The top seven reasons Americans visit emergency departments on Thanksgiving Day are food poisoning, knife injuries, burns, overeating, alcohol consumption, overexertion and domestic violence. I unfortunately made my visit several days before Thanksgiving and didn’t mess up anyone’s holiday. This was because my entire chest was severely hurting and had been for hours.

Early on, I thought is was GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) although my pain level for this problem had never been this severe or prolonged.

And this was the first time ever that my old standby in a GERD emergency (half teaspoon baking soda in a half cup of water) had failed to help, even after two doses a couple of hours apart, which I’d never done before.

I was sorry to have to wake up Bob at almost midnight with an ER visit request. All of us should be thankful for the quality of care offered at Ballad’s Holston Valley Medical Center emergency room.

I know there’s been a lot of controversy over Ballad. But when you’re in as much pain as I was, all you care about is effective medical attention as soon as possible. Every single individual I can remember was caring and extremely competent. Their triage process was rational and orderly.

Dr. Chumbley’s attempts to communicate with me inspired confidence in my foggy brain. I was just hoping they’d give me something to stop or at least lessen this pain and let me go home. I could see other patients on gurneys in the large triage area.

The problem for me was that the only way any medical doctor can be sure that a patient with my symptoms is not in the midst of or getting ready to have a heart attack is to admit her or him to the hospital and order bunches of tests.

I think they gave me a little morphine while we waited for a room, which helped some. But even in a comfortable room on the observation wing with some of the nicest and most competent nursing and technical staff I’ve ever encountered, I was miserable. The pain didn’t significantly lessen until sometime a little before noon the next day.

Once my attending physician was confident that my life was not in danger, she visited me and filled me in on how she’d approached my care and reached a diagnosis. She’d concluded that my non-cardiac chest pain was most likely due to a spasm of the esophagus combined with pain from injured chest muscles since my rib cartilage was inflamed.

I jumped at the option of being discharged soon and taking the one remaining test she’d ordered on an outpatient basis during the next seven days. This doctor, Jennifer Treece, is among the best I’ve ever encountered, and I’ll always appreciate her diligence and competence. She explained why she had ordered the various tests I’d taken and what life-threatening conditions each had ruled out. She listened to everything I said, and her responses to my questions were clear and fully understandable. She called in some prescriptions, and my discharge papers suggested several over-the-counter items I needed to pick up.

Ballad Health has an online patient portal called “My Chart.” It sends you emails letting you know when something new has been posted on your chart such as an appointment, test results or whatever.

I suspect lots of folks don’t want all that much detail on exactly what the physicians found and their impressions of your condition. But if you look at the “Notes” section on a visit, you can see them.

My behavior was seen as consistent with “moderate distress.” I do have a good pain tolerance, but Bob said I didn’t sound like myself at all until I was well enough to be discharged. At discharge, it’s important to the ER doctors that patients have their own primary care physicians. Once you are released, it’s not possible to speak to your attending physician at the hospital. So patients must get any needed follow-up care from other doctors.

I hope you had a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving Day this year doing whatever you wanted to do. If you suffer from depression, remember this will all be over by Jan. 2. Your usual routines will return. Everyone will calm down. Just hold on.

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Debbie Arrington lives in Kingsport and has earned degrees in history and accounting. You can email her at