(Content note: Needles. Lots and lots of needles. The sharp kind, not the knitting kind.)
Yesterday, I stopped off at the clinic to get my flu shot. No biggie. I've been doing needles since I was two, and while I have never learned to like them, I'm not afraid of them. My girlfriend was out of town, still, so I headed for her house to feed the cat.
Look, I had a plan, ok? It was my last day of work this week, so I was going to go to Beth's house, feed the cat, drive to the grocery store, buy orange juice and a rotisserie chicken, come home, make pasta, eat pasta with parmesan and chicken, make mimosas, and start on a batch of broth for my cat Naomi. I would just like to point out that this was a perfectly good plan. David was planning on getting up a little early, and sharing the mimosas with me. The champagne was chilling in the fridge, everything was perfect.
About fifteen minutes after my flu shot, while I was driving, about six blocks from Beth's house, I had a sudden pain between my shoulder blades. It then migrated to my chest, an horizontal pain just under my breasts, slowly getting worse on the right side. I remember saying, out loud, "This is bad, this is very bad." It wasn't enormously painful, probably about a 4 on a scale of 1 to 10, but it came with a sense of impending doom. Also, I felt a trifle dizzy and short of breath. It hurt to inhale. The fact that I was driving at the time made everything that much more frightening.
Things I know about how heart attacks present in women: back pain rather than chest pain is not unusual. While denial is a very common symptom in men, some reasonable percentage of women have a sense of impending doom, instead. The classic "radiating down the left arm, elephant on chest" set of symptoms is less common in women, and women tend to have just plain idiosyncratic pain responses when it comes to heart attacks. Heart attacks are about as common in women as men, but not diagnosed as often.
So, I get to Beth's, park in the drive way, go in, feed the cat, take out my phone, and call the nurse line. The nice lady asks me a series of questions. The pain is nearly gone, now. She says that since I am alone, I should call 911, and have them take me to the emergency room. I should not drive. She was very emphatic about that. I also should not eat or drink anything. I ask her what emergency room I should go to. She says, rather earnestly, "The closest one." Ok, then.
Do I call 911? Oh, you sweet summer child, of course not. What I do do, though, is call David. He's a little bleary when he answers the phone. I say, "I need you to put on your clothes, come to Beth's house, and drive me to the emergency room." "Ok," he says, and hangs up the phone. At this point, I am feeling fine, but terrified. In retrospect, I'm not sure why I felt it necessary to tell David to get dressed.
The closest ER is Fairview Southdale. There was a brief period of entertainment when the GPS signal was lost and the Google would not tell us how to get there. We muddled through. I was in a room at approximately 9:30, just about an hour after first symptoms. They wheeled me into a room, and did an ECG. The technology was really cool. The electrodes have little tabs which the leads clip to. It took the tech less than five minutes to put the electrodes on, attach the leads, and do a full 12-lead ECG. Once she had a nice picture of my heart, she took off the leads and electrodes, and wheeled me into a private room. By this point, David was back from parking the car, and sat in the room with me for the rest of the time.
A very nice nurse named Michele came in, and the fun began.
They wanted to draw blood, and they wanted to place an IV. Like you do. As I've said, I don't particularly like needles, but I've endured an enormous number of them, so you know, here we go. Except, we don't go. Two or three tries in my right elbow. A couple in my left elbow. Several tries on both hands. It was...it really was. I gave up early on, and started saying fuck a lot. A whole lot. I apologized to the nurse, who apologized to me. I went back to saying fuck a lot, and she said that her 19 year old daughter would like me, that her daughter apparently can't complete a sentence without using the word fuck at least once.
At some point, she came in with this really cool machine that shone a different type of light on my arm, infrared, maybe? Maybe David knows. Any gate, it makes the veins show up vividly. The IV was only necessary if they needed to give me contrast to do a CT of my chest. Even with the fancy machine, she couldn't get the IV placed. Eventually, we agreed that she'd just draw bloods, and if the clotting factor test came in high enough that they needed to place the IV, they'd do that then. Meanwhile, we'd just do the clever little butterfly needle. That, too, did not go well. I think it took three sticks before she managed to fill all her lovely little vials.
So, the two primary things that they were worried about were a heart attack and a blood clot in the lungs. Both are potentially fatal, of course. There are blood tests for both of these. At some point, the doctor came in, and was cheerful and informative. Very nice man. I believe his name was Treirweiler, but I have probably spelled that wrong. They also hooked me up to a nice little monitoring set up, that checked my blood pressure periodically and kept track of my heart and oxygen levels. Oxygen levels generally quite good (100% when hyperventilating), I got to watch my heart throw a perfect little PVC (not a good thing, but I did already know that my heart did that), and my blood pressure was unusually high, 158 over 95, I think, or something like that. Since it's usually 120/70, that's unusual. But there you go.
There then ensued much boredom. I played a little Pokemon Go, sent texts to various people, whined about not having my cat, and allowed as how I hated life a lot. Then a cheerful young man with a large piece of equipment came in, and I said, "Oh, fuck. You're here to place an IV, aren't you?"
He allowed as how he was. My nurse came in to explain that the bloods indicated that I had not, in fact, had a heart attack, but that the clotting factor thing came in at .6, when normal was .5 or lower, so they were going to have to do a chest CT. She then warned the new tech that I cussed like a sailor, and he said that I had already established that.
I do not know what machine it was that he had. It was different than the one the nurse used, and I was past asking questions. I was very tired, I had not eaten since one that morning, I was a couple hours past my bed time, and I was scared. He had this round-headed thing that the rested against my elbow, and gently pressed and massaged my elbow. I'm not sure, some sort of ultra-sound or something? No idea. Any gate, he took a good shot at the left elbow, and failed. I made a new land record for the word fuck, and burst into tears. David said later that when he finally gave up on the left elbow, the needle had a thirty degree bend in it when he took it out. He then went to the right elbow. That took a lot of time, although I think it was really just one extended try. At some point, I said that this was the last time, I was not doing this again. At some other point, I started talking in a very childish voice about Pokemon Go, and getting shots as a small child, and then stopped and said, "I am two. Or maybe four. That's not good." In general, if my system breaks to the point that my individual personae start popping up, I'm under a lot of stress and there's hell to pay, later. Very destabilizing.
He did get the IV in. At which point there was a lot more waiting. It was in my right arm, which meant that I couldn't really use my phone any more, since every time I moved my right arm, it hurt. I was resting the arm on the bed rail, and would move it from time to time to get more comfortable. Each time I did so, I would forget about the IV, and bend it slightly, and it would hurt. I would complain, and David would make fun of me for forgetting. Which would make me laugh. David was absolutely wonderful throughout. Calm, easy, distracting, kind, and infinitely patient.
Eventually, there was the CT, which was much less uncomfortable than I had feared. The contrast does feel intensely odd, but it doesn't hurt. So nice to have something that doesn't hurt. I was relieved that the IV was still working.
The results from the CT came back pretty quickly. I have gall stones.
The doctor said that the symptoms were not caused by the gallstones. However, some time in the future when I have a piece of pizza or a slice of meatloaf, or some other fatty food, and then suddenly have an "oh my god I'm going to die" pain in my right side, I should remember this conversation with this incredibly smart, handsome, bald doctor. I laughed, and he went away for a little bit.
They had left the door to the area where the med people were open, and a little while later, I heard my doctor say, "Yeah, we should probably get more blood. I don't think she'll like that." I didn't know if he was talking about me, but it seemed a good guess. So when he came in with a tech, I knew what was up. He sat at the foot of the bed, and cheerfully explained about how the enzyme test they had done to establish that I didn't have a heart attack had been done within the window where it was possible that the enzyme hadn't yet shown up, because I'd come in so quickly, so they were going to need to run it again. While he was talking and being entertaining, the tech took some blood from the already placed IV. I pointed out that I had noticed he was just distracting me while the tech was stealing my blood, he agreed, and everybody went away again. In actual fact, I didn't care about them taking more blood. It's the getting the needle in that was the problem. Once it was there, the very slight about of pain that drawing blood causes was no big deal.
More waiting, and then the doctor came in and said that the second enzyme test also came back negative. There is, as far as he can tell, nothing wrong with me. A little while later, another tech came in and took the fucking needle out of my fucking arm. I got dressed, and we left. It was about 3:30 in the afternoon. Parking cost $7. I have no idea what the medical bill will be like.
We went to Punch Pizza, and I had pizza and a beer. I got home, and eventually got to bed. My left arm still hurt from my flu shot (remember the flu shot?) so I had to sleep on my right side. I slept from about 5:30 p.m. until about 8:30 a.m. this morning. Lady Jane Grey came and curled up against my tummy and snuggled for a long time.
And, you know, I'm just fine. Just fucking fine. Except that I'm a still a bit emotionally unstable. That was a whole fuck ton of stress. I guess I'm glad I went in?
Gall stones, huh? Ok, then. Gall stones. Sigh.