Ticking Along or Dying


I was ticking along okay, both me and my heart. Everyday around 5:00 or so, when it starts to cool down, I’d go out the back gate, walk across the grass in the park to the bike/jogging trail and start my my run. Lately I’d slow jog a quarter mile, walk a quarter mile, run about a mile, then slow jog or walk home. It’s a two mile course. Sometimes I run a little more, sometimes I do it twice.

I thought I was in pretty good shape for my age. You know the age Beatle Paul was singing about in that song, “Will you still love me, will you still feed me when I’m---” Crap, I can’t bring myself to say the age. It sounds so bloody old.

Not only do I run, I ride my own personal torture chamber, the Schwinn Aerodyne. I get my heart going good, I feel the burn in my legs, chest and arms. Sweat pours off my forehead, drips under my arms, turns my shirt wet.

I’ve noticed my body changing. Pants getting loose. Chest expanding a bit. Legs getting firm, not so flabby anymore. And as a bonus, I was feeling pretty darned good. Plus, we’re eating right. Salmon twice a week, mahi mahi and chicken once a week and veggies the other days. Oatmeal and fruit for breakfast. Tuna or turkey sandwich for lunch. Of course, we still do Mickey D’s when we’re on the road.

In short, we eat right. We both run. We’re healthy. Have to be, we don’t have medical insurance, so we can’t afford to get sick.

We get our flu shots, got ‘em last week. We mostly stay away from bad foods, but I do smoke a cigarette on occasion, it works out to about one a month, sometimes two. I’d say about twenty a year, so I don’t think I’m going to get lung cancer, at least not from the cancer sticks. And I did smoke a couple cigarettes one day last week when a friend, who I hadn’t seen in half a century, came over. Enjoyed ‘em too.

So there it is, we’re healthy people. Well, we drink. A couple, sometimes three and on the odd occasion four, glasses of wine a night, except for that fast day, which we’re giving up. But basically we’re healthier than your average old Americans.

Five days ago, the day after the flu shots and those two non-filtered Pall Mall cigarettes, Vesta and I left the house to go over to Mike and Maggie’s for dinner. It’s a nine minute walk, we got about a block and I was crapped out, like I’d run a mile, hard. I was dizzy, breathing wasn’t so easy. We came back home. I was dog tired. After I caught my breath, we drove over.

I was dead tired the next day too and didn’t run. The next day I walked the two miles. Vesta went with me. Took her iPhone, just in case. Back home I went straight to bed, slept for a couple hours.

Mike was worried about me, so he came over Thursday morning at 6:45 and we went the the health fair at Northern Nevada Hospital in Sparks. They do a bazillion tests for not much money. He said he thought I needed the EKG and the Carotid tests. Passed ‘em with flying colors. EKG was normal and the girl said I had awesome arteries. But my blood pressure was high. We went back later, because Vesta wanted the tests. Her arteries were “beautiful,” but she had high blood pressure as well.

So why was I getting tired so easily. At first I thought internal bleeding (I have another post coming about that), but ruled it out as my shit was brown. Then I thought maybe asthma, perhaps triggered by those two smokes. However, it didn’t seem like asthma, but it was the diagnosis I liked, so I was sticking with it and to prove it, I got on Vesta’s treadmill, set if for a mile in twenty minutes and started walking. 

If it was asthma, I’d have a hard time breathing, I’d be wheezing, fighting a bit for breath, but I’d generally be okay.

Fifteen minutes and three quarters of a mile into this exercise, my heart rate shot up to 172 and I was dizzy, but no wheezing. I shut the machine off, caught my breath, went upstairs and slept for an hour.

Friday, I got up at 6:00, checked my email, then went downstairs to make coffee. Thirteen steps and I was dead tired by the time I got to the bottom. Time to go to the hospital. Vesta drove me to the ER at St. Mary’s in downtown Reno.

The man at check in asked me a few questions and in minutes they were giving me an EKG. Then they took me back to one of those curtained off rooms they have in ERs, hooked me up to oxygen. They were taking this whole thing seriously.

Vesta was pretty worried. I had visions of them cracking open my chest. They kept poking and prodding. Different doctors and techs. I kept saying “No insurance,” and they kept saying they’d “Worry about that later.”

A hot blonde doctor came in, told me she’d sent for my EKG from Northern Nevada. She said if it was different from the one I’d just had, which showed an anomalie (what’s that, I don’t know) on it, then she was going to call a cardiologist and admit me and if it was the same, she was going to admit me anyway because, well, that anomalie shouldn’t be there.

As she was talking a couple guys were hooking me up. Wires from my chest to an ER computer. They put on a blood pressure cuff, which inflated every ten minutes. A fast getaway was out of the question. They took blood, looking for signs of a heart attack. The tests were negative. The EKG came from Northern Nevada, it was different.

Jujuwalkin' 014

Doctor Shridevi Challapalli came in to see me. She said they were admitting me. She said she wanted to to an angiogram, started to explain it, but I told her I knew what it was, knew the risks and that I preferred a stress test. She said I could go that way, but afterward, when the stress test was finished, she was still going to want to do an angiogram. If I went with the stress test first, I was looking at four days in the hospital, because they’d do the stress test today, and the angiogram on Monday.

“Get the angiogram today.” Vesta decided for me.

I was going to have a three hour wait, because sadly, sicker people were coming into the hospital and taking over the ORs. Three hours or so to wait and I had to pee. Getting unhooked and going to the bathroom was apparently out of the question, but still I had to pee. A nurse gave me a plastic bottle and I figured if I could pee in a Gatorade bottle at Burning Man, I coud pee in this thing, but not with people watching.

The nurse left the room, Vesta went outside the curtain to stand guard, I got outta bed, dropped my pants, peed in the bottle, put it on the counter next to the ER computer and felt pretty good.

“I need you to get naked for me,” the hot blonde doctor said, coming back into the room. “Pretty exciting, huh?”

“I’m not excited.”

“That’s not what your blood pressure says.”

I didn’t want to say it was nerves, so I kept quiet while Vesta pulled off my shoes, socks and Levi’s. Then I shucked myself out of my undies and now I was buck naked inside of a hospital gown.

The hot blonde told me the hospital, if you didn’t try to hide from them after you got out, usually waved a third of their fee. She also said she was going to wave her fee and that it would probably get her in trouble, but she was going to do it anyway. These were nice people.

She told me that based on my second EKG they were pretty sure I had a blockage and that Dr. Challapalli, when she was in my heart, would do an angioplasty and blast it on out of there. I might need a stint, but not to worry, that was pretty normal. In fact, she had a patient who had five of them.

“Will I be able to run?” I wanted to know.

“Absolutely,” she said. “Our goal is to get your heart back to normal. In a week or so you’ll be tearing up the track.”

“I don’t know about that, I just want to be able to work up a sweat, maybe run a marathon in February.”

“A marathon?” She smiled. “It could happen.” She looked at me like she was deep in thought. “We’ll fix you up so you can do it.” She patted my knee and left the room.

Ten minutes later, I was getting ready to pee again when a team of people came into the ER to wheel me into surgery. There were six of them, four girls, two guys. There were all in scrubs.

“I’m Melinda,” an attractive brunette said, “this is Gabrielle.” Gabrielle was a redhead, “the men are Brian and Sean and these,” she pointed to the other two girls, “are Linda and Chris, they’re in training.” Linde was blonde, Chris had raven black hair. They all looked less than thirty, heck the girls in training looked like teenagers to me.

“He doesn’t have an IV,” Sean said.

“I’ll do it,” Gabrielle said and working fast, she slipped a needle into the inner part of my right arm, then taped it. “Ready,” she said, and they wheeled me on out of there to an elevator, chatting all the way.

“This is just like Grey’s Anatomy,” I said as the elevator doors closed.

“No it’s not,” Sean said. “We don’t have all that sexual tension.”

“Yes we do,” Gabrielle said and they all laughed.

The elevator stopped, they wheeled me out and into the OR.

“Okay, we’re going to help you onto the table,” Sean said.

“I gotta pee,” I said.

“Didn’t anybody think of that,” an older guy who was in the OR said.

Everybody sort of looked up.

“All right,” older guy said. He went to a cabinet, pulled out the same kind of thing I’d peed in in the ER. He came over, handed it to me.

“Right here?” I said.

He nodded.

I looked around the room. Four women, three men, standing around while I stood up, buck naked in just about the most brightly lit room I’d ever been in, with that pee bottle.

“Surly this isn’t the first time this has happened,” I said, trying to pee. It wasn’t easy and I usually don’t have a problem going, but with seven others in the room, four of them young girls, well, it was a challenge. I closed my eyes, tried to imagine myself alone. A dribble came, then more, but all in all, not very much. “Guess it was just nerves,” I said.

I got up on the table myself.

“Are you ready for your cocktail?” Melinda  said as Gabrielle covered me with a warm blanket.

“Yeah.”

“Melinda injected it into the IV and immediately it felt like someone was smacking the inside of my arm with a hammer. I wanted to say something, but I didn’t want to sound like a wuss.

“How you feeling?” Brian asked.

“Fine.”

“Little sleepy.”

“Not a bit.”

“Did you know the invisible man married the invisible woman?”

“I didn’t know that.”

“Did you hear about their kids?”

“No.” Where was he going with this?

“They’re not much to look at.”

“Not too funny,” I said.

“That’s the fourth time he’s told that joke this morning,” Melinda said. “It wasn’t funny the first three times either.”

“So you got the joke then?” Brian said.

“Yeah, I got it.”

“I don’t think the cocktail’s working,” he said.

“You think a hundred and twenty-five more?” Melinda said.

“Yeah,” my arm was hurting to beat the band, “a hundred and twenty-five more.”

“Would you listen to this guy? He’s ordering his own cocktail.”

“Better give it to him,” older guy said and she injected some more solution into the IV and that hammer pounding into my arm got bigger.

“Gonna shave your groin.” Brian had a battery powered raser in his hand. He pulled up the warm blanket and went to work. “Shit, he’s reacting.” He left, came right back with some cool solution that he massaged into the saved area.

“That’s better,” I said. “Wouldn’t want a rash.”

“You’re feeling this?”

“Well, yeah.”

“You’re like, alert?”

“Yeah, like that.”

“Better finish him off,” Brian said to Melinda.

“Yeah, better finish me off,” I said.

She put more happy juice in the IV and as expected now, the hammer keep pounding into my arm, turned into a jackhammer actually.

A few minutes later Dr. Challapalli came into the OR. “Are we ready?” she said.

Everyone said they were and all of a sudden she had a scalpel in her hand as was making an incision in my femoral artery.

I flinched.

“Is he not sedated?” Dr. Challapali said.

“No.” I said as she inserted the really, really tiny camera that somehow is attached to this really thin wire she was pushing up through my femoral artery into my heart.

She moved the wire a bit, or something, she moved something down there and I flinched again.

“Don’t do that!” she said. “I’m in your artery here. You have to stay still.”

She did a little more playing around down there. Not painful. A little ticklish maybe. And I stayed still.

“I’m in the heart now,” she said. Then a few seconds later, “There’s no blockage here.” She sounded surprised. “This heart’s fine.”

“That’s good, right?” I said.

“Yes, that’s good.” She pulled out the wire. Came over and smiled down at me. “It’s good.”

“And your are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen,” I said. And she was. She was gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous.

She went to tell Vesta that I was fine and Melinda and crew wheeled me into a room, where I’d be spending the night. A little later the gorgeous doctor who’d found nothing wrong with my heart came into the room.

“How much do you remember?” she said.

“All of it.”

“Yeah, well I guess they missed your vein.”

And I supposed that’s why I felt like the inside of my arm was being hammered, their happy juice was going into a muscle maybe, I don’t know.

“You have to stay the night and you have to stay flat on your back for six hours, because we don’t want to open the wound in your artery.” She smiled. “We’ll do an Echo in the morning, just to be sure, but I think your heart is fine.”

“Then what’s wrong with me?”

“I don’t know.” She looked thoughtful. “Your blood pressure is high and I’m going to give you some medication for that. My best guess is you had a reaction from the flu shot and that, combined with your high blood pressure maybe caused a schematic (that might not be the word she used, but it sounded like ‘schematic’) in your heart, which accounted for the EKG. Maybe if you wouldn’t have been running or walking, maybe if you’d’ve driven over to your friend’s house, you might never have noticed. Maybe, because you were running everyday, you noticed things weren’t normal and came in here.” She smiled. “I just don’t know.”

“So I can keep running?”

“Not for three days. We want that wound to heal.” She sighed. “You know, usually men don’t come in till after they’ve had a heart attack and then it’s often too late. And even if I can help them, a part of their heart muscle is dead and it’s like that forever. At least you suspected a problem and came in before you had an event. That’s a good thing.”

“And it’s a good thing my heart’s fine.”

“Yes.”

Vesta brought my iPhone and I spent the night listening to a couple Dylan concerts, had a couple not so wonderful meals, got some blood pressure meds, had blood drawn twice and in the morning Vesta came just before I had my Echo, which was normal as Dr. Challapalli said it probably would be.

I went home, was dead tired and slept for a day. I’m still tired. Mike gave me a blood pressure machine and Vesta and I are using it three or four times a day. We’ve cut out salt, that’s hard, because it’s in everything. We’re done going to casinos and that’s sad, because I really like being in them, but second hand smoke is bad for your blood pressure. We’re done eating out and that’s sad, because you can do it so inexpensively in Reno. We’re done eating processed foods and that’s sad, because I really like salt and vinegar potato chips. In fact, I like a lot of processed foods. And we’ve vowed to never, ever open a two bottles of wine in the same day. And lastly, no more one cigarette a month for me and that’s a pleasure I’ve really enjoyed.

So, there you go, we’re going to work on this blood pressure problem and it’ll come right down if we make these changes. But it’s day two since I’ve been out of the hospital and I’m still dog tired. Why, I don’t know, but at least it’s not life threatening. Tomorrow I’m going to walk around the two mile track. The next day I’m going to run. We’ll see how it goes.

Ken Douglas Wedding and Portrait Photography, 1250 Ralston Street, Reno, NV 89503 
Phone: 775 393-9529