Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Absolutely the last part of that story about almost dying all those times...

I almost died twice in one week. This is part six of that story.


Part 1.

Part 2.
Part 3.

Part 4.
Part 5.
Part 6.
Part 7.
Part 8.

In just moments, after the call came over the little voice-thing the nurse had, chaos reigned in the formerly-peaceful room where I and a pregnant lady had been getting ready to watch me run on a treadmill.

The nurse stepped out into the hall, while I said "What's that all about?" and the pregnant lady shrugged, but before we could talk more than that, the nurse came back in with Jeff The ER Guy and Jeff asked me how I was feeling.

"A little bit worse now," I said, trying to figure out what was happening.

"Yeah, well, the blood tests came back and it looks like you did have a heart attack, so we're not going to put you on the stress test. Open your mouth," and I did, because when someone in a white coat in the hospital tells you to do something, you do it, even if that person just a few hours earlier was telling you that all your problems stemmed from a chili dog. Jeff took something and put it under my tongue and I mumbled:

"What's that?" and he said:

"It's nitroglycerin," which I even in my really tired, really pained, really bewildered state thought was kind of cool because I remembered nitroglycerin from Saturday morning cartoons and I liked the idea that I'd just had an explosive put under my tongue.

In the meanwhile, the nurse was telling me to come over and lie down on the bed that was next to the treadmill where I wouldn't be walking-almost-running in my Crocs, and someone was bringing in Sweetie, too, who entered as I was laying back on the table.

"We're going to go an EKG on you," the nurse said, and Jeff was explaining to Sweetie that the blood tests had shown that an enzyme released during a heart attack and that I'd had a heart attack and they weren't going to stress-test me and Sweetie was asking "Should I be worried?" and nobody was answering her, and during all that, in walked another person, Dr. Jaya.

Dr. Jaya was a short woman who looked to be from India or Pakistan or that region and although she was the smallest person in the room she had an authority that cleared space around her, an authority that seemed well-earned when she took a piece of paper from Jeff or the nurse and looked at it and said

"He's having a heart attack right now."

That shut the room up for a moment as everyone looked at her. Jeff said something or other, probably about chili dogs, but she pointed to something on the paper and said "It may be easier for me to see because I'm a doctor..." a cool, subtle putdown, I thought, maybe, later " ...but look here and here" and they all looked at the scribbles on the paper for a second and then everything exploded again and even more people came into the room.

Dr. Jaya came over to me and introduced herself and began telling me what was going on -- that I was having a heart attack and that they were going to have to do surgery to see why and I'd be getting prepped for surgery and then she began telling me the odds that things would go badly.

I'm not kidding: she gave me a spoken warning label, reciting statistics that the angioplasty I was going to get would have a 1-in-100 shot of this and a 1-in-1000 shot of that, and she had a piece of paper that she asked me to sign, which I had to do quickly because there were now two or three more people in the room, taking off my hospital gown and shaving me in all kinds of different places and putting yet another pulse-ox monitor on my finger, one they had to take off so that I could sign a release that Dr. Jaya had given me.

My legal training almost came through. I didn't actually read the release. Instead, I thought to myself: there's no way anything I sign right now is going to be enforceable, and signed it. I wanted to holler out to Sweetie the names of lawyers I knew to talk to if something went wrong, but Dr. Jaya was talking again, and, unbelieveably, Jeff was talking, too, telling me over and over how difficult it is to spot these things and how it was such an unusual EKG and how the steroids... blah blah blah. I felt like he was going to hand me a please don't file a complaint or sue me card.

Sweetie finally got to come over to me and said "Are you okay? Are you going to be okay?"

I didn't know because I didn't fully understand what was going on. But I said:


And she gave me a kiss and they wheeled me out of the room off towards the angioplasty area, where yet more techs came and talked to me, moving me onto an impossibly thin stretcher or table where there were warm blankets put over me -- the operating room was incredibly cold, they always are-- and the techs began talking to me about what it was I did (by then I was smart enough to say consumer lawyer, not just lawyer) and when I was born and did I have kids and how many, all the while doing more things.

That kind of small talk in an OR is amazing. The techs and nurses and doctors don't miss a beat. The conversation flows naturally even though there's all kinds of little interruptions. The techs will say something like "So, you have any kids, Briane?" and immediately then turn and start spouting medical jargon and then turn back and say "Five, really? That's great I've got" and then someone else says medical stuff and they say medical stuff back and continue without missing a beat "Two, mine are boys, how about you?"

And I just wanted to say SOMEONE TELL ME WHAT THE DEAL IS but then Dr. Lewis, the cardiac surgeon came in and did tell me what the deal was: He was going to cut into an artery in my leg and stick something up there until he got to my heart and poke around in the arteries in my heart until he found what the problem was and then he was going to fix the problem and did I have any questions?

My main question was where Sweetie was, and did she know about all of this, but I had a billion other questions like why my leg and what's in my heart that you think you'll find and even really? Because I had no idea that heart attacks were caused by something in the arteries? But I didn't ask any of those. I said:

"No, I guess."

And they said that I'd be sedated but not put asleep and that I'd actually be awake during the operation, which I thought was going to be awkward because I'd have to make small talk for however long this lasted. They were getting ready to do stuff to my IV as I thought that and as I tried desperately to think up topics of conversation to kill the next couple of hours with -- I hate small talk-- but before I could even come up with one, I was being wheeled out into the hall.

"What's going on?" I asked.

"They found the blockage and got it out. We're taking you to the room," the man said.

"What time is it?" I asked him.

It was about 6 or 6:30 and the operation was over. I had no recollection of anything after the stuff I just told you about. "Was I asleep?" I asked, and the guy assured me that I was not asleep at all, that I'd been awake but the drugs they give you keep you from remembering anything that happened [insert your joke here] and then we were at a room where I could see Sweetie looking pensively at something until she heard us and stood up and came over and hugged me.

"I'm okay," I said.

And I was. There was more to be done that night -- a nurse would have to come and press down on my thigh for twenty minutes, hard, to make the incision close up, and they'd have to give me warnings about how important it was that I not do anything to make the leg-cut open up again because it was a big artery and I'd die, and they showed me where the blood clot was in my heart and how they got it out, and they said they'd do more tests to find out how the clot got there in the first place, which they've now done and they never figured it out -- I don't have bad arteries or plaque or anything like that -- and I'd have to spend the weekend in the hospital and go back for a second angiogram and a CT scan and more stress tests and that one test that showed I have lazy ventricles and it'd be more than a month before I really got back to work and started feeling better...

... but I was fine that night, really, because it was all over except the shouting. All the rest of what happened after that was just epilogue, epilogue that dragged on too long like the way the Lord Of The Rings would have been better if that whole final part about the Shire had been cut out of the final book, but epilogue nonetheless. The heart attack was over, the blood clot was gone, the nurse had stopped smushing down my leg artery, and I was okay.

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