Thursday, January 05, 2006

What I Did on my Christmas Vacation

View from the 11th Floor of Fairview Riverside Hospital

So in my last post I was nattering on about how even when I'm unlucky I still manage to be fortunate. Consider that foreshadowing for my current predicament. On December 12th I was at school with nothing more on my mind then getting through finals week in one piece... So when I realized that I was having a lot of difficulty breathing, and that my heart was tripping over itself, I was almost as surprised as I was frightened. The paramedics thought I was having a panic attack at first, since my symptoms were similar, but once I told the EMT that I had been having shortness of breath for several days, and he realized that I wasn't able to lower my heart rate, I was on my way to the St. Cloud Hospital Emergency Room with oxygen and an IV, wondering what in the world could be wrong with me.

What Was Wrong With Me

When I got to the ER the Doctor, who looked remarkably like Mr. Big from Sex in the City, put me on a saline drip and had an EKG done. My heart rate was 130 beats a minute. My breathing was much better with the oxygen, so I was quite a bit more comfortable, but still pretty shocked to find myself hooked up to a bunch of machines in an emergency room. I kept thinking about the class I was supposed to have the next day, and that if I wasn't there the Prof had threatened to dock me attendance points. A chest x-ray was performed, and showed that I didn't have fluid in my lungs, ruling out pneumonia. The Doctor then told me that the next possible culprit was pulmonary emboli-- blood clots in my lungs, and said that he wanted to do a CT scan. The CT scan showed that I had multiple clots in both lungs, which is pretty damn serious. I was put on a Heparin (blood thinning drug) drip. I finally managed to reach my husband sometime after this, and it was when I heard his voice that the reality of my circumstance began to sink in-- up until that point I had kept my game face on, but all at once I realized that my condition was life-threatening, (and that I would certainly not be going to my Tuesday class.) He said that he would get to the hospital as soon as possible-- not an easy feat when leaving Minneapolis for St.Cloud during evening rush hour. As it was, he arrived shortly before I was to be transferred to Fairview Riverside hospital in Minneapolis, and so basically got to follow the ambulance back to the cities. All during the long and swaying ride I was comforted by the distinctive set of the Jeep's headlights shining in at me through the rear window of the transport.

Hospital Life

I was admitted to Fairview Riverside, the closest hospital to my house, at about 10 pm on the night of Monday, December 12th. For the next week I was a resident of the 11th floor Surgery and Telemetry wing. I was on telemetry for the first few days, so that my heartbeat, still more rapid than usual, could be continually monitored. The leads for the monitor were attached at 5 points to my torso, and once removed left itchy marks that remained even after I went home. I was also on oxygen, as well as a twice daily shot of a blood thinner called Lovenox, and 5mg of Coumadin. The first full day that I was in the hospital an ultrasound was done of both my legs; the radiologist found that I had a clot in my left leg from the back of my knee to the middle of my calf. It was from this clot that my emboli had originated. The cause? My birth control, the Nuva ring, combined with a previously undiagnosed genetic blood condition called Factor V Homozygous Leiden (actually, this test didn't come back until after I left the hospital, but it was, indeed, the cause). I'm glad to say that all of the hospital staff that I came in contact with during my stay were wonderful and caring, especially the night nurses and the third year resident assigned to my case. Dr. P. was wonderful, being one of the somewhat rare breed of doctor who is able to give one an accurate understanding of their circumstance without scaring the bejesus out of them. The first year resident, on the other hand, wasn't so tactful, and reduced me to tears (after she left the room) by telling me how lucky I was to be alive. That was a bad day.

My husband was wonderful, managing to get home to feed our dogs twice a day, and every night uncomplainingly arranging his 6'5" frame on an uncomfortable roll-away bed in my hospital room. I was also blessed to have the loving support of friends and family, especially my Noona, who was only a phone call away whenever I needed her, and drove up from Chicago to stay with me for several days when I was released. My brother arranged to have my car picked up from St. Cloud State, and my Mom and Moggie ferried it back to Minneapolis. My Dad came and sat with me, and brought me a lovely bouquet of pink roses. I had several calls from my Mother-in-Law, as well as calls from my sisters, friends, and even my husband's Grandma. Flowers arrived from several people, including an arrangement of lilies from my husband's workmates, chosen specifically, he was instructed to tell me, to match the lily bulbs that we gave as favors at our wedding this summer. An old friend brought his dog to visit, and also carry-out soup from Quang Deli, quite a treat after nearly a week of bland hospital fare. Throughout the whole experience I was touched and humbled by the love and care I received.

Finally, I was weaned off of supplementary oxygen, my blood was judged adequately thinned, my husband was taught how to give me Lovenox shots should I need them, and I was discharged. I was scared to go home, where there would be no pulse oxymeter to tell me that my heartbeat was normal and my oxygen saturation up to par. Even though I wasn't a fan of the 5:30 am blood draw and vitals check, I also found it reassuring. It was hard to leave the safety net behind and venture back into the world with a body that seemed so much more fragile than the one I thought I had.

I Thought It Would Hurt More

What was amazing to me throughout my whole ordeal was that even though I was apparently in a very perilous circumstance, I was never in pain. My heart was beating hell bent for leather and I couldn't catch my breath, but I wasn't aware of real discomfort, only that I was scared. Up until this happened, I had always thought that I would know if I were in real danger because I would be in great pain. Not so. In a way, the realization that I could be in dire straits and not even know it was as shocking and scary as everything else.


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