FALLING DOWN THE HEALTH CARE RABBIT HOLE, PART THREE

12 04 2009

As you may recall, at the end of the last part of my narrative, I had asked why I couldn’t ust go home until it was time for my heart restart, which couldn’t happen until Monday because of the Thanksgiving holiday, and had been told by a doctor that I was “a ticking time bomb” who could explode any minute–not only was my heart beating fast (over 100bpm) and out of synch, my blood pressure was up in the scary high range.  I checked with my inner guidance–and no, I’m not going to tell you how–and got the message that, while I could just walk out and go home, I shouldn’t.  So I read, relaxed as best I could, and passed the time.

My wife had put the word out to my various networks that I was in the hospital with a heart condition, and I started hearing from people I hadn’t heard from in years–and in some cases had barely talked to when I did know them.  Many of them shared stories of their own heart problems and recoveries with me, which was reassuring, if somewhat exhausting.  I really did need to rest, even if they were telling me that I was remarkably alert for somebody whose heart was pumping at only 25% of normal capacity.

Two close friends came to visit in person, and I walked across the room to greet them.  As I did, I had the strangest sensation–like a ripple in my mind–and suddenly I couldn’t see my friends any more.  I could see the walls of the room, but only if I looked just right could I see them.  I reported this bizarre fact immediately, with some alarm, realizing it could be the onset of the stroke they were afraid I’d have.  I also called my wife, who was getting ready to come in, and asked her to bring me one of the special crackers I knew we had.  I can’t tell you what’s in them, but it’s a legal, prescribable medicine in some states, and is known to be a good preventive for strokes.

Long before she got there (though she got there in less than half an hour), I had been checked for signs of a stroke–it seemed like maybe I wasn’t having one, since I could raise both arms, my face was fully motile, and I was easily able to form complete sentences.   One of my visitors laid his healing hands on my head and eyes as I lay in bed, and when my wife Cindy showed up, I happily ate the cracker she brought me, which plunged me into a very interesting twenty-four hours; I don’t know how much of that was due to the the cracker, and how much was due to the fact that, as a CAT-scan a couple of months later would finally prove, I had indeed had a stroke.

Meanwhile, I was finally in the condition usually associated with having 25% of normal heart function–a total basket case.  My wife lay in bed with me for hours, lending me her strength to help me keep living.  I couldn’t read, I discovered, but after a few days I figured I’d better start trying if I wanted to read again, and, with some effort over an hour or so, got to where I could see words well enough to read, though I still have problems today due to tunnel vision.  What had hit me?  I was aware that blurred vision was a potential side effect of the medications they were giving me, and started refusing one of them, Furosemide,  convinced that it was the culprit.  I was taking it to drain the liquid that was collecting in my chest due to my irregular heartbeat, commonly referred to as “congestive heart failure.”  It had been causing me to choke easily before it was diagnosed, as well as making me snore.  After a few days, my vision was still blurry, and I could tell that my body was filling with fluid again, so I relented.

And so I passed a weary weekend, finally glad to be in the hospital. I don’t remember much about this time.   My wife and friends brought me food, which I ate little of, since I wasn’t doing anything but lying in bed.  The hospital provided me with dry dry cereal and heavily processed fruit juice and big mounds of lettuce.  One night the lettuce came in with a dozen olives on top of it–not, perhaps, the smartest thing to offer a heart patient due to all the salt, but I ate them eagerly.  I really felt the imminence of my death.   I was weak and confused, but not too confused to pray in the Buddhist fashion I had trained in over the previous twenty years.  I was very grateful for all that practice–after all, being in the hospital and possibly dying is exactly what I had been “practicing” for.

At last, Monday came–with bad news and good news.  The bad news was that the shock treatment that would reset my heartbeat could not be scheduled until the end of the week.  The good news was that my heart rate had slowed down to under a hundred beats a minute, and that meant I was stable enough to go home.  The checking-out process stretched on for hours; the only good part was that, for my final dinner, I got a veggieburger–I talked about that already, didn’t I?   Yeah, it made quite an impression.  But, finally, late in the evening, I got into a wheelchair and was given a ride down to the hospital entrance, out into the cold night air and our trusty old station wagon, where I suddenly felt how cocooned I had been in the hospital.  For all that I didn’t like about it–noise, stale air, institutional environment, interrupted sleep, poor diet–the world outside its doors felt harsher than I remembered.  But I was mighty glad to be out.

music:  Grateful Dead, “Black Peter

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