Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Bypass Part 3 - "You don't look like Noah Wyle..."

(before I begin, a quick apology to those who were concerned that I hadn't posted a new installment in over a week - turns out that the emotional impact of what happened didn't really hit me until a few days after the fact. Took a few days to process the whole "Jeebus, you mean I really could've died? Damn, that sucks!" thing. I'm over it now. So, herewith the next installment.)

So, having established that a) I was really not feeling well and b) things didn't seem to be resolving on their own, I made the decision to head to the ER. This was not a simple decision. I waffled for probably 15 minutes, thinking alternately "this is stupid, it's nothing, I'll be completely embarrassed when they tell me it's indigestion" and "holy shit, if this is really a heart attack, what if they have to do something creepy and/or medical to fix it?"

So, finally being scared more than embarrassed, I threw on a pair of jeans, sneakers (no socks - not going to be gone long) a sweatshirt and a baseball hat to cover bed-head. Brought the backpack with me containing my e-book (will need something to read while waiting). Then hopped in the car for the short trip to Manchester Hospital.

Yes, hopped in the car. Now, as everyone from the cardiologist to the dietary delivery people have told me, loudly, multiple times, driving yourself to the hospital while experiencing a possible coronary is right up there on the stupid list next to smoking while pumping gas or looking Madonna directly in the eye. It's a really quick way to not only endanger yourself, but anyone else who may be on the road with you at the same time. So, to the cocaine addicts who were also driving along Main Street in Manchester, Connecticut at 3:50am on Easter morning - my apologies. Somehow I think they were all too busy grinding their teeth to notice.

Another thing you never think of until you need the information; the location of the local Emergency Room. I've been living in Manchester for about a year, and I've driven past the entrance to the hospital dozens of times. There's a sign and everything. But there I was, driving in circles around a big building with increasing chest pain and quite honestly getting more and more panicky by the moment - with no freakin' clue where the stupid ER entrance actually was. After two trips around the building, I finally pulled into a parking area that said "Valet Only" and decided to walk - thinking the whole time "Valet? Are these people that screwed up?".

Another tip - when you are suffering from a possible coronary, it is probably not wise to park some 200 yards downhill from the ER entrance and hoof it. Now, as I am here typing this, you can rest assured that it worked out - but by the time I reached the actual ER entrance I seriously thought I was about to croak.

Now, for anyone who's watched any of the medical dramas, you probably have a pretty good idea of how an ER operates.

You will want to erase those ideas from your brain immediately, because they could not possibly be further from the truth. Use mind-altering chemicals if necessary, because nobody should ever suffer the cognitive dissonance that results from visiting a real ER after watching, say, "Grey's Anatomy."

About the only resemblance was the sliding door.

At the reception desk, a very nice lady asked for my insurance card. She didn't ask my name, didn't ask what I was there for, didn't seem to care about anything really, other than the insurance card. Once that was presented, I was given a half-page "Triage Worksheet" to fill out. Now, since I had entered under my own power, the woman probably assumed that I was not, indeed, unconscious. This was a logical assumption. However, when the worksheet I handed back had "severe chest pain" listed in the "symptoms" area in fairly shaky handwriting, one would assume that attention would be paid. That assumption would be incorrect.

Approximately 10 minutes (or 3.5 years, depending on your sense of passing time) later, a nurse called me into the triage area. Temperature, BP, pulse ox, respiration - a set of vitals I was to become nauseatingly familiar with - and suddenly you could feel the "Concern Level" in the room ramp up. When I explained the symptoms - chest pain that was now stabbing, tingling/numbness down my left arm to my hand, and a sore jaw - I could literally hear the change in her voice from "now-what-seems-to-be-your-problem" to "ok-time-for-the-doctor".

Within about 2 minutes I was in a treatment room, with EKG leads being stuck in their various and sundry places. Shortly thereafter a very cute little doctor (whose name I unfortunately forget - seriously, he was very cute) was talking me down off the panic ledge while pushing morphine into my veins.

Morphine? Seriously? I'm having a heart attack and y'all are getting me high???

As you might imagine, from this point on things get a little non-linear. Hey, I was on freakin' morphine, so cut me some slack.

An equally cute nurse by the name of Jason was also in attendance at this point - I remember vaguely that he was ex-Marine, had served in Iraq, and had wonderfully expressive hazel eyes. Jason proceeded to give me nitro glycerine tablets under the tongue, once every 5 minutes, followed by some Lopressor to bring down my blood pressure. This evidently worked too well, as the next thing I knew the gurney was tilted with my head about 18 inches below my feet - my BP had evidently dropped to something like 70 over 40, which is great if you're a 3-toed Sloth, not so much if you're a human.

During all of this, various blood samples were drawn. It turns out that when one has a heart attack, there are several enzymes that are released by the damaged heart tissue. This is the best way to determine whether or not a heart attack has occurred. These enzymes are released over time after the heart attack - sometimes not appearing in the bloodstream for 2 hours or more after the original event. So, the first blood test came back negative - no enzymes, no heart attack.

2 hours later - oh, THERE they are! Fucking enzymes. So, either I severely damaged my calf muscle during the uphill walk to the ER - or I have had a "coronary event".

At which point, the cardiologist on call pays a visit, explains what has happened and advises me that the next step is to be transported to another hospital for an angiogram, a procedure which involves placing a catheter through a vein in your groin, snaking it all the way up to your heart, and checking on the condition of your coronary arteries. About 30 seconds after completing this discussion, the cardiologist orders more painkillers and a Xanax. Evidently my facial expression was less than serene.

Up Next: Why you should always wave to Ambulances on the Interstate

Monday, April 20, 2009

Bypass Part 2 - "Is That A Wasabi In Your Pocket?"

So, having set the scene, coronarily, in Part 1, we now proceed to the events of the night in question. If I felt any more like Jessica Fletcher at this very moment I'm sure I would develop spontaneous osteoporosis.

My Facebook Status from Friday, April 10, 2009:
(Good) Friday + Market Closed - 8 hours of work = Awesome Friday (You Do The Math).

I shoulda known.

So anyhow, Good Friday, stock market was indeed closed, thus a day off. Did absolutely nothing of note. Saturday arrived, and with the good weather, himself feels a bit coltish. (I refer to an actual young male horse here, not to the famed purveyor of porn. Just to be clear.)

So, around 4:30pm (4:32pm exactly - I remember train times for some reason) I boarded a MetroNorth train in New Haven, bound for Grand Central Station. I have a tendency to do this when I find myself at loose ends with not much else to do. I wonder if the other folks I see at the train station, always with that same combination of anxious/bored on their faces are doing the same thing?

Uneventful trip south - quick walk through the station, #1 train downtown from Times Sq to Christopher St/Sheridan Sq. Over to Bleeker for a quick sushi dinner (For those of you fond of foreshadowing: yes, sushi. Low in saturateds, high in omega-3s blah blah freakin' blah.) From there, repaired to Marie's Crisis on Grove for some showtunes on the Worst. Piano. Ever. played by a lovely young lady named Franca. Left around 10ish, back to GCS, train to New Haven, back in Manchester & beddy bye by 1:30. I swear. There were no scenes of debauchery, no snorting of rendered duck-fat off the toned abs of some dancer named Jaysin at "Splash", no shots of bacon grease at The Pork Palace. Nothing.

So, you may be able to sympathize with my puzzlement at being awoken at approximately 3am EDT on Sunday the 12th. Yes, again, for those of you with an overdeveloped leitmotif gland, Easter Sunday. Shut up.

Now, this may come as a shock to some of you, but when somebody with a family history of heart disease is awakened by chest pain, this person does not automatically think "ZOMG, Heart Attack!". Think of it this way: If you lived in Japan, and were awakened some night by a vague distant rumbling noise, would you really think "Godzilla!" and run screaming from the house? If so, your neighbors would rightly think you a complete douchebag.

So, I took a couple of aspirin, sat up in bed and started reading from one of the Frank Herbert "Dune" books which I'm working my way through again for the umpteenth time. Something about giant worms and political intrigue on a galactic scale make things like a bit of agita pale in comparison.

Your narrator is practical and possessed of at least some common sense. After 30 minutes, not only had the pain not gone away, it had become sharp, almost to the point of being "stabbing". Adding insult, I was now feeling a radiating tingling/numbness down my left arm. And my jaw hurt. Dear Reader, even I don't need a house to drop on my evil ass before the thought starts to cross my mind: "Hey, shithead, you might, just might, be having a spot of heart trouble, here."

Coming Soon: Part The Third, in which our hero arrives in a modern American ER (Casualty Dept. for the Brits). There will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth. None of it coming from me.

Bypass Part 1 - "The Gathering Storm"

I forget exactly who said it, or for that matter the exact quote: Something to the effect that discussions of one's health are only ever fascinating to one's self. All others are more or less intrigued in direct proportion to their affection for you, and in inverse proportion to their propensity towards the same illness. And if nobody ever said that, I claim it as mine herewith.

So, here are a couple of blog posts about my recent pas de deux with the current American Healthcare System, New England Variant. Please feel free to skip over the boring and/or technical bits, and jump to the juicy parts where snarks are let loose or the infirm are mocked. I shall try to make those the preponderance.


So, no secret that all of the classic warning signs were there. Heart disease on both sides of the family? Check. Both grandfathers dead at relatively early ages? Check (Maternal Grandfather prior to age 50? Check-plus). Father with a history going back 20+ years, including the usual suspects: angina, shortness of breath, angiogram, multiple angioplasties, followed by a quad CABG in about 1989 or so, several episodes since, culminating in a coronary event, Life-Flight and implanting of a pacer about 2 years ago? Uh, check.

I certainly didn't help. Smoked since age 18, never particularly cared to watch what I ate, drank or otherwise ingested (until the metabolism slammed into low gear in my mid-30's and "The Gut" started to appear. At which point I still didn't much care, I just knew that now I was supposed to care about it.)

So, this is not one of those
"She was lively, vivacious girl who had no earthly clue what lay in store for her that night at the Frat Party"
type of stories. And there go about half of my readers. See y'all later in the gift shop!

stay tuned for Part the Second, in which our Hero has to make a choice - is this really a heart attack, or just an overreaction to stories of trouble in the Mel Gibson household?