Owner of a Loner Heart

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.

Life is Tenuous At Best

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Atina the Amazing Malinois was trying to climb this tall tree that you see here.  I looked where her gaze was riveted, and thus is what I saw: the back end of a raptor of some sort, white underside, soft, with enormous grasping talons.  I knew the rest of it must be on the other side of the branch the corpse had been draped over, or rather, dropped over by the triumphant winner of what must have been a hell of an aeronautic battle.  No blood, which points to a slam from above, a tactic used by other raptors to rid themselves of competition in their hunting territories.  Here is the other side:

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The young raptor’s beak curves off to the left.  You can see how she is just draped across the crotch of this piƱon pine, as if she was simply dropped there.

Well, she was.  I’ve never seen anything like this before.  She was too high up to have been put there by people, who use this place in the forest on the Coconino Plateau, close to the Grand Canyon, as a hunting camp.  You can tell from the numerous white-picked skeletons of young elk and deer, headless and mostly whole except for the parts easily hauled off to be picked by the eaters of carrion.  And the young raptor, so far, has been left alone by Nature’s cleanup crew, so it must have happened very recently.

I had a heart attack five days ago.

It happened at about 6:15 on Monday morning.  I was awakened by a piercing pain on the right side of my head.  My blood pressure has been out of control lately, and I’ve been trying different meds to bring it down.  The one I’m on helps some.  I tried a tiny dose of a beta blocker, but my pulse went down to 48 and stayed there.  The next one clashed with my lithium so I couldn’t take that.  Another one is now waiting for me at the Walgreens in Flagstaff, but I’m chilling on the Plateau.  I’ll pick it up tomorrow.

Monday morning.  When I had the big pain in my head I thought, well, here it is, now I’ll really lose my whole left side.  At least language will be preserved, though, since the stroke is in my right brain.

But that pain went away, and suddenly my left chest got crushed by a great weight.  The weight also crushed my throat.  I couldn’t believe it.  I could barely breath.  My chest wouldn’t move.  I couldn’t move.  All I could do was wrap my arms around my chest and moan.  Atina plastered her full length against my side, panting.  I also panted.  I couldn’t expand my chest without aggravating the already excruciating heart pain.

It took maybe two hours before I was able to move.  And the rest of that day, all I could manage was to make my way from the bed to the bathroom, and back to bed.  Atina did get to go outside, but not for our usual two to three mile walk.  I gradually recovered my energy over the next few days.  I think I’ve been having some episodes of angina, heart muscle pain that comes and goes.  I’ve been having that for some time.

Listen, I found out the body does not like heart pain.  At all.  When the heart is not getting sufficient oxygen, it screams.

This is the third episode of heart pain I’ve had.  The first was maybe two years ago.  That time the pain woke me from a deep sleep.  It sat on me for hours.  I kept thinking, I should perhaps dial 911, but the phone is on my bedside table and I can’t move.  They always tell you it feels like an elephant is sitting on your chest.  They are right.

I had a third, smaller one in between the bigger ones.  That was when I tried to seek care at a large hospital with a large reputation, and ended up leaving without being seen because they were so rude to me I thought I was going to have a stroke.

I’m not afraid of dying.  I am afraid of the medical establishment, and I am afraid of having my life even more dominated by tests, invasive procedures, and “experts” than it is already.

For example, the only real way to find out what’s going on with my heart is to do a cardiac catheterization.  They thread a fiber optic tube through a blood vessel in your groin, all the way up into your heart, and from there they shoot some dye right into the three major arteries of the heart, and watch where it goes on a screen.  This way they can see whether the vessels are blocked, and if so, where and how much.  If the vessel is only partially blocked, they can open it with a balloon and maybe put a stent in there to keep the vessel open.

That sounds pretty simple, and most of the time it is.  But my blood vessels are very friable, meaning that they rupture easily.  Like, just opening a cabinet door, or walking over the edge of a rug.  Any little bump or stress, and I’ve got a painful hematoma.  So a major vascular procedure would be terribly risky. 

I’m much more afraid of a cardiac cath than I am of a crippling or fatal heart attack.  I just have to figure out how to save Atina from being locked in the van with me if it happens.  I’d call someone, but when this happens I’m unable to move.  So I’ve taken to leaving the doors unlocked at night.  Hopefully someone would show up eventually and let her out.

I wish all this grim stuff was not reality.  I have so many things I want to do, finally, and now this.  I feel as if I’m in the grip of some evil force that is making my life into a big joke.  I’ve been feeling that for decades, but the joke is getting worse and worse.