Friday, August 30, 2013

this was weird

I am not the one in the hospital bed.  I'm the one who sits by the bed.  Or takes others to the hospital.  But I am never the one in the bed hearing the scary words.

At least not until this week.  First, remember that while they don't really know what happened, they assured me they had ruled out the really bad stuff.

So there's that.

It all started Wednesday night after work when, per our usual routine, Jack dropped me off by the sidewalk so I could walk the ten steps to the mailbox to bring in the mail.  Except this time, I walked five steps and felt this enormous weight and pressure on top of my shoulders, left side especially.  I was carrying an empty glass and a bottle of diet coke (of course) and my purse, and by the time I'd walked the other five steps to the mailbox, I thought I was going to drop all of them.  My mind wasn't very clear, but I decided to drop the bottle into the glass into my purse, which I did, but then my purse was so heavy I didn't think I could hold it with my left arm anymore.  So I tried to switch it to my right arm, but it was still too heavy so I dropped it to the ground.

This was not making any sense to me.  I remember thinking that my jacket felt too tight around my shoulders (but I wear that jacket all of the time and it fits just fine).  I thought I just needed to pick up the mail and go in the house.  But I wasn't strong enough to open the box.  This was weird.  So I tried to pull it open again and couldn't.  My arms felt heavy and weak and my whole body was close to collapse.

So I did the obvious and leaned my head on top of the mailbox.  Because that wouldn't be weird, right?

I stayed that way for a minute and then noticed the sound of a bicycle coming down the street.  I tried to say hello to the guy on the bike, but I couldn't focus enough to form the words.  I recognized that he looked puzzled, but I just couldn't say anything to him.  He rode on by and I went back to trying to open the mailbox.

After several attempts, I finally got the box open.  I reached inside only to discover that I wasn't strong enough to pull out the mail.  Probably because there was a letter package for Jr that contained a softcover book for school, but it took me several attempts to figure out that if I bent the package just a little bit, I could slide out the mail, which I did.  This all seemed to take a long time.

I took a couple of deep breaths and headed up the driveway into the house.  Once inside, I set the mail on the table, walked to the back door and let in the dogs, and then collapsed into my chair.  Jack asked about the mail, I told him it was junk and a book for Jr.  Then I told him I wasn't feeling well and described the events at the mailbox.  I decided I needed to lay down and remove my jacket and my bra because they were both too tight and I was feeling squeezed.

I headed into the bedroom, removed my jacket and laid down under the covers on our bed.  Jack wasn't far behind me.  He sat down on the edge of the bed and I could see the concern on his face as he looked at me.  He asked if I was okay, did I want to stay in bed, did I want something to eat?  I said yes.  He narrowed it down to something to eat and brought me a plate of leftovers that were still very tasty.  I changed into a nightgown and tried to rest.

After a bit, I headed back out to the kitchen with my empty plate (well, except for a couple of bites of sweet potatoes I thought he might like to finish up for me) and then sat back down in my chair.  Jack and Jr were talking together, and when the conversation paused, I said that I wasn't feeling well.  I had an achy pain in my jaw, my neck, my shoulder, and down my arm.  Jack got up and went immediately to the medicine cupboard and returned with four baby aspirin and water that he told me to swallow.  We then headed back into the bedroom where I changed out of my nightgown into yoga pants and a shirt and we headed to the hospital.

Let me just say right now that if you ever want to move directly to the front of the line at the ER, you just tell them you have pain in your jaw, shoulder, arm, and neck.  You will be instantly transported to a room where they will immediately attach devices to do an EKG or ECG and someone else will immediately start an IV and someone else will show up with an x-ray machine so they can x-ray your chest right there in your bed.  They will draw blood and listen to your heart and check your blood pressure.  Stat.  Then they will put a nitro glycerine pill under your tongue, which in my case, stopped the pain almost instantly.  There.  That's stat for you.

I told them all that this was getting very scary and they agreed that it was.

In a very short time, the ER doc arrived to tell me that my blood didn't show that I'd had a heart attack, although that could take 4-6 hours to see.  My EKG was normal.  This is all sounding good to me, like, maybe I'd just had a little hiccup and even though I'd never experienced anything like it before and it was really intense, I would be going right back home. 

Not so fast, missy.  The doc said they had done a test that would show if I had a blood clot in my lungs and it had come back positive.  So off to radiology for a ct scan, which showed no blood clot.  So that's good, right?

Again with the not so fast, missy.  It seems that when someone is apparently healthy like me and then suddenly has an episode like mine at the mailbox, they take it all very seriously.  It's one thing to have a gradually developing case of heart disease, but when you are under 65 and female and seem healthy, they worry about you having a sudden massive heart attack that kills you right on the spot.

Again scary.  I was having a hard time even processing what he was saying.  I mean, I'd heard those same kinds of things at the hospital with elderly relatives before.  But not when I was the one in the bed.  

So no going home for me that night.  Instead, they taped some nitro gel onto me (which they replaced a couple of times through the night) and were going to send me upstairs so they could monitor my heart all night, check blood pressure and heart rate, take and test more blood to see if the heart attack enzymes had appeared after all.  And also, by morning, I would be scheduled for a stress test and if I didn't pass that, I was headed for an angiogram.

This all seemed more than weird now.  I mean, I am healthy and thin and young.  Okay, at least healthy, right? 

Yes, but that's exactly what had them so concerned.  If I were his mother or daughter or sister or aunt, he'd admit them and do the stress test and so would the cardiologist he'd consulted with about me.

What.  Wait.  A cardiologist?  I'm not old enough for this stuff.  But it turns out I am.  So upstairs I went to the floor where they send you after you've been in the ICU. 

See, it could have been worse.  I wasn't going to the ICU.

They kept me up most of the night, asking questions, checking vitals, drawing blood.  They stuck all kinds of little pads onto me that they used to connect me to machines that monitored my heart.  Apparently there are several types of pads they use depending on what machine they're going to connect you to.  And the pads must match up with the machine. 

And they gave me tylenol for the headache that comes with the nitro gel and also to help with the headache that arrived the next morning when I couldn't have any diet coke.  Had to wait to eat or drink until after they decided whether or not I needed the angiogram.

All of the people I encountered there were very kind and very competent.  So there's that, which was really something.  Seriously.  It meant a lot to have kindness.

Mid-morning they took me in for the stress test.  It involved fancy x-rayish stuff and a treadmill and more fancy x-raying with radioactive stuff they injected into my IV.  Radioactivity?  Heck yes.  Hence my new super powers.  But wait, the guy who administered the radioactivity said the super powers would only last for six hours.  And I had had such grand plans. Again.  This was all so very weird.

But I was the boss of that stress test.  

Back I went to my room where the cardiologist came in to tell me I had not had a heart attack and I did not have a blood clot but he really didn't know what had happened.  He said that if I had a family history of heart attacks at an early age or if I'd been in the psych ward or something he'd be looking at this differently.

Wait. Psych ward?  Well, if we're going to go there, why yes, I did spend a week in the psych ward six years ago.  But what does that have to do with anything?  Turns out my old buddy anxiety can cause heart problems.  Now I don't know if we're talking genuine heart problems or the ones your mind causes just to mess with you, but they seemed more willing to let me go after I told them about my stay at UNI.  I really hate that I can't trust that physical pain in my body is caused by physical illness, that I have to wonder if it's just all in my head.  Especially when I haven't been feeling particularly stressed of late.

So weird.

What I didn't know until after I got home yesterday afternoon is that my mom's gramma and my mom's aunt both died of heart attacks before they were 65.  So I guess I'll have to mention that to the cardiologist when I see him in a couple of weeks for a follow up visit to see if that changes anything.  And yes, now I have an appointment with a cardiologist.  And I promised to come right back to the ER if I feel anything like that again.

This is all so very weird.  But fingers crossed, right?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

sometimes you just need cool water

Like today, for example.

I'm back in D.C.  Arlington, VA, actually.  This place brings out my bravery and adventurousness.

Today after my classes ended, I caught a cab back to my hotel, dropped off my stuff and then walked to the metro.  I figured out the right train to start my adventure and then changed trains and then walked to the Newseum, which is an awesome place to see lots of photos and videos and memorabilia from the past, all as captured by the press.  It was interesting and informative and memorable and, well, overwhelming and sad.  Lots of sad things have been documented from the past.  I could spend days there studying everything, but I'm not sure I could handle it all emotionally.  Some of the best moments in history, the times of great joy, came after so much suffering.  I'm thinking of the exhibit about the Berlin Wall.  So much suffering and then down it came.  The Newseum has several sections of the wall as well as a guard tower, videos, pictures, and other items.  It was powerful.

Less painful but still interesting is the viewing area on the sixth floor that looks out over Pennsylvania Avenue.  

It is very cool because there's a map that identifies all of the buildings you can see.

I wanted to go to the Supreme Court building to get a close up picture.  It didn't look that far away from the Newseum or from the Capitol Building, so after wandering around the Newseum for a while, I headed out towards the Capitol. 

With my dead cell phone.  So, kind of all on my own, right?  But I pressed on. 

Depth perception is a tricky thing.  Or maybe judging distances is the tricky thing.  Either way, the closer I got to the Capitol, the less I could see of the Court building.  And, because it is August and I'm in D.C., I'm getting hotter and sweatier because I'm used to 8% humidity and today it must have been about 80% humidity.  And of course, because it's hot and humid and I'm walking--yep, of course I'm getting another blister.  One on my right foot to match the one I got yesterday on my left foot.  Boo blisters.  I always see lots of people walking around in D.C. and I don't see any of them who look as hot and disheveled as I feel.  And nobody seems to be developing blisters.   

When I finally got to the Capitol Building, I couldn't see any sign of the Supreme Court Building, which was a little disappointing, but since my cell phone had died, it wasn't like I was going to take a picture on this trip.  I found a bench in the shade in front of the Capitol and sat down to study my paper map since Siri was napping. 

[Side note--this town has little parks everywhere.  Grassy, tree-covered places with statues and monuments and benches.  I like that.  A lot.] 

I decided I could go either direction in front of the Capitol and would end up at a metro station, so I started walking and quickly spotted a sign with an arrow directing me to the Union Station metro stop.  While I would never have guessed that building was a metro stop--it looked like it should have been the treasury building or had some other equally important government function going on inside--it didn't take long to realize it was a metro stop once I noticed the nearly constant stream of pedestrians all headed into it.  Lots of them, women especially, may have been wearing more appropriate walking shoes than I, but still I was completely amazed they didn't all join me in giving a dollar to the guy on the corner who was selling ice.cold.bottles of water.  He probably saved my life.  And he complimented me on my lovely purse.  I would have given him $5 for that water.  With or without the compliment.

[Side note 2--there is a lot of governmenting going on in this town.  While there are a lot of parks, there are way more buildings.  Important looking buildings.  The Treasury.  The FBI.  Art museums and more museums.  So.many.buildings.  So much government.  We live in a big country, so maybe we need a lot of government and a lot of buildings to govern from?  Or maybe it just seems like there's a lot of buildings when I'm walking so slowly.  Who can say, really?]

In yet another amazing bit of awesomeness, I got myself onto a train headed in the right direction, transferred to another train headed in the right direction, and walked myself back to my hotel after my train ride.  As I type this I wonder if anyone who isn't me can really appreciate the effort it takes to get on the right train, going in the right direction.  Especially in those big stations where there are trains coming and going in all different directions, upstairs and downstairs.  Seriously.  It takes me three days of riding the metro to finally start to understand that I have to get on the right side of the tracks to get to the train that's heading in the direction I need to go.  But first I have to determine which direction that is.  And then when I get into a station where all of the lines come through, it adds a whole new level of complexity.  Literally.  Upstairs or down?  Riding trains seems like it should be fairly straight forward, but I felt like I'd really accomplished something today by the time I got back to my hotel.   Which may have included some pleasure that even though I left the metro station in what I thought was the same exit I'd used all week, once outside I realized I was on a street I'd not seen on this trip and yet, I made it back to my hotel. 

I might not always walk in the most direct route to my destination, but I always make it eventually.  I see lots of new [to me] stuff since I can't seem to find the same street twice, but I'm getting used to that. 

It's nothing that a cool bath and room service [crab cake sandwich, sweet potato fries, caramel apple tart with ice cream] can't fix.  Right?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


This is the view out of my hotel window during the day this week:

 This is the view at night.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

for her

Eight years ago this Friday, my gramma died.  On my birthday.

We talked a lot over the years before she died.  One day I asked her what was her favorite flower.  She said she liked gladiola the best.  That seemed fitting.  Like her, they are gracious, beautiful, stately.   They bloom around my birthday, so when she died, the florist was able to put together a beautiful arrangement of pale pink gladiola for the top of her casket.  They matched her blouse.  I knew she would have liked them.

When it was time to design her headstone, I asked to have a gladiola etched onto it so there would always be one on her grave. 

The spring after she died, I bought dozens of gladiola and planted them around my gardens.  They were spectacular.  A fitting tribute for her.

Unfortunately, somehow I missed the direction about gladiola that says they need to be dug up after they bloom or they will freeze.  So the next year there were not dozens of beautiful gladiola in my gardens.

There was one.

Since then, there is always only one plant.  I suspect it survives because it is buried under a massive planting of an ornamental variegated grass.  Each year, it arrives just in time for my birthday.

I cut it and wrap the end in wet paper towel, slip the end into a baggie to keep it moist for as long as possible, and then I take it to the cemetery, to gramma.  And I am glad we talked about the flowers she liked.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

a couple of successful things

1.  After years of baking cookies from scratch, I have discovered a new way to make cookies speedy quick and not too bad because when do hot cookies from the oven not taste good, right?  Have you tried those Nestle Tollhouse refrigerator cookies?  Whoa.  Pretty much yummy and quick.  Perfect for baking while camping.  Who knew?  Who bakes cookies while camping?  Me.  Jack picked up some of that dough at the Walmart in Winnemucca (makes total sense, right?) and we baked them by the side of the Truckee River.  That, that is one of the benefits of camping in a trailer.  Oven usage.  Hot cookies.  Try it.  They are a nice interlude between evenings of s'mores.

2.  Rusty is learning his new tricks right on schedule.  He's been here for a couple of months and tonight for the first time, he caught a piece of pizza crust that I tossed to him.  Then one from Jack.  Then another from me.  Now that is rewarding.  A dog learning tricks.  No more food bouncing off his nose when we toss him table scraps.  Danielle will be so happy with us.  I'm sure.  And he comes to whatever name we call him:  Rustaman(me), Rustoleum, (Jack), Russell or Rustle (the drummer), RusRus (Jack).  And anything else that starts with a RRRRUUUUSSSS sound.  Next we'll work on teaching him to jump up on the furniture.  We are such smart pet owners.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

my dad

Visits with my dad of late seem to follow the same pattern.  I drop in.  He is asleep on the couch.  I sit down for a while.  He usually wakes up when I get up to leave.  His eyes open and blink a couple of times and then he forces himself to roll into a sitting upright position.  It takes a minute or more, but eventually he gets his feet on the floor and then he makes eye contact and smiles his broad, happy to see me smile.  He always has that smile when I visit him.

He asks how I am, I reply, ask how he is, he replies.  He always says he is good.

He asks about Jack, the kids, grandkids.  I tell him they are all good. 

Next he says he really misses Jessie and her family, those kids are so cute, do I think they'll ever move back, he guesses not because that's where the work is.  I agree with each of these statements as he says them.

Then he asks how I am.  How is Jack?  The kids?  Grandkids?  Next he says he really misses Jessie and her family, those kids are so cute, do I think they'll ever move back, he guesses not because that's where the work is.  I agree with each of these statements as he says them.

By now, he is more awake and asks what I've been doing lately.  Whatever I tell him about, he engages me in conversation.  He tells me stories from his childhood, his teens, his time in the Air Force during WWII.  He tells me about his mom, his siblings, his dad and other relatives.  He tells me about places he's been, adventures he's lived.  Sometimes they are stories I've heard all of my life, but often, they are new to me, yet warm and familiar to him.  Occasionally, he tells the same story that he's told me during previous visits, stories that might have some component of reality in them, but are partly fictional.  But not in his mind.  The story about the webcam at Shady Dell that shows the bear coming over the mountain every morning, crossing the river, eating his fill of berries and heading back over the mountain?  That one is as real as any other to him, though if we're being honest, it probably isn't very likely.  But really, what does it matter?  It is real to him.


Jack's mom called this morning.  Her mind seems to wander these days also.  This morning she told me a story I'd never heard before.  It took a while for me to birth Stuart.  It was a difficult, long delivery, all day and all night and immediately after he arrived, he was rushed to baby intensive care, while I was sent to recovery.  Jack's mom has often told me the story of arriving at the hospital and looking through the window of the baby intensive care unit, seeing her big man child in scrubs and a mask and hat, sitting in a rocking chair holding his tiny new baby boy.  She told me today that while she waited for Jack to come out to see her, my mom and dad arrived.  She will never forget my dad, exiting the elevator, looking around and asking, "where's my kid? where's my daughter?"


During our last visit, dad told me again about sitting every afternoon at 3:30 with his mother in their kitchen, drinking a cup of tea and how she would offer to read his tea leaves, tip his empty cup upside down into his saucer and then peer at them, pronouncing he had a long, happy life ahead of him.  I never saw that tea reading live, but I have heard him tell that story so many times it is as clear as anything in my mind.

Next he says he really misses Jessie and her family, those kids are so cute, do I think they'll ever move back, he guesses not because that's where the work is.  I agree with each of these statements as he says them.

He says he is ready for a nap and swings his legs up onto the couch and lays down again.  I tell him I'm leaving now, I love him, I'll see him again soon.  He says he loves me too, we kiss goodbye, and as I head towards the door, he calls out, "be careful crossing the street and don't eat any green apples."  Just like when I was a kid.

Friday, August 9, 2013

sleep business

Sleep may be overrated.  Or maybe it's remembering things that is overrated.

I don't know for sure.  I do know that my docs told me for years that I needed to make sure I was getting a good night's sleep if I wanted to stay away from the darkness that was occupying my days.  The recommendation was simple--take an ambien every night.  That will help you get a good night's sleep.

And I have.  Off and on.  Mostly on lately.  But the thing about ambien, at least for me, is that after I've taken it for a while, I start losing my memory.  And my ability to remember stuff.  All kinds of stuff.  And recently, the ambien-induced sleep hasn't been all that good either.

So I decided to quit the ambien.  Mind you, I thought about it for a while.  And then a week ago, I took 1/2 a pill one night and none since.  It was an interesting journey to now.

The first night with no ambien, I was awake until 5:30 a.m.  My mind could not stop talking.  All night.  It was total chaos.  It was like my mind had been silenced during the night for so long that it had a lot of catching up to do.  I tossed and turned and my mind just kept talking.  I was exhausted by 5:30, but luckily it was an off-Friday, so I stayed in bed for a few hours and then took a 10-minute nap mid-afternoon and got through that day.

Friday night wasn't much different.  Constant, non-stop chatter in my mind.  I remembered reading Jill Bolte Taylor's book about a stroke she suffered--she's a brain doctor, so when it started, she realized what was happening and began observing her brain.  She later wrote that it was so obvious whenever the left side of her brain stopped functioning because the brain chatter would stop and the right side of her brain would take over, the side that is creative and emotional.  That is what I noticed on Friday night, the brain chatter wouldn't stop.  There was music in the background all night, songs I only know some of the lyrics to, which only added to the chaos.  Around 5:00, I finally slept for another couple of hours and then got up for the day.

Saturday night was slightly different.  This time there was some organization to the chatter.  It was almost like a dream, with lots of talking in my head.  I had to write a paper for work, I had a due date and time, but I couldn't remember how to link the footnotes to the quotes in the paper.  This was not a pleasant dream, but it wasn't really a nightmare, just more of the chatter.

Sunday night, the chatter started again.  But I knew I needed to rest because I had several things to attend to on Monday at work.  I remembered when I was younger and couldn't sleep that I would lay down on a blanket on the floor and that feeling of solid floor below me seemed to help me relax and sleep.  So I got out of the bed and lay down beside it with an old flannel quilt.  I remember looking up to see each dog, at different times in the night, peering over the edge of the bed at me, confused, concerned, and I wondered if each of them wouldn't be jumping down on me at some point.  But they didn't.  And I slept for four hours before rising and heading into work.

On Monday night, I went to bed, lay my head on the pillow, and drifted off to sleep.  There was no chatter.  There was a dream, but I don't remember it because it ended when the dogs woke me asking to go out at 4:00.  Jack got up and let them out and I was back asleep before he came back to bed.  And I slept.  Deeply.  Soundly.

I felt like singing when I woke up on Tuesday morning.  Something to that tune in Oliver!--Sleeeeep, glorious Sleeeeeep!!!!  It was delicious.  It was marvelous.  I felt whole and alert and available.

 Every morning since then, I wake up looking like this.  Or maybe with crazy hair.  But I'm sleeping.