For the last week or so, I've been having pains in my chest, stomach, shoulder, and upper back. The pain would come, last a few minutes and go away. I saw my cardiologist, and she scheduled me for a nuclear stress test and echocardiogram. We already knew that I had three leaky valves (mild) and that stress tests and a cath two years ago came out okay. But she told me to go to the hospital if the pain came back and stayed. Nevertheless, when it came back early Wednesday morning and stayed, I decided to call my internist first. I figured it was my stomach or just my garden variety shoulder pain. The nurse wouldn't hear of it. She sent me straight to the ER.
It was quite an experience. I will tell you first that I am fine, or at least that it isn't my heart. However, that is what they naturally assumed first. My EKG wasn't okay (and I still don't know why). It had a "strain pattern" in it, indicating that I could have part of my heart not getting a good blood supply or atrophying. They started an IV line (nearly made me pass out from that, because my veins were all clamping down and not wanting to cooperate). Then they hooked me up to a heart monitor and ordered 3 doses of nitroglycerin.
The first one gave me the classic pounding headache, right in the front on my head. My tongue tingled with the sweet spiciness of it. I felt a little woozy and tried to relax into it. The pain in my chest started to subside.
The nurse gave me another one. This time the wooziness hit me hard, and I began to feel as though I were going to black out. The nurse kept saying, "Talk to me. Stay with me." I mumbled something. Don't remember everything. I do remember saying very clearly, at least once, "I don't want the other one."
"Are you in pain? Where do you hurt?" he asked.
"I don't know," I said. My mind felt so disconnected from my body that I thought I was really going to die.
He tipped the head of my bed down. And again. And again. Hubby said that it looked like he was going to stand me on my head, but that he had to do it because my BP dropped to 68/41. To me it just felt like the world was going away. I had a swollen feeling in my chest as though I had to burp, but nothing was there. I guess it was my heart begging me to make them stop.
The fact that the nitroglycerin stopped the pain sent them in the direction of further testing. They admitted me and sent me to an ICU bed (though I was only there temporarily until they could find another bed. I was treated like royalty there. And then a bed came available at about 11 pm.
I was taken to a room that was already occupied by a young woman, about my daughter's age, and her boyfriend. They were watching TV at a high volume - The Real World (which the boyfriend told the girlfriend "is the most popular show on television"). Have you ever really listened to this garbage television? The Real World has a long groove track going in the background with interspersions of inane chatter by people who are both slutty and uneducated. Every other word is bleeped out.
I looked at the clock. It was - hello? - 11 PM...IN A HOSPITAL!!!
I had had my nighttime meds an hour before and was exhausted. Yet here I could barely hear myself think. I called my husband to tell him where I was. (He'd had to come home to take care of the pups). He could hear the television in the background and knew it wasn't me. He asked me what was going on. I told him, knowing they couldn't hear me. He said he was going to call the nurses' station. I said, "Just come get me. I want to go home."
Soon the nurse came. She said, "Let me handle this. I can't let you go home just yet."
She went over and told the boyfriend that visiting hours were long over and that he needed to leave. She said that because there was a second person in the room, they needed to be sensitive about the noise. Well, he left, after about an hour. (They had to finish their bags of fast food...oh, did I say that she was in there for a stroke??) The TV, however, stayed on and just as loud.
I tried to sleep. I got an additional pill to try to sleep. No luck. At 2:30, I said, "Can you please turn that down??" She said, "It won't go any lower."
At 4:30 a.m., she had the gall to call the nurses' station to ask for something to help her sleep. They said, "We gave you something at 11:30. We aren't going to give you something for sleep at 4:30."
I later learned that the nurse had come in twice during the night to shut off the girl's TV (when the girl was asleep). The first time, the girl woke up and turned it back on. No court would have convicted me of putting a pillow over her head, I think...
When I woke up at 7:30, she was sleeping like a baby with her TV off. I promptly turned my onto the Today Show and woke her butt UP.
They came to get me at a quarter to 10 for my cardiac cath. The cath lab has only recently (this month) opened at our hospital. Up until now, they sent us to one of two other hospitals an hour or more away to have the cath. Two years ago, I was sent down to D.C. and wheeled in through an ER that was just like the TV show on its worst night. Wall to wall people, none of them smelling very well. I spent the night down there in a room without a phone or A/C (and yes, I have very good insurance).
But I digress. I was nervous as hell, because last time I was inadequately anesthetized. They give you a mixture of Fentanyl and Versed. If they don't get it just right, you feel it all. Last time I jumped on the table when they poked the hole in my femoral artery. I also felt like I had a coat hanger in my chest when they were going through the procedure. I tried my best to meditate and somehow I got through it. I explained all of this to the cardiologist and nurse who were going to be helping with the procedure. They assured me that I was going to be fine.
They dosed me with some Benadryl and Solumedrol ahead of time to get my body ready to expel the radiologic dye and to relax me. Then they gave me a little morphine (would have used Valium, but I can't take it - it has the opposite effect on me).
When they took me down there to the lab, I started trembling on the table. Then I began to weep. Sorry. I was being a wuss. The staff reassured me and kept telling me that it would be okay. They wouldn't let me feel anything. They knew that I had a bit of a high tolerance for the meds and would give me enough. One other tidbit was that the local news station was filming a segment on the new cath lab. They asked if it would be okay if they filmed me on the table but not showing my face. I said, sure.
True to their word, I didn't feel anything. They used enough Lidocaine to numb the area where they put in the catheter. They used enough of the cocktail to make sure I didn't feel the coathanger in my heart. All I felt was the hot flush when they put in the dye. No big deal. I was so relieved when it was over. All I wanted to do was go home, but it was my job to go back to my room and try to eat some lunch - lying down.
Eventually I settled down and napped a little. Then I turned on the television and saw my thoroughly, blue-draped body lying on the table with people around me in their scrubs. It was odd to know that that was me lying there. (The last time I was on the news it was 1996. I was part of the crew working on the network equipment at Camp Lejeune. Our system had been down for a week, and that was newsworthy because we were at one of the largest military medical centers on the east coast. I don't remember what all had gone wrong that week, but I know that part of it was a power surge that blew two of our boards in our main routers. It took time to get new boards in, because we had ancient technology. Guess what? They decided we needed upgraded equipment. Yay!)
Later, the roommate's boyfriend came back. He had brought a laptop with him loaded up with some low rent, low brow movie full of unbleeped cursing and disgusting situations. I wasn't in the mood. I asked the nurse again if I could go home. Of course she said that would be up to the doctor. I was happy to learn that my heart cath showed that my heart was fine. It was a "boring" procedure according to the cardiologist. One of the nurses told me that my arteries were better than hers.
I was happy when my doctor did in fact come around in time to clear me and discharge me so that I could get home and watch Lost. :-) Hey, I have my priorities. It was the last episode until April 24th, after all!
I have to follow up with my gastroenterologist, my cardiologist, and my internist within the next two weeks, though. The source of the pain still hasn't been identified, and I've had two more bouts of it today. The good news is that it isn't anything mechanical with my heart. It is likely to be something with my stomach. Given all the stress in my life lately, I think that would be a good bet. Hopefully it is something rather simple to deal with. I've had enough of hospitals for awhile.
The take-away points?
- Heart caths aren't fun, but they are tolerable
- If you're in the hospital, be courteous (no loud TV or movies if you have a roommate!)
- Doctors are finally recognizing that women have different symptoms of heart disease and heart attacks. Though I was lucky, they were definitely on top of things.
- Being on the news isn't always bad, especially if you just have a roll-on part ;-)