Friday, November 09, 2007

I put the... um... tack in tachycardia!

If you ever have a choice to make, I recommend going to the emergency room while everyone else in the area is watching a much-anticipated sporting event. Five minutes after walking through the doors, I was being handed a hospital gown. It's possible they let me in so quickly because my heart rate was 203 and had been for half an hour, but I think it was the game. It also didn't hurt that the friend who brought me in did a little restrained waving-around of medical credentials and an understated display of Doctor Lingo.

Adenosine, delivered through an IV, is what they use to slow down your heart. It took me from wappawappawappawappa to bubgub, bubgub, bubgub within five minutes or so. During those minutes, I had a sensation (that some people both pay and line up for) that the top of my head and the bottom of my stomach were moving rapidly away from each other. And I didn't even have to strap myself into something called Invertigo!! or The Superdooperlooper!!! to do it. And health insurance will probably cover my experience. I hear they've mostly stopped paying for roller coasters, cheap bastards.

So they took a couple of EKGs and some blood, left me hooked up to some monitors and a saline drip, and things quieted down (by this time, the Chief Foot Squeezer and Director of Hand Holding had arrived on his appointed rounds).

Half an hour later, the adenosine jitters (new band name!) had worn off, I was feeling normal again, and my pulse was stable. The doctors and staff all went off to other crises, and Our Medical Friend took off too, having helped me eavesdrop on all the technical conversations people were having about me around my head. I had some time to look around and get a little bored, and I realized why they put all the monitors up behind the head of the hospital bed, where the patient can't see them. One, it's easier for the staff to see. Two, it reduces the chance that wiseacre patients will try to mess with the results. By craning my head back, and looking at the monitor upside-down, I could see the various displays: heart rate, respiration, and a third thing we never deciphered. The device that monitors breathing shows your inhales and exhales as ups and downs on a chart in real time, so it's a bit like having an etch-a-sketch that you can control with your breath. You could draw... a mountain. Or a... mountain range. A plateau, perhaps. I decided not to tempt fate by drawing anything on purpose, but I did make a passable silhouette of the Himalayas by giggling about the possibilities.

Two hours later, we were debating whether or not, "I'm hungry and bored!" was enough of a reason to push the Nurse Call button. We decided not. So the Brow Soother just sidled over to the nurses' station, and, as he put it, "I was a real jerk. I made a big stink about how this service is appalling, and who do you people think you are, and Do You Know Who I Am."* Guaranteed results, every time. After his chat with The Ladies In Smocks, he reported that the blood tests were back and the doctor would be in any minute.

Well, allow me to translate. Any minute = a very specific minute, actually. It's a minute at least three-quarters of an hour from now. So we settled in again and got some ill-fated crackers out of the vending machine. I'm usually a wholehearted proponent of the five-second rule (clinical debunking or no clinical debunking), but I had no problem overruling it when the emergency room floor was the floor in question. Unbidden, images of diseased bits of other people hitting that floor swarmed into my head. Luckily, my Personal Attendant was there to throw away the crackers and hand me some hand sanitizer. A floor-related bonus: they gave me free socks so my feet wouldn't touch the floor when I used the Portable Facilities for Invalids. I'm usually a good reuser/recycler, but those socks hit the trash as soon as I took them off.

During this lull, the Much-Anticipated Sporting Event ended. I know this because we could hear the chatter at the nurses' station (apparently the guys in X-Ray were watching the game. They would have the best AV equipment, I suppose). I also know this because in my hospital room, on the other side of the curtain from Club Anna, there entered a man who thought he might have had a stroke, but didn't want to miss the end of the game, so he waited to come in. I wanted to go throttle him, but I was tied down by all my wires, and anyway, he might have just had a stroke. Not nice to kick the Unseen Roommates while they're down.

They dealt with him (he sounded like he'd be okay), sent him off for further tests, and I got a new Unseen Roommate. This one was a 96-year-old Italian man who was having complications from diabetes. He couldn't hear very well, he couldn't speak English that well, and the nurse who was trying to talk to him had a New England accent so thick you could stand a spoon in it. I was trying to think of the Italian for, "does your stomach hurt" and "do you check your sugar regularly," which I had no chance of doing. I would have been more help translating what the nurse was saying into Very Loud Middle-American English (I minored in it in college). The most Italian I could think up was "Buona fortuna, signore!" which I did not end up having the nerve to yell out from behind my curtain as he was wheeled away for more testing.

Finally, the doctor came back and gave us the reports and the official diagnosis: Supraventricular Tachycardia (words so long, spell check gets nervous). All the blood tests came back normal, but I forgot to ask what it was they were testing for, so while the doctor apparently got some helpful information, all I know is that I am normal in several unspecified ways. I can't think what they might be. I did get the important stuff, though. They told me that my heart is healthy, just a little differently constructed than most, and I should see a cardiologist who can do more tests (the constant refrain of the ER). The tachycardia episodes can be controlled either with taking heart medicine forever or, if that doesn't work, they can send a photon torpedo up through my artery to my heart to zap the offending cells. I'm pretty sure it was a photon torpedo. Something aggressive and fancy sounding, anyway. Between the two options, I'm really hoping the cardiologist recommends some yoga and a positive attitude. But I'm not holding my breath (I heard that was bad for you anyway).

And then I was discharged and we were free to go. In five minutes, we went from a brightly-lit hospital room, surrounded by beeps and chatter and hurrying staff, to walking home alone down the quiet, dark streets of our neighborhood. Four blocks later, we were back in our kitchen where the same mail that had been on the table at noon still was and the crock pot had dinner ready. The only thing that reminded me of what I'd been doing for the last three hours was that I kept finding more sticky monitoring patches to remove from my body. When they monitor you, they really monitor you: arms! legs! belly! chest! Four days, two showers and a bath later, I'm only 94% sure that I got them all.

*Anyone who knows The Brow Soother knows I'm kidding, but on the off chance I have any readers I'm not related to, he's polite to a fault, and would no more raise his voice to a pack of friendly nurses than he would willingly drink a giant mocha-hazelccino with caramel and extra sprinkles. That's my drink.


Anonymous said...

I grudgingly accept this incident as a reasonable excuse for failing to meet your daily posting requirement for the month. Keep in mind, I'm watching you!

Feel better! L & I need you to do the shopping for thanksgiving.

Another Anna said...

On the contrary, I'm figuring that the good news in all this is that I'll have so much material! Regular life is too boring to generate a whole post's worth of entertainment every day.

And don't worry about the T-Day shopping and cooking, I've been feeling completely normal and fine since coming home from the ER. But when it comes time to do a Thanksgiving-sized pile of dishes, just watch me put the back of my hand to my forehead and plead Heart Condition. I'm not above it.