A Scary Day – a note from site founder James

A Scary Day – a note from site founder James

1800 1012 James Tocchio

At 10AM this morning I began to feel dizzy and nauseous. Five minutes later my heart rate was above 175 beats per minute. I told my wife I couldn’t catch my breath, and sat down. In minutes I couldn’t feel my arms or legs and I began shaking uncontrollably. I sat there for twenty minutes trying to catch my breath, to breathe slowly while the room spun and my hands shook, while my wife and two daughters (aged five and three) asked me to tell them what was wrong. I couldn’t think clearly enough or breathe well enough to answer them, and my attempted hand gestures were vague and impossibly slow.

From that moment to the time when I arrived at the doctor, many half-formed thoughts went through my foggy mind. I’m not a dramatic person. I try to be pragmatic and thoughtful, to take in stride both successes and failures, to keep an even keel. Don’t get too excited, don’t get too depressed. Stay level. Assess and respond rather than react. You get the idea.

But this was not normal. This was drowning in open air, uncontrolled shaking, fear like I’d never felt, and after saying goodbye to my kids as we left for the doctor there was an irrepressible voice in my mind asking questions which simply would not be quieted by calm logic nor practiced optimism. Is this the last time I’m going to see them? Is this what it feels like to die? 

Let me reiterate that I’m not one to panic. This feeling truly was that unusual. There has been nothing in my life to analogize it. I can only describe it as an animal feeling.

Thankfully, I didn’t die. A doctor wouldn’t see me for another two hours, and by then my surging heart and other symptoms had ebbed to the point where I could at least take slow, deep breaths. My limbs were no longer tingling. My brain was more easily connecting questions with answers. I was no longer nauseous.

An hour or so after my symptoms had relaxed, an electrocardiogram registered no evidence of heart attack. That’s great! Beginning at 4PM my beats per minute range has come down, elevated on average about fifteen per cent higher than normal. Tomorrow I wear a harness which will monitor my heart activity over the next days. I suspect there will be inconclusive readings, assuming that I don’t have another episode like the one I’ve just gone through. Next step is to see a cardiologist later this week, and from there we will see what happens. It’s likely that everything will be fine.

You may be wondering why these words are appearing here on Casual Photophile. This post has nothing to do with cameras, photography, or anything that our readers would typically come here to read. Those types of articles are in the pipe of course, ready to go for the upcoming week. We’ve got a good one about a classic Canon lens, another writeup on a beautiful Leica lens, my review of Fuji’s GFX and another on the Pentax 67 and another on the Nikon Nikkor 28/2.8 all drafted and ready. Those articles will do great. I expect this one to fall flat. It’s a bit pointless and self-indulgent (though there is an ultimate message here which may be useful to some of you). And besides, this site is somewhat important to me, as are the people who visit it. I like to talk to y’all.

And this thing has rattled me. Life is unpredictable. My kids are young, and though we’ve not really told anyone yet, my wife and I are expecting a new baby which (you’ll know if you’ve read this article) is something of a miracle! I’m quite happy with my life. I sort of love it. I love my kids and my wife, and what I’m doing with this site and my other businesses, and I love the positive comments of the readers and all the friends I’ve made through this place.

I think that while Casual Photophile is certainly about cameras and photography, I like to think that this site is equally concerned with the more important things – life, and living it. And at its best, the writing here at Casual Photophile is affirming and encouraging. Affirming of the way that photography and cameras can improve a life, and encouraging by way of pushing that message, of encouraging you, our readers, to get out there with a camera and more deeply experience life and the world and the people with whom you share it. This was in fact my original intention when I founded this place. To add some positivity to the world through the prism of a camera.

I’m sure that everything will be fine. This has never happened before, and it’s hopefully an anomaly which won’t repeat. A few days or weeks of testing and doctor appointments, a change of lifestyle where I sleep more than a few hours a night maybe, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy another thirty-six years of smooth sailing and plenty of time with the people I love. That’s my hope.

Here’s the part of possible relevance to you all – I’ve managed to pull something useful from this unpleasant experience. I can once again try to affirm and encourage through my work.

To that end, I advise you to spend this week experiencing what you love. If that’s your family, spend time with them. Talk to them. Get an ice cream or a warm drink. Play a game with your kids. If your happiness comes from a hobby, engage with it. Do something you’ve been putting off. Make some plans. This year has been trash. Do what makes you happy and be happy.

Last suggestion – leave your camera at home this week. I know that’s not what we usually advise here. But take a minute to just be. Put the camera down and live your life. Forget pictures and work and maybe even social media. We can get back to the grind in a little bit. For now, just be.

I hope this post is useful to some of you. If not, well, we’ve got the usual good stuff coming up.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio
  • That almost sounds like a severe panic attack, but I can’t say for sure nor am I qualified to know. Eitherway, hope you are okay and stay safe, James.

    • Before the end of the first paragraph I was thinking “panic attack”… It’s exactly as you describe in that it’s completely indescribable and completely awful. Luckily I haven’t experienced one in over a decade. It’s described as a “sense of impending doom” but in my experience it’s more like the visceral FEELING of certain and impending doom.

      Take some time off maybe? Try not to think too hard or stop yourself when you can tell you’re overanalyzing things. Avoid situations and thought patterns that you know provoke anxiety. Keep in mind that although it’s terrible it can’t actually hurt you very much. I’ve never tried medication but it’s something you could discuss with a doctor. It can and will get better!

  • Sorry to hear that you had such a scary experience. I assume you have already investigated the syndrome of tachycardia. Hope a treatable cause or explanation is discovered. Wishing you all the best. You are an admirable man.

  • Scary stuff James, stress related maybe? Good luck with your appointments and tests, fingers crossed its nothing serious and will never be repeated. We all enjoy your site and writings, take care of yourself and your beautiful family first.

  • You write better on your worst day than I do on my best day.

  • Sorry to hear of your frightening event. I can offer that I had a similar event about a decade ago when my kids were similar age to yours. Ended up in the hospital ER for nearly 24 hours because once you walk in an ER in the express lane for ‘heart issue’ they want to make SURE they can’t find anything. 🙂 Followed up with a Holter test like you and a stress test. Nothing. And it hasn’t happened again. So, I guess the advice is twofold: 1) Don’t worry TOO much (take care though), you probably just experienced a body glitch 2) If it DOES happen again, you might consider walking in to an ER instead of primary care and announce a heart issue. You’d get measured far faster and make sure there isn’t something detectable at the event. Looking forward to the ‘regular’ posts coming

  • Dang James! Scary stuff worthy of panic.
    I’m certainly glad you pulled through enough to share (tho no one is more glad than your family).
    Do take the time to recover and deal with whatever the diagnosis is…and spend time with your family. We’re not goin’ anywhere…and we’re pullin’ for ya.
    And congrats on the new addition to the family!

  • James, I am very sorry you had to go through this. You will be in my thoughts. Louis.

  • Hi James,

    It is great to hear that you are OK. Of all the tech news, review website, and Youtube channels, I feel this CP is always my place of comfort. A place that photography and the tools connect with us humans. I did read your story about how you picked up photography and the miracle. I was so touched by your sincerity. Congratulations to you on the third baby!!!

    Thanks for the note:

    more important things – life, and living it

    Will do!

  • So glad to hear you are ok. When my house wouldn’t sell, I went through all my savings and ended up living on $5,000 per year. I had sales pending on Etsy and the phone company was bitching about a $65 phone bill. I told them it would be paid by the weekend, but they said no. Hours later, my phone was dead. So that also meant my internet was down. So the people who wanted my Etsy stuff were no longer getting replies, they complained and Etsy tried reaching me and couldn’t, so they banned me.
    A few weeks later, I was having many of the same symptoms as you, and could not reach out. I went to bed asking god to not take me as my pets needed me. I did wake up but felt crappy.
    A week later, my sister flew into town because she could not reach me. She took me to my doctor and an ecg showed damage to my heart muscle.

    My sister gave me her old cel phone to make sure I could stay in touch. Finally that house sold. But my finances changed and tripled when I turned 60.

  • Take good care James, and congratulations on the upcoming new addition! Similar thing happened to me a few years back and it is rattling to say the least, but as you point out, it also can be an awakening of sorts to the things that are truly important in life.

  • I pray this is your last such experience. But — speaking from a history of heart issues — I’d also urge you to think of it as some sort of warning sign, but without undue alarm and panic. Have a complete, thorough physical by a top rated cardiologist. (Make sure they do a stress test. Prior to rolling in for a quintuple bypass in my early 40’s, I had been running, weight lifting, feeling good, had normal BP etc. AND had a very normal ‘resting’ EKG. Only under a stress test did problems surface.)
    Take care !

  • I hope you are right and everything is ok! This is truly one of my favorite sites and yes I love photography, but it’s the stories and the personal elements that keep me coming back. Wishing you and your family the very best!

  • Most likely SVT, supraventricular tachycardia, it is frequently seen in the ER.

    Please do a few things for me James. Instruct your family to call 911 next time. Do not wait hours to see a doctor. Many times this may go away by itself (transient) but often needs medication or cardioversion (synchronized defibrilation).

    Make sure you know how/where to access the speed and regularity of your physical pulse (not iPhone). I am amazed at the number of highly educated people who do not know this basic skill and end up in the Emergency Department. The rate and rhythm of your heart should be noted as it may change before an EKG is available.

    Obviously, too much caffeine can irritate the myocardium, so no more triple espresso drinks for now. And try not to worry.

  • Hope you feel better soon James. Personally, I like reading these personal posts from you. A few now and then remind us what a great person you are. And CONGRATULATIONS 🙂

  • Thank you for sharing, I hope you feel better. All the best.

  • James, I’d like to echo the thoughts of the well-wishers and hope that you make a full recovery from what must have been a frightening episode for you. It will also help you to learn what the cause was and I hope this will be forthcoming soon. Best wishes for a full recovery.

  • As others have said – whatever the outcome of this is – I hope you are well and have no serious lingering issues. But the one big takeaway should be – next time call 911 or go directly to the ER. No waiting around for it to get better – get seen ASAP.

    I went through a similar episode a few years ago. Hell, I even took a shower thinking it would help clear things up. Finally after much deliberation my wife and I decided to just drive to the ER. I was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, had a cardioversion performed on me and was eating breakfast a few hours later.

    Lastly, as my cardiologist told me: take it easy, and take care of yourself!

  • This site works so well because you bring your personality to it, which means your readers come to care about you as well as the devices you write about. And this reader hopes you’re soon over this alarming episode, and properly checked out to be sure it was a one-off. All the best.

  • Please take care of you.
    I have that, and now since few years my life is with this problem, I take blood pressure medecine, and became a vegan, and start to cool down.
    By the way, homeopathic doctor is also a good way. I add a very good diet like for example :

    – You can drink more black tea and fresh mint tea, and drink Orezza water because it is low in sodium but rich in iron,
    – breath lavender and eucalyptus,
    – take omega 3 (Nordic Naturals, Ultimate Omega 2X, Lemon, 2,150 mg, 120 Soft Gels)
    – eat : lamb’s lettuce
    black radish
    passion fruits
    white beans
    avocado fruit

    And personally the success to escape to death is to follow a Buddhist process with vow, life liberation, recitation of scriptures and I did not beleive to that before according to my traditional western education, and my studies on philosophy and social sciences, but after following many people sharings and meet them I have tried, work less, stop to work, and change life. Today we are here, and tomorrow we are not here any more, … there is explantions from Buddhism, this is the law of cause and effect …
    When I have the same symptoms than you, I juyst check my record 180/120 … sometimes higher, now it is divide per 2 nearly …

    I want to read your articles and the news from other anlaog websites and people who participe for loing time.

    Before I was heavy smoker, drinker, and so on, … … these symptoms have made me think about the true values of life … all the things are empty and illusion, …

    Please James take care of you, and have a good rest, and find the good prescription, good blood pressure medecine will get result in one week.
    For heart protection there is also very good traditional medecine despite I am not in one time to support this one …


  • Yup….I limit myself to a couple of coffees per week now, no energy drinks. A tea made from Hawthorn leaves is very good for you!

  • sending positive vibes your way James!

  • Thank you for sharing and glad you are ok. Keep monitoring things, the ticker is awfully important.

  • Wishing you a speedy recovery, James.

  • James, I truly wish you the best and hope that your scary episode is indeed a fluke that will never repeat itself. Your advice of not losing the forest for the trees is very sage. Don’t lose sight of what’s important. Simple truths that can make you reconsider how you live. May you and your family enjoy at least another 36 years! Congrats on the new baby also. I have 3 young daughters myself and they are a source of endless joy.

  • James, I am glad you are feeling better and I hope that continues. Your site helps bring people of disparate backgrounds together to connect via shared interests. I believe that an act as simple as that helps to subconsciously bring people closer to one another. We need more of those small acts in the world; we need more of what your site provides. Thank you.

  • Glad to learn you are doing okay now. Love to read your deep reflections from the incident and please keep us posted.
    My work sometimes requires me to go to some really dangerous places. I often go through similar mental process, just asking myself what if this is the last time I walk out this door. This teaches me that we are not alone, we have a lot to care about and also get a lot love. So treat them well and treat the world well.

  • James, many people have said this already, but please do see a good cardiologist-preferably one who is on the faculty of a top flight medical school in your area, and may there never be a next time, but if there is PLEASE do call 911. Leave this stuff to the pros.

    And congrats on the coming child! Truly great news. You have much to live for!

  • Hate to sound like a harbinger of doom but … DO NOT DISMISS THIS AS A ONE-OFF!

    Had exactly the same symptoms … at first …

    A few seconds later I stopped breathing, turning blue (according to my family) for over 5 minutes until an unexplained body spasm kicked me back into life. Fortunately paramedics arrived almost simultaneously as my ‘recovery’ and – unlike yourself – could detect evidence of a heart irregularity.

    To cut a long story short, they concluded I’d had a severe heart attack, close to clinical death, but less than fifteen minutes later my heat rhythm was back (virtually) to ‘normal’. Subsequent angiogram evidence (a month later) proved a narrowed artery that possibly got blocked by random clotting. Didn’t need corrective surgery but definitely needed an eye keeping on it. A narrow escape indeed …

    I’m now very conscious of that defect and do not take it lightly.

    For your family’s sake get every test and process you can – never dismiss something like this as a ‘one-off’. Hopefully it was nothing, and will never happen again, but make sure …

  • Really appreciated the article – take care of yourself!

  • Chris (another one) September 24, 2020 at 2:46 pm


    Please get a pulse oximeter and a proper cuff style blood pressure meter. The blood percent oxygen measurement, pulse, breathing rate and upper/lower blood pressures are the numbers the experts need to know immediately those symptoms happen. Ought not to cost more than about a $100 or so for both. See, even here you cannot escape from gadget acquisition syndrome.

    Seriously though, Andy Wingert and Photozopia’s suggestions above are absolutely right. I’m a bit surprised when you didn’t write about any form of body imaging used by the medics: ultrasound, X ray, CAT scan or MRI to see what was going on in the heart-lung region. The electrical heart things measured by ECG are meant to go back to looking normal at the earliest possible opportunity.

  • Best regards

    I went through something similar with my husband a couple years ago. We thought he was having a number of heart attacks but they turned out to be aniexty related.

    Completely agree with you post. Life is there for the living but also be mindful that taking time out and relaxing is key

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio