I’ve been away. Did ya miss me? Yeah, I’ll bet.
Last Sunday, 07/24, I woke up feeling a bit wonky. Couldn’t quite put my finger on why I was feelin’ out of sorts; I just was. But I had a swell outing planned for the day, so I couldn’t flake. A couple of friends and I were planning on taking the ferry to Bainbridge Island for lunch. The weather was perfect for our little cruise across Puget Sound.
My friends and I met at Pikes Market, a famous landmark here in The Emerald City, and we walked to the ferry from there. I walk about four miles every day so the 15-minute walk should have been a breeze for me. But something was wrong. I felt lethargic and winded.
The 35-minute ferry ride was magical, as always, but upon disembarking and walking to the restaurant I began to really hurt. Not one to spoil the fun I marshaled my resources and made it to lunch.
The walk back to the ferry was excruciating. I was lightheaded, slightly nauseous, and completely winded. My heart was pounding like it wanted out of my chest. My companions became as worried as I was.
Once we docked in Seattle I had to once again disembark then walk to public transportation and to home. I was in a panic. The crush of the crowd around added to my distress. I thought for sure I was gonna faint, or barf, or worse. I was certain that my lungs were gonna give out on me. After many stops to catch my breath and buckets of sweat from the effort I finally made it home.
I’ve been monitoring my blood pressure for several months. (Ya gotta do this when you’re old, like me.) So once at home, I took a reading. My blood pressure was normal, but my pulse was unusually low, a reading of 49 to be precise. A couple of hours later it was 45. This was odd. I had never experienced anything like that before. Mostly my pulse rate hovers in the upper 70s and low 80s.
I felt much better on Monday. But come Tuesday, I was a total wreck. The least bit of exertion left me exhausted and prostrate. I knew it; my lungs were finally giving out. I put in a call to my doctor and got an expedited appointment for the very next day.
Tuesday’s blood pressure readings were slightly elevated, which was great, but my pulse was way down. I took several readings and each was in the mid 30s never over 40. I still didn’t get it. (This is probably why I’m not a brain surgeon.)
Wednesday turned out to be a nightmare. Unbeknownst to me I was about to began a headlong descent into the maw of the medical industry.
My doctor’s appointment was at 10:30am. The doc took one look at me and ordered an electrocardiogram (EKG). “HOLY SHIT!” She exclaimed. (Or something to that effect.) “How is it that you’re still standing?”
Needless to say, this got my attention right quick. “What?” I inquired. “Although you are not having a heart attack you are this close to the pearly gates. Your pulse is about to flat line, you monkey!” My doctor stuttered. (Ok, maybe she didn’t mention the pearly gates, or call me a monkey, but that was her drift for damn sure.)
Maybe it was the stress or shock of it, but I started to laugh. My doctor asked; “What’s so funny?” I said; “Did you ever see the movie, Death Becomes Her? Remember the scene in the emergency room?”
Off I went.
I got to Swedish Hospital (First Hill) Emergency Reception just before noon. The guy behind the desk asked what was wrong with me. I said; “Basically, I’m having a heart attack.” Apparently those are the magic words because the team swung into action. I was admitted immediately, blood was drawn, another EKG, x-rays were taken, and I was hooked up to a heart monitor. Diagnosis: Bradycardia with second-degree heart block.
You need a pacemaker IMMEDIATELY!
We’ll get you a room on the cardiac ward at our Cherry Hill campus, which is just a mile away, as soon as one is available.”
“Oh, OK, I guess,” said I as the severity of the situation finally began to dawn on me. As you can see, I’m not the sharpest pencil in the box.
The fact is, I’m more versed in facing my mortality than the average person, what with the decades of death and dying work that I have done. But let me tell you, staring into the abyss is still daunting.
Back in the emergency room I was laying on a gurney with electrodes and wires sprouting from my chest and back. I lay there for hours listening to the cries, screams, and moans of my fellow emergency patients. Codes blue and grey are being called with regularity and I can just imagine the human misery that surrounds me.
At 5:00pm one of the emergency nurses tells me that a room at the cardiac ward will be available at 7:00pm. “But, 7:00pm is the changing of the shift. So the soonest we could get you there is 7:30pm.”
7:30pm comes and goes. “What’s up?” I ask. “We’re trying to locate transport for you.” Was their retort. “But the Cherry Hill campus is just a mile away. I could walk there from here.” I countered. “But you need a special ambulance, one with a nurse on board, one that can monitor your heart in transit.” “You gotta be kidding!” Said I. “Not at all. You could flat line on the way to Cherry Hill and we’d be liable. Don’t worry, Richard, we will surely have the transport by 10:00pm.”
The transport didn’t actually arrive till 12:30am. That was twelve and a half hours on a gurney in the ER! And the fun is just beginning.
I finally get to the Cherry Hill campus at 1:00am. I am ushered into a room where I am then interrogated for 45 minutes. (Are you now, or have you ever been…) They called it an intake, but a rose by any other name. I haven’t eaten since breakfast at 5:00am the previous day with only water to drink. Now, even the water was being withheld. I guess they anticipated I would have my procedure later that (Thursday) morning.
Not so fast there buckaroo!
Thursday dawns, but nothing happens. I’m confined to my bed (the second worse bed in the world. The first being the ER gurney I left yesterday) and am attached to a heart monitor. I am faint from hunger and more than a little dehydrated. By noon they decide they need to feed me lest the hunger and dehydration kill me before the arrhythmia.
I scarfed down my lunch like a dying man…mostly because I was.
Allow me to pause my narration for a moment and comment on the cardiac nursing staff. They are superb! And even that superlative leaves me wanting. These women are freakin’ rock stars in my book. One in particular, Nurse Jen, totally got me. We both had the same gallows humor. She is my hero.
Late Thursday afternoon Dr. Williams, a cardiac electrophysiologist, saunters into my room. He’s gonna be doing the cutting on me. He is a tall handsome black man with the most unassuming manner. He looks me in the eye and talks to me like I’m a human. I’m super impressed with his bedside manner. He tells me my blood work and enzymes are excellent. My x-rays show that my heart isn’t enlarged. (But wait! Every one tells me I have a huge heart.) And there’s no sign that I had a heart attack. We talk about the pacemaker and the procedure. He tells me it’s about the size of a silver dollar. (When I actually see the blasted thing the next day, just before they shove into my chest, I have to wonder where Dr. Williams gets his silver dollars.) The procedure is very routine; he tells me. “Yeah sure, for you maybe.” It’ll last approximately 45 minutes, during which I will be enjoying twilight anesthesia. “Twilight anesthesia, huh? That sounds delightful.” Better living through chemistry, I always say.
I get a sedative Thursday night to help me sleep in my little bed of torture. And nothing by mouth after midnight. (Oh no! Not that again.)
Friday morning my nurses prep me for surgery. First, they have to shave my manly chest, don’t cha know. Nurse Jen takes the lead with a maniacal gleam in her eye. This is more than a little awkward and also maybe a wee bit kinky.
Finally the fateful hour arrives. I get a second IV stent, because apparently one is not enough for these folks. Then I’m wheeled down to the bowels of the building where I disappear into one of the surgery suits.
Two hours later I’m back in my room dopey as all get-out, but still kickin’.
I’m home now, i’m happy to report. They liberated me on Saturday, 07/30, afternoon. And I am only slightly worse for the wear. I have a very distinctive slash across my left pectoral. There’s an unsightly bulge just below it. It looks like i’m growing a third breast. And a nasty purple and brown bruise that runs from my shoulder to my sternum and from my collarbone to my nipple. I sound like a real attractive guy, huh?