“If my cell goes out and you get a call from xxx-xxx-xxxx that’s me calling from room CDU #6.”
That is an excerpt from a text I sent at 9:42pm on Monday, July 22 from my comfy bed in the Clinical Decision Unit of the hospital. (Well, comfy in comparison to the horribly UNcomfortable bed, in curtained off area T4 of the ER, on which I had just spent roughly seven hours trying to get comfortable.)
But, let’s back up a little bit.
That is a text I received at 10:18am on Monday, July 22. I literally sighed with relief when I read that. I could not have been more excited to go have lunch with a really good friend. As usual, she had excellent timing. I was not having a good day. In fact, I had not been having a good week.
In fact, let’s back up again.
That is a post I wrote and posted on Sunday, July 14. I was already struggling with feeling worn down mentally and physically, but with the gnawing urge in the back of my mind to keep pushing forward.
Although I do love the journey of incremental accomplishment, I’ve got big ideas, people! It is a daily battle for me to fight the urge to want everything to be the way I envision it in my mind, the minute I envision it. Clearly this is impossible, but tell that to my neurons. As the week prior to July 22 wore on, I gave in to that gnawing urge and I pushed myself even more than usual on projects around the house. Partially to keep my mind occupied and partially to find that elusive sense of accomplishment I was looking for.
The Whipping, Swirling Wind:
I am a 37 year old female. Since I turned 35, once a month, and really not even once a month anymore, more like every other day throughout the entire month my emotions hop on a crazy roller coaster ride I like to call “your guess is as good as mine as to what extreme emotion I’ll be feeling today”. My late 30s has certainly thrown out some kind of welcome wagon. I’ll just leave it at that and let you fill in the rest of the blanks.
My mom died December 18, 2012 at 4:30pm. A moment in time that forever changed me. It has been seven months since that moment. A moment where I lost not only the person who loved me more than anyone in this world, but also a moment where I lost my best friend, the person with whom I shared a home, a person with whom my identity had been entwined for 36 years. A moment I would never have wished for. But it happened anyway. And out of that moment have come many changes. All positive. I have a generally optimistic outlook on life and my future, but that doesn’t mean that some weeks aren’t just horrible. And the week before July 22 was just one of those weeks. Reminders of my mom seemed to be everywhere and they affected me more than usual. I went to a store my mom and I used to browse on a weekly basis and, though I’ve been there several times in the last seven months, this time I nearly had a panic attack.
Monday mornings at the office, no matter how much you love your job, are rarely filled with cotton candy, and marching bands, and warm emails from customers asking how you enjoyed your weekend. There was definitely none of that in my cubicle on Monday, July 22. Well, maybe I felt the crashing cymbals from the marching band, but there definitely wasn’t anybody passing out cotton candy.
The Lightning, The Whipping Swirling Wind, The Rain, The Hail. All of these elements combined to form the perfect storm that brings us back to Panera on Monday, July 22 at 11:20-ish am.
My friend and I were having a perfectly enjoyable lunch, but I didn’t feel like myself. Normally, this is my favorite part of the day. Normally, you can’t shut us up when we’re eating lunch together. Well, that day my friend was carrying most of the conversation (don’t worry, she can handle the talking – and yes, she’ll laugh at that). I talked a bit about how I had a lousy emotional weekend and had filled an entire dumpster with stuff I’m purging from my house. But, I didn’t feel much like elaborating.
Then suddenly I got super light-headed. I felt slightly nauseous. My heart was racing and I got chills. I didn’t feel cold, but I had goosebumps and my whole body was shaking and my teeth were chattering.
I know this freaked my friend out as much as it did me, but she handled it perfectly. If you’re going to be sitting across the table from someone when your body suddenly decides to do its best impression of someone who’s inadvertently locked themselves in a walk-in freezer, she’s the friend you want to be sitting across from.
Her first reaction was to make me laugh…THEN verify that I wasn’t in serious trouble. In my book, this is ABSOLUTELY the best order in which to proceed! I believe the first words out of her mouth were something to the effect of, “If you pass out, I’m TOTALLY gonna laugh! You’ll wake up on the floor with me standing over you cracking up.” That made me laugh and made me a little less freaked out.
Then, of course, she assured me she wouldn’t laugh and I assured her I wasn’t going to pass out. I just wanted to ignore these obviously wacky symptoms, so we tried to continue a normal conversation, but every time my teeth chattered, she used the opportunity to find a humorous way to turn the conversation to me going to the doctor to find out what in the world was wrong with me. Each time I found a humorous way to deflect.
Finally, chills and heart palpitations still abundant, as we were preparing to leave, I got up, a little shaky-legged, to use the restroom. As I left the table, my friend uttered the phrase, “Holler if you’re goin’ down!” Did I mention she’s the perfect friend to have around in a crisis? Those words still make me laugh every time I think of them. They made me laugh to myself more than once in the hours that were to come.
I managed not to “go down”, but my symptoms did persist. I remember apologizing, as we were walking to our cars, that I hadn’t been much fun that day, but having lunch sure did help. She good-naturedly pushed me again to go to the doctor and I said I would seriously consider it. But I was sure I was FINE!
By 2:00pm on Monday, July 22, I no longer thought I was fine. Scratch that. I still thought I was FINE, but I could no longer ignore my symptoms. I had never had anything like this last this long. I work on a medical center campus, so I walked, in the 100 degree heat, several blocks to our Emergency Room. My boss had offered to go with me, indicating he didn’t want to find me passed out on the sidewalk somewhere. I assured him I would be FINE. I also texted my friend to tell her, although I was sure I was FINE, I was walking to the ER.
By the time I got to the check-in desk, my symptoms were as follows: Light-headed, sharp pain on the right side of my chest, tightness and heaviness in my chest, pain down my right arm to my elbow, pain in the vein on the right side of my neck, tingling in my jaw and my face, heart palpitations, and a little shortness of breath.
The next seven hours were spent laying on an uncomfortable, cot-like, stretcher-like, “bed”, staring at the clock on the wall, watching the minute hand slowly spin away the hours, being wheeled in and out of the room for various tests, being poked for blood draws, and cuffed for blood pressure readings, listening to other patients come and go in the curtained off “rooms” around me, scanning the floor for the nurse’s lost earring, rationing out the pretzels in the snack bag in my backpack as dinnertime came and left, worrying about my cell phone battery running out (I can’t believe I brought my entire backpack with me, but left my charger on my desk!), and texting back and forth with my friend. Her alternately asking for updates on all the tests they were doing and making me laugh and taking my mind off things, and me alternately supplying updates on the progress of tests, asking what she and her kids were doing (they went to a movie), griping about my lack of a cell phone charger, assuring her I was FINE, and thanking her for pushing me to get checked out.
At this point I hadn’t told anyone else what was going on for several reasons. 1. I didn’t want to worry anyone else (my friend was already worried, she was there at zero-hour when it all started) 2. I didn’t really feel like talking. This whole day had been exhausting. 3. I kept thinking I’d be going home soon, and I could tell people then. 4. I was sure I was FINE!
Turns out I was fine.
They kept me overnight in the CDU (Clinical Decision Unit), one step above the ER, one step below being admitted to the hospital, so they could check my cardiac enzymes two more times at six hour intervals. I got a room with a door, a semi-decent bed, that felt like sleeping on a cloud at that point, a tv, a phone, a truly awesome nurse, AND FOOD! Seriously. For the two hours before my move my sole focus was when could I eat and I need a cell phone charger. I ordered grilled chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans at 10:30 at night and devoured it like I had been on a desert island. My dad came up to visit and brought me a cell phone charger. My dad and I talked until I, like my phone, needed to recharge too.
I slept as well as anyone can in a hospital. Where every time you drift off something beeps or someone comes in to stick you with a needle or cut off the blood in your arm with a cuff. Really, though, I cannot say enough nice things about the overnight nurse I had. She was great.
As morning came, so did confirmation of what I had been repeating to myself and to everyone I spoke to in the last 24 hours.
I was FINE!
Three EKGs, two chest x-rays, one CAT scan with contrast dye, one dose of nitroglycerin, four blood draws for multiple blood tests, and hourly checks of my blood pressure confirmed my heart was great and I did not have a blood clot in my lung. All of the things they would worry about with those symptoms checked out fine. And as a bonus, I found out my thyroid is also fine (I told you so, mom) and my cholesterol was (to quote the nurse practitioner) enviable!
So, what was the official diagnosis?
My life has been turned upside down in the last year and the doctors all agreed that can have very physical effects on your body.
What was the recommended treatment?
Time. And Stress Relief. In whatever form works best for me. I told them walking, reading, writing and eating lunch with friends was what worked for me. They said those were all perfect and to make sure I did at least one of them every day. Which I already knew. But sometimes knowing and doing are two different things.
I do not feel the slightest bit stupid for getting myself checked out. On the contrary. I am proud of myself. I hate going to the doctor, but now that I know I’m in good shape, that takes one layer of stress out of life! It was well worth that 24 hours of stress (and the bills that I’m sure will be rolling in any day now) for the peace of mind it brought.
This weekend began almost the same way last weekend began. With emotional stress. Before I left work Friday, I spent a half hour talking to a coworker who just had to begin hospice care for her mom. Her mom is 85 and in a totally different situation than my mom was at 59, but so much of what we talked about was exactly what I lived through in my mom’s last days. I truly wanted to talk to my coworker about what she was going through, she was so helpful to me when I was going through it, but I’m not gonna lie, it affected me deeply. As I walked to my car my chest started to tighten.
So what made the difference? Why do I sit here tonight, Sunday, July 28 feeling completely different than I felt Sunday, July 21 when both Fridays started the same way?
I told somebody.
This is an excerpt from an email I sent to my friend at 4:39pm on Friday, July 26, the second I got to my car after my chest-tightening, emotional symptoms began.
“Last Friday when I was feeling this way I kept it to myself. We both know where THAT got me! There isn’t anything you or anyone can do to make me not feel these things, but it helps so much just to sit in my car and type this out and tell you I’m feeling this way. I don’t need you to do anything other than read this, then tell me something funny or amusing or irritating or annoying or even just plain stupid. Anything that is a change of subject.”
She, of course, sent a reply that made me laugh.
That changed the course of my entire weekend.
Take care of yourselves, everyone who is reading this.
Do what works for you to relieve your stress. Do it every day.
Most importantly, surround yourself with good family and friends.
Oh, and carry a spare cell phone charger on your person at all times.