It strikes me, the irony, that I should finally, at last, be free of the loneliness that has followed me like a black dog through my years–that it’s not permitted for me to simply enjoy the profound pleasure of being alone without being lonely. No, other things must rise to the surface and break the spell.
I’ve not been well, the last few years. And I’ve had my share of grief and loss, and chronic pain to boot, with a couple of injurious falls thrown in. Trips to medical practitioners were not particularly productive of substantive reasons for my general malaise, exhaustion, swelling of the ankles, heart palpitations, and occasional crushing chest pain.
I chalked it up to stress and anxiety and grief and depression. That’s plenty, don’t you think?
I slogged on, in the belief that all of my symptoms could be attributed to aging, plus piss-poor protoplasm. Then I ran low on my blood pressure pills. In the olden days, I might have simply ordered myself some, since they’re not controlled substances. Nowadays I am not comfortable doing that. I made an appointment at a retail medical clinic. Doc-in-a-box.
The place turned out to do real medicine, to a point. There’s a young Nurse Practitioner (NP) in designer scrubs, assisted by two even younger medical assistants. They weighed and measured and took notes. The NP came in and asked the screening questions and briefly examined. He ordered an EKG. I was impressed.
A young male assistant came in wheeling the EKG machine. We joked until it was time to push the button. Then I breathed quietly while the machine read my heart’s electrical messages.
“Wait here, please. Armando will speak to you about your EKG.”
Eh? Armando? Oh, the cute little NP. My EKG? Why, what’s the matter with it?
“When did you have your heart attack?” Inquires Armando, not without an accusing aspect. (Trying to get one over, eh? Concealing heart attacks, or so you thought?)
Hmm…hem….errr, so I guess that’s what it was? Because I went to the Duke University ER one of the times I had chest pain, but they didn’t find anything. And I followed up with a cardiologist, who did a nuclear stress test because I was too exhausted to complete the regular treadmill stress test. I thought it was odd that he didn’t stop to think about why I should be so exhausted. I thought maybe I was being too concerned about trifles, so after being told my heart was normal, I decided to behave as if it actually felt normal.
In fact, my heart did not then and does not now feel normal. It hurts and squeezes and flops around like some airless fish inside my chest. It is downright disconcerting, but I can ignore almost anything, especially in the service of denial.
So let’s see that EKG. Oh dear, it’s telling us there’s some scarring on the south pole of the heart, where it rests up against the diaphragm. Sonofabitch, just where it was hurting so badly, a couple of months back.
Sigh. I had a heart attack.
Such very strange words to say, or to read: I had a heart attack.
And now what? Do I start behaving like someone who has heart attacks (40% of women who have a heart attack will have another within 12 months)? What would that look like? Maybe I’ve already had another one. I have no way of knowing, since I have chest pain on and off all the time. Should I worry? Do I care?
What’s the responsible thing to do? Get a referral to a cardiologist, I suppose. But I don’t want a catheterization! I don’t have family, friends, or any support whatsoever. Invasive procedures….nah.
Oh, and my heart rate was 47. Normal is anything over 60. Why would my heart rate be 47? Well, I do suspect my thyroid gland of being sluggish, which could certainly cause a slow heart rate. Or, damage to the heart’s electrical system. I’ll vote for the thyroid…can be fixed with pills.
So I told my son that I had a heart attack. Telling him felt surreal. Listening to him react felt surreal. I imagine that in a few weeks my brain will have readjusted to this new state of being. Right now I’m just kind of wishing the whole thing would go away.
I guess I’ll need to start taking some anti-platelet drug or other. I’m deathly allergic to aspirin. Oh, how tedious. I’ve just recently become comfortable with the chronic illnesses I’d been given up to now. Perhaps that was my mistake! Being comfortable, after a fashion.