Thursday, November 8, 2012

Out of Sync

I have a canary loose in my chest. Quite frequently throughout the day, the little pissed-off bird lets me know she wants out. There is a thumping, bumping, fluttering sensation pounding at my inner walls. It is the new state of my heart. My heart, moving to a scattered rhythm of its own, decided one day last month to go rogue on me. I don’t know why.

As a result, I quit caffeine. I did it for the only reason I would ever do such a thing – I thought I was going to die. If I thought caffeine was slowly killing me or doing some minor physical impairment to my body, perhaps I would have stayed on it. I love coffee. And I am not just saying that. I am referring to real – true - love. We’d been together for over twenty years. If it didn’t make me feel like I was dying, we’d still be together.

I did go off of caffeine for my pregnancies. But I confess, I’m pretty sure on more than one occasion my babies nursed latte straight from my breast. There’s only so much a mother can sacrifice. And here I am, in that group I never really trusted or fully respected. I’m a non-coffee drinker. Sigh. I miss it. Oh, and the whole decaf thing is just mean. Mean, mean trickery.

It all started with a simple cup of French-press espresso at 6pm on a Wednesday evening. It was a good brew. Sigh. I had planned to work late, novel-write through the night. No such luck.

The squeezing pressure in my chest came on suddenly and lasted about thirty seconds. It traveled down my left arm.  I felt light-headed as the pressure slowly subsided and the squeezing sensation stopped. My arm felt tingly. Shit. I think I’m having a heart attack. I took two aspirin.

I was slightly dizzy as I walked to my bedroom. My goal: A fresh change of clothes before leaving for the emergency room. I contemplated brushing my teeth. Then it happened again. Another horrible, squeezing pressure in my chest, more pain down my left arm. Damn. My daughter asked what was wrong. I told her I didn’t feel well and was going to have dad take me to the emergency room for a test. She burst into tears. Damn.

My husband and I convinced her it was no big deal “just a flu test”. We got in the car. I had another squeezing sensation in my chest, more horrible pain down my left arm. It was the worst one yet.  I told Lee to floor it.

Long story short, it was not a heart attack. I was having premature ventricular contractions. The contractions by themselves are not life threatening. People get them all the time. Because of the severity and frequency, they were concerning. Radiology showed a small amount of fluid around my heart. At first, they were going to admit me to the hospital for further testing. But as the contractions became further apart and lighter, I felt better. I was told the caffeine probably triggered them and that as the caffeine wore off, I might start feeling better. By 2:00AM I did feel better and I was allowed to go home with firm instructions to see my cardiologist within a few days.

The squeezing sensation has not returned, but has now been replaced by the funny little irregular bumps and thumps that have become a regular part of my day. I haven’t had a sip of coffee since my cardiac episode. With cold and flu season around the corner, it looks like my own personal mix of “mother’s little helper” is definitely out of the question. That would have been real Sudafed washed down with a Diet Coke. No matter how sick I was, the buzz always guaranteed a clean house and new manuscript by the end of the day. Damn.

I’m not known for my medical follow-up. I should probably mention I was born with a couple of heart defects. I had a hole in my heart that eventually closed. I also had open-heart surgery at age four to enlarge my pulmonary valve. At the time of the… shall we call it…  “cardiac emergency room incident”… I hadn’t seen my cardiologist in over twenty years. I told you I’m not known for my medical follow-up.

I did drag my sorry self to see the cardiologist a couple of weeks later. He walked into the room carrying a Starbucks cup and looking a little too cheerful. I have an echocardiogram and a stress test scheduled for the day before Thanksgiving.

And now I’m forced to exercise or be humiliated. You see, the stress test involves exercising on a treadmill while they monitor my heart. I’m in training for it – I’m actually working out regularly on my treadmill at home - since I don’t want a big lecture on how out of shape I am.

And while I wait for my diagnosis, the little canary continues to flutter and pound at the walls of my chest pushing eagerly to get out. It is ignoring my mental pleading to just calm down, to go back to the steady rhythm I’ve known my whole life, to be at peace.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Dog Did Not Eat My Blog

Dear Blog:
It has been a while. I have so much to tell you. First, I must give you my excuse for leaving you so rudely and suddenly, without even saying goodbye. There are lots of cool excuses out there that people use to explain long absences and missing work. I can’t lie. The dog did not eat my blog. Though, I am sure she would have loved to gnaw at the corners of my now nonfunctioning MacBook. My computer died last January. I am using my teenage daughter’s NONMAC computer to write this. But that is not my excuse.

My mother-in-law is dead. I stopped blogging because after eleven-and-a-half years of taking care of a dying woman - she actually died. Things got pretty crazy near the end. The last year was extremely challenging. The last two weeks… well, I don’t think I will ever recover from that. How is it that you never hear about post-traumatic stress disorder for people that have watched someone close to them slowly, painfully die? She died exactly one year ago last Sunday, at home, while under the care of family and hospice. One whole year ago. I guess it is time for me to pull it together and start my life for real this time.

Before I move on, I must tell you the story about my only experience with (human) death and the afterlife. One of the ways I coped with hanging out with a dying woman for many, many, years was through humor. I confess, I made inappropriate jokes about every mental lapse (mine and hers), nasty body function, and rude hospital employee. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that forty-eight hours before she died, as she struggled to stand and clutched the wall gasping for breath, I made my belly button talk. The stress of death can make some people a little chubby. While my mother-in-law wasted away, I had put on a few pounds. So, I pulled up my shirt and squeezed the fat around my belly button and had it speak to my mother-in-law directly. (My belly button has a high-pitched annoyingly cheerful voice, if you are wondering.) It said, “Do I look fat?”

For someone who could barely catch her breath, my mother-in-law did a great job laughing. She actually almost collapsed to the floor. Dying people make great audiences. But that is not my story.

Lonna (her name), died early on a Friday morning. Her daughter was in the next room sleeping. We were taking shifts and for once I got lucky. We had been speculating for years over who would be the one to find her dead. Since I was the primary care provider, and I tend to have shitty luck, I just assumed it would be me. It wasn’t. (I am saying this in a sing-song happy voice, by the way). So, I got the call from my sister-in-law that morning and after dropping the kids off at school, I joined her at the bedside of my dead mother-in-law. I want to say she looked peaceful. Isn’t that what they always say? But Lonna did not look peaceful. If you ask me, she didn’t look all that thrilled to be dead. There was a bit of a, “Shit, that really sucked” look about the mouth. But we were deeply grateful she wasn’t suffering any longer.

We spent the morning picking out the outfit she was to be buried in. There was a small debate about the necessity of underpants. I started making inappropriate underpants jokes that I will not repeat. Then I heard her laugh. From behind me I HEARD MY MOTHER-IN-LAW LAUGH. It was not spooky at all, it was normal. The timing was perfect. The sound of her laughter was totally accurate and of normal volume. It became clearly obvious to me what was going on. We fucked up, she was not dead.

Wrong. We checked, she was for-sure dead. My sister-in-law didn’t even hear her laugh. Ghostly stuff usually freaks me out. Not this time. It seemed normal. As I move forward from this experience, and finally get on with my own life, I do take comfort in knowing that after everything I went through, and no matter how many people I just offended, at least the dead person thought I was funny.