This is One of Those Memorable Birthdays

I started my life on April 29, 1963 at a hospital (St. Joseph’s in Parkersburg, W.Va.).  I turned 47 today, and I started this birthday in a hospital.  From 10:30 last night to mid-afternoon today, I was at the hospital while the doctors, nurses, and technicians were trying to figure out the cause of my chest pain and shortness of breath (It said “SOB” on my chart, and I’m sure many people who have met me over the years will second that!).

The chest tightness and shortness of breath happened during my last hour and a half at work, but I managed to conceal it from my co-workers.  When I left work, I debated heading straight for the hospital, but I’ve had these symptoms before, and they’ve always quickly passed, so I decided to let it ride for awhile.

I let it ride until about 10:30, when the pain, the shortness of breath, and the tightness were all impossible to ignore.  I called Pat, and he took me over to Riverside Methodist Hospital, site of Steph’s 1999 heart procedure.  Fortunately, it was a pretty quiet night in the E.R., so they took me back almost right away.

Pat stayed with me until I was assigned to a room.  The nurses drew blood, I had two enzyme series, and the nurse kept giving me nitroglycerin tablets to lessen the pain in my chest.  The tablets did bring down the pain, but the flush of heat and the shortness of breath almost cancelled any benefit.  It’s probably the closest a male can come to hot flashes.

The E.R. doc who came in took down the pertinent information I gave him, and his grimness made me worry. “I’m not liking what you’re telling me,” he said.  He specifically asked about family history of heart disease, and  I told him my father and his father both died of heart attacks, and the doctor was especially concerned that my grandfather had died at 52, a comparatively young age.

The nurse added morphine to my IV, as an added measure for pain reduction, and told me in the morning they’d be giving me a stress test.  I should have been happy they weren’t ordering a cardiac catheterization.  Steph has had several, but even without her first-hand knowledge, I can’t imagine having a needle jabbed up your groin is all that pleasant.

The hospital gave me two birthday presents (not counting the morphine!).  One was a very nice bracelet, and the other was a Mylar balloon that said Happy Birthday!.  This is a picture of the bracelet:

I decided that whenever I received a hospital bracelet, I’d staple it to a page in my diary.  This current volume has more than its share, in between my CT scan in December, the chest X ray at Mount Carmel West Hospital, the gallbladder surgery, and now this.

The CT scan was better than the one I had in December, especially since it didn’t entail drinking any barium beforehand.  I still rolled my eyes when I was lying on that moving table listening to the machine tell me, “Take a deep breath.  Now hold it.”  I was thinking all the while, If I could do that, I wouldn’t be here.


Pat left once I was settled, after calling Steph to let her know my situation.  I was in and out of sleep until morning.  I think I fell asleep to the National Weather Service radar.

There was lots of waiting before the stress test, which was fine with me, because I’ve had them before, and they aren’t pleasant, especially for a non-athlete like myself.  In the meantime, a technician injected me with a radioactive isotope (good thing my days of fathering children are long over!) and I had a gamma camera scan, which took awhile.  I was able to lie still during it; I was so exhausted that I must have gone to sleep during it.

And then it was time for the stress test.  I had to stay on the treadmill, at (allegedly) a walking pace, until my heart rate was 150 beats per minute.  This took about 10 minutes, with the treadmill’s speed and incline steadily increasing.  I wasn’t supposed to run, just take long strides.  All the while, I kept thinking of the closing credits of The Jetsons, with hapless George Jetson trapped on the dog-walker and shouting, “Jane!  Stop this crazy thing!”  The nurse and the technician kept telling me how well I was doing, but I thought I was going to collapse at any second.  I was so exhausted I definitely did fall asleep during the second gamma camera scan.

The doctor finally discharged me in mid-afternoon.  Nothing wrong with my heart and lungs, but they were still clueless as to the cause of the pain.  He wrote me a Vicodin prescription for the pain, so I’m ready in case it returns.  The ultimate diagnosis was Chest pain–pleural.

So, I’ve been in bed most of the evening since I returned home.  (I came home via the Goodwill thrift store, where I treated myself to a new–to me–pair of tennis shoes and a T-shirt advertising The Florentine, an Italian restaurant that truly made living on the West Side more pleasant.)  Susie visited me with her present and a cake, but mostly I was in and out of sleep.  I do plan on working in the morning, although I will bring Vicodin along with me just in case the pain returns.

I chuckled when I thought about being in Lafayette Park in Washington last month, taking my dose of codeine-laden cough medicine by drinking it straight out of the bottle.  I was worried a police officer would see it and arrest me.  (My psychologist pointed out that I was hardly the first person to take opiates in Lafayette Park.)

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