I wish I could say I knew what was going on with my health. Since I last wrote, things have only gotten worse, and answers are very few and far between.
My tests revealed a stenosis in my left shoulder. It was enough to explain some of my symptoms, but not all of them. It didn’t explain the passing out or the dizziness. It may have explained the difference in blood pressure, but aside from that, something else was going on, but no one knew what.
As I sat in his office, I started to feel it again. The feeling I have trouble explaining. It starts as a tightness in my chest. My head gets heavy and I start to get dizzy. It feels like a grand effort just to keep upright. I remember him telling me I didn’t look right. He asked me if I was on anything (insinuating drugs, which I don’t blame him for, because he does know my history). I couldn’t tell him what was going on. I just told him I was tired. I told him I’d be okay. If I had just been able to tell him in that very moment what was going on, maybe he could have helped me better, because what has followed since then has been a series of concerning and frightening events.
I couldn’t tell you the exact date, though I could look through the growing pile of hospital papers I have acquired in the last several weeks alone because of this. I was sitting in group at PHP. I felt the pain in my chest. I tried to focus on breathing, but the pain wouldn’t go away. My heart was fluttering. My head felt weird. Dizzy, empty, full, I can’t describe it. I remember sitting in the chair after group unable to move. A few people walked by and asked if I was okay, but I couldn’t answer. My body was so weak, I could barely speak. I remember the therapist sitting in front of me asking if I was okay. The next thing I remember, I was flat on my back on the floor confused as fuck.
Apparently I had passed out cold right out of the chair and onto the floor. All I could do was apologize. The therapist was there, the nurse, and the psychiatrist. They checked my blood pressure and pulse, and both were way too high. Not my normal at all. It felt like my heart was going to beat out of my chest. I tried to calm down but all I could was panic. I kept telling them I was fine, but they had called 911 and I ended up being rushed to the emergency room.
I remember the paramedic checking my blood pressure in the ambulance and it came up extremely low; 60/40. He asked if I felt okay. I told him I’m fine, I’m just tired. My usual response, you know. He figured it was just a bad read. He didn’t know any better. He didn’t know all the times my blood pressure readings were so extreme the nurses and the paramedics just assumed they were “bad reads”.
The hospital did blood tests, a CT scan, x-ray. It wasn’t a heart attack. But they couldn’t give me any answers. They listed it as dehydration, and told me to drink more and make sure I was eating enough. I could give them that. I probably wasn’t eating enough.
So I made an effort to eat more. I ate a granola bar for breakfast. I bought a snack for between group sessions at PHP. I hoped this all would stop if I just ate more.
But it didn’t stop. I got that feeling again. The chest pain, the weird feeling in my head. I sat in the nurse’s office in fear that I was going to pass out. She checked for a pulse and could barely feel it. She checked the other side and noticed an irregularity. Not only was my pulse slow, but my heart was skipping a beat. She felt it again and it was still the same. The total opposite of what it was when I passed out before. Instead of my heart racing, now it was barely beating at all. They called 911, and I ended up in the hospital once again.
This time was no different. My blood tests were fine. No heart attack. I stayed bradycardic, but otherwise they weren’t concerned enough to keep me there over night. I was discharged once again with no real answers.
I think the nurse and psychiatrist at PHP were as frustrated as I was. The nurse asked if I could have the hospitals send copies of my EKGs sent to them, so I called up both hospitals I was in and they quickly faxed them over. The psychiatrist noticed something in both EKGs that no doctor or hospital every told me. There was an irregularity in both EKGs, which no one ever addressed and everyone seemed to ignore.
And as if twice weren’t enough, it happened a third time. I was within group and got the pain in my chest. I tried to stay calm and sit through group, but it became increasingly difficult to focus. The woman sitting next to me asked if I was okay, because she said I did not look good. I said I was fine. I didn’t want to go through this again. I just wanted it to go away. But it didn’t. I hesitantly got up to go and ride it out in the bathroom, hoping the pain and dizziness would pass. The nurse saw me on my way there and she knew just by looking at me that it was happening again. I told her I was fine, but I don’t think she believed me, because when I made it out of the bathroom (still no better than before), she and the psychiatrist made me sit down and she took my pulse and blood pressure.
And there it was again. I had a weak pulse, and my heart would skip beats, just like before. I told her I was fine. She kept asking if I was having chest pain and I didn’t want to answer, because I knew if I said yes, she would call 911. The psychiatrist called my cardiologist (who happened to be on call at the hospital) and talked to him directly. He told me to come straight in. Another hospital visit, just days after the one before.
This time wasn’t quite the same story. The doctor came in and told me I had an arrhythmia. He explained that something was off in the part of my heart that controls how it beats, but they just weren’t sure exactly what the problem was yet. They were checking for AFib and put me on a 24-hour monitor right away. Finally, here was an answer. Not a full answer, but certainly better than dehydration.
But it wasn’t a cure. I was still passing out. One morning on my way to work, I passed out as I was closing the front door to the house and fell down stairs of the front porch, sliding down until I hit my head on the concrete. I woke up after 10 or so minutes, I don’t even know. My only worry was getting to work on time. With a scraped up head and bruised up legs, I managed to make it to work on time. I told myself I was okay. I said everything was fine. But it wasn’t fine. My head was pounding, my eye was swollen, and I apparently couldn’t say a coherent sentence without slurring my words. My supervisor was worried I had a concussion so he sent me home. All I could say was I was sorry.
That wasn’t the last time I passed out. Last weekend, I collapsed on the front porch during a retreat for my support group. They called 911, but I refused to go to the hospital. I’m sure the paramedics weren’t happy with me. I told them my list of problems: a stenosis in my left shoulder, heart arrhythymia, tachy/brady, irregular blood pressure, COPD. I told them I’ve been through it enough to know I’d be okay. The hospital wouldn’t do anything for me anyway but have me rest.
I’ve passed out at home (that time, at least, on a carpeted floor). I’ve come close to passing out in work, at stores, even walking across the street. It’s gotten to a point that I’m afraid to go anywhere because I don’t know when I’m going to pass out, and I don’t want to be alone if and when it does happen. Almost every day now, I get the pain. It’s unpredictable. I sit, I lay down, I try to relax. Sometimes it passes quickly. Sometimes it passes after an hour. And sometimes I pass out. It’s a lottery, and I never really know what result I’m going to get.
It’s frustrating not knowing any answers. I fear that in some way, I will end up like my father (who had heart disease which eventually killed him). I don’t have diabetes, I don’t have high cholesterol, I don’t have high blood pressure. Yet somehow, I ended up like this.
I spend my life sitting in waiting for that feeling to happen again. It feels like your body is fighting against you, like your heart wants to quit (literally), yet something kicks in and makes it start going again.