Sunday, November 21, 2010

Tingling in my Jaws

Sing to the tune of Strangers in the Night, Frank Sinatra’s version (is there any other?)

Tingling in my jaws
Such a strange feeling,
Tingling in my jaws
Staring at the ceiling
Wondering if I am
In cardiac distress???

Lately I’ve had the strangest sensation: an odd tingling in my jaws that won’t go away. It is especially prevalent in the morning, but sometimes gets worse as the day wears on. I’m a bit scared by it, as you can understand if you’ve ever had something suddenly change in the way your body acts that you can’t explain.

It just so happens that I know women have different indications of a heart attack than men do, and pain or tingling in the jaws is one symptom of cardiac distress that women experience. That is why I wonder if I’m not going into some sort of cardiac distress, or if I’m having other heart problems.

Which causes me to think: what if I’m in my apartment and its 2 in the morning, and I do in fact have a heart attack?

For one, I’ve already shared with you that I do not know how to contact emergency services. For two, the dorm gates are locked at 10PM on weeknights, and at 11 on weekend nights. If I do have a medical emergency and had to summon help and, by some miracle I’m able to make someone understand over the phone that I’m having a heart attack, how would paramedics get to me with me behind these locked gates?

Hopscotch thought: what if there’s a fire in the dorm at night, when the gates are locked and everyone is asleep? With temperatures plummeting, there is a prevalence of space heaters in the dorms and no sprinkler system or fire alarms anywhere in the building (there are fire extinguishers). We have not had a fire drill since the dorm filled up in late September, when the Freshmen hit campus, or since I’ve been here, Would these kids know what to do? It is very likely a tragedy could unfold. Imagine this dorm, full of girls and one lone language teacher, all trapped behind a locked gate.

For you history buffs: I recall to you the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory incident of 1911. For you who are not familiar with that incident, let me tell you about it. The factory occupied the 8th and 9th floors of a building. The owners of this factory, which produced women’s blouses (at that time called shirtwaists) got in the habit of locking the doors so that the workers would not sneak out to the fire escapes or down to the alley to smoke. Thus everyone there was locked in for their full 9 hour shift.

A careless machine operator flicked a cigarette into the trash, igniting the scraps of material therein. A fire broke out and panic ensued as hundreds of women ran for the doors, which were locked. Fire fighting equipment could not reach that high, so they told the women to jump out the windows into the nets the fire fighters held to catch them. The women started pitching themselves out the windows, whether firemen were ready to catch them or not. The death toll of that incident peaked at 146. You can read about this tragedy here:

The Triangle Shirtwaist incident is considered to be the worst industrial accident of the century, and indeed it brought about the legislation in America that no exit or fire door may be locked or blocked when a building is occupied. Later laws dwell on the imperative of clearly showing the way to the closest exit; that is why there are lighted ‘EXIT’ signs everywhere in commercial and industrial buildings.

A more recent incident happened this week at a high rise in Shanghai. This residential building was undergoing renovations when (it appears) a worker dripped welding slag onto some flammable building materials nearby. Fire broke out, and again fire fighters were powerless to get the blaze under control The death toll from this fire currently stands at 58, with several people still in critical condition and many others still unaccounted for. You can read about this incident here:

This article specifically states that residents are not trained in fire evacuation, nor is there a fire evacuation plan for high-rise apartment buildings in general. There is such a plan for commercial buildings, and commercial buildings have fire sprinkler systems installed. Tenants – and it appears college students are on their own.

Again I despair over the lack of orientation on this campus. Not just for myself, but for the students who would most likely end up panicking and hurting themselves in the general melee during an emergency. And what of those locked gates?

This is clearly something I can do to help the kids stay safe. I will approach Sam with the idea that we need to have a fire drill at least once a quarter so that these kids know what to do if a fire does consume one of these dorm buildings. I can also voice my concerns about the locked dorm gates and maybe see that curfew is monitored some other way. I can ask Sam how to contact emergency services and ask him to teach me how to say that help is needed in Chinese.

As for the tingling in my jaws? It turned out to be nothing serious. A routine supplement that I had been taking in the States appears to no longer be effective here in China, and the overdose of said supplement was manifesting itself by making my jaws tingle madly, and causing my hair to start fall out in clumps. As a former thyroid patient I know that if my hair goes limp and starts falling out, something is knocking my hormone levels out of balance, and such was the case with this supplement. A few days after I stopped taking it, my hair stopped falling out and the tingling sensation in my jaws went away.

While men do tend to experience the shooting chest pains and the numbness in the left arm, women tend to experience discomfort in their upper body regions and what appears to be gastrointestinal discomfort. Jaw pain or discomfort is specifically indicative of heart trouble in women. You should stay in tune with how your body feels and acts, so that if something changes or starts acting different, you can pay immediate attention to what your body is trying to tell you and get help immediately, if needed.

I urge you to get familiar with the symptoms of a heart attack and stroke by reading up on them at

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