Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004
Dear Diary:

The good news about being attached to a high tech heart monitor was that I finally had proof for the spousal unit that yes, indeed, my normal heart rate is now down to 47 beats per minute.

That will teach the man to scoff at my claims.

The bad news about being attached to a bank of heart monitors is that hospitals only do that if they suspect that you are seriously, seriously ill.

I woke up Tuesday at 4 a.m. because an elephant decided to sit on my chest. I couldn't actually see this elephant because he was some sort of invisible elephant but oh, man, I could feel that elephant.

The pain was so intense that I began to sweat with it, droplets actually falling from my nose. Nausea drove me to the bathroom, but all I could puke was bile. Every breath was a struggle.

And then it went away.

I decided that I must have eaten some Christmas leftover that was slightly off and walked back upstairs to go back to bed. That elephant must have followed me up the stairs because he plunked himself back on my chest. I curled into a fetal position at the top of the stairs until the pain passed.

Chest pain. Twice. Once while walking up stairs. No no no no no no no. Not that. I mostly eat right. I exercise right. I'm only in my early 50's. Not me. Not that.

I went on-line and Googled the words woman-heart-attack-symptom and there they were—chest pain, nausea, cold sweats. I didn't have pains in my neck or left arm, but I had the other stuff.

The advice was to chew an aspirin so your body absorbs it as quickly as possible and then haul butt to a hospital. All the sites said to never ignore chest pain. Apparently you have a golden hour—if you get to the hospital within an hour of a heart attack they can do a lot to save your heart muscle. So I chewed an aspirin, enduring the whole new world of bitter that is, and woke the spousal unit.

Our local hospital is 45 minutes from us in good weather. Just getting the ambulance here on winter roads would use up my golden hour. We decided to drive, made it there in 30 minutes on icy roads. I was too sick to be scared.

I had another wave of pain as they hooked me up to the monitors and started drawing blood. The screen looked like some sort of volcanic seismic reading, the spousal unit said. After the doctor got a quick medical history and I told her about the aspirin, she gave me some sort of shot.

Through it all was the spousal unit, quiet, reassuring, never letting go of my hand. Every time I felt the undertow of fear and pain start to drown me, I would focus on him. The blood tests came back showing that whatever had happened, my heart was not damaged.

I had to stay still for two hours while they monitored me in emergency and when it became clear I was stable they sent me for x-rays to make sure I didn't have any arterial blockages. I don't.

I was told I had to go to the observation ward, that after ten hours they would draw more blood to make sure I didn't have any heart damage, and if I got an all clear after that test then I could go home. I sent the spousal unit home because at that point he was exhausted and after all, on the ward all I would do was nap until my final blood test, right?

The observation ward was the seventh circle of hell.

On one side of me was an alcoholic woman in her 50's who had drunk herself into seizures she did not recall. All this woman wanted, she kept telling the staff, was to get out of the hospital and back to the bottle. And her cigarettes because oh, man, but she needed a smoke. They had her tied to her bed with restraints. She kept demanding her freedom in a voice that made Bea Arthur sound like a murmuring brook.

Every so often she would pass out. When she did that, she lost control of her bodily functions. While adult diapers absorb many things, I'm here to tell you smell ain't one of them. I have come to deeply admire and respect the powers of Febreeze.

On the other side was a two pack a day smoker who was so badly asthmatic that she had two different inhalers she had to use constantly. When she wasn't busy coughing up truly awesome amounts of phlegm, she plotted on the phone to her daughter as to how she could get home because man oh man but she needed a smoke. A life time of smoking had given her voice a charming, bullhorn quality.

So yep, on one side I had a very profane seizure prone alcoholic, on the other side I had The Mississippi of Phlegm noisily horking up rivers o' nastiness.

Laissez les bons temps rouler, eh?

Within two hours I was quietly plotting these women's deaths. Forget that crap they call the milk of human kindness. Seriously. I wanted their annoying selves pining for the fjords. And what amazed me was that although neither of these difficult, annoying women were strangers to this floor, both were treated with kindness and respect by the staff.

The doctor holding her insanely thick medical record kept walking Lady Di(apers) through her life, figuring out ways she could insure this woman cut back on the alcohol and continued her meds. This in itself was a major act of patience because the woman's short term memory was badly damaged.

The doctor made several phone calls on her behalf to a pharmacy to get special dosing packaging set up. She also had a social worker visit Lady Di so that the woman would again be reminded of the free programs the hospital offers to get people detoxed.

Another doctor told the Mississippi of Phlegm that the week she'd spent in the hospital had basically broken her physical tobacco cravings, flushed the nicotine from her system, and the rest was psychological. He also offered her programs to stop smoking.

Two hours in and I was wondering what was involved in hiring hitmen. Yet these doctors and nurses were doing their best to convince these women both to clean up their acts. By the time the tests were done and I got to see a doctor I spent 14 hours in observation. I was exhausted by those two women and could not see the point of making any effort with them. I walked out of there in awe of the people who choose to do that work and refuse to give up.

Whatever flattened me, it wasn't my heart and for that I am truly grateful. They suspect some sort of gastro-intestinal weirdness and I have to go see my family doctor in January to start chasing that down. I'll think about that another day.

When we got home the first thing I did was take a half hour shower. I scrubbed every nook and cranny of my body as if that could wash away the pain and fear and armour me from illness. Then I velcroed myself to the spousal unit, truly grateful that I have him in my life to support me through the scary bits. When my head hit the pillow last night I slept with an intensity that makes rocks look like playful kittens.

It's funny how things change through your life, how what you think will make you happy shifts with time. When I was really young I thought a go cart would do it. At one point I thought it might be clothes, at another travel. And now?

Health. Health for both the spousal unit and me. Accept no substitutes.

That's all I want for Christmas, ever again.


Mileage on the Marnometer: 1002.62 miles.
Ten percent there rubber duck.Ten percent there rubber duck.25 per cent thereTen percent there rubber duck.Ten percent there rubber duck.Ten percent there rubber duck.Ten percent there rubber duck.25 per cent thereTen percent there rubber duck.Ten percent there rubber duck.Ten percent there rubber duck.
Oh man. This is going to be hard
Goal for 2004: 1,000 miles - 1609 kilometers

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