The alarms screamed through the waiting room for a full four minutes. An emergency light glared onto the gray tweed couches. Lockdown. I could hear the doors seal shut letting out a whoosh of used air. It was a Wednesday, around 8 p.m. and there I was stuck in the ER of our local suburban hospital. I was unable to sit or stand upright. It felt as if I had a Bowie knife jabbed into my sternum. My right hand in a slight fist tucked between my breasts trying to alleviate the pain. On the way out my door I grabbed the big sun afghan off my couch. It is wrapped around me, around my shoulders like a little old-lady shawl. Protection. My head was in a different place, a cocoon of deliverance, another dimension where nothing can enter…except squealing alarms.
Welcome to post 9/11 hospitals U.S.A.
The cop types stand around into their too-tight uniforms with smiles on their faces. They eat up this kind of stuff, mealy worms for aphids, chocolate-covered ants for a Japanese coinsurer.
I feel like crap, as I assume, do the other 15 or so folks in here waiting to see a doc. I thought it was a nice touch when the check-in person asked if I need Living Will information. Sure. Yeah. I'll sit right down and sign it right now. If I go kaput you can harvest my organs too. Just what I want to hear.
I have self-diagnosed myself…indigestion with some type of bronchial infection. Inside the stark blue-white ER room I am immediately hooked up for an EKG and a pipe is inserted into my right arm vein. Bloodwork. They suspect a heart event.
Dee my buddy for life is here with me. I called him and whispered, "I think I need to go to the hospital." The more frightened I become the quieter I get. One day I will be absolutely mute. Dee is hip to me. He rushed to my house, put me in his Navigator and off we went shrieking around corners, pedal to the floor on the straight-aways. "Slow down. I've had this all day. I am not going to die in the next ten minutes." The bumps in the road where making me hurt more…thrust, stab, insert with force. Dee is an excellent hero. I think he would drain out his blood and give it to me if it would save me.
He also is a prude. Whenever the medical staff exposes me he rushes to cover me up as soon as they leave the room. I care nothing about it. My heart is located under, primarily, my left breast right? When the x-ray tech, a handsome bearded man 40ish comes in to whisk me away to a photo booth, Dee grimaces as I stand up, and he comes up behind me and ties the back of my calico gown closed. I am wearing jeans. A bare back. Whoo-hoo.
Back in the room, I can tell Dee is getting tired. It's nearly midnight and he worked today. He is getting impatient. He is cranky and I know he is going to say something to the staff. NURSE GRAB THE LITHIUM! PATIENT'S VISITOR RUNNING AMOK!
I'm reconnected, all wired up to machines, one of those oxygen tubes is up my nose, I pull it out. I don't like the tube or the smell. For that matter I don't like the dentist to give me laughing gas either. You can have them. I would like to try morphine though. Hit me up.
I am trying to stay yoga-calm. I look at the machine read-outs. No event. No event. I am praying. Suddenly I realize there is a teevee in the room. It is not on. Diversion. The pain from the pipe in my arm is excruciating. Good idea. Give the patient pain elsewhere and they can't focus on the real pain center. As good a diversionary tactic as teevee. More painful though.
There is a shower stall directly across the room from my bed. It has no doors, neither a curtain. What would that be for? Hysterical mental patients? Bloodied up car accident victims? Dirtied up landscapers? I forget to ask Dr. Janice Shilbert when she enters the room.
Dee is gone. I know he went and griped to the staff. The doc slipped in to see me while he is out. She says I can go home. All of the bloodwork and other test results will be forwarded to my primary physician. "Your lungs are clear. No blood clots."
She leaves the room and I am wondering why I have been here for hours and wait! I still have the pain in my chest. Ironically there is a small black-and-white poster on the wall that says, "Pain relief is our first concern. Tell us where it hurts." When the Asian male nurse comes back in the room I ask about the pain. He talks hushed to Dr. Janice and returns with a big yellow tablet, Biaxin XL, an antibiotic, and he suggests Motrin for the pain.
They are afraid of Dee and I get to go home.
Dr. Danforth, my primary doc, is unlike most docs in that he golfs on Thursdays instead of the more traditional Wednesdays. He called me right away Friday morning. "I received the reports from the hospital and there is an abnormality on your EKG. See a cardiologist."
Dr Amory, 8:15. Tuesday. Cardiologists are the big docs. They own solid-brick mansions, drive fast luxury cars (the silver Maybach in the lot must be his), and wear expensive tailored suits. His light gray summerweight wool is perfect right down to the slight break at the bottom of his pants. He's investigative and what's to know all of the details of last Wednesday. He also wants to know about Tuesday, and how I have been feeling since. He admonished me to not self-diagnose. "Something's not right here." He says and he orders up lots of tests.
Jill and Jan tag team on the phone demanding the tests be done NOW. They are good at their jobs. They are pleasant too. Good combo.
Wednesday 9 a.m.: new EKG, his office.
The 30-something nurse ushers me into a back room. I take the copy of "Cosmo" along with me (Somalians are moving into Lewiston, Maine, my friend Teach's town) "Take off your shirt and lie down on the table." She is back to me fussing with a machine. When she turns around she looks surprised. "You've had a boob job!"
"No. They are natural." I look down, same old thing to me. Heart. Let's focus.
"They look very good. Like a twenty-year-olds."
She is attaching adhesive pads to my skin. They have metal protuberances that she attaches to a snaky twist of wires coming from the machine.
She is staring, acting all amazed. "Well, you don't have to tell me." She won't believe me. She doesn't know how terrified I am of doctors. I would never do anything elective. They have to pry me in here.
The machine makes no noise, except for the gentle scratching sound of the paper spitting out of the machine. It is full of zig-zaggy lines.
She removes the pads from my skin.
"Everything okay?" I ask.
"Yes, much better than the one you did at the hospital."
Thursday, noon: Echo with Doppler
I sat in Dr. Amory's waiting room right next to the violet orchids for about ten minutes (I was wise enough to bring something to read, "The Complete Book of Scriptwriting.") when a man with equipment rushes through the door, whooshes past me and disappears into a back room.
In the room, top-up naked again, wait, he left the gown on and slid his hands in carefully touching only where necessary. He gooed me. Then picked up an instrument, pointy, metal.
His cell rings and he answers. It's a call he's not interested in receiving. "Okay. Okay" he snaps.
Back to the test. The walls are bare and there is no mobile dancing in the breeze over my bed, so I look at him. He is very handsome, medium-boned, brown hair with a tinge of blonde, nice Van Dyke, individual hairs curling onto his shapely lips. I like his gray eyes, sad and brilliant at the same time. He's the type of man that a million women fall in love with, not too macho, not girly, proportional, with no hint of wayward aggression, but strong. He will work his entire life taking care of his family. He's professional. He has a lucky wife who doesn't know not to call him while he is working.
"Roll left an inch. Back toward me. Move toward your feet. Roll over slightly." I think I already met this guy.
I cannot see the screen. I am thinking it is like when they show a woman her baby, amnio. I am curious.
"It looks fine." He says, "…but I don't know what they are looking for."
Friday, 7 a.m.: Good Samaritan Hospital
My brother arrived at my house at 6 on his growly new Harley. He has come to hold my hand. Today I will be taking the BIG tests…a stress test with cardiolite and another x-ray. Joyce told me this would take a while.
Jim and I sucked ourselves into the modern glass-encased hospital via one of those automatic revolving doors. A pink lady sat at the front desk in the vast atrium area. She took my papers, rearranged them, gave Jim a visitor tag (must be worn at all times!) and pointed behind herself to the left. "Go down that hall. Take a seat in the waiting area."
I walked down the hall, tall, but with the apprehension of a death-row prisoner. At the end, to the right was a small waiting area of little leather loveseats brown and slightly shiny. Many people were waiting, most of them old money and old skin. My brother is talking to me but I only half hear him. A man in a blue and white gown is writing down something. I wonder if he is a writer. Will his heart experience become a book? Most of the people are grouped into couples, married for centuries, going it together. You can't tell which one is the patient until a name is called.
Who are these women who pretend they are guardians of the gate and why do they keep arraigning my papers, and add others to the stack? I enter the dressing room and do as instructed: Remove top, place gown on front open, cover with another gown, open to the back, place clothing in locker, take key, then enter next waiting room.
Only one lady, a Grammy. She doesn't speak but offers a small smile. Another hour of waiting.
I am ushered to a room with a curtain-door. Inside the nurse opens my gown and scratches me harshly while she attaches some of those electrode adhesive pads to my chest. "Ouch! What is that?" I ask. "A scouring pad. We need to slough off all of the dead skin cells so we make good contact." It hurts, a LOT.
Another nurse, Joyce, comes in and inserts a needle in my arm vein and replaces it with an arrow-shaped piece of plastic. "This is just saline." She says as she attaches me to a pole on wheels.
I hear a doctor talking to the elderly man in the room across from mine. They proceed with the test. It is fast.
The cardiologist, a dark man with shiny black hair and big eyebrows enters my room. The nurses follow him.
"Oh you are a patient of my partner, Dr. Amory." He mentions smoking and I dismiss it. Like I haven't heard that a jazillion times before.
I am more curious as to why a big-buck cardio dude needs to be present for a simple treadmill test.
He looks at my footwear. "Good shoes." I am wearing flip-flops. No one told me that stress test=racing. The nurse is doing something on my arm. Another is by my left side. A paper read-out is running into the doctor's hands. The treadmill is speeding up, faster and faster.
"Okay, are we done now?" I ask.
"No." says the doc. "We have to get you up to 140 for the test to be readable."
Faster. Faster. Giddy-up!"
All unwired and back in my street clothes I meet up with the brother in the original waiting room.
"How did it go?" he asks.
"Great! I beat out an 80 year-old guy in the room next to me."
My brother raised his eyebrows. "You can't say that."
"It's no contest. Don't ever tell anyone that." He started laughing and shaking his head.
Haha. I just told all of you.
This is one of my rare TRUE STORIES. Names and places have been changed to protect the unruly. Oh and by the way, there was NOTHING wrong with my heart, and yes, I still smoke. You can live to 100, not me. I don't want to spend the last 30 years drooling and peeing my diapers.