Sunday, February 10, 2008

My big, dumb heart (Part 1)

It feels like somebody put a cinder block on my chest and a pumped-up blood pressure cuff on my left arm. My legs are weak and my vision blurred. I’m sweating. “So, this is what it feels like to have a heart attack,” I think. I am riding the metro on the way home from work. I had planned to go to the Gap and buy a couple new pairs of khakis but instead decide to go to the local ER. Jeannine is out of town so after getting to my “home” metro station I drive to my house, grab a book and my iPod and head to the hospital. On my way I call Jeannine to let her know where I am likely to be for the next few hours.

For the previous ten or so days I had been dealing with a wildly irregular heartbeat. I had experienced it for years but after a day or so it generally “reset” itself and went on pumping in a normal rhythm. Not so this time. For days it has felt like my heart was doing flip-flops in my chest. Bum-bump, Bum-bump, Bum… BumpBumpBump, Bum-bump, Bum-bump… Placing my finger against my neck I could FEEL my pulse out of whack. After about a week I had had enough and made an appointment with my primary care physician, coincidentally a board certified cardiologist, for Saturday. And here it is Friday night with me checking into the ER fearing a heart attack. So much for my appointment.

“Sir, you should have just told me that from the start,” the admitting nurse tells me after I describe the weight on my chest and the tightness in my arm. After waiting patiently in line to get admitted to the ER my number finally came up. When asked about what had brought me there I told the nurse about how I had been experiencing the weird heartbeat, how it usually goes away after a day or so, blah, blah, blah. When I tell her about my chest and arm suddenly we are all business and I am whisked into a little sort of ante-room with a curtain, given an aspirin, have my chest shaved (ROWR!) and all sorts of frigging electrode thingys with wires attached and plugged into a machine. Blood pressure and temperature taken. Eyes peered into. “How are you feeling now?” I am asked several times by several people. “OK, I suppose.”
“We need to take some blood.”
“OK, no problem. Why?”
“To see if there are any enzymes that are indicative of a heart attack.”

In walks some girl who starts poking around my arms trying to figure out where to stick me. She arrives at a seemingly suitable location. And misses. Then she moves to the left arm. Finds a spot. And misses. Again. No blood taken. Now we are trying to figure out the next spot I can get poked. I tell the girl that if she messes up this time I get to try it on her. And I’m not a professional blood-taker. So she arrives at a suggestion. How about the BACK OF MY HAND!!?? I figure what the hell, when my kids had to get IV fluids because they had awful diarrhea and got dehydrated they got stuck in the back of the hand. I can man up. Now I know why they cried so much. I think a tear rolled down my cheek. They took blood. Finally.

So they look at some print out from the machine that they attached me to and make some concerned looking faces. I’m then moved into my own “private” room in the ER. A bed with a curtain around it and I get hooked up to my very own “Machine that goes ‘BING’.” This is when the fun really starts. The male nurse assigned to me takes a look at the crazy readouts from the monitor and says, I kid you not, “Wow! That is pretty crazy. I’ve never seen anything like that.” And stares at the machine for several minutes. When a weird beat appears on the monitor he asks “Did you feel that?”
“How about then?”
“MmmHmm, that one too.”
“Woah, you felt that one, I’m sure.”
“Oh, yeah. That one too. Hey, is it OK if I listen to my iPod? They tell you not to on airplanes because thy can supposedly interfere with the equipment (although I think that is BS) so I wonder if I can in the hospital. I mean, I don’t want to kill anybody while listening to my music.”
“Sure, no problem. You won’t kill anybody.”

The phone over my bed rings. I pick it up. It’s my Dad. Jeannine called my family to tell them what was going on. Dad has a screwed up heartbeat too. Atrial fibrillation. He has been through all this stuff himself and knows a lot about it. He asks me how I’m doing. Asks me what the docs have said. He tells me what to ask about. Tells me about diagnoses, treatments and procedures. Tells me he loves me. We hang up.

My brother calls. I tell him all about my adventures at the hospital. I tell him about the pot roast I made in the crockpot and have eaten for lunch and dinner for 4 days. He suggests that when the doctors look at chest x-rays they may find my heart is shaped like a pot roast. He goes on to suggest my pot roast diet may be the contributing factor to my current cardiac woes. He may be right. We joke around some more, say our “I love yous” and hang up.

It is getting late. I call Jeannine on her cell phone since it is a “local” call. She asks me how I’m doing (bored as hell). When I’m going to get moved to my own room (soon, I’m told). What the doctors have told me (nothing since I haven’t seen a doctor).

I decide to listen to some music. Feeling melodramatic I try to decide what music I want to hear if I’m dying. Scrolling through my iPod I pass Orff’s “Carmina Burana” (too over-the-top) and land on “Similar Anniversaries” by Small Sails. A fairly recent purchase. Just as I start to get into it my male nurse comes by and looks at my monitor again. Says something about a “branch break” which is a pretty serious deal having to do with the electrical impulses to the heart getting completely screwed up leading to heart disease. He walks out. I scroll to The Smiths.


By 11PM I’ve been at the hospital for about 5 hours and still don’t have a room of my own. I’ve heard all sorts of commotion, people getting wheeled in from ambulance runs, kids crying, adults moaning. It’s been great. But then again, it is the ER. I listen to music. I watch the monitor to see if I can control the BLIPs. Nope. Finally, at midnight I get assigned to a room. Still haven’t spoken with a doc and haven’t eaten since noon. Now I’m bored and grumpy.

posted by MGSoden, 2:36 PM | link | 2 comments