Wednesday, February 1, 2012

My Heart Attack Pt. 2

So, it wasn't a heart attack, but that didn't stop Randi from almost having one herself. You see she had been told that I was having a heart attack, of course, so she was terrified. In turn she then told my family that I was having a heart attack, and told her own family.

For my immediate family this was devastating news, for obvious and not so obvious reasons. Obvious, because they were afraid for me. No so obvious because my beloved Uncle Herbie had, unfortunately, died far too young as a result of heart disease. It was and is one of the great tragedies to ever befall our family.

My sister immediately flashed to that when she got the news, which was horrific for her. And you can imagine how it went for everyone else. My Mom was not told about any of this until later, when I told her, which was the right move.

I was wheeled into my own room in the Cardiac Care Unit at Baptist East. Dr. Dillon, whom I immediately liked, told me that I would probably be the healthiest person in the unit, but since I'd had something wrong with my heart, we didn't know what yet, that was where I would go.

The room was comfortable. My daytime nurse was named Russ and we immediately hit it off, as we are both bit science fiction fans. My evening nurse was named Virginia, and she was also excellent. They were both attentive, knowledgeable and good at their jobs.

Soon we heard the clicking of high heels and another doctor entered the room, Dr. Wojda (pronounced voy-ta). She was, and is, an elegant European woman, who always seemed, to me, to have their air of someone either on their way to or from the opera.

But what she really is, I learned, is a leading infectious disease expert. (I was to discover that Dillon is also one of the leading, if not the leading, cardiac doctors in Louisville.)

We talked about my various physical problems, and focused on the staph. She took a look at the boil on my hip and quickly intuited that I almost certainly did not have strep, but staph that had penetrated into my blood stream. She said the boil would be drained the following morning, Friday, and that I would get an MRI in order for them to see what was really going on with my heart.

The rest of the day passed with much blood drawn, my blood pressure and temperature taken what seemed like dozens of times, and my first official hospital meal, some kind of spaghetti thing. "Wow, this looks like a bad version of something good," I joked, But I ate it anyway. It was okay.

My brother-in-law Jason, who is a bigger fella, made a particularly funny joke that I later heard. After hearing that I, of all people, had a heart attack he said, "you know I've been meaning to talk to him about his lifestyle."

I spoke on the phone with my brother, dad, sister, and eventually Mom too. Of course they were all concerned, but happy to hear there was no heart attack, as was I. In fact, my go to line--when someone would ask me how I was--was this: "A lot better now that I know I'm not having a heart attack!"

There were some fringe benefits to this near-death experience too. Ever have an argument with a friend that you can't quite get past? Scare them with a heart attack and soon your disagreement will seem pretty small.

The following morning I was scheduled for my MRI. I was strapped into yet another rolling bed, and taken to Jewish Hospital. (My little joke, I was being taken to Jewish hospital, where all the patients are probably baptist. But I was a patient at Baptist East, even though I am one of Louisville's 10 Jews.)

The MRI is a Kubrikian sort of thing. A narrow, white tube, into which you are inserted. You aren't allowed to move at all while it is in operation. Ala "2001" it is sleek and white. At any moment I felt kind of like screaming "open the pod bay doors HAL!" But you also can't move, ala "Clockwork Orange" when he is forced to watch the movie and can't wipe his eyes.

The took dozens of magnetic photos of my ticker and then I was released. Randi and her mom were in the waiting room.

My wife was amazing during this whole ordeal. At my side as much as she could be, but she also took care to keep everyone else updated. She brought me things to read, food, and gave me 100% total sympathy and love when I most needed it. I realized then, and still realize, how lucky I truly am to have her as my wife.

Her family was almost as great. Her mother, Judy, watched Stella for four days in a row, which Stella loved. And Randi's sister Nora, along with Judy, cleaned our apartment top to bottom. It is currently cleaner than when we moved in.

My brother in law Kerry and his daughter Claire sent me chocolates and some flowers to cheer me up, and Jason, and his wife, Nicole visited me in the hospital, spreading cheer. And Nora's husband, Brian, was kind enough to take Stella, and his own kids, out to lunch so they could have a little fun.

I was also visited in the hospital by my friends-since-moving-here-but-good-friends-just-the-same, Marcus and Yancy, whose very presence cheered me up.

We also received a surprise visit from Cantor David Lipp from our temple, Adath Jeshurun. This was a pleasant surprise, and it was a lot of fun to see him. He also arranged for a temple volunteer to share some challah and grape juice with us that night, Friday evening, for shabbat. It made my hospital room seem a whole lot more like home. I was grateful.

And Randi posted about me on her Facebook page, garnering dozens of responses. It made this sick guy feel a whole lot better.

Stella freaked out when she first saw me. She entered the room, and started to cry. "I want to be with Mamaw!" (That's her name for Judy.) But then we started to clown around, and she had some fun. But the gown was kind of a hurdle.

"Daddy's in a funny dress!" She said this at least a dozen times. Another time she felt the fabric, and said solemnly: "Daddy's dress is soft."

That night, last Friday, when Judy tucked Stella in she said this little nugget before bed. "Daddy is in the hospital, so he can feel better. Daddy has on a funny dress." And then she passed out.

Eventually a doctor came in to drain my boil. A nurse, female, also came in. The boil had gone down in size, and the nurse was a bit letdown that there wouldn't be much of a show, so to speak.

"Oh, you should have seen my last surgery," the doctor, a thin woman, said. "It was like a softball!"

No, my little boil just kind of bled a lot, and then they packed it up with antiseptic gauze. A culture was removed from it, and then sent to a lab, to see what kind of staph I had.

There were a few things to get used to. I perpetually had a line running out of my arm into a tube, and little monitors on my chest connected to something about the size and weight of a Walkman.

Initially they wanted to monitor my urine count, for some reason. I am amazed to say I pee almost exactly 200 mg every time. The things you learn.

The majority of the stay was uneventful, almost relaxing. Randi and I spent a lot of time together. And while it might stretch the definition of "quality time" we really hadn't gotten to spend this much uninterrupted time together, with no real responsibilities, since before Stella's birth. But I wouldn't want to repeat it, you know?

I got oddly used to having people do stuff for me. The nurses would get me a drink if I wanted it, move stuff, turn on or off lights. It felt weird initially, but I learned to let them help me.

Overall it was kind of like a nice hotel room, only with constant interruptions, poor cuisine, and a whole lot of sick and dying people all around me. I guess that's kind of like living in gated community in Florida.

By Monday they had determined that I had staph for sure, it had poisoned my system, but I didn't have the worst kind of staph, known as MRSA. (That's the kind that is resistant to most antibiotics.)

As for my heart, I had been short of breath because it was inflamed, in a staph-related condition called endocarditis, which is basically an infection of the heart. I was told that with proper care, and a thorough course of antibiotics, I should be back to normal, 100%, although not right away.

I was given a PICC line, which is kind of like an IV that is placed inside your arm, and told that I would need to return to the hospital every day for 24 days to get the medicine I need. I was also told to not exert myself too much, and that I wouldn't be 100% back to normal until around Easter, whenever that may be.

Overall, I have to say I was stunned by how good the staff was at Baptist East. I saw both Dr. Dillon, and Wojda a lot. I even got to know them a bit. Dr. Dillon reminded me a bit of a hard-core version of Ed Helms, with a great dry wit. And Dr. Wojda, I learned, is from Eastern Europe, where my family is originally from.

I have heard horror stories of how people have had serious problems in big city hospitals, and they feel ignored by their caretakers. I can't say that was the case for me at all at Baptist East. I saw not only the doctors, but the nurses all the time. It truly felt like first world healthcare.

So, I am not 100% better, but I am much better than I had been even a week ago. My temperature is normal, my blood pressure is down, I can breath, and I am getting more healthy not more sick. I have love, family, friends, and meaningful things to live for. I am grateful for my life, my wife, my daughter, my immediate family, and the friends that I love. I am grateful for the beautiful notes and messages I have received online. It all could have been so much worse.

So if you see me this month ask to see my PICC line, it is on my right arm, and is a tube that snakes out of the crook of my elbow. It makes me feel cool, like a cyborg.