This was a heckuva a way to acquire a cool nickname:
I passed out during a bout with the flu last Sunday. I’ve passed out–that sounds a lot more macho than “fainted,” or God forbid, “got the vapors”–twice in my life. Both times I awoke slowly, enveloped in a warm, cozy, sleepy happiness. Assuming you don’t clock yourself on a table or something on the way down, it seems to be a rather pleasant experience. Not that I’m recommending you try it at home.
Erin was with me and called 9-1-1 immediately after my eyes rolled back in my head. As I emerged from my fugue I started telling her that it was “OK” and that I didn’t really need help. It was about then that I noticed I was laying on the hardwood floor and started pondering how I got there. Then I shut up.
Our home is happily situated near both a fire station and an ambulance dispatch center. I had EMTs on me within 3 minutes. They turned me over to the ambulance paramedics when it became clear that I was pretty woozy and wasn’t about to pop back up to my feet and shout, “April fools!” With help, a stumbled out to a gurney in our front walkway. They strapped me in, loaded me in the ambulance, and drove me to Salem Hospital.
This wasn’t a lights flashing, sirens roaring trip. Other than being a bit light-headed and a touch nauseous–the latter mostly solved by the upchuck that knocked me unconscious–I felt pretty good. Then they ran an EKG and found I was having a heart attack. That’s not what they told me in the ambulance thankfully. They described it as more of a minor cardiac anomaly, but I think the paramedic was being circumspect. Her job was just to get me to the ER alive.
When I got to the ER, the did another EKG. When the doctor came in, he looked at me, looked at my chart and went back and forth several times before telling me that I really didn’t look like I was having the heart attack that my chart said I was. No shortness of breath, tightening of the chest, pain anywhere–in sum, no presentation of any kind. Just a stubbornly abnormal t-wave on an EKG.
But they could hardly just let me walk out the door. I’d come to them having passed out and with an abnormal t-wave. Try explaining to a judge in a malpractice suit why you signed a release form on a guy like that. (For better or for worse, this hypothetical is what drives the standards of medical care in America.) They waited for a room to clear in the cardiac ward and some 4-5 hours later I had a room for the night.
Erin, my dad and Dave all paid a visit. Dave even brought me a Subway sandwich, which turned into my only meal for more than 24 hours since I’d tossed up the morning’s waffles and I went on dietary restriction at midnight.
The night was not restful. The lab did blood draws every 6 hours. The nurse checked my vitals every 4. I had talked them into removing the oxygen tube up my nose, but all the heart monitoring equipment beeped throughout the night and given all the electrical patches covering my body–a joy to pull off once I got home; next time I go in I’m insisting they shave all my body hair before they attach a single adhesive–every twist or turn seemed to pop loose electrodes that set off an alarm. The blood pressure cuff launching every 15 minutes (or whatever it was) didn’t help either.
I was pretty groggy when I met with the cardiologist the next morning. He ordered up a echocardiogram, which is essentially an ultrasound on the heart. It’s a painless procedure, but it also shed no additional light on why my t-waves were messed up. This may have bummed the technicians since they didn’t laugh at my joke about not wanting to know the sex of the baby. Or maybe it was funnier in my head. Anyway, the cardiologist next went to the angiogram, effectively the gold standard of heart diagnostics.
When I first heard I was getting an “angio” I jumped to the conclusion that it was angioplasty–a procedure whereby they insert a ballon in your arteries, blow really hard, and pop your arteries open. If you’re in really bad shape, they might even put a little metal bridge called a stent in there to keep your arterial highways open.
Being a connoisseur of trivia I knew a bit about the effectiveness of these procedures which is to say that I was starting to ponder my own mortality. It’s not that angioplasty and stents don’t work; it’s that your arteries are in pretty sad shape if that’s the course of treatment. I was beginning to regret making Wednesdays “pizza night.”
Fortunately, the “angio” was “angiogram,” and I was immeasurably relieved to learn this. Or I was until they made me see the DVD on the operation. I’m sure there’s some legal liability that requires patients see a video on the surgery, but really, I would have rather not known about how they were going to snake a wire up inside my leg, go into my heart, spray a bunch of dye around, then take pictures like a Japanese tourist with a Nikon and 32 gigabyte SD card. Fortunately, they stuck a Valium-equivalent in my IV, so I was happy as a clam.
The cardiologist said the angiogram should my heart to be in fine shape. There was a little age-related plaque, but nothing that required any diet modification or other behavioral change. The bottom line is that I just have a crazy t-wave on my EKG. This is important only in that other doctors will need to know this or the next time I’m in ER, they will again assume I’m having a heart attack. Which frankly I’d prefer never to have, thank you very much.
The biggest post-surgical downside to the angiogram is that for the next five days I can’t lift more than 15 lbs., I’m not supposed to walk up stairs, and I shouldn’t immerse the incision site in water. That’s a fair trade for finding out that my ticker should keep on ticking for some time to come.
In conclusion, huge props to all my family and friends who were thinking of me, asking after me via email or on Facebook, and issuing intercessory prayers on my behalf. I’m grateful. Big time thanks to Dave who once again came through for me in the clutch. You da man.