State of (My) Heart

So, as usual, just when you think you’re on top of things (or at least approaching the summit), life has a way of throwing a game-changer into the works. Were those metaphors mixed enough for you? If not I could throw in a monkey wrench, or an actual monkey for that matter.

OK, this part is probably going to make some of my fervent readers yell at me. I have high blood pressure and haven’t had any medication to take because I have been waiting for my WalMart insurance to kick in. You may yell now.

Thank you, I hope you feel better…I certainly do.

So my insurance finally kicked in and I went looking for a primary doc to go to last week, mostly to get back on the meds and to have him look at my left foot that has been paining me for a couple weeks.

Mom and Iris go to a female doctor that they like. I’m a feminist, but I’m also more comfortable with a guy doctor, preferably close to my own age so he can relate to me. The doc I was seeing back in Cal was a couple years older than me and he was the first person to diagnose me with depression because he dealt with it himself.

I found a doc in the same group as Mom’s who fit the bill. I also remember that he was running for state assembly when I first came here as a Democrat (this being the South he didn’t win of course). That made me feel good because for once I knew that my insurance and co-pay money wouldn’t be going to fight the needs of the little guy. I’ll never forget years ago sitting in the office of a doctor that I was referred to and noticing all of his plaques from Republican organizations and pictures of him taken with Bush and Karl Rove. Yuck!

So I went to see him on Thursday, June 24. No big whoop, back on the HTN meds and he gave me some Celebrex samples to take to see if that would help the foot pain. If not I would come back in two weeks and he would have it X-rayed.

On Friday night, the 25th, I was getting ready for work and I felt sick, almost nauseous, so I called in. Now WalMart doesn’t like it when you call in sick so they tend to make it as annoying and difficult as possible. You have to call a toll free “information line,” press #1 several times to indicate that you speak English and are calling in sick, put in your store number, write down a confirmation code, then you have to stay on hold while you are transferred to your store so you can tell a manager that you won’t be coming in because you don’t bleed WalMart happy faces and have been, unlike the manager you’re speaking to, sick a day in your life. That day would, in fact, be today.

After I went through that whole thing I went to bed and slept most of the night, feeling better but wondering if the Celebrex might not be sitting well with me. I went to work the next night, and started to feel out of breath and really hungry. One thing about me is that when I get sick, unless I’m sick to my stomach, I can eat a horse. So I made sure I had plenty to eat on my break and lunch, then the rest of the shift I felt bloated.

So I went home and went to bed, by this time it’s Sunday the 27th. I slept all day except for getting up about 2pm to eat something, I had set my alarm for 8:30pm so I could get up and get ready for work. When I woke up, I was short of breath.

As I look back on the past several weeks, maybe even months, I can see that the shortness of breath thing wasn’t necessarily new. If I exerted myself like pulling a heavy pallet at work I would have to stop and catch my breath. I didn’t really think much about it except that I’m 52 years old, out of shape, and need to work on my lung capacity. This wasn’t something that could be explained away so easily. I was panting like I had just been underwater and all I had done was get out of bed. I called in again and went through the whole process, all the time hoping it would get better. When I spoke to the manager on duty, I think he felt taken aback by how hard it was to get a sentence out. Mom was there with me, and she didn’t know what to think. I tried to go back to sleep, hoping that was what I needed. I couldn’t get comfortable in bed because lying flat made my chest feel like it was heavy, this did not feel like “chest pain” though, just heaviness. I tried to sleep in a recliner, that didn’t work either.

Finally about 1am Monday morning I decided that I had better talk to somebody about this. I called the doctor’s office and spoke to the on-call nurse practitioner. She instantly said that I should go to the emergency room. Now, my next actions have been controversial, so let me state this very clearly:

  • The nurse said that I should go to the ER. She didn’t say that I should call 911 and have an ambulance take me.
  • I knocked on Mom’s door and told her about the conversation with the nurse, and that I was going to the ER. She may have forgotten but she did answer me and, at the time, knew I was going.
  • Yes, in retrospect, knowing that my heart was involved, I understand that I shouldn’t have driven myself. Had Iris been in town, I might have asked her to take me, but they were visiting their grandchildren. At the time I had no idea what was going on, I thought maybe it was asthma or something. It did not occur to me that I would be a danger to self or others on the road.

Anywho, I threw my medications and a book in a bag, and that was it. I had my cell phone, but no charger. I didn’t take any extra clothes. Nothing. Again, I guess I was in denial but it never occurred to me that I would be admitted.

By the time I got to the ER, I sounded like the kid in the wheelchair from Malcolm in the Middle: “Hello…I’m…having…trouble…breathing…”

They wasted no time, the security guard got me into a wheelchair and in a few minutes I was in triage. I noticed that the nurses were typing “shob” instead of “sob” as the abbreviation for shortness of breath. I wonder why they changed it?

Right away they put oxygen in my nose and started a nitroglycerin drip to get my blood pressure down. I was to remain tethered to something for the next two days, but the oxygen did make me feel better right away. They took a chest X-ray and the ER doctor told me that I had fluid in my lungs because of…and then he said it: CONGESTIVE HEART FAILURE.

It was like a headline in a newspaper, it was like a marquee on a movie theater. A really bad theater in a rundown part of town. And it’s part of a double bill with Texas Chainsaw Massacre or something. And yes it was probably, if not caused by then exacerbated by the uncontrolled HTN.

So it was kind of like getting hit upside the head by three sledge hammers right in a row. It was no surprise then that they would have to admit me.

Now I hadn’t been in the hospital for myself since a tonsillectomy in the 70s. I’ve been to the hospital with Tania a time or two when we were married, but this was my first actual hospital stay in my adult life. They put me in the cardiac step-down wing and I had the room to myself the whole time I was there. That was nice. They even closed the door. My room was at the end of the hall and my “neighbors” weren’t very noisy. I was also several doors down from the nurse’s station. Extremely restful conditions, right?

Yeah, um….

When you hear about these celebrities checking into the hospital for exhaustion, you know it’s a crock of moldy swiss cheese because if you have actually been in the hospital recently you will know that it’s the absolute worst place to get any rest. Like I said, I was tethered to an IV drip and had an oxygen tube up my nose which felt like I had two enormous boogers up there that I couldn’t get out. They also gave me Lasix to drain the fluid off my lungs, which meant that I had to pee every 20 minutes. In a plastic urinal so they could monitor my “output.” They put about a dozen heart monitor stickies on my chest and also taped a finger monitor on my left hand so they could monitor my oxygen saturation. That was tethered to all the heart monitor wires that were in the front pocket of my hospital gown.

By the way, for most of the first day (Monday) I was able to leave my boxer briefs on under my gown so I did not need to go assless like the gentleman in the above picture until Tuesday.

So I had wires and tubes coming out of me every which way, so that made it hard to get comfortable. They also needed to check my blood pressure frequently. It seemed like every time I would be able to relax somebody else would be coming in to do something to me. Mostly take blood. Oh my God, they freaking loved my blood. I think my blood pressure probably went down just because I gave them so damn much of it.

The nurses were great though, most of them, with the exception of one who I think was a transfer from Dr. Mengele’s office. A couple of them were worthy of falling in love with, and of course I did.

The admitting doctor, who sounded like Yakov Smirnov and had an impossibly long name, seemed like a human being too. He ordered four big tests that I would have on Tuesday morning. I would have two sonograms of my legs and heart, an MRI, and a cardiac catheterization. In the late afternoon, my absolute favorite nurse Kristi explained what would happen and showed me a video. She actually sat there with me while I watched it. It’s love I tell ya. She also explained that someone would help me get in the shower and then after the shower they would shave my groin. I felt like saying, “Someone? Not you?”

What?

Is it wrong that if a woman is going to be that close to my penis for the first time since forever that it should at least be someone I like?

Alas, she left at 7pm and her replacement prepped me that evening around 8:30. She was very nice and very gentle and I had no inappropriate reactions to what she was doing to me.

So that happened. And I had to fast after midnight too, so after she finished trimming my bonsai tree she brought me some crackers and peanut butter to help me get through the night. Yeah, Kristi could’ve helped me get through the night much better but…ahem…anyway…

So Tuesday was going to be a big day.

Yeah. OK, so as I write this sentence at 8:56am on Thursday, July 1, 2010 I have just had the “BM” that the nurses kept asking me about. I almost feel like I should call them. “See? I pooped!”

As I mentioned before, they were very concerned with my output and by the end of my stay there I think maybe they were starting to get concerned that I hadn’t had a BM. Every few hours someone would ask me if I had had a BM. It’s not like I was constipated or holding out on them for some reason. I just didn’t have to go.

Maybe it was performance anxiety. But seriously it’s not like in your everyday life you go around talking about it. “Hey kids, you should’ve seen the size of the log I just dropped.”

Leave me alone. You go have a BM and then tell me about it sometime.

What was I talking about? Oh yeah, I had all these tests on Tuesday. I had taken off the one pair of undies I had with me and rinsed them off when I took a shower the night before, so I was fully commando for the whole day Tuesday. I spent most of the day on a stretcher being wheeled between labs though, so I didn’t moon very many people.

The sonogram of my legs was uneventful, the tech who was doing it told me that she didn’t see any clots or anything. Then I went to another lab for the heart sonogram. As he was doing it I was able to crane my head and see my own heart! It was like seeing the sonograms of Boodles, it wasn’t very clear but I could see the valves opening and closing. It looked OK to me but what do I know? I asked the tech what he thought but he said he wasn’t a doctor and wouldn’t commit to an opinion.

Then came the big event, the cardiac cath. They wheeled me into a big operating room, put me on another table, and covered me with blankets except for the groin area. One of the assistants there decided the place where I was shaved needed a touch up, then we were waiting for the doctor who would actually do the test. In the video that I saw the night before, the guy was awake for the test and was chit-chatting with everybody. Not me, whatever they gave me knocked me out and the next thing I knew it was all over.

The MRI was next and I was starting to get hungry and cranky so all I knew was that it was taking too damn long. Finally it was over and they wheeled me back to my room. The love of my life, Kristi, had saved some breakfast for me. See? You think she does that for every patient? At some point I learned that they did not see a need to do a stent during the cath, like I had given them permission to do if necessary, but that was all I knew.

I ate, but was still hungry. At the exact same moment that lunch came, a lady came in to do some breathing tests. She kept saying, “I know you’re probably hungry so this won’t take long,” as she set up her gizmo for another 29 breathing tests.

Finally she left and I ate my lunch, sometime not too long after that Dr. Smirnov the admitting doctor and a doctor from the cardiac group came and gave me the verdict:

The bad news: Yes, I do have Congestive Heart Failure. My heart is not currently pumping blood efficiently enough.

The good news: Some small restrictions were seen on the sonogram and the cath, but nothing that requires stents or bypasses at this point. It will all be treated through medication. They also want to send me for a sleep study to rule out sleep apnea as a contributing factor.

So that was it. On Tuesday night Iris came back to town and came straight to the hospital from the airport. She seemed relieved at the test results. We didn’t discuss it, but I could tell from her eyes that she approved of Kristi, who had spent most of the day repeatedly “checking” my dressing. Yeah, right.

Then the bombshell came. At the end of her shift at 7pm, Kristi told me that she would be going on vacation to a family reunion in…I don’t know…Idaho, Iowa…one of those flyover states. Fine, she made me fall in love with her just long enough to give me hope to get me through my ordeal, then she dumps me to go to Indiana or wherever the hell.

Fine. With you or without you, I will survive!

Now I am back home, lots of new meds to take but the only real change is that they want me to wear the blasted oxygen at night. My hope is that this will only be temporary. The doctor said I can go back to work on Monday, so that’s cool.

Seriously though, I am very thankful for the prayers of my friends and family who knew about this from Facebook and Twitter, and I am grateful to God for a chance to let my heart get stronger. Heart trouble does run rampant through my family, my Dad died of a heart attack 10 years ago last month, and I am thankful for every day that I have left, and I plan to have a lot of them for the sake of the true love of my life: Boodles.

2 thoughts on “State of (My) Heart

  1. Anonymous says:

    Oh, you made me chuckle and sigh and wince and snort! For the record, I don’t for a minute believe you have given up on Kristi. Your nurse – Its too predictable, though, isn’t it. … but so is gravity. Ha!
    So very very glad you are still with us and on the way to taking better care of yourself. Hospitals suck. So glad you are not there anymore. Don’t go back. – except maybe to maybe enquire on a certain nurse and drop off a thank-you gift of flowers.
    (I can’t believe I am encouraging you!)
    Hugs!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Agreed with and did those very same things as Anonymous above. So glad you are feeling beter and that we had a chance to chat last night, Still praying for that heart of yours…. and Joe I will always worry about you.

    MGB

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