The Yoga Teacher's Heart Attack
Chapter 9: Treadmills + Troubles + Town Hall
March 29 2017
One week later, I show up at the hospital for the stress test on a treadmill. I haven’t run in a while, but pffft between the yoga, biking to work, tennis and dragon boating, surely I can knock out a little indoor run.
The nurse spooked me a little, though, as she walked me through how the test would work.
“If we find something worrisome, then sign here to consent to us putting in a stent today.”
“I’m sorry, a what?”
“Well, if we find a blockage, we’ll do an emergency procedure to open the blocked area and put in a stent to prop the area open.”
“If you don’t find a blockage?”
“Well, the doctor will call you either way. If it is not too worrisome, then he can address next steps with you. But if it is all good, he’ll call you and let you know that as well.”
The 'stress echo' treadmill test was actually fascinating.
You get the EKG electrodes glued on, then lay on your side while a technician runs an ultrasound movie of your heart with your heart at rest.
Then, you run on the treadmill until you feel fatigued. Ha! Easy peasy.
The goal is to get the heart rate up over 160 beats per minute, then dash back over to the ultrasound machine and hold your breath so they can capture a movie of how the heart looks when it is under duress.
Can I just say? I kind of rocked it. It took well over ten minutes of running, on an incline, to get my heart rate up that high. I had some chest pain, but I've always had pangs throughout the day, so I was glad that Dr. Worth-the-Wait signed me up for this test.
What happens next is ... well ... baffling.
The results from my treadmill stress echo test were not great.
In fact, the results were alarming enough that the scheduling nurse was given instructions to have me return to the office ASAP.
The scheduling nurse calls and claims that she received a "this voicemail box is full" message on my cell number.
AND THEN SHE DID NOTHING.
Well, I'm guessing she went and had lunch and walked in the sun and what have you.
Did WorstNurseEver pull up my paperwork and leave a message at any of my other phone numbers? Why no. Did she email me? No. Text? Nope. Call my husband? No, no, no.
No, WorstNurseEver read the report that said “front wall of heart not beating ... contact patient immediately” and fa-la-la she had lunch and applied for clown school and completely decided just not do her damn job.
March 30 2017
Thankfully, I'm blissfully unaware of my severe ischemia in my heart ... because I get to live a dream today.
I started going to The Moth StorySLAMS in 2014. I had always thought storytellers were, you know, ancient and dressed like a hawk and told tales of the wolf howling and the rabbits being their allies.
But, lo and behold, The Moth created a venue for folks to tell true stories from their own lives; each StorySLAM event has a theme. Storytellers need to stick with the theme, tell a true story with a beginning-middle-end AND do so in about six minutes.
Ah! I'd finally found my tribe. When you "win" a StorySLAM, you then get to perform a new story at a GrandSLAM at a much bigger venue.
I can tell rewatching this that I had not practiced enough. Which is okay, because I had been busy having a heart attack, pulling together an annual report, being a parent, all that fun stuff.
What's also nice about this story is that I rarely talk about a topic that is so close to my heart. It is much easier to be cheeky about a crazy coworker from, say, 15 years ago. It is excruciating to tell the tale of trying something with such a high failure rate.
But I'm the kind of jump-into-the-deepend gal, so at a packed, sold-out 825-seat Seattle Town Hall*, I told this darling story of Uncharted Territory.
(*Prior Seattle Town Hall performers include Al Franken, Lindy West, author Sherman Alexie and Salman Rushdie. It's just the coolest. )
April 5 2017
So there I am at work, as unaware as a dewy lamb, and I see a voicemail has come in on my cell phone. It's Dr. Vivian. Asking me to call her back as soon as possible. Weird.
"How are you feeling?" Dr. Vivian asks, sounding very concerned.
Wow. What a great doctor, I think. Just checking in. I tell her I'm feeling marvy.
"I saw the report from your stress test. Do you have a treatment plan in place?"
Ummm, a treatment plan for what?
Dr. Vivian explains that the heart ultrasound showed "severe ischemia." Meaning that the there's an area of my heart that isn't getting blood flow. Zero blood flow. Dr. Vivian says that heart ischemia is caused by either a heart attack or a blockage of the heart. Either way, she's alarmed that Dr. Worth-the-Wait's office dropped the ball and stresses that I must be seen immediately.
She also says, ominously, that it isn't just a bad patch of limited blood flow. In fact, the entire front wall of my heart is unable to beat due to the lack of blood.
I call the office of Dr. Worth-the-Wait, demanding the next available appointment as this is my heart and apparently my heart is in trouble … and Dr. Worth-the-Wait is booked solid for three weeks.
So I'm just supposed to walk around, with a malfunctioning heart, for weeks, because Dr. Worth-the-Wait is overbooked?
My only saving grace is my job.
After years of teaching yoga, I get an “adult” 9-to-5 government job, working as clerk to boards and a media liaison for one of the 911 dispatch centers. I also assist the finance manager; I love keeping that part of my brain lit up.
As I wait a nail-biting three weeks, I bury my head in the sand and allow work to consume me.
And it is a good time of the year for overworking, as one of my tasks at work is producing the company's annual report. As a former Wall Street gal, I adore this task. It feels very similar to childbirth. There's a dark, great period of gestation right after the holidays, when I build the bones of the report as managers bring me data.
At some point in the third trimester, the report becomes big and unwieldy and swollen. The file becomes too large to email. Then there are false contractions, when I think I'm actually ahead of schedule and, nope, the executive director hasn't signed off.
Then there are usually two ridiculous 65-hour weeks, herding kittens, confirming attendance with mayors and councilmembers, and voila! The massive project gets birthed.
I’ve made it across the finish line.
Dr. Worth-the-Wait's appointment is on the horizon, the executive director has given a tentative final approval. And now is a small respite, a time to put my feet up on the desk and exhale.
Five days ahead of the annual meeting and everything was done. The annual report needed one final approval before being sent to the printer, catering confirmed, attendance confirmed, meeting agenda lined up. Employee awards printed. Dang! I’ve managed to get it all done, with days to spare.
Now, I had woken up the morning with a burning pain in my left collarbone. Took some antacids and went to work. The collarbone pain radiates into my sternum around 8:00AM. I got into the break room do some gentle yoga stretches.
I had gone to an advance yoga class the day before with Larissa. In fact, I will thrilled that I had gotten my foot behind my head, the first time in years. I probably pulled something.
By 10:00AM, I’m becoming short of breath and maybe a smidge clammy, if I’m honest. Feeling a little alarmed. Also not sure of the etiquette. I mean, I am at a 911 call center. Should I call 911?
(Side note: yes, you must call 911 even if you work there. The call for an ambulance needs to be entered into the computer regardless of your location.)
No. I decided I'd need to be checked out. I didn't have to get the beast to the printer until 5:00PM. I went through extra steps to hide the final document on our shared drive. I also, against policy, password protected my baby, the annual report.
The prior year, there was a lot of folks sneaking into the document at the last minute, which really hijacked my formatting. This year, I would work smarter.
I thought about what Dr. Vivian had told me -- the entire front wall of my heart had no blood supply. And that the ischemia can cause heart attacks ... and it can also be a sign of a prior heart attack.
Did Dr. Dursley really miss a heart attack?
I'm not sure how the day will play out, but I do know that I cannot return to Close Hospital. And I cannot call 911, because they will take me straight to Close Hospital.
Clutching my chest in pain, sitcky and clammy, I drive myself to Better Hospital, fingers crossed that I can get back to work in under two hours.
I also keep reminding myself: Dr. Worth-the-Wait was highly recommended and even he said he could tell by looking at me that I did not have a heart problem. That's gotta count for something, right?
Yeppir, I'll get to the ER and then I'll tell them I got my foot behind my head after four-ish hours of yoga and I'll get a muscle relaxant and then, you know, we'll have a good chuckle.