the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Matters of the heart

Starting at the beginning of last week Jon was experiencing a tightness in his chest, one that made it almost impossible to catch his breath. By Thursday his strained stutters while breathing started to really scare me, so I took him to our primary care physician where in the process of asking a few questions the doctor focused in on our recent trip to Mexico. Was he experiencing this then? How long was the flight? And I was all BOTFLY INFESTATION!! WOO! WOO!

Just joking, of course. I don’t think the larvae of a hairy fly living inside his skin would cause him this specific kind of pain, but the doctor was like, huh? What’s a botfly?

Um… didn’t you go to medical school, DOCTOR? I would hope that they have a whole semester dedicated to human botfly infestation, otherwise ask for your money back, dude! Cause I’m not going to recommend you to any of my friends who come back from a tropical locale with a fly that has burrowed inside their skull. DUH.

Confession: I have spent a little too much time on YouTube watching botfly infestation videos. It falls under that same fascination I have with watching pimples being popped or tumors being removed. I won’t post them here because they are not for the faint of heart, but I will link to my favorite ones, including this one where an ecologist has one in his hand THAT HE LETS GROW TO MATURITY. And when the larvae comes out of his hand he shrieks, “It’s a girl!”

(This is a good one. This one is, too.)

I told the doctor that he should watch these videos, at least, if he was okay with horrifically gory things that you can’t un-see. That’s when he turned to Jon and said, “For Valentine’s Day you should get her a book on dermatology with LOTS of pictures. It’ll be her favorite Valentine’s Day ever.”

Turns out he was worried that the flight might have caused a pulmonary embolism, basically a blood clot that dislodges from the leg and travels to the lung causing all sorts of problems. Except, after doing some blood tests and x-rays, all he could say was, “It’s not a pulmonary embolism. Yet.”


That is just the most comforting diagnosis ever, kind of like, you’re not going to die right now. Maybe.

He sent us on our way with the instructions to head to the ER if it got any worse, which it very much did the following morning. This time the pain was more localized in Jon’s right chest, and he felt like someone was squeezing his torso every time he took a breath. Since I didn’t want to wait around for a blood clot to reach his lung, I told Jon we should head to the hospital. He was like, are you sure? And I was like, am I sure? Dude, I love you. And I am not about to raise two kids alone, especially since that second one just took up head butting as a pastime.

(Seriously, I tell her, “Kid, don’t do it. It’s going to hurt you more than me.” And then she head butts me, feels the searing pain in her forehead and starts crying. Kids really are just the biggest idiots.)

We got a room at the ER rather quickly considering the horror stories you hear about people waiting two years to be seen by a doctor, although to tell you the truth I think we just beat the Friday afternoon drunk and clumsy crowd by about an hour.

After we told a nurse about his symptoms someone showed up immediately to perform an EKG. As he was applying the wires to Jon’s chest I asked the technician if this test would show whether or not Jon really loves me, but he didn’t understand what I was doing, That Thing We Do When Confronted With Scary Shit, which is joke around as much as possible to distract ourselves. Jon waved his hand and said, “Don’t pay attention to her or next thing you know she’s going to start telling really awful jokes about Viagra.”

Q: Why don’t they make Viagra for women?

A: They do, it’s called “having someone else unload the dishwasher without being asked to do so.”

See? I made that one up JUST NOW. Is it awful? Yes. BUT IT WOULD HAVE DISTRACTED ME.

I’m sorry, but my husband who was having chest pains was lying on a hospital bed connected via wires to some machine that was about to tell us whether or not his heart was about to perform a coup. I WAS ALLOWED AN AWFUL VIAGRA JOKE.

Just as I was about to tell the one about a Viagra walking into a bar, the technician told us everything looked good and that someone would be right in to draw blood. This is the part of the story where I had to exhibit the most self control because Jon hates having his blood drawn. Loathes it. Has been known to break down into fits reminiscent of scenes in a Charlotte Brontë novel.

And the kicker here: we were at the teaching hospital, so the really friendly blood taker who looked like he knew what he was doing had to stand over the woman who looked like she had been plucked right off of the street and told that she was about to draw blood from someone, had she ever done this before?

Not even kidding, she was looking at Jon’s arm (which had “awesome vasculars” according to the experienced blood taker), and I could tell that she was WAY more scared about what was about to happen than Jon was. Like, the look in her eyes was one of absolute terror. And her lip was curled into a snarl that suggested she did not like the sight of blood.

Do you have any idea how hard it was to hold my shit together? I mean, I had to hold in any and all laughter to show my support for my husband, even as she jabbed him three times without even getting the needle into his arm. Even as Jon’s body lurched inches off of the table every time she jabbed him, a lurch similar to the manner in which Kramer walks into a room.

Even when she stopped, exasperated, and said to Jon matter-of-factly, “You are scaring me.”

Really, lady? Because you are just writing my content for me.

Finally, after Jon started to lose the color in his face, the experienced blood drawer stepped in and took over, showing the student exactly how to get the needle through the skin. But then Jon looked down and saw a syringe hanging off of his arm, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen that color of white before. In fact, I think Jon may have lost consciousness for a tiny moment, and then he started sweating like he does at the end of a workout. That’s when everyone in the room turned into a cheering squad and was all IT’S OKAY, HEY, YOU’RE ALL RIGHT, HANG IN THERE, DON’T PASS OUT, BUDDY.

And the whole time the student just stared at Jon as if he were crazy.

Tell me that you would have been able to keep a straight face. That’s what I thought.

After a sonogram showed his heart to be working perfectly and the results from a series of blood tests all came back with good news, I thought we’d be able to head home for the night. But Jon met a list of requirements that had the doctors wanting him to stay overnight for observation. That list being 1) man who is forty-five years old, 2) is experiencing chest pain, and 3) is just irresistibly adorable.

What? It’s Valentine’s Day. Cut me some slack.

It’s Valentine’s Day and my husband who spent the night at a hospital because of chest pain is okay. Perfectly okay, it seems, after several more rounds of blood tests and a cardiac stress test proved that none of The Scary Things were causing this pain. They couldn’t say exactly what it is, maybe inflammation, maybe something viral, but we know his lungs and heart are fine.

However, this scared the living shit out of me, and I don’t recommend going on this ride. Many thanks to those who sent words of concern, they really helped us get through this weekend.

  • Cooky

    2011/02/14 at 2:39 pm

    So glad Jon is back home.

    Wishing the Armstrongs a wonderful Valentine’s Day.

  • Heather J

    2011/02/14 at 2:41 pm

    Whoa. Just…Whoa. That’s scary.
    Glad everything is OK.

    But, seriously Jon. Try not to be such a drama queen next time.

  • jazzellis

    2011/02/14 at 2:41 pm

    Good lord, woman.

    I’m glad Jon’s ok.

    Happy Valentines Day to both of you.

  • KateH

    2011/02/14 at 2:41 pm

    Best Valentine’s Day gift ever: healthy husband.


    Get yerselves some chocolate and champagne and have a fantastic night.

  • emah

    2011/02/14 at 2:43 pm

    Glad everything is fine. Emergency rooms suck. My brother and I got kicked out of the room when my mom was in the ER for chambers of her heart beating out of synch. We made jokes, she laughed, it apparently wasn’t the best medicine.

    But she totally deserved it. I was in for a kidney infection once, they gave me a 10/10 on the pain scale without asking, and my mom leaned over to my fiance and said “We should remember to tell her tomorrow. She likes perfect scores.”

  • buffangel2000

    2011/02/14 at 2:43 pm

    Yay! Glad you are reunited with your valentine!

    Side note: I LOOOOVVVVEEEEE those videos and seek them out all the time.

  • pillworm

    2011/02/14 at 2:50 pm

    I’m so glad he is ok and so glad it wasn’t a pulmonary embolism. I had one of those and it required two shots a day by none other than myself AND going to a lab to have blood drawn 6 DAYS A WEEK! I would worry for Jon if it came to that.

  • Kristina1219

    2011/02/14 at 2:55 pm

    So glad Jon is OK. I had a blood clot and then a PE a year later when I got pregnant. Sticking myself with needles = NOT FUN. Did he have a V/Q scan too?

  • Daddy Scratches

    2011/02/14 at 2:56 pm

    Very glad to hear everything is OK. (I still suspect it was a ploy to sleep in on Saturday morning without Marlo waking him up.)

  • plaatsch

    2011/02/14 at 2:57 pm

    Woah! Scary! Glad he’s OK now and that you can joke about it. I’m that freaked out by needles, too and I don’t even have good vasculars. Next time, just say needles freak him out and have the experienced guy do it right from the start. *shudder*

  • judealoo

    2011/02/14 at 2:57 pm

    Glad Jon’s okay “for now.” 😉
    About 20 years ago, when my DH was about 35, he had a similar problem. Turned out it was ANXIETY. He’s about the most laid-back person I know so that just seemed so ironic and unbelievable that we both denied it for a long time.
    Biofeedback training “fixed” the problem. Just sayin’.

  • VeroPen

    2011/02/14 at 2:59 pm

    OMG – I thought “Kids really are just the biggest idiots” was the best SENTENCE EVER…. until I read the viagra joke.

    pure genius. seriously. we could be friends.

  • Lauren3

    2011/02/14 at 3:00 pm


    Relieved and happy for you guys. A friend of mine had a virus once that affected her in a similar way. Scary stuff, because you normally don’t think of a virus manifesting itself in that way.

    On an awesome and unrelated note…


  • Tobie

    2011/02/14 at 3:02 pm

    I’m glad that he’s ok! It’s so scary when things like that happen. 🙁

    P.S. I also thought of you when I heard the new Radiohead album is coming out!

    But seriously, glad that Jon is ok.

  • eco

    2011/02/14 at 3:03 pm

    My cousin just had those exact symptoms and they ran all the heart stuff. Then later, it turned out to be the gall bladder (which they missed during the initial visits). Scared the effing mess out of him, but ended up being a fairly simple day operation. Hope it’s something easier (like a virus, which has had its fun and is now off into the ether.)

  • tyleesmamma

    2011/02/14 at 3:08 pm

    i know you are going to get all kinds of crazy suggestions but i was having very similar pains – shortness of breath, sweating, swore i was having a heart attack. anyways, i had the ekg and an echo…turns out it was my gallbladder. i have since had it removed and haven’t had the pain since!

  • becaru

    2011/02/14 at 3:12 pm

    Chest pain caused by too much caffeine, perhaps? That was the diagnosis after I experienced some bouts of chest pain.

    Have you heard that they are making liquid Viagra now? It will give new meaning to the expression, “pour yourself a stiff one”.


  • Eveie

    2011/02/14 at 3:13 pm

    I used to work in an ER as a technician doing pretty much exactly what your terrified little ER girl was doing. And your hunch was right. They usually just kind of throw those kids in there with a lot less training than they really should have. And for some reason phlebotomists always like to use regular needles instead of butterfly needles when they draw vials, which tends to poke and bleed back and cause bruising a lot more easily.

    If you or Jon ever have to go back to the ER or get blood drawn for any reason, you should know you have a right to say “I WANT SOMEONE MORE EXPERIENCED TO DO IT” or more importantly “I WANT YOU TO USE A BUTTERFLY NEEDLE SO YOU DON’T BUTCHER MY VEIN MR. SHAKY McNERVOUSPANTS.” I certainly do now-a-days.

  • Kiki

    2011/02/14 at 3:14 pm

    Glad to hear things are okay with Jon. I had a somewhat similar experience – my husband was 44, the same age his father was when his father had his first heart attack. We went into urgent care because my hubby was having severe stomach pain. I stepped out during the exam to check on our three waiting kids. I returned to hear the doctor saying “Well, we’re pretty sure you’re not having a heart attack.” WTH?! We were there for stomach pain! And what does “pretty sure” mean?! Anyway, he was transported via ambulance (I can still picture my kids’ faces) to the hospital and had his gall bladder out the next day.

  • sonjabean

    2011/02/14 at 3:16 pm

    Oh, I’m not surprised he got in to see a doctor so quickly. “I’m having trouble breathing” gets you in right off. I learned that when I was in a car accident with a friend. I was 20, driving the type of piece of shit car you expect a 20 year old to drive. Seriously, it was a tin can on wheels, and not even full sized car wheels. Do you remember those crappy little cars that had wheels that were half-sized or something? They looked like bicycle wheels with hubcabs? Yeah, those. Anyway, I’m driving, and someone coming towards us crosses over the double yellow line and hits me head on and then the car behind me hits me. My face literally bounced off the steering wheel a couple of times (airbags? don’t make me laugh). I’m a bloody mess. My lips is completely split to the point that the muscles inside it were exposed. My friend looks fine. An ambulance takes us to the ER and she says, “I’m having trouble breathing.” She goes right into see a doctor. I’m in the hallway for hours, bleeding all over the place. I would require stitches on my cheek and lip, my front teeth were knocked loose, and a blood vessel burst in my eye. But don’t worry about me! I’ll just hang here on a gurney in the hallway! It was eight hours until I left the hospital. My friend was out in two.

    What I learned from this experience: whenever you go to the ER, no matter what is wrong with you, for faster service, lead with, “I’m having trouble breathing.”

  • slappyintheface

    2011/02/14 at 3:17 pm

    I had feelings like that when I had anxiety issues … not fun at all. Glad everything turned out okay … and no more chili covered in curry anytime soon!

  • djgonzales

    2011/02/14 at 3:22 pm

    So glad the big stuff was eliminated. Glad everyone is home and safe!

    Be sure to keep finding out what caused it though. Be vigilant!

    On that side note: seriously, post your fav gross vids. There was a thread that needs a few “juicy” additions!

  • Red Skeeter

    2011/02/14 at 3:25 pm

    Glad everything worked out. We kind of like having you guys around.

    Happy V Day!

  • bawb23

    2011/02/14 at 3:27 pm

    Another reason Jon got to stay in the hospital overnight – not to mention the Echocardiogram and Stress Test: you have good health insurance.

  • tallnoe

    2011/02/14 at 3:28 pm

    The answer is, NO, I would not have been able to keep a straight face.

    You done good.

    Glad that Jon is back at home.

  • ShanLeAnn

    2011/02/14 at 3:28 pm

    I had this exact same thing happen when I was about 30 weeks pregnant, it was absolutely horrific! I had to go through more tests, they made me inhale some supposedly non-toxic dust so they could get a picture of the veins in my lungs. Everything was fine, and my baby isn’t a mutant.
    Glad Jon is fine too!

  • ThePeanut

    2011/02/14 at 3:29 pm

    Glad to hear that everything is ok. We’re thinking of you guys!

  • Lauren Bellamy

    2011/02/14 at 3:30 pm

    I am so glad to hear that he is doing better. I had to take my husband to the ER for the same thing over the summer and we spent a night in the cardiac ICU just to be sent home in the morning and told he was in perfect health. scary! I hope you do not have to go through this again.

    on a grosser note – is a website dedicated to all things disgusting being removed from the body. its great!

  • Punxking

    2011/02/14 at 3:34 pm

    As someone diagnosed with a serious heart condition from out of the blue a year ago at age 40, I’m very happy he has not joined the club… ain’t no fun.

    I do wish you and your family the best.

  • katdenk

    2011/02/14 at 3:37 pm

    So happy to hear you’re feeling better Jon. I hope they figure out what the deal was, it would suck if you were diagnosed with “Post-Vacation Heather” syndrome, though.

  • BigSkyMum

    2011/02/14 at 3:40 pm

    My husband went to the hospital with chest pains when he was 30. They checked everything out, but there was no obvious cause. They diagnosed him with costochondritis, which is inflammation of the chest wall. They sent him home with a massive dosage of ibuprofen. It went away. Every so often he aggravates it by golfing.

  • Crazy Card Lady

    2011/02/14 at 3:41 pm

    I think it’s better to be a little humorous than morose.

    The father of my two children had chest pains and went to the emergency room twice and on both occasions because he was a marathon runner, they excused him and sent him home. Last February he had a pretty bad heart attack and almost died. Luckily he has gotten 5 stents and lots of medications and a year later is back running in marathons and being a Dad.

    There is a reason for debilitating pain and it isn’t funny when the worst happens. I would want to get some answers. Jon is a big part of your hilarious life.

    I have a great story about climbing in to a coffin at the mortuary to check out how it was made when my Dad died. I was just getting out when the salesman came back in the room. My brother and I still get the giggles over it.

  • seven2seven8

    2011/02/14 at 4:07 pm

    So very glad Jon is okay and back home. I was exactly the same way about needles until I was turned into a human pincushion for fertility treatments. I still don’t like them, but they don’t have to use a spatula to peel me off the ceiling before blood-work any more.


  • cmglynn01

    2011/02/14 at 4:07 pm

    Happy to hear the old man’s ticker is good. For future reference, you can always refuse to have those unskilled interns do the blood draw. Better yet, if he’s not in the process of actively dying during normal business hours, get thee to the Phlebotomy lab. They are awesome there because it’s all they do.

    Oh, and Happy Valentine’s.

  • glittermom

    2011/02/14 at 4:08 pm

    SO glad Jon is OK. I know how scary this is because it happened to me once, overnight stay, stress test all of it. Only to be told, “sometimes these things happen as we approach menopause ‘ OK, and i spent the whole night before the test writing little notes to my husband on how to raise my child when I died during the stress test in the morning. Which I was convinced I was going to because the lady across the street when I was growing up had a brother, named Rusty, who DIED during his stress test. And he was about the same age, and I had my self convinced that it was going to be the same for me. Combine this with the BOTFLIES!!!! Which my precious almost 15 year old daughter is obsessed with and can tell you all about and with whom I will share the links and give her the best Valentine ever!!!!!!! Sometimes, for no apparent reason she will just yell “BOTFLY” probably to see if we are paying attention. And really. I am not making this up.
    anyway, hug Jon, have a great valentines day and look at it this way, he has had a stress test, all is well, nothing to worry about here!!

  • ktorborg

    2011/02/14 at 4:28 pm

    Not sure if anyone mentioned this yet………..did they check him for gallstones? I had heart attack symptoms and it turned out to be gallstones, gall bladder removed. Life is great!!!

  • strawberrygoldie

    2011/02/14 at 4:38 pm

    Relieved and happy that Jon is good. I can’t imagine what y’all just went through.

    And. I adore hearing stories of parasites and flesh-eating bacteria and zits. May I emphasize the word “hearing.”

    No watchee. No can do.

    On that note, after hearing the absolutely ecstatic sounds of disgust from my 12 year old son while watching “Dirty Jobs” yesterday, I share with you now…

    Goat zits.

  • mhsqrd

    2011/02/14 at 5:00 pm

    something similar happened to me (sans the trip to the awesome beach) and turns out it was…wait for it…an ANXIETY ATTACK.

  • DrKoob

    2011/02/14 at 5:17 pm

    So glad Jon is good to go. If it doesn’t turn out to be a gall bladder or anxiety I will throw in my experience. Had the same symptoms though not as drastic (still chronic shortness of breath and chest pain) and it turned out to be an allergy to aspartame. Seriously. If you have a peanut allergy it causes your throat to close. My doc figured something was giving my lungs a problem in taking a deep breath and we finally narrowed it down to that. No more sugar-free for me. Actually have tried to cut out all chemicals.

  • Anu

    2011/02/14 at 5:18 pm

    Glad to know you’re doing fine Jon. Hope you feel better soon.

  • CrabMama

    2011/02/14 at 5:36 pm

    I had my first chest pain when I was still in college. I totally freaked out because my father had just had a heart attack. So my chest was hurting and I called my parents’ next door neighbor, who was a heart surgeon, and told him what I was experiencing. He suggested I take a Rolaid and see if the pains eased up, which they did. I felt like an idiot.

    I still get chest pains occasionally. Tell Jon to take a Pepcid next time before y’all go to the hospital.

  • weber_d

    2011/02/14 at 5:49 pm

    Please tell Jon I am sorry, but that is the funniest ever! You had me rolling and my husband was all like ‘WTF’? I tried to read it to him but he couldn’t understand because, as I tried to read I was rolling in laughter again.
    Extreme Personal Measures

  • Not Marlo

    2011/02/14 at 6:04 pm

    Glad to hear Jon’s home now and has “awesome vasculars” – keeps from turning into a pin cushion doncha know. Now that he’s home sounds like you just need to run a defrag and he’ll be all better. 🙂


  • rcleland

    2011/02/14 at 6:36 pm

    Anxiety, that I never realized I had, put me in the hospital 2 different times. Short of breath, python squeezing my chest, etc. Two good shots of something much stronger than Xanax, and a 1500 er visit bill +ambluance, and I felt dumb. But I am still alive, and I am glad Jon is too. I now have learned to drink water, lay down, breath slowly and deliberately and don’t panic.

    Best of the best to you both.

    And if you can keep your orchid alive, let me know how you do it. I love em, and kill em every time.

  • ppass

    2011/02/14 at 6:44 pm

    I’m so glad that everything is OK. So scary though!
    I hope you two have a wonderful Valentines Day–you probably will, one thing these experiences tend to do, besides make you turn into psycho comedian when you are supposed to be the concerned loved one (and thank you, that’s my usual behavior in the ER as well!) is make you appreciate each other. So I hope you have a great evening appreciating each other…

  • zeegirl602

    2011/02/14 at 7:15 pm

    Glad Jon is ok!! I agree with others who have mentioned this: definitely ask to have someone more experienced draw the blood next time… there’s no reason to add more trauma to an already-tough situation. 🙂

  • Squeaker

    2011/02/14 at 7:29 pm

    Sounds like a panic attack to me. I’m surprised they didn’t mention that given that all of the tests came back normal. I’ve had attacks that lasted days before. Not fun. Painful. Hard to breathe.

    I hope he feels better!

  • Harriet May

    2011/02/14 at 7:51 pm

    I’m sending you a jar of Vaseline, stat. You know, just in case.

  • TucsonPatty

    2011/02/14 at 8:24 pm

    Heather & Jon – I’m glad all is well – that did sound like a very scary episode.
    First time poster here.
    I have to tell you this – I love ‘extracting comedones’ from my hair clients. I thought I had a very strong stomach. I clicked on your first link and watched a couple of instances and then I had to slam the lids down on my eyes as hard as I could, and then cover them with my hands and then cover my mouth with those same hands and said “OMG, OMG, OMG…” and my friend beside me said “What’s the matter?” I told her “zit popping” and she stuck her fingers in her ears and yelled “La la la la la la la la la la…” for a very long time. She wouldn’t let me tell her any of the gory details – I kept trying to just tell her “ejaculation” and she wouldn’t listen. I was laughing so hard.
    Oh, My.
    So, since that was too much fun, I skipped your next two recommendations, but then clicked on the ‘Dirty Jobs’ suggestion from a commenter. I love Mike. I watched through a crack between my fingers and then managed to shut my eyes at just the right moment. Mike was a little grossed out, and the other guy just keeps squeezing. Mike kept laughing and turning away. That was my reaction. That was funny. But gross. The ‘Birth of a Botfly’ was watchable, and icky. The ‘zit zits’ thing – was ‘throw up in my mouth a little.’
    Heather – you make me laugh every day, and I love how honest you are about your family. Thank you for sharing them with all of us.

  • jan001

    2011/02/14 at 8:42 pm

    SO GLAD this has had a good resolution!!

    Teaching hospitals, I hear ya. My local hospital of choice is world-class hospital with cutting edge treatments. I haven’t had to go that often, but when I do, I have to remind myself, “teaching hospital, teaching hospital” and try to patiently (HA!) (sorry) answer the same series of questions from about four different teams of doctors/students.

    As for amateur blood-letters, I’ve donated over 5 gallons of blood so I’ll give someone maybe two tries but then I want someone who’s been to the rodeo before.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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