The hospital isn’t made for tall people (or, How a trip to the ER turned out ok but still scared the living daylights out of me)
Enough of you have been asking me for details of what happened to me last week that I thought it time to lay out exactly what happened, retro diary style.
Last Monday I felt extremely fatigued and just rather unwell, thinking that I had a bit of a bug or just hadn’t slept well for a couple of days. I woke up Tuesday feeling much the same, only as I started getting ready for work I realized that I was starting to feel a strange tightness in my chest and was finding it difficult to breath easily. I didn’t have any radiating pains like you hear about on TV, but as the tightness got worse I started thinking to myself, “I think maybe that I’m having a freaking heart attack. Well, isn’t that just grand?” (Those were my exact words when I told my wife to take me to the hospital.)
After fighting the lovely morning commute traffic out of Avalon Park and Waterford Lakes, (note to self, in the future, try and schedule all medical emergencies after rush hour) we made it to the ER. About 3 seconds after mentioning the words “chest pain” the staff there had me strapped in and started attaching a bunch of wires to my chest and sides with round pads covered in adhesive. I’m not sure exactly what the substance used to make these pads stick (It has the consistency of rubber cement), but whatever it is I’m fairly sure it is designed to pull out as much chest hair as humanly possible when removed. While those probes and wires recorded their data, one nurse started to take my blood pressure while another started to draw blood for tests and start an IV, or at least tried to do so. (Before I continue, let me just day that all of the hospital staff that treated me was pretty awesome and I thank them all wholeheartedly). She stuck me a couple of different times trying to draw blood from one vein, and wasn’t having much luck. In fact, she pretty much mutilated my arm a bit, and I’m now sporting a couple of bruises usually only found on the finest of heroin addicts.
While all this was going on, I’m thinking I’m about to go into full cardiac arrest at any moment and am doing my best just to try and breathe. About this time the nurse taking my vitals mentioned that I must be really nervous b/c my blood pressure was kind of high. Hmmm….maybe it was because Florence Nightingale over here is mauling my right arm while trying in vein (badumbum, in vein, get it?) to insert this IV. Or maybe it’s because I’m HAVING A HEART ATTACK. Well I wasn’t, but that’s what I was thinking at the time, at least.
After the initial intake work was done, they led me back to one of those ER rooms that is separated only by a curtain from other patients, and instructed me to put on one of those little gowns and relax here until the doctor came. As hilarious as you may think you look in a hospital gown, just picture one on a pasty, stressed out dude who just happens to be 6’4″. Trust me, I look funnier than you. Now picture said giant in a tiny gown crammed into one of the little hospital beds that apparently was made for Tyrion Lannister. Good times.
By this time. they had hooked me up with some oxygen to help steady my breathing and calm me down, as well as slip me some nitroglycerin, which has the single nastiest after taste of just about any substance in the world. I guess this is to be expected for medicine that doubles as an explosive. The oxygen, however, was top notch. Like sitting in a Vegas casino except, you know, for the wires hanging off of me and the people getting wheeled in by ambulances. While I was sitting there, a gentlemen came in with the single worst cough I’ve ever heard in my life. Just horrible. And of course he took the bed right next to mine, so there was only a thin sheet separating me from possibly contracting the ebola virus, or whatever that guy was spewing into the air. While they were examining him the ER doc asked him if he smoked, and he managed to choke in between coughs that he used to but he doesn’t anymore. When they asked him when he quit he replied “Monday.” I should probably mention that this conversation took place on a Tuesday morning. Well done, coughing man, I salute your positive attitude.
After a bit more poking and prodding in the ER, the very nice attending nurse told me that they were moving me down the hall into the Cardiac Observation Unit so that they could run some more tests and make me a bit more comfortable. By this time the chest tightness had pretty much gone away, and I was able to breathe pretty normally, which should have been comforting but I was too focused on the fact that I was about to up and die at any moment to notice. The rooms in the cardiac unit are very nice though. You have a roommate but you get your your own TV to watch, complete with On Demand movies. Seriously. Never one to pass on a good flick, I turned on Skyfall, sat back and awaited both my turn for an x-ray and my certain impending doom. At least I’d go out entertained.
Eventually I got my x-ray and they decided to schedule me for a CT Scan to give them an idea whether I had any arterial blockages, which they said were the most common cause of the type of pain that I experienced. If they found anything unusual they’d talk to me more about what would happen next, which I found out by overhearing the guy next to me’s conversation with the doc was a stent. I didn’t really know much about the process for inserting a stent, so I listened in to get educated. All I had to hear was “we insert the tube through an artery in your groin” to know that I really wanted no part of what was to follow. Unfortunately the CT scanner was backed up for the very good reason that it was “not working,” so I was going to be spending the night. In the tiny bed wearing my tiny gown. (the beds in the cardiac room were nice, but just as short.) Oh well, time to watch Moneyball. And take a walk to stretch my legs. In my tiny gown.
By this time I was fairly sure that I wasn’t going to die immediately, but was pretty convinced that I was headed for a stent the next day. As I walked down the hall, I couldn’t help but notice that EVERYBODY there was older than me. Like 20 years older than me. My roommate was 67. I’m 43. I’m way too ****ing young to be in here, I said to myself (without the asterisks). Ok, universe, message received, loud and clear.
The next day, after a fitful night of sleep (they come in throughout the night to check on your vitals and draw some more blood.) They gave me some medicine to slow down my heart rate so that the CT Scan gets a good clear picture and then started to describe what would happen. I’d be flat on my back (on another table that was straight from the House Lannister reject pile and a foot too short), moved into the scanner (it’s a one shaped like a ring, not a full CT tube, which would have been much fun for a claustrophobic like myself), and then injected with a sort of dye that would help make my heart and arteries more photogenic apparently. The injection gives you a warm feeling, everyone said, but was otherwise pleasant, except for one nurse, who warned me that you will feel flush and “like you just peed your pants, I swear to you. So don’t freak out.” Um, thanks? Now I can think about is not to freak out when I pee my pants during the scan. Awesome.
Well, I didn’t get that feeling at all, though I did feel a bit flushed. Luckily the test didn’t take long and the doctor got the results shortly thereafter and it was good news. No blockages or apparent structural issues, so the most likely cause of my “event” was either stress, high blood pressure, or a spasm caused by acid reflux, though they didn’t know for sure. Wait, what? High blood pressure? I’ve never had high blood pressure. This sucks. So apparently it was elevated when I came in (which, given the stress of going to the ER with a possible heart attack isn’t unusual). It remained elevated enough that the doc sent me on my way with a laundry list of prescriptions to fill and orders to follow up with my personal doc and my cardiologist. (I’ve never truly felt old until I had to start using the phrase “my cardiologist.”)
Long story short (cause, this piece is like 1500 words already and long enough already), I’ve done my follow ups and been poked and prodded enough for a couple of lifetimes. The good news is that there’s nothing wrong with me (so far at least) that can’t be fixed. My docs agree that I shouldn’t start taking any of the meds they prescribed me, but rather should institute a series of lifestyle changes and monitor my blood pressure for a few months before looking at any medicinal alternatives, and for that I am grateful. As you can probably guess, those changes are pretty common sense, including losing weight, reducing stress, getting more sleep, and continuing to exercise regularly.
Back to my moment of clarity in the tiny gown while walking down the hall. I described that later to a friend as my George Bailey moment. I feel like I’ve been given the chance to see into the not so distance future, at what my life would be like if I didn’t make some changes now while I have the chance. And I fully intend to take it. More on that later, as this could go on forever, but suffice to say there will be “no half measures.” (One for you Breaking Bad faithful out there in lieu of a recap, been a bit busy).
Thanks to everyone who has offered me words of support and healing in the past few days. It really has made all the difference in the world. Much love to you all.