I hadn't been feeling quite up to snuff for several days. Starting 10 days ago, roughly, I felt a bit off. My energy was lower. I wasn't sick, but I wasn't quite myself. I always felt like something was wrong, but I couldn't put my finger on it. It was like a constant, mild, indigestion, or heartburn, that never quite went away.
We went to a party for one of Stella's classmates Saturday, January 21st, and it was fun. But I was grumpy on the way there, a real crab, more than usual. Once there I hung back, and couldn't really play with Stella or the kids, didn't try to.
Sunday, the 22nd, was more of the same. We went to a playground, and I just didn't feel like doing anything. I didn't feel sick, again, just not good. Not even tired, just annoyed, like I was having my period, or what I imagine my period would feel like if I were to have it. Randi agreed. I was being kind of a pill.
Then Sunday night came, and I had a harder time than usual, I'm an insomniac, getting to sleep. By later Sunday evening I had a mild fever, and couldn't sleep in our bed at all. I had sweat through my pillow, and sheets.
I slept on the couch, and sweat through it as well. I had fitful bouts of brief sleep, maybe 40 minutes at a stretch all night, amidst some chills, and aches in my limbs and joints.
The next day Randi went to work, and I dropped off Stella at school. I came home, and my fever exploded past 102, then past 103. It finally peaked at 103.1. I had barely enough energy to make it down the hallway of our apartment.
I had a pretty disgusting, but thorough, bowel movement, which I thought would make me feel much better. It did not. Uh oh.
Randi came home, and we discussed that I should go to the ER. I didn't want to, but knew of nothing else to do. At 7:30 p.m. last Monday night, a week ago, I went to the ER at Baptist East hospital down the street from our apartment.
I signed in, and they took my vital signs. But then hours passed, as I shivered in all my clothes in the waiting room. Finally past midnight I saw a doctor, and he took cultures from my throat. Randi had said strep was going around her school, so I was convinced this was what I had. My throat hurt a lot, so this only made sense.
After a couple of hours more the diagnosis came back: strep, and a urinary tract infection. The latter of which men almost never get. Just my luck.
I was pumped full of IV fluids, and given prescriptions to fill for antibiotics, and made it home by 3:00 a.m. Tuesday morning, wiped out. I had a strange craving for hot chocolate, which I satisfied. I had just completed a three week "cleanse" with Randi, and having never felt worse, kind of was like, screw it!
I made it to bed by 3:30 a.m., and slept fitfully, only to awake early the next day to drive Stella to school again. I was wiped out, all the way. I dressed her with one eye open, and barely made it to her school.
Then I became worried that I might have something more than strep. I had a breakout on my legs and butt the prior week. It wasn't too big, but over the years I have learned to become concerned about staph infections. I've had them in the past, and even though they never really hurt me I was concerned that it could.
My mild breakout consisted of a few small boils, almost like a rash. I looked up "staph infection" on the Mayo clinic's website, and looked up what can go wrong. When staph goes bad it becomes something called "sepsis" which is blood poisoning. When it gets worse you go into septic shock. And from there, if untreated, you die.
Even by the time it gets to the septic shock stage, even if you do treat it, your odds are not great. Septic shock is no joke.
I looked up the symptoms. They were just like the symptoms for strep: fever, aches, fatigue. But also shivering, which was not a symptom for strep.
Worried, but on the trail, I thought, I called my dermatologist. I would see her Wednesday, the following day. I told the receptionist I was specifically worried about sepsis.
Randi came home with Stella last Tuesday, noting that I had not dressed her appropriately for the weather. It was cold outside and I had put her in some kind of nylon yoga pants that were wide open at the ankle like bell-bottoms. Stella had been cold, as it was in the 30s. Initially I was defensive about it but had to concede Randi had a point. What was I doing, sending Stella out into bad weather dressed for spring. I told Randi I had been worn out from the prior night's ER visit but this wasn't a satisfying reason, for her, or, really, for me. I must've been really out of it, I concluded.
I saw my nurse practitioner dermatologist, the following day, last Wednesday, and told her I was concerned about sepsis. She looked at my legs and determined I probably did have staph. I also told her about my ER visit, and my strep diagnosis.
She prescribed a topical antibiotic ointment, and told me to see her in a week. I asked again about sepsis, and she said that if I did have it there would be no question. I wouldn't really be able, even, to walk into her office. I would know I had it, and it would be very, very bad.
After my new prescription was filled out I applied the antibiotic cream to my legs, hoping it would do the trick. But I knew it would take a few days for any improvement.
Overall, though, I felt better than I had since before going into the ER. The antibiotics must be doing their thing, I thought. I spoke to my mom that night, and told her I was on the mend, though I had been worried about staph. I told her about the ER visit, and she sounded appalled. Why didn't I go to my doctor? If your doctor can't see you in an emergency you have to get another doctor, she concluded.
I didn't love getting second guessed like this, as I am almost 40, but it must've made an impression, as I soon headed her advice.
The following morning, last Thursday, I awoke, feeling alright, not too bad. As I got myself into the car to drive Stella into school my side, where I had a boil, hit the side of the car, and it exploded into pain. I dropped Stella off, and went home, feeling a bit short of breath.
Once inside the apartment the shortness of breath continued. Now it was joined by a feeling of slight pressure on my chest, like someone had placed their palm on my sternum, and pressed down lightly.
I called my doctor, as per Mom's advice. They couldn't see me at all, no space, and told me to go to the ER. I was resentful of them, and didn't go.
Then the pain continued, and, feeling a bit foolish, a bit like Chicken Little, I made my way back to Baptist East. I expected the same four hour wait as last time.
I signed in, and wrote my symptoms were shortness of breath. That's it, I didn't even mention the chest pressure.
This time I was immediately put into a wheelchair, before, it seemed, I could even turn around, it was that fast. They didn't take my vitals, my insurance, nothing, I was quickly wheeled inside, urgently.
From here things moved very fast.
I was put into a room, and my blood pressure and temperature was taken, and they asked me how much pain I was having from 1 to 10. I said 2, but told them about my chest pressure.
Immediately an EKG machine was wheeled in. I thought this was absurd, but they took the reading anyway.
Within five minutes a doctor came back. "Your EKG reading was unusual," he said.
Soon a team of nurses swarmed me, alongside the doctor, whose name I can't remember.
Needles were urgently put into either arm, I was given three baby aspirin to chew, I was given two more big pills, not to chew, that I chewed anyway by mistake, and the room had about 12 people in it, all focused on me.
The needle wouldn't enter my left arm, because it had just been needled so much from my prior ER visit. With no time to waste they put the needle into the back of my left hand.
"Wow, this is how Layne Staley must have felt," I joked. No one laughed.
Within another few moments a second doctor, with a surgical mask entered.
He got on my level and looked me in the eye.
"You are having a heart attack," he said. "We have to operate on you now."
The nurses were still trying to put various things into my arm or take things from my arm, but this new doctor, Dr. Dillon I was to learn later, closed the door on all that.
"No, we have to do this NOW. Let's go."
In other words, he kicked ass.
Srep, a UTI, and now a heart attack? "This really hasn't been my week," I joked to the closest nurse. Again, no laughter. I guess it really isn't the best medicine after all.
As I was wheeled down the hall I was able to call Randi. She had already been called by me when I entered the ER, and was on her way, so I got her voice mail.
I sounded amazingly like myself, I thought.
"Hi babe, it's me. On my way to have them check out my heart. They tell me I am having a heart attack ..."
Here three nurses corrected, in a way that is not so different from when Stella corrects me.
"No, you ARE having a heart attack," they said in unison.
"Okay, I am having a heart attack. I am being well taken care of, and I am sure they will do everything they can. See you soon."
I hung up the phone and realized that, just maybe, my life could very soon be over.
What about all the things I never got to do, I immediately thought. The book I have been working on forever, it will never be finished. Too much time wasted.
But then I thought of all the people in my life. And how I had loved them, and let them know I loved them, and how if I loved you, or cared about you, you knew. I let you know. My life was one of love, and openness, and treating the people that I loved as well as I could as much as I could. And I felt better. In fact, it made me feel not bad at all. It made me feel good, if you can believe it. I love my family, I love my friends, and it's been a good life. I could live with that.
I was asked what the pain was again as I was wheeled into what I suppose is the surgery room. I repeated, about 2. "I thought a heart attack would feel a little different, I guess."
I was told a catheter camera would be inserted to examine my heart.
Oh great, I thought, right up the penis.
I hope they use numbing solution.
In truth the catheter was placed in my wrist, and the observation was over before I knew it had begun. It's a miracle, isn't it.
Quickly they determined that I was NOT, in fact, having a heart attack. The second this was said the tension exited the room, as did most of the people. I was rolled down the hallway. And put into a waiting area.
Here things get a little strange. I can't really remember the next hour or so.
Randi soon saw me, and was terrified. I looked grey, she said. I am sure we hugged, and I told her I loved her. Because I do, and did.
They still didn't know quite what was wrong with me, but we knew, if nothing else, that it wasn't a heart attack. And that was something, you know?