It wasn’t because I was lazy, although I am; I didn’t know what to write until I could tell you the outcome of this story. I’m not the same person I was a week ago. I have been changed forever, transformed.
While I was having such a good time in New York something else was happening to me, something that happened before but only briefly and with weeks between episodes. On Tuesday night, returning from the lovely visit with my friends, my heart started beating very hard and fast: palpitations, then several occurrences I had trouble describing: not vertigo, not lightheadedness, not really feeling faint, but feeling like the world tilted for a couple of seconds. One of the times this happened previously was just before I had a doctor’s appointment. The doctor gave me some instructions about it, but didn’t seem concerned—intermittent palpitations being hard to diagnose. The Tuesday night episode seemed a little worse than previously, but I decided to ignore it.
Most of my life when I’ve had something wrong, it’s gone away by itself, or it wasn’t very important—obviously all were aggravations I could live with. This time, although I wasn’t ready to acknowledge it, was different. Saturday morning I met City Mary. The plan was to see Indiana Jones, which could be the subject for a different post, go to lunch, then walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, that weekend being the 125th anniversary of its opening.
The palpitations began at lunch. Being in denial and convinced of my omnipotence, I didn’t say anything. We walked to the subway, down three flights of stairs to the express trains where I experienced a really bad world tilt, then up to Brooklyn Bridge Park where I told Mary the whole story. She had never walked across the bridge. The walkway was crowded; the bridge had gotten lots of publicity on this anniversary. I walked part way up, found a bench and waited for Mary to go to the actual bridge part. She did not go across, but came back to help me. This time I was really in bad shape, still in denial. We went back toward the apartment and I began to feel better. I considered going to an emergency room but decided it wasn’t a great place to be on a holiday weekend alone. I spent Sunday evening and all day Monday being quiet and very careful of what I ate. I wanted to get back to Pittsburgh before I saw a doctor.
Tuesday morning I took a taxi to the train station and finally called my doctor’s office to try to get in there first thing Wednesday. They advised me to go to an emergency room in NY, and if not, to go right to the emergency room when I got off the train. I opted for the train and spent most of the nine hours contemplating my mortality, thinking about how my life would change, all the things I would have to change–not easy. Of course, I still didn’t know what was wrong or what would happen.
The emergency room was a zoo, but they take people with chest pains very quickly. And are you thinking, she never said anything about chest pains? My chest did feel very heavy all day Monday, so let’s call that chest pains. I felt fine Tuesday, all Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning. I was beginning to wonder why I was there when, about 10:15 am, my heart started racing. The nurse came over and quickly took an EKG. About 10:30 the terrible tilt sensation came again, longer and worse than before. They told me afterward, my heart had stopped for about 8 seconds. Not too much later I was told I would be getting a pacemaker.
I’m writing this on Friday morning, pacemaker implanted, almost ready to go home. I think I will be able to resume most of my usual activities, although I don’t think I’ll be going to Chicago next week as planned. The worst part of it is that I am now a captive of the pharmaceutical industry for the rest of my life, something I’ve been trying to avoid.
Ronni Bennett wrote a post about elder adaptability; essentially how we all adapt to the changes in our bodies and our circumstances. I certainly think I have done that. I no longer run to catch buses, I know that my reflexes have slowed and take that into consideration when I drive. I’ve made a lot of adaptations for my poor vision. I could go on and on. The one thing I wasn’t willing to consider was poor health. My mother was a world-class hypochondriac and wasn’t willing to think about anyone else’s ailments. When I was sick I was doing it to her. Early on I learned to stay healthy, a habit I maintained until last week. So it really took me by surprise. I don’t go to doctors easily. This is the first time I’ve ever been to an emergency room for me. I don’t really know what constitutes an emergency or illness serious enough to go for immediate help. This whole thing has been a learning experience, but I don’t know if it will apply the next time.