The Yoga Teacher's Heart Attack
Chapter 10: ER Visit #2
April 10 2017
Even though the chest pain is becoming more intense and, honestly, alarming, I make the extra trek to Better Hospital where Dr. Worth-the-Wait works. Calmly present at the ER triage.
The check-in nurse asks “Do you have a heart condition or history of heart disease?”
Umm, so, here’s the thing. I’m not sure. Maybe. My doctor said the front wall of my is ischemic.
"Any family history of heart disease?"
No. Well, my dad has a pacemaker. My mom has a mitral valve prolapse. Does that count?
I’m whisked away for an EKG and then returned to the waiting room.
There’s a gnarly flu bug going around (in April? Isn't flu season over, like, January?) and the ER waiting room is chock-a-block with vomiting people. I keep trying to move away and, like a whack-a-mole game, more barfy people keep appearing next to me.
I’m waiting what feels like a long time. I mean, you'd think a woman with stabbing chest pain would get put into the express lane. After a goodly 35 minutes, I'm sent back and finally given a gown, socks and a warm blanket and they run tests. I keep saying that I can breathe okay, but it feels like my heart is having a Charlie horse.
Is that even a thing? I don't think Dr. Christina Yang ever saw a patient with heart cramps, did she?
I get a text from work: as I suspected, someone is frustrated that I’ve password-protected the file. The texting coworker reminds me that we had recently enacted a new SOP (standard operating procedure) that prohibits the passwording of company files.
I text back that I’m at a doctor’s appointment (working with the available truth here) and that the doctor is running behind schedule.
Very nice and startlingly handsome ER doctor apologizes for the delay. He said he was in touch with the on-call cardiac doctor, who believes I need an emergency angioplasty.
Bing! Another text on my phone. Another coworker is asking for just one “tiny” change to the annual report before it goes to the printer today. Coworker is mad / sad that I passworded the annual report. Hadn't I read the SOP?
He just needs tiny changes: add one paragraph of text, remove one pie chart, add two bar charts, and re-do the call statistics data.
These are not small edits in my book, especially as I'm on a guerney in the E.R.
Also, apparently I need an angio-something ... angiogram? ... and it is already 2pm, my god!, so much for slinking off unnoticed.
The doctor has the consent form for the angio-plating thing.
“Listen, Dr. Handsome. Here’s the deal. I thought I’d just be here, you know, an hour or two. And I hid a file from my coworkers, so could I just pop down to work for about an hour and then come back and then we could talk about this angio-thingy?”
“You mean you want to check out a bit, like a day spa?”
See! Handsome men aren’t always dumb. This guy has a clue!
“Yes. Exactly. I have to get our annual report to the printer today and I hid the file from my supervisor … “
Dr. Handsome interrupts me.
“Ma’am, you are clearly having a heart event. No, this is not a day spa, you can’t check out and then stroll back in. If you do leave, you will have to go through triage again and sit in the waiting room, again … “
“Eww, with all the vomiting people?”
“Exactly. I do have good news for you. The cardiac doctor on call tonight is an amazing specialist, he’s usually booked out four to six weeks. He’s totally worth the wait, though. Anyway, he’s the one that would do the angioplasty today. I mean, if it were me having a wire stuck in my heart, I’d only want Dr. Worth-the-Wait to be at the helm.”
He senses my hesitation.
“Listen, clearly your heart isn’t working properly. I can guarantee you that there is a 100% chance that you will have an angioplasty in your very near future."
I'm not sure I can pay attention because did he just say they were going to put a wire IN my heart?
Dr. Handsome goes for the full court press.
“I looked at your recent stress echo results and saw the severe ischemia. You have chest pain. Work can wait."
He pauses, seeing that I'm not entirely convinced.
Then adds "I'm sure you know Dr. Worth-the-Wait is booked out six weeks. Think of this as your lucky day ... you get to jump to the front of line and have an angioplasty performed by the best cardiologist in town."
Wire IN my heart? Do they leave it there? Is this the stent thing? WTF is a stent? Can I be stented and be back at work in three hours? I’m guessing no. Also, the idea of sitting back in the waiting room, that’s definitely a deal breaker. (Also, is it me, or is the whole "He's worth the wait" thing a little overkill?)
First things first, I need a Wi-Fi password, stat.
Secondly, I mean, this is not in my control, right? This isn’t my fault, right? I send a text to my supervisor: “In ER, need to have emergency heart … procedure. Hope to be in tomorrow. Sorry for the timing.” I ponder the emoji choices: poop emoji is too silly; also, I despise the poop emoji. Frowny face just seems too silly for an emergency wire-in-heart-angiola thing. Shruggin girl? Palm on forehead?
Nope. There's just no emoji for this very moment.
Third, I texted my trusty work-sister and told her how to find the hidden annual report document and begged her to get it to the printer. Of course she sprung into action, that’s what work-sisters are for.
(She had also been a 9-1-1 dispatcher for a record-setting 15 years, so she's the one you want in a crisis.)
A little tête-à-tête with my old pal Dr. Google (who is never booked and never judges my questions) and I learn that an angioplasty means the doctor is going to run a wire through either my groin or my wrist up in to my heart.
I'm having an emergency heart procedure. Lord help me. Wire.In.Heart. Well, this can't be good.
OMG. Someone is going to put a wire into my heart? Should I call James?
No. I'll wait until it is over, no sense in adding stress into his day.
Oops. Wait. I’m forgetting something. Ah, yes! I'm a parent. I have a school bus to meet at 2:43PM.
Gotta call my prince; I love knowing that I'm always a priority for him. I don't mention the wire in the heart thing, just say that I'm being held for more tests. No sense in worrying him; plus which, if he's worried, then the girls will sniff it out and then they'll worry.
WIRE. IN. MY. HEART.
I'm wheeled down to a pre-op area and cannot really take anything in. Bits and bobs float around, like "We usually go through your wrist. But we may need to go through the groin." The nurse comes in to shave my pubic fur.
"Let's give you a little something to take the edge off."
After I'm sedated, the nurse reviews the complications: shock, allergic reaction to the dye, arterial ruptures, cardiac distress, possibility of emergency open heart surgery to do a bypass.
Then I sign a consent form that says if they find a blockage, I'm cool with them putting a stent in my heart and then leaving the stent there. For forever.
I'm not a good prayerful person. I don't know the format god and/or the universe prefers and I also often feel like a whiney pants.
"Hey, um, god, listen, it's me. Tracey. I have a very sick twin. I know there's famine and warring nations and everything, but I need my both my twins to be healthy. Please make it not be leukemia. Or anything else sucky. And in-network, too. Please and thank you."
(Charlotte recovered from her mystery illness that lasted nearly a month.)
(Charlotte's bloodwork was not in-network. However, Children's Hospital was soooo nice when I wrote to tell that I just didn't have a spare $870 laying around ... that they comped the bloodwork, and!, said that both girls could receive free medical care at Children's Hospital for 18 months. See? Miracles do happen.)
This time, I'm all-cap praying. Actually, I'm all-cap begging for a sign. I need a sign, preferably flashing neon, that this is the right way to go. I send a text message to two close friends, asking for prayers.
I cannot fully explain it, but w/in minutes of texting my prayerful friends, I feel at peace. That this is where I'm supposed to be. (Is it prayer? Or something delicious in my IV?)
I try to remember the words to the song, how’s it go? “It’s me, it’s me, it’s me oh lord, standing in the need of prayer.” That one. “Not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me oh lord … “ I switch over to “Calling All Angels,” thinking about how I first heard that song on the Six Feet Under episode and remembering how cried by that scene.
Girl Nurse wheels me to the angioplasty operating room. God, they are calling it an OR? Yeesh.
Girl Nurse assures me that the Guy Nurse, who will be with me throughout the next two hours, is awesome.
TWO HOURS? Damnit.
"Hi, um, God, yeah. It's Tracey. So, um, couple of quick things. I just really can't die today because I have twins to raise and I probably should have told James. Also, please help my work-sister, give her a smooth path. I know it is probably wrong to ask you to bless an annual report, but it needs your help."
Guy Nurse arrives; I'm relieved to see he has a great sense of humor. He also adds something in my IV that makes me feel just a little less freaked out. I feel quite marvelous, in fact.
The angioplasty OR is super high tech, about eight computer screens. Two tech nurses in addition to the Guy Nurse.
One tech nurse blurts out, "Oh, shit, that's fucked up. Oops, sorry for the language ma'am."
"No worries. Curious, ummm ... is my heart fucked up or your computers? Because I'm kind of a geek girl myself. Maybe I can help out."
(Oh, lordy, what did they put in my IV?)
(Why didn't I tell James to hop on his trusty steed and save me? Oh, right, the girls, the school bus. )
I realize that I haven't sussed out the gluten free situation.
Slightly, I panic. I say to Guy Nurse "Hey, listen, I've got a serious gluten allergy."
"I know, I read your file, I already verified that everything we are giving you today will be gluten free."
"Um. Okay... it is just that my allergy is pretty severe. I have seizures. So when I'm out, don't, you know, like eat a cookie over me. A crumb will do me in."
Guy Nurse laughs. "Actually, I was looking at my Oreos and see that it has wheat, dairy and soy in it. It'll hit the trifecta of all your allergies.”
He smiles and his eyes are crinkly and kind...
... and my last cogent thought is "Ahhh, thank you God, that was just the sign I needed!"
... and then I'm out and then I'm in the recovery room.
Woohoo! I survived having a wire threaded through my heart.
Dr. Worth-the-Wait comes in, looking pleased with himself.
"So good news, we didn't have to stent, there were no blockages, which is just really great news. I did find a myocardial bridge in your LAD, but they are benign."
"Sorry, I don't understand, you found a what? Where?"
"Myocardial bridge. The main LAD -- the main heart artery -- is supposed to be on the outside of your heart. Your artery is on the inside of your heart. Completely benign."
"Could you write that down? Or a brochure, maybe? My husband isn't here yet and I'm still soupy. It doesn't make sense. I have an artery inside. So that's what is causing my chest pain?"
And in that moment, there's a flicker that I catch. I had been idolizing Dr. Worth-the-Wait. But there's just a nanosecond, what do they call those? Micro expressions? Dr. Worth-the-Wait’s charming smile faded into a lopsided smirk.
"There's nothing to write down. Trust me, myocardial bridges are always benign. Always. Your chest pain is just anxiety," he emphasized his point by tapping his pointer finger at his left temple.
"Just check in with your doctor, is it Vivian? ..."
[Did he sneer again? I swear to god and ganesh there was a flicker of a sneer, a visual drip of snark condescenion. Towards me? Towards Dr. Vivian? Women in general?]
"... I'm sure she can help you get a new anti anxiety prescription, or at least adjust what you are currently on."
"Okay, but there's a heart artery problem? Cardial what?"
Now he's not even trying to be sly about it. He bristles, his happy face fades, he looks peeved. How dare I ask questions!
He says harshly, "Listen, this problem of yours, trust me, it is nothing to worry about."
Then he said something about resting, tapped his temple again, and said the nurse on the way out, "It's all in her head. Not my body part. The heart is fine, the head is what needs the help."
Thank heavens for whatever they put in the IV.
Next thing I know, I wake up on a different floor, in a private room.
I notice a plastic cuff on my wrist that inflated with air. For added security, my wrist is also splinted. Was that all there before?
Every hour, a nurse comes with a syringe and pulls a small amount of air out of the cuff.
There's discussion about keeping me overnight, but I'm hangry.
And! I still have a bucket of work that's no doubt waiting for me at my desk.
The nurse gives me that you've-got-to-be-joking look.
"You may not use your hand for the next 48 hours. No typing, no texting, not an ounce of exertion. Do not pick up your phone, do not pick up a coffee mug. In fact, do not brush your teeth with this hand."
"But ... I have this work thing. Can't I just type less ... vigorously?
I mean, what's the downside here?"
"Ma'am, you have just had an emergency heart procedure. You need to take the week off to recover from the angioplasty. Rest. What’s the downside? Extreme radial spurting."
"Did you just say spurting? Blood? Extreme spurting? Like the Julia Childs video?"
"Pretty much. We had to go in through your radial artery. The doctor then superglues the artery back together. If we even take this pressure cuff off your wrist too soon, there will be radial spurting.
If you type, or carry your purse, or pick up your phone, there might be spurting. And if you are at home and the spurting doesn't stop ... well... "
She lets a tsk tsk finish that thought.
Well, alrighty then. Rest I did.