Do you understand the consequences of your condition? You cannot be out by yourself. Do you understand? You can be walking down the street, pass out, get hit by a bus, and die. You can pass out and stop breathing, and the lack of oxygen will cause you to be brain-dead. This is serious. I need you to verify that you understand the risk you’re taking.
I laid in my hospital bed, listening as the doctor in charge continued on her lecture. I laughed to myself. There were so many things I wanted to say, half in sarcasm, half in truth, but I knew saying them out loud would likely end up with me being put on a psych hold. I repeated her words back to her. My voice lacked the care and concern that hers did. This wasn’t anything new for me. This was my normal.
I didn’t wake up that Tuesday morning expecting to end up in a hospital bed later that night. It was a regular day. I woke up, took a shower, unloaded the dishwasher, and put a load of laundry on before heading to work. It was a slow day to start. I walked home on my lunch break to let the dogs out and take some cough medicine, as I hadn’t been feeling well since the night before. I walked back to work and planned to finish out the next couple of hours with no problems.
But it didn’t quite happen that way. I knew something wasn’t right. I was walking down the aisle and I could feel my heart racing and stopping, racing and stopping. I kept telling myself in my head please, not here. I was barely two weeks into the job. I didn’t want to pass out there. I hadn’t even informed anyone of my heart condition until a week after I started the job, and it was only because my therapist thought it was necessary. None of my coworkers knew; only the manager. I didn’t want anyone to know because I didn’t want people to overreact. I didn’t want anyone to treat me differently. I just wanted to be normal.
Time had passed and I could still sense something was wrong. I couldn’t breathe. At one point, I could barely speak. I motioned to the assistant to take care of a customer for me, and I must have looked off because she ran to get me a chair. I just wanted to be okay. This is going to pass. This needs to pass. I sat down, hoping that would help. I tried to breathe, which was harder than normal because I had also been sick.
I don’t know how long I was sitting for, but I ended up falling over onto the floor. I looked up to find my coworker kneeling at my side, another was on the phone with 911. I’m okay, I just need a minute. Why did they have to call 911? I don’t need help. I’m fine.
But people still don’t believe me when I say I’m fine. The paramedics ended up taking me to the nearest hospital. I gave them my history, told them I had the internal heart monitor. They couldn’t get any information from the monitor because I didn’t have my ID card on me, and it wasn’t the same hospital where my surgery was done. So all they could do was run tests.
EKG was normal, x-ray showed an enlarged heart with inflammation in the lungs. They started me on IV steroids and breathing treatments. I thought the focus had shifted from passing out to not being able to breathe. After a couple of hours, the heart monitor was off and the breathing treatments stopped. A doctor came in to tell me I had been admitted, and I immediately starting panicking. Why? All I’m doing is sitting up in bed, unattached to anything but a Pulsox on my finger.
You passed out. Well yea, I pass out a lot. I still wore the bruise on my forehead from two days earlier, when I passed out and hit my head on the tiles of my bathroom floor. This was just my life now. Pass out, get up, move on. I’ve been doing it for years now, though not nearly as frequently as the last few months. It became just another part of my life to cope with.
I didn’t want to be admitted so they could watch me all night. I could do that myself, at home, free from the PTSD reactions that hospital admissions continue to cause me. I called J in tears, begging her to come pick me up. She knows I don’t like hospitals, but also knows that sometimes I have to be there. And I know that, too. But this wasn’t necessary. I didn’t need to stop my life just so they could make sure I didn’t pass out again.
So that’s why I got that lecture. I told them I did not want to be there. I told them it was difficult for me emotionally. I wanted J to be there to help me make sure I was making the right decision, because I admit I’m not so good at that most times. But she agreed, too. They weren’t doing anything to help me. She told them the same thing I had told them — this is what we’ve been dealing with for months now, and we just deal with it until we know more.
I signed the paper and I left. The risks weren’t new to me. They were the risks I had been taking every day. And I would continue to take them.
Except that not everyone wants to take those risks with you. The next morning, my manager sent me a text. She had already taken me off the schedule for the rest of the week and next. She asked me to turn in my keys. I needed a note before I could return back to work. A note I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get. I was now a liability.
I get it. They can’t have employees passing out. It was a fear I had myself, knowing that there were times I was going to be alone in the store. I get the liability.
But now I am stuck. No one wants to employ anyone who’s going to pass out at random. My disability was denied. I’m not making any money. I’ve spent the last week in and out of hospitals not just because I passed out that one time, but because my COPD is so out of control, in combination with my messed up heart, that no doctor wants to treat me.
I went to urgent care on Thursday hoping to get a prescription for steroids before my breathing went to absolute shit, and I ended up being sent to the hospital again. He told me he didn’t feel comfortable treating me. It wasn’t just the breathing. It was my heart. My heart rate was low — way too low for normal, and especially low considering it should have been higher to compensate for the extra work it needed to do to help me breathe. Something wasn’t right, and as soon as he heard I had a heart condition, I became a liability.
I feel stuck in a situation with no happy ending. No matter what I do, I am a liability.
After all, I can walk down the street, get hit by a bus, and die, right?
But so can anybody. So why do I have to be treated so differently?