Stray Thoughts on the Hospital and After

The hospital food was worlds better than expected. I would go so far as to say that it was decent for non-hospital food, and that was while ordering from the ‘cardiac diet’, which meant no full-fat anything. However, it’s hard to eat a strictly pescatarian diet in the hospital for multiple days, which is why I’m relieved again that I define my diet as vegetarian-mostly.

In his spare time, my cardiologist designs (or at least used to design) high-end men’s shirts. Mom thought that this level of attention to detail was a good thing in a cardiologist.

My nurses were mostly wonderful. I think it helped that I wasn’t the typical cardiology/ICU patient – I was generally self sufficient, except for when they needed to connect IVs or disconnect my machines, and by the third day, I was able to do at least the machine part on my own as well. My daytime nurse the last two days was delightfully bossy. I appreciate that in a caretaker.

I had to make my first after-hours call to the cardiologist after a particularly bad coughing spell (thanks, hospital cold, for infecting my entire family) resulted in new soreness/pain around my pacemaker “pocket”. The on-call fellow was very kind and patient – and surprised me by calling back half an hour later with the offer from my cardiologist to fit me in Monday morning for a quick check of my device. All is well, but I appreciated the reassurance, and the willingness to get me in right away.

That said, I also had a major crying jag after the coughing fit but before the reassuring call back from the cardiology fellow. The pain was secondary to the fear – not of something life-threatening happening, but of going to the hospital for something that seems minor and losing another week of my life. I’ve been told this will get better.

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What happened.

The short version: I blacked out in a restaurant last Sunday. While being monitored overnight, my heart stopped for 13 seconds. I spent the next four days being continuously monitored around the clock and…nothing happened. There’s absolutely no indication what caused the incidents on Sunday.  I got a pacemaker as an insurance policy, and was discharged on Friday. I’m fine apart from recovering from the surgery, and there are no significant lifestyle modifications going forward unless I decide to take up a career in welding or as an MRI technician.

The longer version:

Last Sunday, we took a day trip to the suburbs to visit the Little Red Schoolhouse nature area and have lunch at a place that had promising vegan options. I was hungry by the time we made it to lunch, but not overly so, and probably hadn’t had enough water, but I wasn’t dehydrated by any means. We ordered lunch, and as it arrived at the table, I had a moment of feeling weird, and the next thing I knew, I was being picked up off the floor, having hit my head on the table or the floor or both.

I was convinced to be transported to the ER by ambulance, where I promptly threw up my virgin Bloody Mary (thanks, motion sickness). We waited for more than an hour in the hallway of the ER before being moved to a room, where they checked me out, did blood work, etc. More hours of waiting in the hallway and – nothing. No idea what had caused the blackout. Nothing wrong with my blood sugar, blood pressure, electrolytes, etc. No signs of concussion. Annette and Liz drove out to rescue us, taking the boy out for ice cream while we waited for news.

They wanted to keep me overnight for monitoring. Panicked at the idea of an out-of-network hospital stay, we called my parents (my dad is a doctor), who strongly encouraged us to stay. I was admitted, and Annette and Liz drove the guys and our car home.

Once I was settled in my room, I called N to video chat. While were on the phone, I blacked out again – except this time I was hooked up to telemetry devices, and they could see from the readout that my heart had stopped for 13 seconds. Over the next few hours, I had what could best be described as hot flashes – a temporary rush of heat, nausea, and dizziness – that they correlated with sharp drops in my heart rate (into the 30s – my resting heart rate is around 55 normally). The on-call cardiologist was called in. Family friends came to see me and got the doctor straight talk, which was relayed to my anxious parents. The decision was made to transfer me to the University of Chicago, which is where I would’ve preferred to be the whole time. I arrived by ambulance (no throwing up this time) around 5am Monday morning.

I spent the next three days waiting for something to happen, first in the SICU, then in the cardiac ICU. Nothing happened. No more hot flashes or pauses. No more nausea or dizziness as long as they let me eat. Nothing. Not only was I the unusual young patient in the cardiac ICU – I was an otherwise completely healthy one. It was surreal to say the least.

Meanwhile, my family was scrambling to cover things at home so that N could spend time with me at the hospital. My sister and the baby dropped everything to drive in for the first night. My mom flew home early from vacation, and took turns with N visiting me and wrangling the boy at home or in the hospital lobby – he couldn’t visit due to flu season. Everyone was amazing and did their absolute best through an exhausting week.

I met with more doctors than I can even possibly remember, especially since some of them stopped by in the very early morning or while I was trying to eat, or called while I was in the middle of talking to other doctors. The attending cardiologist happened to be the head of the electrophysiology team and a “rising star in the field of arrhythmia management” – exactly the sort of person you want on your case if your heart is doing something weird. He was mystified, as were the colleagues he consulted at top rhythm centers around the country.

He presented me with several options, all of which he said he felt equally comfortable recommending, both for my health and in terms of his responsibility: I could go home after several days of monitoring. Or I could go home with an implantable chip that would transmit my telemetry data to them for longer term monitoring. Or I could get a small pacemaker that would “catch” my heart if I experienced another pause or dip.

We talked it over extensively, and came to the conclusion that the pacemaker was the safest choice. I kept contrasting this choice with choosing to wear a bike helmet. If I don’t wear a bike helmet and have an accident, generally I’m the only one affected. If my heart crashed again, however, it could be disastrous. We got exceptionally lucky that it happened while I was sitting in a chair and lying in a bed. The thought of it happening while driving, or crossing the street with the boy, or walking down a flight of stairs, or cooking dinner – any of those could be catastrophic.

So on Thursday, I got a pacemaker. The surgery was done under sedation, not general anesthetic. A small injection in my groin allowed them to access a vein to place a sensor that would allow them to generate a map of my circulatory system. After making a two-inch incision just below my collarbone, the pacemaker lead with a tiny sensor was introduced. The doctors used the 3D map to thread the lead into my heart, attached the device, and closed me up. It took about three hours from start to finish.

I was rolled back to my room, where I spent the next four hours flat on my back on bed rest. I wasn’t allowed to move my left shoulder or my right leg. They angled my bed up to about 30 degrees so that I could eat for the first time in 18 hours (I didn’t order wisely, but managed to finish my veggie burger without too much mess). The plan was to discharge me after the period of bed rest, but neither N nor I thought that would be safe, so they agreed to keep me another night. I spent my last night in the hospital zoning out and watching Battlestar Galactica and trying not to think about the previous few days, or the days ahead.

So what is life for an otherwise healthy 38-year-old like after getting a pacemaker? A few more days without showers. No driving for two weeks. I can’t lift my left arm above my shoulder for 4-6 weeks. I’m very sore, though the soreness has as much to do with strange motions compensating for my range of motion as it does with the surgery itself. I have a box under my bed that downloads data from the pacemaker and transmits it to the doctors and the device company. I can’t climb radio towers, or take up welding, or hang out between loss prevention gates at stores. I can’t play football or any other sports where there’s a risk of hard contact to my chest. I can’t get an MRI.

But I can have an almost completely normal life – once I figure out what normal feels like for all of us after all of this.

Why #MeToo Matters

I attended an out-of-town conference earlier in the week. The conference hotel was a little too pricey, so I booked a well-reviewed Airbnb within walking distance. My host was wonderfully communicative, and the location was great, and while the building was a little shabby, the apartment was very comfortable. I left a positive review when I got home.

But I also emailed the host because of an experience I had with one of the building’s tenants.

One night, coming back from dinner, I took the elevator up to the 6th floor, where I was staying. The elevator stopped at the 5th floor to let another woman off. A man was waiting to take the elevator down, and greeted the woman warmly – they seemed to know each other – before spotting me and giving me a once over. He stepped into the doorway of the elevator – preventing it from going up or down – and proceeded to introduce himself and hit on me while the woman in the hallway called for him to leave me alone.

Eventually he stepped into the elevator and rode up a floor with me, asking me if I was alone, how could I be alone, was I was married, why I wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. He told me he was a decent man. I couldn’t get off the elevator fast enough, hurrying down the hall to the apartment as he called after me, hoping that he wasn’t going to follow me. I shut the door and locked both locks. I assume he got back on the elevator as I didn’t see or hear him again.

Once I was safely inside the apartment, I tried to brush it off. I chatted with my partner before bed. I took the stairs in the morning. I didn’t mention it to the host as we emailed back and forth about my departure. I didn’t mention it when I got home.

And I probably wouldn’t have mentioned it if it weren’t for #MeToo and the ongoing coverage of all of the men who have abused their power to harass and hurt.

But the more I thought about it, the angrier I felt that my immediate response had been to brush it off, to minimize it, to try to believe the man’s assertion that he was a decent man. To tell myself that it was no big deal when in other circumstances, it could have been a very, very big deal. To normalize another experience where a man’s needs or desires were allowed to impinge upon my privacy, my personal space, or my safety.

I hate that it takes even one victim sharing their story to get us to take this stuff seriously. It shouldn’t be necessary. We should believe women. But we don’t, and so the harassing and hurtful behavior is normalized. And because we don’t believe women, women don’t tell their stories. And because women don’t tell their stories, the harassing and hurtful behavior has no consequences.

So I’m telling this story.

Week 1

 

I’m struggling with feelings of shame around not doing enough. This is a constant for me – and for many, though I think working parents deal with particularly pernicious flavors of it – and it’s exacerbated by the burning need to DO SOMETHING in response to the election.

How do I get outside my bubble (workplace, profession, neighborhood, city, friend group) to be a part of change? How can I engage with things outside my bubble authentically, without constantly feeling like (or being) a white savior? How can I be active in helping prevent (or undo) the damage that has been wrought by millions of people like me and voted in support of things I find horrifying and incomprehensible?

I can speak out about the things that I know personally, but that isn’t enough, not now. Reproductive rights, women’s rights – these are small but important pieces of all of the things that are at stake. There are many more things that I care about than am knowledgeable about – social justice, access to education, the nuances of healthcare policy – and many, many more beyond that.

But then I also have a family and a job. A little son who demands my attention from the moment we wake until I leave for work, and from the moment I walk in the door until he goes to sleep. 3-4 hours/day with my child. 9-10 hours/day at work and commuting. 1-2 hours/day with my partner. An hour or so for exercise and self-care. Sleep, still broken by a child who wakes up 3-5 times/night needing my comforting attention. But everyone has these things, some with more support and flexibility, many with less.

I don’t know. I’m anxious and afraid. I need help getting outside my shell and my bubble. I’m working on figuring out what in my life can go – for now, for awhile, for a long time – to make room for what needs to happen. I need help giving myself permission to do what I can, knowing that there will always be more to be done.

Day 2

Today I did concrete things. I set up monthly donations. I signed petitions.

I read a lot of things that made my blood chill. This thread is a very good example.

Many years ago, my life was very different – probably unrecognizable to many who know me now. I was a very different person in a very different relationship. The people that surrounded me were more diverse than those around me now in ways that I didn’t recognize then, but that feel very important now.

In the days since the election, I have yet to encounter any of the nastiness or hate that is clearly happening all over the country. The people in my social circles are angry, devastated, sad, and scared – but they are rising up with nearly one voice to express the desire to move forward, to love and care for each other, and to be the light in the darkness, both now and in the days to come. And this is a wonderful thing.

But it also means that I am acutely aware that I’m in a bubble, and I’m not sure how to get outside of it, particularly when what’s outside the bubble is terrifying.

I remember what it felt like to be in conversations about guns and the government, and to wonder what circumstances resulted in these otherwise lovely people prioritizing the rights granted in one particular amendment over the rights granted in all the others. I remember what it felt for casual racism and misogyny to be the norm. I remember what it felt like when my body was more valuable than my brain. And I remember, later, and then over and over and over, realizing how narrow my understanding of the world had been.

But I fled one bubble for another. And now I find myself wondering – how do we bridge these huge gaps in order to understand each other? Especially when the rhetoric of Tuesday’s winners is laced with hate? Are respect, listening, and engagement really even on the table? I want to believe that they are, but I really don’t know.

Where Do We Go From Here?

A month ago today, I emerged from the finisher’s area of my first marathon in a daze. I squatted down next to a vehicle and had an ugly, jagged, rough cry. The race had taken everything out of me, particularly the last five miles, and the tears of pain and exhaustion and depletion came from some place raw and hidden, a secret store of emotions that I didn’t know I contained.

I imagine that’s what a lot of us felt like last night, as the forecasts and our associated hopes fell through the floor, or this morning, as we woke to the reality of an America all too familiar to many.

I laid in bed this morning between my partner and our son, tears streaming down my face as I remembered the optimism and energy of the previous day, the overwhelming hope embodied in the wave of posts to Pantsuit Nation. People voting for the first time or the last.People casting votes alongside adult children or ailing parents. People flying home from all over to vote because absentee ballots didn’t arrive in time.  People casting votes they never anticipated, either due to the impossibility of a serious female candidate, or because that candidate represented a party whose values were so far off from those the voter previously held. People voting for inclusion, for tolerance, for progress, for unity, for a better country – or even just for a less bad one.

We didn’t get that.

This morning I wiped away my tears, and then I read my son the book about seeds that he requested upon waking. I made coffee. I did the dishes and put away the laundry. I put on makeup. I went to work and facilitated a meeting about statistics. I took down signs advertising events in the past. These were things I could do.

I don’t have to take a quiz to know that my love language is acts of service. But in the face of this, it’s hard to know what to do. I’m so small. I’m only one person. It’s a very familiar feeling.

So many of us are feeling so much fear and uncertainty today – for ourselves, for our loved ones, for those with less privilege or power, for our country. For women and minorities, for immigrants and the disabled, for those who rely on social programs that could be eliminated, for those whose families could no longer be recognized, for operation of a free press, for the right to practice any religion, for the health of our planet. My family has much less to fear than many, and so we owe it to others to do more, share more, help more, understand more, love more – I just don’t know where to start.

I want to challenge you to do as I’m doing right now – to list one concrete thing you can do to keep our country, your state, your city, your neighborhood, your street, your family, and yourself moving forward. And then let’s keep each other accountable, just as we’ll work together to keep our new government accountable.

November Around Here

Unseasonably beautiful weather makes for weekend days full of crunching leaves and golden light. I need to soak up as much warmth as my skin can handle in anticipation of the winter to come.

A sudden windfall in a month of austerity means getting out of debt within the year is now feasible. Being responsible sometimes feels very hard, but also very good.

And for the baby, now a toddler: first tentative steps and a confirmed first word: kitty, which is applied specifically to the cat (his one true love) and more generally to all beloved things. We took him to the zoo, where he correctly identified two kitties (the sand cat and the puma) and other kitty-like creatures (red pandas).

So much hurt and sadness and fear in the world. There are days when it’s all too much, and all I can do is crawl into bed and hold the sleeping baby – for then he is still a baby – to me and cry. But so much love and generosity as well.

Reading:
Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantell, because the mini series was remarkable.
House of Light – Mary Oliver, because reading poetry to the toddler feels like a good use of our quiet mornings
Bedtime in the Meadow – Stephanie Shaw, because try as he might, the toddler hasn’t been able to destroy it, unlike all of his board books
The Argonauts – Maggie Nelson, because she slays me, and her writing about pregnancy and gender and identity feels very relevant
A Thousand Mornings – Mary Oliver
Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates, because I have learned more about race and privilege in the last six months than the whole rest of my life to date

Watching:
Fringe

Eating:
Spontaneous Persian food
Pie for days
Pasta with fennel, kale, and lemon
All the pears and apples

Drinking:
A second cup of coffee, as the toddler was up before 6 for a second day in a row

Doing:
139 miles to go to hit 1,500 on the bike for the year
Not enough running, but with good reason
Catching up on all the postcards I didn’t send during this year’s 31 Postcards
Babyproofing all the things

Planning:
A Thanksgiving menu (hint: it contains pie and a Vegducken)
An intranet communication plan
New hats for everyone
Eliminating my debt