Wednesday, June 20, 2012

I Couldn't Breathe...

Now that I'm living in "cardio-land" there are apparently things I need to get used to. Unfortunately for me, my sister (the cardio nurse) failed to warn me about one of them.

Let's go back in time for a bit. As you all may remember, it's been a rough little while. My friend Sonda was diagnosed with melanoma back around Thanksgiving. They found it by the fact that she had tumors in her brain - which is never, ever, E-V-E-R good news.

While we always want to have positive thoughts, and we always want everyone to get well from everything, the fact is that they never found the original melanoma and by the time they discovered the brain tumors, it was already at Stage IV. Was I going to be the black cloud in all this? Not on your life. I wanted her to get better, even while the logical part of me was thinking, "No, that's not really going to be how this ends...." A bunch of us supported her and her mom - taking care of the yarn shop, providing dinners, writing notes, making a wonderful afghan...just being there when she needed it.

Sometime in March, my friend Bill sent a note to a select few of us at work: he had Stage IV melanoma and it was in his spine, lungs and stomach. Again....the Angel of Logic entered my brain and while I sent notes and offered prayers, I also saw this like you'd see a freight train coming in the dark of night.

Both of these people were within a year of my age. I'm 54.

I saw Sonda (for what ended up being the last time) on May 14. I had an appointment with my dermatologist on May 16 and ended up having a "pre-cancerous lesion" frozen off my forehead.

On May 17, I had my first large attack of a-fib. I called Hubby, who came and got me; he's a former EMT and I knew something was up when he tried 3 places and couldn't find a pulse. So off we go to the nearest hospital. I ended up in the ER and had a subsequent overnight hospital stay. It took 13 hours for my heart to convert back to a normal rhythm. Now that I knew what I was looking for, I can tell you that this has been happening for a little while. However, when I mentioned it to a couple of doctors, they told me, "You know, as you go into menopause..." (that's a whole other blog post about how much I hate that blanket statement!!) I found out that my grandma (maternal side) had this condition and was on medication for most of my life for it. I came home on the 18th, and my mom called the 19th to tell me that Sonda had died.

I sang at her funeral on May 22. I had two different diagnostic tests that week also, and a change in medication (because you don't often get it right the first time).

My friend Sue and I did the Avon Walk on June 2 - only 10.2 miles, but as I told Sue: Really? You're going to beat yourself up because we didn't finish? And I'm out of the hospital not even 2 weeks ago??? How many other people didn't do anything AT ALL??

On Monday, June 4, the cardiac event monitor goes nuts at 3 a.m. and Hubby listens, saying, "Oh, wow...this is really different." Off we go again. I can now cross "peeing in a bedpan" off my bucket list. Twice.  This time, however, it only took 3 or 4 hours for my heart to convert. They still kept me overnight, because if it went back into a-fib, I was scheduled for a "reboot" (cardiac conversion). Another cardiologist from the same practice came in, said, "That Rx you're on sucks" and changed me over to another one. Plus a blood thinner. I look like my dogs have used me as a chew toy. They haven't, by the way.

On Tuesday, June 5, I find out that my friend Roxy's sister died from pancreatic cancer (we knew she'd been sick, but she was so young...) and my friend Bill had died.

I come home; I took a week off work to adjust to the new meds and try to just wrap my head around the new routine I have, particularly regarding the timing of the meds. I thought I was doing ok.

Except that this past weekend, I noticed I was having a little trouble breathing. I called my sister, and she indicated that I'd been on the new meds for 2 weeks already and if I had been inclined to a reaction, it would've happened earlier. It felt "croup"-like, so I did what any mom my age would do: boiled water, stuck my head over the steaming pot and inhaled. Also, I larded myself up with Vick's Vapo-Rub and dug out the foam wedge. I was able to sleep that way. Until Monday. I drove to work, even though something felt "off." But the cardiac monitor was silent, so I figured maybe it was just that I was tired - maybe PMS-ing or who-knew-what. I got the mail and drove to the office. But I never made it. I drove home because my brain was screaming. I mean SCREAMING at me. And it was saying:

"I can't breathe. I. Can't. Breathe..."

I got in the door, said to Hubby, "Something's wrong." We had a short debate about "Quick Care" versus ER...and ultimately the ER was the choice because given the fact that I was having trouble breathing and I had a newly-diagnosed heart condition, I was going to get sent there anyway.

Got to the ER. I told them, "I don't know what's happening; I feel like my windpipe is strangling me, I can't catch my breath and I don't know whether I need a good cry, I'm having a panic attack or there's another thing wrong with me." I sing. Normally my lung function is pretty darned good and usually above-average. They did a bunch of tests. The doc comes in, puzzled. I was breathing. Just fine. Oxygen saturation at 100%. But yet when I talked, it was like I had to speak on an exhale just to get the words out. So he decided to rule out a blood clot - which apparently can happen even if you are on blood thinners - who knew?? I had a VQ test because I'm horribly allergic to IVP dye (I stop breathing, and thanks - I was having enough trouble).

I'm now hooked up to O2 and waiting for the results of the test - while the ER tech says my EKG is perfectly normal. The test comes back telling my doc that I have "crystal clear" lungs.

The doc says, "You are probably correct. You've had a panic attack." And he made a point, lest I feel like a total idiot: at least now I can know for sure that there are no clots and that's one less thing to worry about. I gave him the Reader's Digest timeline of what was going on and he said, "Yep...You do seem a little overwhelmed." I walked out with a low doze of xanax and the suggestion that I talk to someone to get some good perspective.

After Hubby calls my sister to reassure her that I'm ok, she says, "Ok. One of the nurses here told me that's very common with cardiac patients." Really? Thanks, sis. Though to give her her due, she's new there. They never worried much about panic attacks with cardiac ICU patients....

I'm worried about a lot of stuff. I guess I shoved it down too far because I'm always "in control. Ask anyone. They'll tell you and so will I.

Except that I'm not. And by all that's human, I probably need to really really recognize that it's ok that I get the cosmic 2x4 across the head every once in a while. I mean, look: Mother Nature has provided us with duplicates of everything. Even the tendon that they used in my hand surgery a few years ago? It's a "spare" because each of your forearms has TWO of them. Two eyes. Two ears. Two lungs. Etc.

But only ONE heart. And ONE brain. My seemingly nonchalant acceptance of this new reality in truth wasn't acceptance. It was "deal with it and move on." That's a good life skill, but every so often, you really do need a good cry. Honestly, I haven't cried yet about Sonda and Bill. I haven't truly dealt with this heart thing. One part of my brain is scared witless that they're "taking away" the cardiac event monitor in another week. What will happen? Will I really be able to trust my own self to know what's wrong? Can I function on just my brain's recognition of a problem, or am I replacing my own good sense and knowledge of my body with a dependency on a device. Which, by the way, is causing my skin to break out in welts because I don't like the adhesive on the pads...

Hubby, bless his heart, asks me constantly (or at least it seems like that to me): "Are you ok?" Because he says I don't tell him. I try to deal with it. Because I always have. I've dealt with an alcoholic parent. I've dealt with being the "mom" to my siblings. I've dealt with putting myself through college. I've dealt with moving nearly 1,000 miles from home. I've dealt with a broken marriage and trying to raise 2 kids on my own. I've dealt with putting together a blended family. Community responsibilities that are part of my job. A job which is great, but which doesn't allow me the normal "weekend" -- which may seem silly, but try to work a constant schedule where you don't have 2 days to recharge yourself. I'm not saying my job brought this on. I just got the sucky end of the gene pool stick.

My kids were scared stiff and we had the "why didn't you notify me first?" discussion...wherein we noted that one of the kids works in a hazardous job and really - do you want me worrying about what YOU will worry about when I tell you??? After I told Kid #1 it was a panic attack, he said, "That doesn't happen to you." Well, I guess a whack on the head from the Mortality Fairy has a way of making you think. Forcing you to think, actually. To reevaluate. To reassess. To learn new tools to cope.

I've made an appointment with someone to talk to. I've talked to others who've given me some very good common-sense tools. Perhaps the prescription is helping me realize that if it ever gets really bad again, I can have this avenue of escape. The pills aren't my idea of a long-term solution, but I'm realistic enough to know that it's ok in the short-term.

I've done what I can. I've been able in a decent way to have a lighter schedule at least for the summer. What I guess I'm saying is that I've got a new appreciation for realizing that I do not have to be the one in charge. It's ok to just "be" sometimes. For the control-freak in me, this is a huge adjustment. I have to just keep breathing. After all, I could always breathe. I just needed to know that.

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