• chest pain;
  • delay;
  • Foucault;
  • grounded theory;
  • masculinity

• Participant observation was undertaken of the early admission period of 25 men admitted to hospital with acute chest pain, followed by in-depth interviews of 10 of the men after discharge.

• Grounded theory methods were used in the analysis to develop a model of how the men came to interpret their experiences.

• An emerging feature of the men’s experiences was that, although they had suffered intense pain prior to admission, there had been a series of delays whilst they tried to rationalize their symptoms.

• We relate our discussion to literature on men and masculinity and the notion of Foucault (1975) of self-surveillance, to offer an insight into the men’s self concept and social situation.

• Our conclusions suggest that men’s self concept as ‘healthy’ may inhibit a speedy response to the signs and symptoms of acute coronary occlusion, increasing the risk of cardiac arrest without nearby life support.