Valentine’s Day is bigger than ever this year, and why not? Nothing screams L-O-V-E like setting aside a day to put an artificial obligation upon people to buy something for their sweethearts.
This year, we received our first family V-day card with a “family update” message inside to toss out in February instead December. Some group in our small town hung large heart signs with personal Valentine’s messages throughout the downtown. Next year I expect to have a national holiday with mandatory slutty cupid outfits.
Honestly, it’s enough to induce a heart attack.
In my case, literally.
The Saturday before V-day was pretty normal and I was doing pretty normal stuff like running errands and ignoring chest pains that kept inconveniently recurring. Later that afternoon, after seeing insipid hearts throughout the town, I fainted. A fainting spell accompanied by chest pain? That would be normal if I’d been reading Buzzfeed, but I hadn’t. Thinking quickly, I decided the odds of hiding such a thing from Codex would be low. [Codex: “Non-existant” is the phrase you want, smartass].
Glyph called an ambulance and I readied myself for the ordeal by planning a humorous blogpost. Because writing about the experience might help some of you who’re going through something similar. Of course,: I’m not a medical professional, so you’re getting potentially life-changing advice from a cartoonist.
The paramedics were pros. They administered baby aspirin. By the way, did you know uncoated aspirin tastes horrible? Then they administered nitro glycerin. It’s a small pill placed under the tongue where it dissolves and combines with the aspirin to create a “taste slurry” which thoroughly coats your mouth. No matter what pain level you’ll eventually hit, and I was easily hitting unhappy face 4 on the pain scale by this time, you can count on the taste adding to the fun. And no, it doesn’t fade away.
Paramedics then performed what would be the first of approximately 6,592 “heart monitor” tests that night. First, they place stickers with metal studs on various places of your body. Chest, legs, groin, stomach, back, arms: anywhere with hair. Then they hook wires to the studs and start recording your heartbeats on a piece of paper, much like they do with earthquakes, volcanoes, and women’s marches. Nobody knows what these mean, by the way, until they get more readings. Always more readings. Presumably, they will assemble these at the hospital and determine how bad your “heart event” was. It could also be gas. During the ride to the hospital, I remained optimistic.
In the emergency room they put on more stickers to get even more chest readings. None of the stickers are compatible by the way, so if a technician isn’t attaching a new sticker a different technician is ripping old stickers off. After my fourth dose of nitroglycerin my mouth was too dry and foul-tasting to dissolve the tablets. They burned their way into my bloodstream, where they appeared to have no effect. The pain was getting more intense. Finally, the on-call heart surgeon arrived.
She examined the various paper readouts like an experienced soothsayer. She suggested that some sort of heart trauma might be happening, but they would only know more after performing investigative surgery. I tried to convince them that they were wrong; that I had faked the whole thing for some opioids, but it was too late. Codex had already signed the permission forms, since I was writhing about in too much pain. Useful fact: During your medical crisis, a trusted advocate is incredibly helpful.
Surgery went well and it was discovered that neither eager Valentine zealots nor gas were responsible for my physical symptoms. The culprit was a blood clot, which the medicos isolated and dissolved using pharmacological voodoo. A couple of stents were inserted into place. They offer them to everyone: I’m pretty sure the surgeon is paid on commission. Stents are mesh-like flexible tubes inserted into an artery, then dragged into place at a blockage or partial-blockage. You get to remain awake for the procedure! Watch, as the operating room professionals fish it into place and then corkscrew it into your heart! If you think that sounds like it hurts, let me assure you: it does. It feels like breaking up with your first love all over again, and then facing Codex and explaining why post-surgery group-cardio-physio is for chumps.
In the wee-dark hours of the night, I was wheeled into the ICU. The very first question from the nurse was, “What is your pain level?”
Pain is a relative thing. It was low compared to what emergency-room Quizzer had experienced, but still quite unpleasant. I said it was a two, but kind of spiking to a three. Things quickly went downhill. This wasn’t the right answer. She watched carefully as my feet kicked and I writhed a bit and my face was giving every indication that I was, in fact, in considerable pain. “Why are you lying to me?” she snapped.
The answer I wanted to let fly was, “What level does the pain need to be to get a shot of morphine?” And yet a lot had happened that night. For one thing, medical professionals not only discovered I had a heart, but shoved super-expensive FDA-approved plumbing supplies into it. Twice. My response died on my tongue. Suddenly, I could see the problem from her point of view.
She was young, stuck on ICU night shift, fresh off eight years of a nursing program hostile to diverse women, with the six-figure debt to show for it. The pain scale had been an integral part of that training. She had memorized every nuanced line of every cartoon face at every pain level. She may have written a thesis on it. Your average schlub, such as myself, just thinks of it as a sliding scale. My two might be your eight, for example, but if your pain increases, you scream out a higher number until they give you a Tylenol. For this woman, it was far more literal. My face matched a number higher on the scale, but I wasn’t giving her that number.
I lacked both the pain chart and a mirror. Even if I had asked for those items, Codex would have been laughing too hard to hold them up. I revised my answer to the best of my ability, and made a more reasonable guess. “It’s about a four, with spikes up to about a six.”
‘About’ was the key word. Even if I wasn’t correct, she might think it was close enough and give me a break.
It worked. My first shot of morphine was quickly administered and I discovered that morphine is a terrible, terrible drug. A wave of nausea rocketed through my body, followed closely be a wave of vague numbness, which ultimately did little for the pain. When it hit my mouth the lingering taste described in earlier paragraphs changed to a different kind of awfulness. It was a disconcerting three-quarters of a second. Morphine apparently affects everybody differently; hopefully it will dull your pain, should you ever need it.
The post heart-attack breakfast will contain many choices that you won’t feel like eating. That’s just as well, because you probably should not eat most of it anyway. Mine contained: pancakes, pudding, fruit juice, fat-free hash-browns, an alchemical butter packet, and scrambled egg whites + yellow dye. Come for the heart attack, stay for the diabetes.
I took a bite of the eggs and then asked the nurse if salt was available. After her head stopped rotating about, the projectile vomit had slowed to a dribble, and she finished reciting the Lord’s Prayer backwards, she informed me “No, that won’t be possible.”
I began to plan my escape. Your average hospital is not a prison, but it may as well be. Plan A was to fake a complete recovery. Due to some minor complications, that one never had a chance. Plan B was for Codex to smuggle in a pizza with a large clump of cholesterol hidden in the crust. I’d use this to make a fake key, after I stole it and made a mold from the mashed potatoes they served with dinner.
I went home the second morning with a long list of precautions that I should take extremely seriously. I couldn’t use the wrist which they had opened in order to place the stents. No doing dishes or vacuuming. The nurse was a kindly old woman who’d obviously seen it all. How she pegged me as a vacuum-er I’ll never know, but she nailed it. I asked about coffee. “It will curdle in your stomach. When it gets absorbed into your blood stream, it’ll burn in your arteries. There is a good chance the stents will dissolve. And just wait until it hits your lower intestine. Have you ever felt your innards being twisted inside-out? That doesn’t sound like fun to me.” She continued her grandmotherly warning, “Is that really what you want?”
“I’m not going to be drinking Starbucks,” I replied.
She wasn’t amused. Codex was, though.
At home, I wandered about the house, but took things easy. I had to go up the stairs a couple of times in quick succession. This exhausted me for a good hour. I contemplated what that meant for my medium-term recovery plan over a cup of coffee. [Codex – “You can check with your doctor or nurse for drug interactions, but the only medical professional who knows all that stuff is your pharmacist – and I’d asked before Quizzer imbibed.”] I’d planned to break all the rules and simply keep living, but obviously I’d need to do that over a few days, not hours. Be patient. Your recovery will take as long as it takes, but start walking and doing some light chores with frequent breaks.
A sense of humor is probably the best medicine, except for the Plavix which is keeping your newly-placed stent(s) open and life-keeping blood pumping through them.
I hope none of you have to go to the hospital for heart-related trauma, but knowing a little more about what to expect might make you dread the trip a bit less. As for me? I’m recovering well, and already dreading next Valentine’s Day. This year, I gave Codex my heart. Literally. How am I supposed to top that?