Wednesday, July 25, 2007

SOO Not In Colorado....

Here I sit. There are no snow-capped mountain vistas out my window. There is no cool, crisp, mountain air refreshing my lungs. I have no vague sensation whatsoever of being in a higher altitude than my midwest plains brain is accustomed to.

Crap, I am still in Iowa. Where the air is humid, the temps are brutal, and there is a lingering under-scent of corn everywhere you go.

Despite all my brash talk of not being a slave to a little bit of a fast heart rhythm, I ended up in the emergency room again last Tuesday night (that's five days after the first ER visit). I had massive recurrence of palpitations, accompanied by profuse sensations of total-body flushing and impending doom. At first I thought, "Great! I can get this taken care of before we go to Colorado!" Alas, it was not to be.

Right off the bat I found out that my palpitations are not abnormal beats. They are just my normal heart beat speeding up. This leads them to believe there is another cause for my tachycardia. As a cardiac electrophysiology nurse I heartily agree with the diagnosis and mutter a simultaneous, "rats!" as I know this leads to much more testing, etc. Well, there goes the trip to Colorado. Some of the tests they are running can take up to 2 weeks to result. TWO WEEKS. That is a long damn time to wait when you are wondering if you might end up with a very bad diagnosis.

In the mean time I was sent home with a couple of different drugs to help my tachycardia and flushing symptoms. They worked ok, but I still had breakthrough symptoms. I finally saw my doctor yesterday and after talking to her I felt much better. She has me on a prescription that seems to be doing the trick, until I find out what the tests show.

Now here's the interesting part: one of the "differential diagnoses" that she is working with is panic attack or panic disorder. Now I had to scoff at this. Anyone who knows me knows I am Type B personality....with a few type A traits. But really, I am as mellow and even-tempered as they come. JeepMan actually complains sometimes that I don't get worked up about ANYTHING, that I am too laid back and it sometimes seems like I don't even care about some things. Which doesn't fit into the panic-attack stereotype to me.

Until I started reading about it. Apparently people who are otherwise "normal" can have panic attacks. Out of the Blue. Unprovoked. They are called unanticipated panic attacks. But still.....can you have a panic attack without panicking? Well, it appears that many symptoms of panic attack are overwhelmingly physical!!

Which just totally goes against everything I thought I knew. So you can be just a regular, mellow, person and WHAM!!, get socked by a panic attack when you weren't even anxious about anything, and then not realize it was a panic attack.


Hell, it's a better diagnosis than the two tumors that they are working me up for (shudddddddder).

The most interesting thing is that today is the second day on the depression/anxiety/panic medication that she put me on...and I feel almost NORMAL again. Let me tell you, I was wondering if I would EVER feel normal again for a couple of weeks there.

JeepMan said it's been like living with a stranger or a cardboard cutout of me, until today.

So here's to hoping the tests for the bad things come back ok, and that I am just psychotic. At least there's a pill for that right?

So how's about it? List a few things that make YOU panic, no matter how silly they might be!

Here's mine:
Death - anyone that I love but especially a child
Dying and leaving my children without a mother
Flying in airplanes (small spaces and fear of heights)
Heights, especially if I feel I could fall (no kidding, even a 3-step ladder makes me queasy)
Small spaces
Crowds, even in elevators
On a boat, the stomach-turning awareness of how deep the water underneath you is
Trying to comprehend enormous things like millions/billions of years, the vastness of space, eternity - I try not to think about them because I do get a little panicky
Losing track of my child even for a second in a crowded area (not weird, just mom-ish)

I'll try to make the next post not so morbid, but this is a litte snapshot of my life right now and I gotta put it out there for what it is...

Monday, July 16, 2007


Last Thursday began and proceeded like any other day. Lauren had stayed home "sick" Wednesday, though she wasn't really sick. Her daycare sent her home Tuesday with a fever and the policy is that she can't return for 24 hours after her last fever episode. She was perfectly fine Weds but I couldn't take her back.

So Thursday felt kind of like a Monday since I had been off the day before. I had a long day at work, lots of stuff waiting when I got home, and I had bought 3 lbs of blueberries from a lady I work with who has a berry farm. I planned to make some blueberry pies after dinner.

For dinner we had shish-kebabs (yum!), and then I set about making the pies. They took a while, and after I put them in I cleaned up the dinner and pie-making mess. By the time that was done the pies were ready to come out. I pulled them out and sat them on the stove to did they smell good!

I was feeling pretty content: my house was semi-clean and smelled like fresh-baked pie, and I had done it all in time to sit down and catch my current favorite TV show. "World Series of Pop Culture." I sat down on the couch, started to relax, and then it happened.

I suddenly felt a strange heat spreading from my belly out to the rest of my body. Simultaneously, I felt like my heart wasn't beating and I couldn't breathe. Some of my patients tell me that they feel a strong feeling that they are going to die. We call this "impending doom." You can't imagine what impending doom feels like unless you actually experience it. I truly felt in that few seconds like I was going to die. I sat straight up, coughed, and it went away. I laid back down and it happened again. It happened 4 times in a row, and I finally sat up on the edge of the couch, looked at JeepMan, and told him, "If I pass out, you need to call 911."

Poor guy, I probably scared the crap out of him. He asked me what was going on and I told him I didn't know; I just didn't feel right and my heart was doing something weird. He had me lay on the floor and he got me a cool washcloth for my forehead. Oh, if we only lived in a world where a cool washcloth can still make things better.

It should be noted that a few years ago I had a rapid abnormal heartbeat. My symptoms were totally different though: I would feel my heart beating too hard and too fast for just a few beats (10 or so), I would nearly faint, and then it would go away. It happened usually when I was exerting myself. I had a procedure to burn the area (ablation), and I haven't had any problems since. And ironically, the area where I work is the area where we do these ablation procedures...

So back to me lying on the floor. After a couple minutes with no symptoms, I got up and returned to the couch. A few seconds later, I got the same feeling, sat up, and it didn't go away. I was sure I was going to pass out and/or die. I told my husband, "Call 911, NOW!" and I got down on the floor. I couldn't feel a heartbeat at all. Everything was swimming and I was trying my hardest not to pass out. JeepMan was on the phone with 911 and asking me, "What am I supposed to tell them?" At this point I started to feel my pulse coming back but it was going very, very fast. I was trying all the things that we have our patients do to get this heart rate to stop: coughing, holding my breath, pushing with my belly muscles like I was trying to poop... Nothing was working.

The fire station is about 5 blocks from our house, and I heard the sirens start up. JeepMan came to my side and I started telling him how to check my pulse and how to do CPR if I "went out" - that's hospital-speak for your heart stops and you stop breathing. I heard the fire truck pull up and, wouldn't you know it, my heart started slowing down. Good for me but bad for trying to make a diagnosis later. The guys came up and started asking me all kinds of questions. It quickly became apparent to me that these guys were mostly just there in case I was actually dying when they came in...God love them, but they weren't really equipped to do much care between the extremes of CPR or holding my hand. Still it was very reassuring to have them there and they were very kind. The ambulance guys arrived moments later and did their thing. I was feeling pretty good by then but they thought I should probably go to the ER (I heartily agreed), so I walked downstairs and outside with all my wires and oxygen attached. My house is a split foyer (a mistake I will not make again) and it just made sense for me to walk down rather than have them try to negotiate my stairs and corners with a stretcher and me on it!

I got outside, and soon realized that I have waaaay more neighbors than I knew about. They were standing in groups of about 10, in several yards, all slack-jawed. I was SO embarassed, and all I could think of to do was give them a little, "I'm OK, you can all go back to whatever you were doing..." kind of wave. JeepMan told me later that he was really, really tempted to stand at the door and shake his fist while yelling, "...AND IF YOU BRING HER BACK, I'LL BEAT THE CRAP OUT OF HER AGAIN!!!" but he restrained himself. Actually a few neighbors came by later to see if we needed any help with the kids (who slept through the whole thing, thankfully), but I am sure they were being nosy, too.

In the ambulance, I had to answer more questions, then they had to hook me up to a heart monitor that has a lot more wires. The paramedic had me lean forward so he could reach around and undo my bra so he didn't have to cut it. I know it is business; heck, I shave groins and handle genitalia all day, but still it felt strangely intimate - I was tempted to tell him I could get it myself, but the other paramedic was putting an IV in my arm. Then the guy had to pick up my left breast and put these monitor leads, five of them, under there. Yeah, I know it's legit because that's where they are supposed to go, but it's still awkward, especially since I have really hefty, rather saggy boobs.

I am telling you all these embarassing details for a very good reason, which I am getting to.

So all the embarassing stuff was out of the way and I was on the road to the ER. Time for some polite conversation. I told him the timing of all this was bad as I am leaving for vacation in a week. He asked where I was going, and I said Colorado. He asked what we were going to do out there and I told him we offroad a Jeep and that we were planning to rent a Jeep out there for a couple of days and do some scenic easy trails. He looked at me for a few seconds, then said:

"Is your husband JeepMan?"

I finally looked at the guy; REALLY looked at him, and realized I knew him. He offroads a Jeep, too, and we had gone on a couple of trips with him and a group. My jaw surely dropped, and I said, "BRENT?!? You're Brent!! Holy Cow!"

He smiled and said, "Red TJ, right?" (That's Jeep-talk for the kind of Jeep we drive) I said, "Blue CJ, right?"

Yeah. I knew him. I SO knew him. And I am so glad I didn't know that I knew him when he had to grope me. Later I found out JeepMan knew him the minute he came into the house, and he recognized JeepMan instantly as well. Kudos to him for keeping the patient at the focus in the face of strong temptation to engage in JeepTalk. Poor guy: he knew he knew me when he had to do all that awkward stuff!

The rest of the evening was rather uneventful. I got a liter of IV fluid, had to use a bedside commode (portable toilet - yippee), and then got an ambulance escort home - free of charge - because I knew the crew. In retrospect, it was poetic compensation for having had to be felt up by someone I knew, all in the name of medicine.

I have been wearing a heart monitor ever since so that I can catch something if it happens. I had a few fleeting episodes over the weekend, but it turns out the monitor wasn't working so I got a new one today with no documentation of what happened this weekend. Ugh. I imagine that this new monitor pretty much guarantees that nothing more will happen until I am on some remote mountainside in Colorado.

In case you are wondering, no, I will NOT cancel my vacation because of this. I am so excited to be going on a family vacation: this is the first real vacation we have had since Plato was born 6 years ago, and we have been planning it for 6 months. I am going to live my life and not be a slave to this.

I told JeepMan my sentiments and he will do whatever I want. I can tell he really, really wants to go to Colorado, and he's more excited than I have seen him in a long time. I can tell he is thinking about what could happen, though, because out of the blue this weekend he said, "I suppose a helicoptor rescue from a mountainside wouldn't be too cheap, would it?"

Ugh. Dangling from a helicopter basket flying through the mountains is one of my ultimate nightmares, but it's not going to's not.