For life is quite absurd
And death's the final word
You must always face the curtain with a bow
Forget about your sin - give the audience a grin
Enjoy it - it's your last chance anyhow.
- Monty Python, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life
I spent Wednesday and Thursday trying to keep my heart rhythm steady and intermittently failing. I awoke on Friday to atrial fibrillation that had increased in intensity, duration and frequency. I packed a go-bag, put on comfortable socks and shoes and the only button-front shirt I have and went back to bed. At 9:00 I had an episode so extreme that my pulse was in the 160s and I heard the most charming ringing in my ears: like waves lapping the shore gently. After the second such episode, accompanied by the usual dizziness and flop sweat, I made sure some lights were on and the cat food bowl and water bowls were filled. At 9:30 I called for an ambulance and waited on the bench by the front door.
In the ER at one point, while the doc was talking to me to get the history of this latest episode, his eyes kept straying to the monitor that showed my heart rate bouncing around the low to mid-100s, and he finally said, as much as I’d like to keep discussing this, I think we better get some medicine into you right now. The rest of my day was spent attached to a drip in the ER waiting for my heart rate to “convert” to normal sinus rhythm.
I did have the best room in the house. Some fun facts: I was next door to the corner cubicle – the one that can be locked from the outside – where they put dangerous people. I could see the monitor at the nurses’ station that showed the poor girl inside the room, scrunched up and hugging herself and looking frightened and alone, and watching the guard through the window in the door. He was watching her back with as much empathy as a lion watching an old gazelle who has not kept up with the herd.
I saw a guy from Central Casting wheeled in with what even I could diagnose as a drug overdose, head lolling and minimally responsive but clearly feeling no pain.
The drill at Kaiser is that when you present with heart symptoms, they want a chest x-ray, which I routinely decline. Then they want to send you to nuclear medicine for a 4-hour test where they inject something radioactive and then give you a package of ten-year-old Lorna Doons while you wait with a bunch of old people in hospital gowns for the radioactive stuff and cookies to settle in, and then they give you a 5 minute scan showing how radioactive your heart is – which I also know to decline.
Then, after not feeding you anything all day, they decide to admit you for overnight observation. This time I was in my room by 6:00 and in a wing of the old hospital I’d never seen before. Believe me, I’ve seen enough of this place. I finally scored some dinner and was settling down to sleep when another patient was brought into the room loudly complaining that she wanted a private room because the other person always kept her up. She then proceeded to keep me up.
It may be counterintuitive, but when you spend an entire day with your heart rate averaging 120, you are exhausted and all you want to do is sleep. But you can’t. They wake you every 3 hours to make sure you don’t rest too well, aka, to take your vitals. At the 3:00 am check I asked the nurse if she could get the lab people in for the early blood test since I was already awake (that’s how well I know this drill). She explained that their practice was to wait about 30 minutes until you got back to sleep before the lab people came in. Then, 30 minutes after that, roommate has to use the toilet which takes her past my bed. Believe it or not, she was complaining about hating to share a room with a noisy roommate as she passed my bed. I gave serious consideration to clocking her with my tiny complimentary toothpaste tube when she left the toilet to return to her bed.
By the time breakfast was served at 7:30 (why?) I had the distinct pleasure of waking up my roommate by asking when I’d see the doctor and then apologizing for speaking so loudly because I’d forgotten to put my hearing aid in. Oops. I was discharged just before lunch with instructions to double my dose of Lopressor. My copay for the day was $65, up from $50 the last time this happened, but still cheaper than La Quinta and dinner and breakfast at Denny’s.
The taxi driver told me on the ride home that if he had a couple of million dollars he’d remarry and have two wives. I asked, wouldn’t that cause fights in the house. His sanguine reply was that if his wife ever fought, he’d simply not feed her until she behaved. Like he cooks, you know? He gave me his card in case I ever wanted another $50 ride with free offensive commentary.
I was home by noon on Saturday, trying to decide how much salt not to put on my cheese sandwich for lunch. I had potato chips on the side.