous hospital visits — made sure I understood what the symptoms of a heart attack were, nor did anyone talk to me about why I should call an ambulance if I had heart attack symptoms rather than be driven to the hospital.

My symptoms started after being outside in cold temperatures and exercising (both of which increased the immediate risk factors).   I was sipping a cup of coffee when my chest starting feeling very uncomfortable; I assumed it was heartburn from the coffee.   When the crushing chest pain kept increasing, even after taking nitroglylcerin, and I was having trouble breathing, I found my wife and said we needed to go to the hospital.  Since the nearest ambulance was about ten minutes away and the hospital was twenty minutes away, it seemed liked the logical choice.    We did have to find the dog first and get her inside since it was about zero degrees outside.    “Time is heart muscle”, and even these few minutes delay may have increased the damage.  

I almost stopped breathing on the way to the hospital, and the pain was excruciating.  What I didn’t comprehend at the time was that the EMT’s had the equipment and medication on board the ambulance that could have immediately reduced the symptoms and possibly prevented further heart damage – and kept me breathing if needed.

I probably arrived at the hospital about ninety-minutes after the symptoms started; guidelines suggest you check in to the emergency room within an hour after a heart attack.    Sometime during the procedures everything turned gray, and it felt like I was taking my last breath.    I think it was at this final moment that the anti-thrombolytic drugs finally broke the clot up and the body had decided to live in one last attempt to break the clot and breathe.   

The damage from the heart attack left me with a heart that has a substantially reduced ability to pump blood; I have to wonder that if I had known to call the ambulance if some of this damage might have been prevented.   Miraculously, although my heart is substantially altered, it has compensated for the damage in a way that keeps me functioning, and reversed a diagnosis of heart failure.


Dr. Parker is a 68 year old heart attack survivor and cardiac psychologist.He is an Honors graduate of Stanford University with forty years of clinical experience. Dr. Parker is available for consultation on heart matters. Contact him at heartcurrents(at)gmail.com.