Friday, April 10, 2009

Wasn't THAT fun!

A heart rate of 161 beats per minute is acceptable if you are running a marathon or working as a lumber jack. It is not acceptable if you are sitting in a chair, doing nothing but thinking about that evening's obedience class.

I'd made an appointment at the local medical clinic Thursday when my heart rate accelerated during the day and showed no signs of dropping back to normal. It has done this from time to time over the years but always regulates itself within a few minutes. Only this time it didn't.

So they did an EKG at the clinic. I'd never had one before (that was to be the first of a LOT of things I'd never had before) and it was kind of interesting but not too eventful except for the fact my heart was jitterbugging around like crazy.

The physician's assistant looked at the EKG readout and said, "You need to go to the hospital. NOW." I got over the, "No way, I really don't have time for this" mentality very quickly when I saw how serious everyone was. And I really didn't feel very good anyway. Then they all got a little excited when they found out I'd driven myself to the clinic and was there alone. "Call someone to drive you to the hospital," they said, "We'll call ahead so they know you're coming." Then the hospital got a little excited and said, "NO! Don't send her by private vehicle, she needs to be transported in an ambulance." Well, this was just getting more exciting by the minute.

I called the Farmer, who was at the bottom of a five-foot hole, installing field tile. For once, he didn't argue with me. He got to the clinic within 20 minutes, just in time to see me getting loaded into the ambulance. Off we went. No lights, no sirens. Guess I wasn't THAT exciting.

The ambulance driver's name was Rowdy. Seriously. All I could think of was the Alaskan Malamute in Susan Connant's murder/mystery series. The paramedic who rode in the back with me was Sarah. God bless Sarah. She got an IV started in the back of a rolling ambulance like we were sitting still. I should have insisted she stay with me in the ER because the gal there couldn't find a vein if it was jumping up and down on her head. Sarah was assisted by Roy who was new to the paramedic scene, just having completed his training after losing his job as - get this - an accountant. There's a career change for ya.

The ambulance crew was super, absolutely first rate. I've never ridden in the back of an ambulance before (or the front either) but I think these guys would get top marks anywhere. Some of you know how well I tolerate riding in the back of a vehicle and I figured the only way this could get worse was if I threw up. As it was, that turned out to be the least of my problems. My heart rate peaked at about 181 beats per minute and Sarah decided enough was enough. A dose of adenosine brought it down to a normal 60-70 range. It also made throwing up sound absolutely charming by comparison. I have no idea how this drug works but its most immediate effect is the feeling of being kicked hard in the chest by a large, angry horse. Once my vision cleared and I could draw a breath, it was wonderful to realize the racing, pounding in my chest had stopped. Well, not stopped completely. That would be bad.

I was supposed to be admitted directly to a room in the cardiac critical care unit but they took me to the ER instead. Oops. It didn't seem very busy. There was one poor little kid who was screaming bloody murder. At least someone was having a worse day than I was. Although when they hooked a defibrilator to the side of my bed, I started to second guess that.

By now I'd had an EKG at the clinic, one in the ambulance and guess what, they did another one in the ER. The novelty was quickly wearing off. Those sticky pads are cold and they put at least 30 of them on you. Maybe it wasn't that many. Maybe it was 50. And then they rip them off so they can put new ones on the next time.

My doctor showed up, dressed like she was ready to go clubbing. Tall, slender, probably in her late 50s, she looked like a fashion model. No boring white lab coats here. English was not her first language. I'm thinking Russian?

Finally they got me up to a room. What's the first thing I see? DOGS! It's pet therapy night. Some of St. Luke's volunteers have their pets registered with the Delta Society. I wave in the first dog I see walk past the door. Hey, it's not like I had anything else to do. Annie the black lab came in and I got a good dog fix. She leaves and there's dog hair everywhere. I felt right at home.

Time to go have a chest X-ray. Gavin the X-ray tech and I have the same birthday, only 15 years apart. I know this because every time they do a "procedure," they ask your birthday before they start so they know they've got the right person. Chest X-rays are a breeze. Gavin kept asking me if I was okay. I told him compared to a mammogram, this was a cake walk. He gave me the hairy eyeball and said he wouldn't know anything about that.

Back to the room. They've taken away my dog-hairy blanket. But they brought supper! A fair trade. It's 7:30 p.m. and way past my feeding time. Baked chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, carrots, soup, ice cream, milk and . . . coffee! Let's give the patient with atrial fibrilation some caffeine! Just as I take the cover off the food, here comes someone to "draw labs." I soon hated these people with every ounce of my being. Is there a vampire colony in CR we don't know about? I was being sucked dry.

Bye-bye, vampire tech. Now, supper! No, wait! Here comes another nurse. Guess what she wants to do? Take a medical history. Did I mention I'd given full disclosure medical histories at the clinic, in the ambulance and in the ER? There is NOTHING these people don't know about me. But now we're going to do it again. Is this some kind of memory test?

Finally, I get to eat my supper. Which is now cold. The Farmer leaves to go home and dog wrangle. I have instructions clearly written for him. I think he may have thrown them in the nearest wastebasket once he left the room and just given all three boys a big ol' bowl of crunchies topped with whatever was in the fridge. The dogs do love their Dad.

By now I have abandoned any attempt at modesty. The one-size-fits-all gowns that accommodate a 220-pound man leave a lot to be desired. The heart monitor I am wearing has a battery pack conveniently tucked in the front pocket of the gown. It weighs about 5 pounds and drags the gown down even further in the front. This is not a good look. We won't even talk about the view from behind.

Did I mention the bed weighs me? It has a scale built in. The first time the nurse took a reading, she mistook my look of shock for dismay and quickly assured me the bed "weighs heavy" and I probably weigh even less. I was delighted with that first reading! I haven't been at that weight for years! They weighed me again a few hours later (just in case I'd snuck out and had a workout at the gym) and I was even lighter. Probably all the blood they kept sucking out of me.

By the way, don't believe what they say about wearing clean underwear in case you end up in the hospital. Forget about the underwear. Wear warm socks. They take your shoes away and your feet never get warm again.

About then, Tracy called. Don't worry, she assured me, if it was REALLY serious you'd be seeing your cardiologist tonight. (They told me I would see him in the morning). Someone knocked on the door. It was my cardiologist.

After prescribing more meds to make sure I got through the night without any further crisis, Mr. Cardiology left. The nurse told me to get some sleep. It is impossible to sleep in a hospital. Im-freaking-possible. They tell you to sleep, then do everything they can to make sure it doesn't happen. The bed's only redeeming quality proved to be that it weighed me 10 pounds lighter than any scale I'd been on in the last five years. It was hard. The pillow was flat. I had an IV in my left arm so couldn't sleep on my left side. The heart monitor was on my right side, so forget that. I rarely sleep on my back but that was the only option left. I finally drifted off, only to have a nurse wake me at 2:45 a.m. to take vitals. This was followed by a lab tech who arrived at 3 a.m. and announced she would be drawing blood for morning labs. Bloody Hell! Who are you people! Nobody in their right mind draws blood at 3 in the freaking morning! I was going to look like a junkie by the time I got out of there, with needle tracks in both arms and the back of my hand. I was seriously feeling like a pin cushion.

Did I mention the stupid questions? They get stupider at 3 a.m. I couldn't believe one nurse actually asked, "Are you sleeping well?" You just woke me up, what do you think! The nurse who took my fourth (and thankfully final) medical history the previous evening asked me to tell her in my own words why I had been admitted. I told her "irregular heartbeat/atrial fibrilation." Two minutes later she asked if I had any heart conditions.

The question that left me sitting there dumbly was, "Do you live at home?" What, with my parents? I still don't really know what she meant by that. And the question they're required to ask, "Do you feel safe in your home?" Lady, I live with a malinois. What do you think?

Today started with another ceremonial EKG, which I am now hating almost as much as the blood draws. They are convinced my heart rate is stable. It's still a little high 100-110 beats per minute, but the rhythm is regular. Oh happy day.

Breakfast came about 8 a.m.: scrambled egg, fried potatoes, bagel with cream cheese, cream of wheat, juice, milk and . . . COFFEE! Are these people trying to kill me?

Maybe they knew I'd never get a chance to eat it. My breakfast company included my Russian doctor, my American cardiologist, a nurse checking vitals (they really don't want anyone to die without their noticing it) and a lab vampire after more blood. Following on the heels of the breakfast club was the day's main event: an echocardiogram, basically an ultrasound of my heart.

Once this was done, my cardiologist tweaked my meds and said I could go home . . . in a few hours . . . providing I hadn't had any reactions to these new chemical delights. That was not terribly reassuring.

The Farmer showed up and we sat around, waiting for me to have a reaction or not. Nothing was forthcoming so they finally released me about 1:30 p.m. I picked up my prescriptions (yes, plural) and am now at risk of being one of those little old ladies who needs a pill organizer so I remember which ones to take at which times. This may be a long term situation so I'd better get organized.

I am fully authorized to return to "normal activities" and have two more cardio appointments in May to follow up. In the meantime, my big lifestyle change is (SHUDDER) caffeine restriction. Not total elimination but I'll save my allowed "little bit" (very technical term) for chocolate. Sadly, I was told alcohol may also make the problem worse so I have probably drunk my last margarita. These are serious lifestyle changes for me. Please bear with me during this time of adjustment, ha-ha.

Oh, the dogs apparently got along very well with Jeff (who does understand the power of a cookie), although he said every time he turned them out, they ran to the garage and looked for me to get out of the van. Awwww, isn't that sweet?


  1. Melinda!!! all I can say is it is hell to get old!
    gotta be nice that they "thought" you were young enough to live w/ your folks!

  2. Melinda,

    What a crazy and scary time for you! Like I said, you had me really scared when you were not in class - I was worried you were in a accident or something - so I was glad to hear you were "safe" in the hospital but still so worried about you with what was going on with you. So, Glad to hear things are going better and you are home and can get some rest. I am sure your current medical staff of Pheonix and Jamie will take MUCH better care of you than all the others at the hospital.

    Hang in there and let me know if there is anything I can do to help you out!


  3. Now don't you wonder where you would have been if you'd answered their questions with the "thoughts" in your head. That could have gotten interesting! When they said "do you still live at home"....maybe they meant...."the home". G
    Glad your back!!!!! I'll buy some De-Caf for you!