CHICAGO (WLS) -- Fearing COVID-19, patients facing other medical emergencies like strokes and heart attacks are not calling 911 or going to emergency rooms soon enough, putting their own lives at risk, according to Chicago area health officials.
Heart attack survivor Neesie Lampman, 52, is one of those patients who nearly waited too long. On April 9, Lampman said she felt tingling sensations near her shoulder. She had symptoms for five days before going to the emergency department at Rush University Medical Center.
"My mother said, 'Maybe we should go get this checked out.' Any other time, if COVID wasn't happening, I probably would have said, yeah," she said.
But Lampman, who works in dentistry and is well aware of the virus because dental offices she works with have closed during the pandemic, was worried about going to the hospital, perhaps even contracting COVID-19.
"In my mind, if I went I was going to be sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with someone who could have Covid," Lampman said.
To make matters worse, Lampman lives with her mother and teenage son. All three of them have underlying conditions, making the COVID-19 scare palpable.
When Lampman finally went to Rush's emergency department, she was surprised to see she was completely separated from any COVID-19 treatment or activity. Along with Rush University, hospitals across Chicago have divided the operations, making it safe for those with other medical emergencies.
"I was not there with other Covid patients. Everything was separated, everyone had masks and gowns and gloves," Lampman said. "I felt so safe and very protected walking in, and that was a huge relief the minute I walked in the door."
Because of COVID-19, the American Heart Association reports that 911 calls are down 25 percent for heart attacks, and 35 percent for strokes.
"What they indicate is that people aren't calling 911 for emergencies, and that's a huge problem," said Lisa Hinton, executive director of Metro Chicago American Heart Association. "If individuals are not calling 911, then they are not getting the medical care they need."
Rush University Medical Center and others, immediately isolate COVID-19 patients.
"Emergency departments are here. We are open and we are doing everything we can to protect patients," said Dr. Meeta Shah of Rush University Medical Center.
Lampman is not alone.
Cancer patient Susan Varak of Chicago also had to go to the emergency department after spiking a temperature over 100 degrees. Even though she's going through chemotherapy, she said she felt "safe and comfortable" going to Rush's emergency department, even during the pandemic.
"I know that my safety is their number one concern, so it does't have to be my concern," said Varak, a mother of three daughters who are 16, 14, and 11.
So ultimately, the point is don't wait until it's too late. Call 911 or go to the emergency department if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Heart attack symptoms include chest discomfort; discomfort elsewhere, like arms, back, neck, or jaw; shortness of breath; or possibly, a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness.
When it comes to strokes, you may experience face drooping, arm weakness, slurred speech. If so, it's time to call 911.
"It's by the grace of God that I'm here today," Lampman said. "I shouldn't be. If I had waited any longer, I wouldn't be here."
Coronavirus should not prevent calling 911, going to hospital for medical emergencies, health officials warn