Wednesday, May 06, 2009
I didn't revive this blog to talk about myself. Really.
I don't see this as a forum for extemporizing. If I broadcast something, it will be something I've taken the effort to think through and polish.
That being said, there was a little medical incident in my life that inspired what I'm putting up today. I've turned this into a fiction piece, but autobiographical asides like this will be the exception, not the rule.
* * * * *
It began, as all things do, while playing Heroic Cthulhu.
Friday night, I suddenly felt dizzy and tired. If you go back and listen to the right episode of the podcast, you will hear the beginning of my heart beginning to get congested.
I go to sleep, and wake up 2 hours later, with a cramping pain in the enter of my chest. This pain spreads and gets worse every time I try to breathe deeply.
Indigestion, I think.
I take an antacid, and try to sleep. 8:00 AM comes without real sleep. I doze off for twenty minutes or so, only to wake up when the pain flares. I've realized that I need to see a doctor. I walk to my friendly neighborhood clinic, which is nearly empty on a Saturday morning, and see someone fairly quickly.
The doc gives me an EKG, examines me, comes back five minutes later and says, "I think you should go to a hospital."
"Yes, I want you to get cardiology consult."
"Can't this wait? My dad can drive me this afternoon."
"No, in fact, I've already called an ambulance. The EKG showed markers that you may have had a heart attack very recently, or are having one right now."
"Oh," I say.
The ambulance arrives and takes me to the hospital, still relatively early for a Saturday. The heart-attack people have been notified, and are ready to meet me. I get aspirin, another EKG, and an echocardiogram.
"Hmmm," says the cardiologist, neutrally. She tilts her head and looks at the screen, where my heart is beating away in blurry gray lines.
"Your heart is swollen. It's bigger than it should be. Also, your blood pressure is low. VERY low."
"So that's why the pain breathing?"
"Most likely. Fluid is backing up inside your heart, because your heart beat isn't strong enough to keep up pressure to move fluid out as fast as it comes in. May be a passing thing, just a reaction to a medication, or something you ate."
"So what do I do?"
"We keep you here for observation, at least 24 hours, and see what happens."
"Great, so I get out of here tomorrow? I am starting training for a new job on Monday."
She looks at me, doctor-neutral again.
"Probably not. We'll see."
Some family came by, friends called etc. By dinnertime on Saturday, I was pretty much regretting my decision to go to the hospital.
I've over-reacted. This was probably just stress, or a panic attack, or something. Come lunchtime tomorrow, I will demand that they let me go.
They had connected me to the machine that goes "beep." The beeping is quiet.
The beeping woke me up a little after nine, when the steady beep on the green line had turned into frantic beeping and a red line, with large flashing text box that said "V-TACH."
I hit the nurse call. I tell them, "The pain is back."
Earlier, I'd had an interview with one cardiologist when I'd been referred to the catheterization lab. Someone suggested that a catheter introducing contrast dye into my coronary vessels would highlight any blockages, which are the most common cause of my symptoms.
"Well, I don't think you are having a heart attack," Doctor Catheter says. "You are comfortable, and responsive. People having heart attacks are NOT comfortable. I think the risks of a catheter procedure outweigh the possible benefits. Later, if something happens, we'll be on call, and we'll reassess."
I like Doctor Catheter. He and his team strike me as being levelheaded and experienced.
"OK, I agree. I feel fine."
I am back in the catheter lab within a half-hour of telling the attendings that I am hurting. This time the pain was like someone reaching into my chest with a monkey wrench, and twisting something in my heart. Every inhaled breath was like a line of fire across my chest. I kept talking about what was going on and answering questions. I am being pretty calm, I thought, except for the river of tears running down my cheeks.
"How would you rate the pain, from one to ten, with ten being the worst pain imaginable."
Thinking back on it, I should have said "ten." If I've ever been in worse pain, the amnesia machine that is my brain has blotted it out, because I can't recall it.
The catheter team gets ready, real quick. Talking a little too fast, since I am obviously in distress.
"I'm okay. Take your time."
The atmosphere relaxes, but not my pain, unfortunately. They implant a sheath in my an artery in my thigh, and run a tube into my largest vessels. I watch as my vascular system blooms into contrast against my other tissues, on the large screens.
My arteries are all clear as bells.
"Good, it isn't any blockage, so we don't have to install a stent, which would require you to take medications for the rest of your life."
"However your heart is really inflamed. Your heart capacity is probably down below half of what it should be."
The catheter is withdrawn, and I am placed in a cardiac care unit; a pretty restrictive level of monitoring, just above ICU. I am put on more powerful medications that tease fluid out of my system, reduce my heart rate, and control my blood pressure. No surprise, I am drowsy, and sleep through most of Sunday. Some family comes by, and I fill them in on what's happened.
I am monitored constantly, with blood pressure checks every three hours, until my BP returns to normal on Monday morning. One final sonogram, appointments for followups, and I am discharged Tuesday morning.
They've taken a tragicomic amount of blood from me since then. Tested for many markers for different viruses, Lyme disease, and on and on. I'm still hoping to track down exactly what happened to me that weekend, but it doesn't seem likely at this point.
Sorry I stopped reading this.. just checked back and see you have a bunch of new content..
-ye olde Revelsofthedead