The Best Laid Plans
I called 911 for myself the other night.
It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make. An introvert’s worst nightmare! Am I really having a heart attack? In which case it would be stupid to not call. Or is it “just” heartburn — which can sometimes feel like a heart attack — and would I be unnecessarily incurring unwanted attention and expenses?
I have well-controlled (for the most part), and well-monitored (with every-five-year endoscopies), Barrett’s Esophagus. So I know something about it. But this was different, I finally decided. Here’s one of the many articles I read that night that helped me decide. When you have all of the symptoms, you call.
I’m not going to give a blow-by-blow account of my 5 days and 4 nights in the hospital. Partly because it would trigger a friendly, but overwhelming, flood of questions and well-intended advice. Hopefully this blog post will predict and answer some of those questions. But also I’m just not up to it. There were many developments, and many things to notice, learn, and be amused or annoyed by, each day and each night. What they say about hospitals not being restful places cannot be overstated! I could write a book.
This was not on my schedule!
Is there ever a good time to get sick or to have an emergency? It’s one thing to plan an elective surgery around a work and vacation schedule. And planners like me wanna plan. But not everything can be planned. And if your calendar is not too full, things can be rearranged.
I wrote Organizing to De-Stress a Major or Chronic Illness for scenarios like when you’ve received a cancer diagnosis, or you are going to be recovering from surgery (planned or unplanned), or maybe you have a chronic illness. Sections include: Organize Your Medical Records; Organize Your Support System; Organize Your Home; and Organize Your Self. (NOTE: If you have experience that would be additive to, or corrective of, anything in that post, lease let me know. I’d love to consider including it in a future update.)
What that post doesn’t cover is: What if you live alone and have an emergency?
While I was waiting for the paramedics to arrive at my home, I at least had the presence of mind to put my 1-page Medical Notes summary of conditions, doctors, medications, etc. — which I had just updated, neener-neener — and my iPhone charger in my purse. (There was never any risk I would leave without my iPhone, which came in handy in more ways than I can count.) I figured I’d be there for hours, but I did not foresee that I’d be there for days.
Word traveled fast
One of the trickiest things — for single, organized, introverted moi — is deciding what to tell whom and when. The first person I told was my friend and colleague Miriam. And I only told her because we had very specific plans that day (Friday) and she would worry (and be inconvenienced) if I just didn’t show up. I also figured, since she lives near me and our plans together were cancelled, that she might be able to give me a ride home. Why drag anyone else into it? Surely I’d be ready to go home soon.
As the day wore on, I sent my regrets (sans explanation, because there was nothing definitive to report yet), to a Friday night Zoom group of friends.
There were a few other commitments that I easily postponed without explaining why. Which gave me until the next morning, at which time, if necessary, I’d have to tell my family because I might be missing Saturday Breakfast or wanting to sleep through it.
Otherwise, telling anybody anything would just freak them out, with the double burden to me of them not being able to do anything helpful — or me having to think what would help — and me having to reassure them that I’ll be OK, which I didn’t actually know yet myself. And then they’d have questions I couldn’t answer (or wouldn’t have the desire and energy to answer), and I’d have to update them later. Because now they would know. And they would be kind enough to ask after me again. Better to wait until I have something conclusive to report, no? Well, that’s how I think!
But things quickly escalated. A neighbor I barely know saw the ambulance and told a former neighbor, who told my brother. Mike (the brother) has been very helpful in terms of feeding my cats and bringing me things from home. But it didn’t stop there. It snowballed to the point where I felt kind of rude just saying no all the time — no visitors, no diagnosis yet, not now yet either, don’t need anything, thanks. (It was mostly via text, and mostly local folks, so it was at least people I know well and have previously given my cell number to.) Meanwhile, others who are also important to me knew nothing at all because they were grapes, or grape clusters, who were not attached to that particular rogue grapevine.
All the while I’m thinking: Make it stop! This is what Caring Bridge is for! Updating lots of people at once in a semi-private way. But not yet — not in the middle of an emergency! Better to set it up after you know a little more about what’s going on — and whether it’s really a situation that will warrant ongoing updates — and have decided whether it’s anyone else’s business — so you can predict their questions and answer them. It’s not for opening up a can of worms, dropping it, and running away!
It was not a heart attack, though
So, the good news is that it was not a heart attack, and my arteries are not clogged. We all know the cliche about a fat person being a walking heart attack waiting to happen. Never mind that skinny people can get heart attacks too, and that we have no real knowledge of most people’s actual health status.
But who knew how many heart conditions there were? And how many causes? Not me!
What I do have — the bad news — is fluid around my heart (cardiac effusion) with a bit of an irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation) thrown in for good measure.
Still no diagnosis
The disappointing news is that I did not have a diagnosis even by the end of my hospital stay, which was Tuesday. What’s causing the cardiac effusion, so we can treat it? And what about that pesky atrial fibrillation?
But recovery for this hospital stay is nothing as bad as the ordeal of a heart attack or heart surgery patient. I came home with 3 new medications, 2 new doctors (cardiologist and rheumatologist) and several different kinds of follow-up appointments.
Consensus is that it might be an autoimmune disease (yes, they tested for some of them, with no conclusive results). But it could also be a virus, which is more common (a mystery virus, not COVID) and which tends to resolve itself after awhile. No one sees any indication that the cardiac effusion is caused by cancer. Whew! And they’ve had plenty of labs and images to help
The follow-ups will involve many things I don’t need to go into and it may take me developing additional symptoms before they can figure it out. It will take time. I thought I had a number of good symptoms already — things I don’t talk about much because why? — and was all set to be happy with an autoimmune diagnosis. Why happy? Because even people with sucky autoimmune diseases usually feel a bit better with treatment, right? And it’s been a long time since I actually felt good.
Managing my disappointment at the lack of diagnosis is hard enough.
Please don’t expect me to manage yours, too!
Do I want visitors now that I’m home?
Heck no, LOL! I haven’t had visitors in so long, why start now? COVID-wise, I was already high-risk (for several reasons). I’m also triple-vaxxed. But now I’m probably more likely to infect you than the other way around, having been around so many people in the hospital. It’s not like I was in a COVID ward, but still. So. Many. People. Coming. And. Going.
Being in the hospital is exhausting! I need to rest. I’m really not worried about keeling over, and I can manage fine around the house by myself. If you were here, and we were talking, though, or — heaven forbid — walking around, and I experienced shortness of breath (dyspnea) my attention would be on my Pulse Oximiter and my Voldyne 4000 Incentive Spirometer (breathing exercise device). I wouldn’t want to waste my breath — literally — explaining it to you, or reassuring you.
I love texts, emails, and direct messages, though! (Phone calls were already not my favorite, and they require a lot of breathing.) And cute/funny/educational/motivational/beautiful posts on Facebook. Things to which I can respond at my leisure while I’m breathing deeply, between naps with my kitties.
Something might get lost in the shuffle
So, I missed a couple of meetings and had to reschedule a few things.
There may or may not be a newsletter this month.
A couple of projects are on the back burner.
It’s already been quite awhile since I was doing hands-on organizing, so it doesn’t affect me in that way.
But Odds Are We’re Gonna Be Alright. Right? Can’t plan everything.
When you have to call 911 for yourself, your best laid plans go out the window.
However, if WE have something in the works and you are worried about THAT getting lost in the shuffle, please don’t hesitate to ask me about it!
Playing the poor-baby card
Meanwhile — get ready for me to play the poor-baby card — if you want to express your good wishes to me in some way might I suggest the following?
- In lieu of flowers (which I don’t need), or, say, a DoorDash gift certificate (which would be quite welcome if you do want to send something!) — why not do us both a favor and buy a copy of my new book?
- In lieu of a get-well card — how ‘bout an endorsement of my new book on Amazon or Goodreads (or both), or a plug on social media, a photo of yourself with the book, or all of the above?
Oh, and if I ever did write a book about this experience, a few chapter contenders would be:
- 18 hours in the ER
- The hospital bed from hell
- Traveling nurses
- Faces in things
- How is it possible you don’t know that test was performed? I have the results right here on my phone!
- WTF, Dr? Pull your mask up!
OK, time for a nap with my kitties!
Please leave a comment on any of the things I’ve mentioned that you can relate to:
Have you ever called 911 for yourself?
Did word ever get out about you when you weren’t ready for it?
Do you like visitors when you are ill? Or, not so much?
Do you have anything to add to Organizing to De-Stress a Major or Chronic Illness?
Copyright 2022 by Hazel Thornton, Organized for Life and Beyond
Author of What’s a Photo Without the Story? How to Create Your Family Legacy
Please contact me for reprint permission (other than direct social media links).