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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Part 4: A day at the Hospital

Part 4:  The hospital in daylight....still scary...

.....Going to the doctor for an illness is like digging a well when you are thirsty.  That is not to say that it won't do some good, but.....  Ancient Chinese Proverb paraphrased.

I was startled awake (is there any other way in the hospital?)  as my new nurse "Lola" came in to meet me and to quickly tell me that the cardiologist was in on early rounds today and will be in to see me in a moment.  Before she finishes that sentence, he is in the room and extending his hand in introduction.

I'm blinking myself awake as he asks me a few questions about my symptoms, runs through the lab work already performed and says that, they can't 100% rule out a cardiac event, and given my age (57) and that I've never had a stress test, he'd like me to take one, do I think I'll have any problem moving on a treadmill.

I explain that I lead a very active life, have 5 horses, live on a farm,, I don't anticipate any problems.  He quickly vanishes saying he will check with me post-stress-test to go over my results.

Lola soon comes back in and with her is a wonderful aide by the name of Vi.  Vi looks a little bit street-wise and is sporting a doorag of sorts on her head....(I found out she had lost her hair due to stress.  We shared an intimate conversation about that later on).  I would grow to love the vernacular...'good people'.

I expressed my concerns about my esophagus to Lola early in our conversations, even as everyone involved with my care continued to plummet head-first into post-cardiac-event care.  You know, I do understand that it really doesn't matter much what your stomach is doing if you have heart failure, but up to this point, DESPITE all the trauma, lack of food, sleep-deprivation, lack of fluids and exposure to a pretty constant river of stress, ALL of my cardiac indicators were 100% healthy.

Hello?  Anyone home???

I asked about food.  Nope....better not eat any food, because the docs would have a fit down there at the stress test lab and my nurse advised me to only have a very few sips of water, and to do that when she wasn't looking.   I was told that my personal doc would be by to see me, but that she doesn't do rounds until later and not to expect her any time soon, giggle.  (I didn't think that was all that funny, but was glad my doc was coming in).  {It's about 7 a.m. at this point, a full 6 hours before I would finally get my stress test}.

Vi came in to help me clean up a bit.  This woman needs to be immediately nominated for saint-hood.  Where is the form? I will personally sign off on it.  She brought some warmed cloths that are like over-sized wipes and proceeded to loosen the back of my gown and wipe down my back, on which she then sprinkled some powder.  Heaven and without a doubt the highlight of my stay.

I truly think if they flipped the hierarchy in the hospital and put the aides at the top, followed by nurses, then let the doctors and administrators dook it out for the next slot, we might see a change in health care...FOR THE GOOD.  The aides are the front line, followed closely by the nurses and know more about what is going on with the patient than the ivory-tower inhabitants.  Vi is the only one who seemed to understand that I needed something to eat and drink.

I had slept in my coveted work-out knickers and I tell you, of all the things I was so glad I had with me, 2nd only to my cell phone and maybe my chap-stick, were those shorts.  A tech from the stress lab had come down to go over some things with me on how the procedure with the stress test would go and had said I could slip into my jeans or just do the test in my gown.  I WAS SO GLAD I HAD THOSE SHORTS ON!!!

Now in between times here, several staff had come in and out and there was a huge mix-up over the type of stress test I was going to get.  Some staff members had told me I would be getting just a stationary echo right there in the room, in fact at one point, a staff member came in (she was trying to get me food, bless her), because my test was listed as done!  When I told her the tech from the Stress Lab had been in to tell me the test wouldn't be until at least noon, she just couldn't figure that out at all and asked me then why was it listed as already done!!!???  Uh....I don't know...could it be because you all clearly have a communication problem?!?!?!  My first guess.

This went on back and forth several times until finally I called my nurse and said, look, my constitution is such that if I don't get something to eat, I will likely pass out on that treadmill; can I PLEASE have something light, especially since you guys don't seem to be in complete agreement about what test I am going to get anyway.

So I had a little bit of fruit (honestly, the serving sizes were just positively Lilliputian!) and some cardboard-esque oatmeal along with a few precious sips of water.   I was on a 'cardiac-diet' so I would be allowed, at some point to order from the menu any of the items with a heart next to them.  A quick glance had me in complete disagreement with the creator of the menu on what constitutes 'heart-healthy', but I did see a few possibilities---I'd need to ask some questions.

Finally, I get wheeled down to the stress-test lab.

The procedure is explained to me in detail with emphasis on the fact that following the attainment of the target heart-rate on the treadmill, I would have to QUICKLY zip over to the gurney and follow closely the instructions of the tech...we only have seconds to get this done, so we can get an adequate picture of how the heart is functioning at high stress.

I was instructed on how I would have to lie on the gurney and told that I would have to blow out all the air in my lungs so they could get a good view of the heart. 

As I was being fitted with more leads and monitors, I saw the skin on my torso and pointed out to the tech the welts that were coming up on me and how itchy they were.  She noted them as well, but we had a job to do, so we focused on that.

The treadmill part was pretty straight forward....a fairly high incline that was gradually increased with escalating speed as well.  We could all monitor my heart-rate and see how far I had to go to reach my target rate: 138. 

We kept going and going and going and every minute or so the speed and incline would ramp up and we couldn't get my heart-rate up high enough.  Finally, another tech came into the room to see what was taking so long and the two of them started betting on how many more levels they were going to have to up it.  They kept asking me to rate the exertion level I was experiencing as noted by a scale on the wall, wanting it to be 'fairly difficult' which we hadn't reached yet. 

The one tech to my left made the comment "this is how fit she is".  I will always treasure that moment, because in the midst of all this craziness, I really wanted something to hang onto about my health!  Two or three more levels and we finally hit the mark, which then has to maintained for a minute or so.   I moved quickly to the gurney and this was the hardest part....having to blow out ALL the air in my lungs and hold that state of emptiness for a moment while the tech snapped pictures on the echo machine.  I had to do that several times, and the lungs are screaming for air, so it was tough.

Back to the room and my doctor had already been there and was looking for me, so she quickly comes in.  I bring her up to speed and THANK GOD, SOMEONE FINALLY HEARS ME THAT I THINK THIS IS MY ESOPHAGUS, not my freaking heart!!!

She wants to wait on test results from the stress test to be sure, but thinks, yes, probably something esophageal or maybe gall bladder, which she thinks about for a second, remembers I am vegan and quickly rules out as 'highly unlikely'.  (We share a brief discussion about vegan diets and I tell her that I had tried to get the E.R. staff NOT to tell her I had been admitted with chest pains because I knew she wasn't all that impressed with my vegan diet, and it would just be awful to have a heart attack on this which she responded "well, it's just a really hard diet".)

While we are talking, my symptoms return, although not as severe and she is able to see them first hand.  She orders a 'cocktail',  to numb the esophagus to see if that will turn off my symptoms which it should do if it is esophageal (it didn't), so at this point, we're still a bit perplexed.  We end up deciding to go on a course of anti-acid meds at high strength for 6 weeks to see if the condition heals.  If there is no improvement in a week, I'm to call her, otherwise she'll see me in 6 weeks.  An option is to do a scope, but she says most conditions will heal on their own with the anti-acid meds and that would likely be the course we would take after the scope anyway, so, I pick door number 2:  no scope.

I note the itching on my skin, which is now worse and she offers me a Benadryl, which I decline.  At this point, I want as far away from any medication or medical personnel as I can get.....not really thinking clearly.

I still have to wait for the cardiologist, so I call food services to order some food.  I tell the very nice food service person that I am vegan and ask if they have some fresh fruits and vegetables.  Yes, they do.  What kinds do you have?  We have all of them.  I had to press to finally get her to tell me what they have....hell, they didn't even have a banana, so no they don't have all of them, but I am trying to be good.  I ask if any of her bagels don't have egg in them and she says she thinks they all have egg in them.  I ask if she can check on that, and she says, she thinks they all have egg in them.  I ask, can she please check the label for me?    She says she will and later calls me to tell me that the Honey-Whole Wheat ones don't and the Blueberry ones don't---I decide not to go into the honey aspect and instead just thank her and ask for a blueberry one.  This arrives quickly, a decent platter of mostly cherry tomatoes (which at this point, I don't want anything even remotely acidic, so pass on), some broccoli florets and some grapes.  I tentatively nibble. 

The head of the food service department comes in my room to tell me about some veggie burgers they have (which I thought was really great of her to do).  She can't remember what they are called and I offer:  Morningstar?  YES!  That's it.  Now, I've never had a pre-packed veggie burger, but I tell her I think there are probably some ingredients in there I shouldn't have.  She's raving about them and runs off to check the label...atta-girl.  I've got her onto the labels now.  She calls later to tell me they have egg whites in them and I again thank her profusely for checking.

I so badly want to launch into something about wouldn't you think there would be a VEGAN food section for patients in the CARDIAC wing, but I really don't have the strength at this point.

My husband arrives in time for the cardiologist to zip into the room and inform me that my cardiac stress test is perfectly normal and that he thinks it is probably an esophageal problem.  I thank him and tell him that I hope I never see him again, to which he emits what I am sure is a rare laugh.

We start packing......and then I look at my foot....and see a welt the size (and relative shape) of Nebraska on it, I look in the mirror, my lips look like Angelina Jolie's, my eyes are swollen and I am breaking out in hives all over.

Lola arrives with a wheelchair for my grand exit and I show her my many welts and she says I should take Benadryl when I get home, do I have some?  By now, I'm really just very concerned, as I have never swollen up like this and am wondering, what is next.  My husband decides to leave me there while the nurse gets me a Benadryl and to go pick up my anti-acid meds and more Benadryl.  They both comment that I 'seem a little nervous'.  I'm thinking, yeah, you'd be nervous too.  She does say that my doctor has been made aware of the increase in this allergic reaction and for me to call her office on Monday.

We are looking at latex rubber that might have been on the bottom of the footies they put on me and I'm thinking maybe the tape used to hold I.V.'s and cotton balls from blood being drawn, etc. as potential sources of an allergic reaction....just trying to figure it out.  I'm wondering if it was the vast amounts of nitro or maybe just the detergent on the sheets....what is causing all of this?

As I am examining the huge lumps on the tops of my feet, I happen to press on the fatty part of my big toe...the skin stays positively flat.  I press again and say, "look at that....I might be a bit dehydrated".  I reach for the cup to take a few sips of water, but I'm afraid maybe there is latex in the straw or something in the straw....just turning positively hive-paranoid at this point.
The hives start to go down a bit and we decide to get outta Dodge.   I walk out with my husband on my own power passing on the wheel-chair.

All is well, right?

Not really.

To be continued:  E.R. Trip #2....Are you freaking kidding me?

Healthy Lunch

I've noticed that I tend to get into habits about what I eat.  This, of course, can be a very good thing as it helps ensure I'm going to intake greens every day, fruits and so on, but as I continue to learn more about MICROnutrition, I realize the importance of adding a variety of grains, legumes and veggies to sort of 'cover our nutritional bases'. 

So, normally, in the lunch below, I might have say one kind of rice, short-grained brown is my favorite and one type of bean, black beans usually.  I'm expanding this healthy rut to encompass more.

Multi-Faceted Salad
On top of field greens, I have a combination of brown rice, black rice and red quinoa, as well as a mix of beans.  Quinoa is a power-house of a food:  providing protein, iron, B1, B2, folate, and other minerals.  I'll be adding it into my diet more regularly now.

Add a dash of tamari and a few chopped scallions and you have a nice little lunch.  In my efforts to add savory to my sweet and sweet to my savory, I chopped up a medjool date and added it as well.  A sprinkle of nutritional yeast (Bob's Red Mill, B-12 added) takes care of that important nutrient.

Multi-Faceted Salad
Sue, on the healing path, in Ohio


  1. Suspense is mounting...

  2. Isn't it amazing that no one hears a word the patient is saying? It took about 6 weeks to get someone to listen to us that my sister was STARVING -hello! After constantly explaining she hadn't gone to the bathroom for weeks and threw up every single thing she ate or drank a doctor finally looked alarmed and she got a PIC line (after losing 30 lbs or so). Her tumors were squeezing her stomach off.

    The learning curve is very harsh with these situations but you just can't explain it to people who haven't experienced it. They just think you must be hysterical because "doesn't the hospital/doctor know what they are doing?". It helps to have a really good nurse as a family member, that happend in our case, and makes me hope one of my daughters becomes a health professional.

    Great story! I am nodding along with my "yep, sounds typical!"

    1. I KNOW!!!! Interesting to hear of your experiences with your poor sister, Shanna. Honestly, it has been quite an EYE-OPENING experience. My final installment on this will be of the lessons I learned and they are vast... Sad that you have to advocate for yourself when you are in a compromised state, but I don't see how any of us can afford to turn the total trust over to the health 'professionals'.
      Agree....most people do look at you like maybe you are hysterical or something, but, I'm finding more and more people who have very similar experiences.

      Thanks for the comment---much appreciated,