A Nurses Perspective on Chest Pain and Heart Break

Chest pain. Chest burning. Chest heaviness. Feels like I’m coming out of my skin. Does my arm hurt? Is my jaw hurting? Am I having a heart attack?

Chest pain.

Easter Sunday. Although it didn’t feel like a holiday to me. I woke up with awful chest burning. I didn’t have time to figure it out because I was working and didn’t get up early enough to deviate out of my routine schedule. Plus, I was working in the PICU not sure of what was waiting for me, so I really had to go. 11am, getting nervous. Chest burning. Is it heart burn? Took 4 tums (GROSS), Nexium, green tea, water.

Chest pain.

The next several days are a blur. I was getting very little relief from chest pain and discomfort and wasn’t sure how much I could handle. Work was keeping me distracted, but was my chest burning a direct result FROM work? I think I already knew that answer.

Thursday, 5 days of chest pain and I decide to go to urgent care for an EKG to rule out a cardiac event and also call my cardiologist. We all agreed my chest pain was a not a cardiac event and likely was… my heart hurting.

My heart was physically hurting.

It took 3 more days before I found relief. 8 days of chest pain and burning and I was beginning to realize exactly where it was coming from.


I don’t know when it happened, but I know there’s a point in time in the last 3 years where I started developing generalized anxiety. My love of flying was no longer. My care-free lifestyle didn’t come without mental consequences, my safety net of health felt like it was dwindling away and yet… I never felt out of control like I did last week.

Sitting here thinking, I firmly believe that the past months events caused my heart to physically hurt. Although I’ve been doing this job for 2.5 years and had some really sucky situations, I’ve never ever felt like I was losing complete control. I think my heart was finally catching up to my head- life can be cruel, kids are dying and there’s little I can do about it.

Oh but if my love and passion for it could save a child, not one would die.

I lost some incredible, incredible, INCREDIBLE people that I think very highly of and that I spent a lot of time with in the last 6 weeks. I took on the guilt of not being able to heal a child in their most vulnerable state, but instead send them home to cherish the last days with their family. I took on the ache of another child passing so quickly, that I feel like I haven’t even comprehended the events. I remember receiving so many texts, but feeling like I was in a twilight zone and not responding to any of them, because I thought, who could relate? Was this becoming my new reality? It couldn’t be. I wouldn’t stand for it.

For 8 days I believe I took on a lot of grief, resentment, anger, heartache, shock and denial, that it physically caused my heart to break. I know so many of you can relate.

I sometimes think something is wrong with me because I LOVE my job so much. I love fighting like hell to raise money for research and pulling it off. I love taking care of kids who are battling cancer because they are STRONG, BRAVE and TEACH ME how to be a better person. I love celebrating last chemo’s, successful transplants and when a kid gets out of bed for the first time in a week. I don’t love relapses, sticking a child with a needle, putting poison into their veins and hearing the words “there’s no more treatment options” because its not fair. It’s not normal and it certainly isn’t OK.

I’m learning.

I’m learning that just because I love my job, doesn’t mean I can’t hate it, too. I hate cancer. I hate that kids get cancer and I hate that half of the population doesn’t know that kids get cancer. I hate that as a society, we have to literally FIGHT for more research funding. I hate that families have to get torn apart to fight a battle that their child should never be on the front lines of. I hate that I watch innocence fade on a 4 year old’s face and fear overcome a teenager when they realize they are out of treatment options. I hate cancer.

It’s been 4 days without chest pain. I found a routine and a schedule that works for me. I let myself feel. I let myself grieve. I’m trying to let myself let go of the guilt of failing a patient and their family because while my head knows we did everything we possibly could, my heart still hasn’t caught up.

I am a pediatric oncology nurse and I feel everything. We all do.

While my heart and mind begin to recover from heart break, I am reminded why I was chosen for this job. I look diagonal in my office, there’s a small footprint painted in purple and an “to an amazing caregiver” necklace. I smile. I know sunshine will come soon, because 43 kids get diagnosed with cancer a day, and 1 of them might need me.

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