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

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