Daily Archives: July 16, 2008

The Heart Attack That Wasn’t

Listen up because I’m only going to tell this story once.  Miss something, and you’re on your own for finding out the details.

My son woke me up at 4:30 in the morning last Saturday because he needed a Kleenex.  He said he had a runny nose.  Or maybe he said he had a bloody nose.  As it was not yet the crack of dawn, and technically, in my book, it was still the middle of the damn night, I didn’t catch what he said.  I asked him if his nose was runny or bloody.  The room was dark.  He said he didn’t know.  And that uncertainty motivated me to move because if it was bloody, then it was probably dripping all over my carpet.  But as it turns out, his nose was merely runny.

My husband got up to help find the Kleenex so I went back to bed and realized with some alarm that my chest hurt.  A lot.  And not only that, my left shoulder blade hurt and the pain went up into my neck.  I asked my husband to rub my shoulder but as my brain started to wake up to the fact that his shoulder massage wasn’t helping, I also realized that this trifecta of pain was similar to something I had once read describing the symptoms of a heart attack. And then?  I felt sick.

When my husband asked if I wanted to go to the hospital I was sufficiently scared enough, and was in enough pain to squeak, “Yeah, that might be a good idea.”

And THAT is how I ended up at the hospital.  Where, if anyone would have read my file, they would know all of that.  And they wouldn’t have had to ask me over and over and over again, “What happened?” 

But, apparently, the doctors and nurses at my local hospital can’t read.  Or don’t bother to.

Because seriously?  I had to repeat that story over a dozen times over a span of 24 hours, and I got mighty sick of it.

Here’s some other stuff that should be my medical file should anyone care to read it: the hospital ran an EKG and gave me three yummy little orange baby aspirin in the ER.  The baby aspirin tasted like candy.  I’d like another handful please.

While I was hanging out in the ER, they did a chest x-ray.  And then later, a chest CT scan, with contrast.

The I.V. port?  Why yes, they gave me one. They put it right in the crook of my arm, the part that bends.  My right arm.  And I’m right handed.  So I bend that arm A LOT.  But when the nurse asked me where a good vein was, I thought she meant for taking blood, not for inserting a semi permanent needle so that it could jab deeper and deeper and deeper into my vein each time I moved.  Ouch! Tell me, what kind of person does that, places an IV in the crook of an arm?  Oh wait, I know.  Her name was Kim.

Nitroglycerin?  Why yes, they gave me three of those little pills in the ER.  But no, they didn’t help the pain at all.

Toradal? Yep, that stuff was good.  The pain went away. That’s when I wanted to go home.

Except I couldn’t.  My symptoms, you see, were “concerning” enough that the ER doctor decided to admit me for additional tests.  Tests that for whatever reason, couldn’t be done until the next day, which meant I got to stay overnight.

And let me tell you, the hospital?  It ain’t the Hilton.

For one thing, the staff at a hotel, whether a Hilton or a Motel 6, doesn’t come in every four hours to take your temperature, blood pressure, and oxygen levels.  They don’t hook you up to heart monitors and expect you to sleep that way.  And they sure as hell don’t wake you up in the middle of the night to draw more blood.  I understand that some hotels have bed bugs for that.  But I think my hospital bed had those too.  Because how else do you explain the bites I found on my legs after a restless sleep? Vampires?  As far as know, they go for your neck.

Perhaps you have been wondering what the menu is in a cardiac ward? Well, I’ll tell you, I don’t think the American Heart Association would approve.  Breakfast was an egg and cheese omelet with FRIED potatoes. I’m not even kidding.

Lunch was my choice: a turkey sandwich on whole wheat or a Sloppy Joe of indeterminate meat origin.  I chose the turkey. It arrived with a bowl of something that I might have identified as soup, had it not been for the unnatural shade of orange. I blinked at it, but I didn’t taste it. The coconut cake looked okay, but my taste buds knew, after one teeny bite, that it was not.  Cake on a cardiac ward?  I’m not kidding about that either.  Or about the brownie that came with dinner. All I can say about the fish sandwich that was supposed to pass as dinner is this: Mrs. Paul would be appalled. 

I had the pleasure (NOT!) of meeting one cardiac physician’s assistant, one doctor of unspecified type, and one cardiologist, one right after another.  Each followed the other into my room so quickly that I can only assume they were standing outside my door in a straight line and taking turns coming in to see me. Perhaps, on the way out of my room they tapped each other on the shoulder and said, “Tag!  You’re it!” But to that I say, get over your egos and enter a patient’s room all at once so the patient doesn’t have to have to repeat “what happened” three times in a row.  Or better yet, read their damn file.

The doctor who failed to mention his specialty mostly asked questions about my mental state.  Was I depressed? Or stressed?  Anxious? Under a lot of pressure? Because clearly, if the tests were coming back negative (which they were) then I must be prone to hysterics.  Or depression.  Or anxiety.  And okay, I won’t argue that with you.  I might be a wee bit stressed out at the moment.  But, the reason I went to the hospital in the first place was because of PAIN.  In my CHEST. Like that of a heart attack.  I was not an overly anxious woman who thought spending an entire day, and then the night, and then another day in the hospital being poked and prodded would be fun.  Because what?  I wanted the attention?  What I WANTED to do was go to Target. And the bookstore.  And to my Uncle’s 60th Birthday Party (Happy Birthday!  Sorry I missed your party.)

As time stood completely still on Saturday in the hospital, I tried to fathom the LINE that must have formed behind the treadmill that caused the hospital staff to delay  my stress test for over 24 hours. I wondered: was it as long as the lines were for people who went out to buy the new iPhones?  Was that why I had to sit in the hospital ALL.DAY.LONG and then ALL.NIGHT.LONG waiting for my turn?  Couldn’t I have done a few jumping jacks in my room to prove that I was more or less okay?  Obviously not. They took my bra when they hooked me up to all the heart monitors. And the way I’m endowed? One jumping jack would knock me out. WHAM! Punch to the face! 

I wasn’t sure if they expected me to walk or run on the treadmill, but I was sure I hadn’t packed a sports bra when we took off of the ER.  So I asked for duct tape but they wouldn’t give me any. In the end it was all okay.  I only had to walk, I didn’t knock myself out, and the stress test was uneventful. 

I wish I could say the same about the arguments I got into with my so called “nurse”.  Did you know that nurses don’t like it when you question them?  Especially when you question them about the bucket full of medicines they bring to your room and want you to take “just because.”  Well, I’m not like that.  If I am going to take something, I want to know what it is, and what it’s for, and why the doctors think I should take it.

So on the morning of my last day in the hospital, when it was clear that this wasn’t a cardiac event after all, and I was tired of being in the hospital for no good reason, and I wanted to go home already, I refused to take the nurse’s proffered “stool softener”.  Nor did I accept her handful of aspirin.  And I most adamantly refused her shot of “a mild blood thinner.” 

“Is there,” I asked, “anything at all in my test results that would indicate that the chest pain I had was in any way heart related?” 

“No,” she said.  “They just give this blood thinner to everyone who is on this ward.”

“Well, not to me,” I said.

And that one little refusal turned the mild mannered woman into Nurse Witch Ratched.  Witch Ratched delayed my release from the hospital by several hours while she pretended that she didn’t have my discharge papers. When I asked how much blood would spill if I pulled out my own I.V. (and I swear I would have if I could have found a single bandaid in that place) she finally admitted that she had my discharge papers with her after all. 

And then?  I came home and vowed that I would rather dig my own grave in the backyard than go back to that hospital ever again.  Of course, I realize that’s easy to say when you’re feeling good.

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