This is the story of (one of) the worst panic attacks of my life. It happened in the middle of nowhere on a country road, geographically equidistant between my parents’ house and my own apartment. Thirty-five miles both east and west of the closest “safe” place, and I felt both physically and mentally unable to complete the drive in either direction.
I pulled back onto Schoolhouse Road after trying (and failing) to backtrack to the state park parking lot where I’d last had cell reception. I couldn’t do it — I felt lightheaded, the trees and the road and the sky felt cartoonish, and my body was uncontrollably shaking.
I parked on the road between two houses, reclined my seat, and waited. And waited and waited and waited. I periodically checked my phone for service as I tried (unsuccessfully) to quell my symptoms. I managed to find a Xanax in my jacket pocket. I swallowed it with water and, for about a minute, felt a mild improvement thanks to the placebo effect.
ARE YOU OKAY?
Some young kid in a giant white pickup truck rolled up to my window and asked me if I was okay.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I lied. “I’m just waiting for something. Thanks for checking.”
He drove off. Had I just missed my only opportunity to get help? My panic level increased.
I tried to get out of the car, but felt too weak. I tried to remember the Ten Rules for Coping With Panic, but I couldn’t even remember the first step. I felt braindead. I felt on the verge of blacking out. I feared death.
Then, another truck rolled up to mine — this one with a red light on top.
“Is everything okay?” the man asked me. He wasn’t in any kind of uniform, but the light on top of his car led me, for some reason, to tell the truth.
“I just had a panic attack,” I confessed, “I’m trying to wait it out while my meds kick in.”
He suggested that I pull further away from the road so that a car turning quickly from the main road onto Schoolhouse wouldn’t smash into my rear bumper. I agreed with chattering teeth, and (too scared to even put my seatbelt on, oddly) I pulled ahead, managed a shaky K-turn, and parked facing the main road.
The man drove off.
ARE YOU SURE YOU’RE OKAY?
But then he returned.
“Are you sure you’re going to be okay?” he asked me. I told him I didn’t know. And, in turn, he told me that he was some sort of…well, EMT-in-training, I think. I remember him trying to explain to me that he was taking an EMT course and that he’s a volunteer firefighter. Or something. Something like that. (My head was so light, at this point, I barely comprehended everything that he said and it felt like minutes were passing between each of his words.)
He offered to call an ambulance. I looked down at my shaking hands. I looked at my phone (which was now boasting a single bar of service — WTF?) and at my steering wheel and then back at the man.
“Will it cost me anything?”
“No, unless they take you to the hospital. I think they should at least check you out. You don’t look so good.”
As soon as he said “you don’t look so good”, I started to panic even more. I took his wording as a sign that, somehow, things were horribly wrong. I mean, if this were just a panic attack, wouldn’t I look fine? This guy must see something that I don’t. Maybe I am having a legitimate medical problem instead of a panic attack. Maybe there’s a problem with my heart or my blood pressure. Maybe there’s a problem with my brain. Did I have a stroke? Maybe I’m having a stroke RIGHT NOW OH GOD WHAT THE HELL.
“Okay,” I agreed. “Call the ambulance.”
THERE’S A FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING
The EMT-in-training pulled out his radio and called for help. I could hear all the buzzes and beeps and static on his radio, and everything felt surreal. There I was, stuck shaking in the middle of nowhere, incapable of driving my car any further to my home.
“Dispatch, I have a lady here who’s had a panic attack and she’s violently shaking. We need medic.”
Jesus effing Christ. That word — medic. My heart raced even harder.
Then, a female voice came over the air: “Twenty-nine year old female for a panic attack on Schoolhouse Road.”
She repeated this at least five times in different iterations: “Panic attack, 29-year old female, Schoolhouse Road” and then “Medic needed on Schoolhouse Road for panic attack, 29-year-old female”, and so on as I lay in my car, shaking.
With that single bar of cell phone service, I frantically called my father and, rushing to get all of my words out before I either passed out or died, I information-vomited the essential details.
“Dad, I’m having a bad panic attack. Call Jay and tell him to leave work and come here. I’m on Schoolhouse Road. The ambulance is coming.”
Now crying and unable to breathe well, I tried to get out of my car for air, but the EMT-in-training told me to stay still and continue laying down.
I felt horribly trapped.
(More to come soon.)
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Last reviewed: 14 Mar 2013