In Which You Maybe Learn Some Stuff About Hearts

On Tuesday, a cardiologist and her happy minion tried to kill me and then assessed how close they came. Fortunately for me, not close enough. *Buzzer sound* Sorry. Try again next year.

The stress test was the least irritating of all the parts of this appointment, but that’s part and parcel with doctors. You wait in the waiting room for 60+ minutes (which is why you’re called a patient) and, when you leave, they’ve said a lot of words but haven’t really actually told you anything.

Travis, the Stress Test Tech Person, was delightful, actually. He called me “baby” a lot, but somehow it wasn’t creepy. Sort of like how diner waitresses call you “hon,” whether you’re three or 103, and whether they’re 55 or…

Wait. They’re actually all 55.

Anyway.

Travis was telling me what he was doing all along. He did an echocardiogram first, propping my back against his in a totally clinical way to position me where he wanted me so he could get the images he needed, and explaining very nonchalantly why I really couldn’t keep craning my neck to see the picture on the screen. (“Look, see what happens? The picture gets fuzzy.”) He also told me that he was super-annoyed that he kept getting 30- and 40-somethings for stress tests that day. “If one more person has to walk for 15 minutes before we get them to their target heart rate, I’m jumping out a window,” he said.

It took me 11 minutes. You’re welcome, Travis. I shaved four minutes off that last guy’s time. What’s that you say? That’s not a good thing?  The last guy is 58 and had a heart attack at 41 and is, from a fitness perspective, the lifespan equivalent of four minutes’ better endurance multiplied by a differential of 21 years and mitigated by one heart attack better off than I am? Well, what of it? You want to get your schedule back on track, right? That’s what I thought.

Travis is a very put-you-at-ease person. My blood pressure was 100/62, and he didn’t like it, because it meant I’d have to walk longer, but it was a testament to his calming presence. (At the beginning of my first appointment, two weeks ago, my BP was 120/80).

Happily, they did not make me run. They just made me walk faster by three-minute increments on a steadily increasing incline to get to the required target heart rate (220 minus age and multiplied by 0.90, or, in my case, 165.).

I basically still have no official comprehensive diagnosis, because doctors are annoying, but here’s what I’ve been able to figure out so far:

I have what’s called a 2nd degree Type 1 Wenckebach block. Wenckebach is pronounced WENK-ee-bock, which sounds really silly and is difficult to take seriously as a heart condition, but I guess that’s okay, because it’s not necessarily a serious heart condition, and Germans have funny names sometimes.

The two days I was beeping from the waist on the Holter monitor, minus the ten total hours required to be off-telemetry so the highly advanced cell-phone-cum-science-gadget could charge, resulted in the revelation that my heart skipped 3,842 beats during the other 38 hours. Which is considered “frequent” in a seemingly half-assed, three-sentence report of said monitoring.  The Wenckebach block is the reason for the dropped beats. It’s an electrical impulse disruption between the atria and the ventricles, in which the length of time in milliseconds between the electrical signal that contracts the atria and the one that contracts the ventricles gets progressively longer until it gets long enough that the whole heart skips a beat. Because it’s Type 1, it’s benign and generally, on its own, does not require treatment. If it were to be Type 2, they’d have to consider some options—pacemaker, etc.

It looks kind of like this on an ECG:

Wenckewonky.

Wenckewonky.

 

You’re looking at a series of waves, cleverly named P, Q, R, S and T. The P wave is the bump just before the spike. The Q wave is the lowest point just preceding the spike. The R wave is the tip of the spike. The S wave is the trailing low point of the spike. And the T wave is the bump right after the spike. A 2nd degree Type 1 Wenckebach block results in that flat line you see between the second T wave in the image and the next P wave. You see it happen again three beats later, on the right side of the image. That longer flat line is where the heart skips a beat entirely because the time between the P wave and the R wave (for some reason, the Q wave doesn’t matter to Wenckebach) got long enough that the heart said, “Eff it. Start over.”

This is where it gets fuzzy: This is not considered an arrhythmia. An arrhythmia happens when there’s a premature beat in either chamber of the heart, independent of the electrical signal conduction we’re talking about here. (It’s fuzzy because it’s still an irregularity and both of them are results of electricity within the heart, but different kinds of electrical conduction. MY thing is not considered “abnormal.” Even though it surely seems abnormal to drop 100 beats per hour on average and not even be a hip-hop star.) I have no actual arrhythmia. Apparently, that’s remarkable. I don’t know why, but the doctor said so. I win.

So, the block shows up on the ECG. Fine. The stress test is to see whether the block is consistent even when exertion makes my heart work faster and harder. Adrenaline naturally forces the heart to function more efficiently, so they were looking for correspondence. Excellent news: my heart does what it’s supposed to when I’m walking a stupidly significant incline at a rather good clip for 11 minutes.

Somewhat less excellent is that, after that, during what a normal person would call either a “cool-down” or a “Jesus, let me sit down for a minute,” and which cardiology types call “recovery,” they pulled me back over by my telemetry straps to the table, flopped me down all sweaty and heavy-breathing on it, and put their hands up my gown. It was the least awesome time that has ever happened.

This is when they do the second echo, to compare heart appearance and function under “stress” to the first, relaxed echo.

The echocardiogram revealed that, structurally, everything appears normal. This means it is not heart failure, cardiomyopathy or disease in the valves or arteries apparent in the ultrasound. Huzzah! Mac and cheese for everyone!

However, while I was lying there all schvitzy, the rhythms went wonky – I could feel and see on the monitor the way my heart tends to trip over itself, even when I’m not doing anything but sitting on my couch watching Orange Is the New Black. This essentially looked like the lines were trying to draw the Rocky Mountains instead of the usual rhythms. I have tried to find an image of this, but it’s tough to do a Google image search for “electrocardiogram that looks like Rocky Mountains.” To the best of my memory, it looked a lot like this highly technical medical thing I drew:

WTF wave

WTF wave

I got no explanation of what this Rocky Mountain Wonkiness was and, as strange as it sounds, couldn’t ask, because in those few moments, I wasn’t allowed to talk, and afterward, the doc who administered the test (different from the one I saw two weeks ago, because he was on hospital rounds) had another patient waiting and had already explained the block and the difference between the dropped beats and the arrhythmia and basically told me she had to go.

I did get to talk to my other doc the next day, and while he hadn’t seen everything at that point, I did manage to get him to look at the report and he said the Rockies were about the “P wave getting buried in the QRS complex.”

I hate it when that happens.

Basically, he’s a little surprised by the frequency of the dropped beats, and he says the fact that I drop them in recovery is “not quite normal.” Clearly, he doesn’t know me well yet, or he would realize that everyone knows I’m not quite normal. The upshot of these two surprises is that he and I will have a standing annual date to make sure things don’t get any more caddywompus. Because that’s possible, and then we’d have to discuss pacemakers or what-have-you.

Remember how half the reason I called the cardiologist with my hair on fire a month ago tomorrow was that I was swelling inexplicably? Yeah, we still don’t know what that’s about. But since my Lyme titer definitely, definitely says I may or may not have had Lyme Disease one time in the last 37 years, I might be able to pursue the 341 other possibilities for swelling with my general physician when I see her tomorrow to find out how many tests and dollars it will take to rule out the Lyme Disease thing.

So. Current diagnosis: Heart-wonk. Treatment: Eh. We’ll see. Recommendation: annual check-up. Follow up with general physician to find 27 other things that might or might not be a problem.

Ah, medical practice. Twenty-four hundred years after its beginnings, it still hasn’t made perfect.

 

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Lub-a-Dub-Dub, Three Cords and a Flub

I am currently hooked up to three electrodes that aren’t transmitting anything.

Just for fun.

Not really. I have a wonky heartbeat, and I have for years —too many for me to care to admit, but almost half my life. Recently, a couple of other things happened that I thought were unrelated, and then all of a sudden it occurred to me that slightly swollen ankles and feet and calves and a few extra pounds and a seemingly undeservedly fluffier midsection might all be related to my wonky heart.

And I freaked. The fuck. Out.

I called a cardiologist and scheduled an appointment, for which I had to wait two weeks, which commenced two weeks of freakout. I stopped all alcohol intake and started paying very close attention to sodium. In 24 hours, I dropped four pounds. In ten days, I lost eight. Some of that might have been because I was never home to eat; for two straight weeks of nightly rehearsals and concerts, I sat on stage, squirming on backless wooden benches for hours at a time, singing Mendelssohn and Adams and Beethoven, and monitored my heart, my ankles, my breath control. Was that racing/thumping/tightness because of adrenaline or anxiety or impending death? Did I need to get a spot on the end of the row in case I felt suddenly morbidly unwell? What if the heat of the lights and the crowded space and the all-black concert dress got to me?

I was convinced it was heart failure or cardiomyopathy.

I’m still somewhat convinced.

The swelling has largely abated, and when I finally did see a cardiologist, he seemed to think it might have been a coincidental result of sodium overload paired with cyclical fluid retention. I’m not sold on that theory, but as long as the swelling stays at bay and the weight stays off, I might be willing to believe it. Though I will be super-annoyed at the new tendency to retain water.

I was so scared that when my friend Eliza joined me at the cardio appointment in case he said something devastating and asked how I was doing, I burst into tears.

I was so scared that I was actually thinking about how I would tell my family, what might happen to my house, how long I might still be able to climb the stairs, how long I might be able to work, and exactly how far shy of, say, 50, I might be gone. I was thinking that maybe this is why I don’t have a husband. I was thinking about how I’ve thought for a while now that I will probably die young.

No kidding, guys. That’s what I was thinking.

I even thought about whether, or when, I would blog about it. I thought about my old blog acquaintance, marjulo, who seems to have lost her brief battle with inoperable pancreatic cancer, whose final post was about her diagnosis and whose site no longer exists. I thought a lot about my friend Amanda, just starting her impossible-to-win battle with stage IV metastatic breast cancer, finally finding her fight even though the tumor in her femur still has her in pain and the thought of fighting for the sake of a bunch of months of weekly chemo and then maybe a little time in remission only to be followed by more chemo and less remission is a lot to take.

“Well, of course you think something terrible is wrong with you,” Eliza said in the hospital lobby after the cardio appointment. “Terrible things are happening to everyone around you.”

There was probably something to that.

I had to have a couple of blood tests, and I’m set for a stress echo, at which time they will first try to kill me on a treadmill and then do the echocardiogram I thought was rightfully mine at the first appointment, to find out whether I have heart failure or cardiomyopathy or some other dysfunction greater than the AV1 block and the suspected pulmonary stenosis the cardiologist mentioned at the first appointment. (An AV1 block is a first degree block of the electrical signal between the atrium and ventricle, which, doc says, means it “takes a little longer to get from the lub to the dub,” but isn’t treated; pulmonary stenosis is when the valve between the heart and the pulmonary artery doesn’t open all the way and builds up pressure in the heart chamber as it tries to force blood out to be oxygenated.) My thyroid checked out fine, but my Lyme titer was “indeterminate,” which is the medical equivalent of “Meh… maybe you had Lyme Disease… maybe you didn’t.” Which is basically irrelevant to the situation at hand, but has forced me to schedule another appointment to find out whether I did, in fact, have Lyme Disease once. All evidence to the contrary.

And now I’m hooked up to all these electrodes that are plugged into a gizmo that sends signals to a former cell phone that is now a PDA, and it is all pissing me off.

The first time I felt my heart go weird, I was 20. I was stressing out in a serious way about a married man who had professed his love for me and with whom I did not want to be involved except that I was already kind of involved, not adulterously, but in that way that you get involved with men you work with who say they are willing to put everything on the line for you because their love is just that strong, and you happen to be a total shipwreck in the self-esteem department at the time. I was lying on the couch in my college apartment, which I shared with three of my friends, and Jerry Springer was on, and it was something ridiculous and gross, and I suddenly realized that my life, at that moment, mirrored the show.

Since then, my heart has been skipping beats not with thrills or joys but with impunity. In recent years, it has seemed to frequently trip over itself in an effort to catch up after a dropped lub or dub: lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub…lub-lublublub-dub-dub-lub, lub-dub, lub-dub…

I had an echocardiogram something like 11 years ago. I don’t even remember the name of the cardiologist. In fact, I remember nothing about that appointment except for the echo, and the declaration that nothing appeared out of order. And I haven’t had it checked on since. I’m not the annual physical type, so apart from the gynecologist, there isn’t a doctor I see regularly. I’m off the grid.

For the last 36 hours, however, two small devices have been tracking my heart and sending its patterns to a place that then sends it to the cardiologist. I think. Except for the five hours last night during which I got so monumentally irritated by the incessant beeping indicating low battery or poor connection that I ripped the electrodes off my chest, yanked the battery out of the monitor and turned the PDA off entirely so it could charge and I could sleep.

The PDA, which in a previous life was a Samsung Omnia II cell phone, cannot hold a charge. It prioritizes sending data over charging, which means that even if it stays plugged in all the live-long day, it uses up all its energy and dies, which seems counterproductive to a 48-hour heart monitoring system. When it blinks out, such horrendous beeping ensues that I feel like C3PO in mixed-up pieces on Chewbacca’s back. “OMG! DID YOU DIE?! I THINK YOU DIED!!! OH WAIT, THAT”S ME,” it says.

At the moment, it is turned off and plugged in to charge so that my cardiologist can get some idea of what my heart does while I’m sleeping tonight. Since the jumping my heart experienced last night was due to the damned infernal beeping waking me up juuust as I would doze off, rather than its own screwy, jazz-infused rhythm.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, day one of my 48-hour monitoring just had to coincide with Field Day at work. The PDA and the monitor have to be no more than ten feet away from each other at all times, which meant I had to carry the monitor around in the wristlet I use as a keychain/ID/credit/debit card holder the whole time I was swinging from ropes and walking high-wires and hiking around campus, sweating my boobs off, building team spirit with my coworkers. And since I didn’t really want the coworkers to know I was on a Holter monitor, I had to try to be surreptitious about it.

My wristlet is red, b-t-dubbs.

The monitor was clipped to the waistband of my pants, so the work polo I was wearing had to stay untucked. I was relieved to see most others had left theirs untucked, as well, so at least that didn’t seem weird. And happily, the shirt was long enough to cover it even when I had to reach up to swing from ropes like a goddamned Amazon woman.

I managed to keep my monitoring hidden from the coworkers all day. I did not, however, manage to keep the heavy wristlet from smacking me in the face while I clung to ropelines.

You know what blew me in?

The World Cup.

I went home, started writing an essay for my summer class, and had the USA vs. Ghana game on TV. I don’t know much about soccer, so basically I’m all, “Goal is good,” and that’s it. At halftime, The Colombian texted me to tell me to come over. He had one of other other neighbors there, and said neighbor is a bit profanely vocal and demonstrative during sporting events. Javier didn’t think he could handle it alone.

Since I am still very wary of Javier (his relationship with Lydia, however infirm, endures), I let him sweat it out a little while before I went over, armed with my former Samsung Omnia II and its charger, because it was already showing a yellow battery life level.

After our other friend left, and somewhere between the coach’s interview and Dempsey’s interview, I started beeping.

Not the phone, which lay on the windowsill, plugged into an outlet below. The monitor that was attached to me.

Javi did a pretty good job of pretending not to notice that I was emitting electronic sounds from the area of my panties. At least, he did the first four times it went off. And he pretended not to notice when I got up, heaved a sigh, and went into the powder room to check on the monitor.

But finally, after another loooong beep, he said, “Why are you beeping? Whass going on? Why are you stress?”

I’m a terrible liar, so I had to tell him. I thought for sure that this whole I’m-attached-to-a-bunch-of-wires-that-have-been-largely- unsuccessfully-adhered-to-my-midsection-with-steri-strips-all-day-so-that-a-cardiologist-can-keep-an-eye-on-my-heartbeat thing would be a pretty substantial turn-off.

Evidently, I was wrong. Evidently, it translated to a kind of “The Fault In Our Stars With Hearts Instead of Cancer.” Javi told me he had recently spent 12 hours overnight, alone, in the local emergency room for chest pains, and when we hugged goodbye, he tenderly and briefly kissed my neck.

Hope the monitor didn’t notice.

It was so brief that I didn’t even have time to say, “Stop kissing my neck, you South American seducer!” Which is not to say that it’s not still happening in my head, 24 hours later.

Dammit.

Why am I attracted to emotionally unavailable men? It’s a question for the ages. I have been, by all accounts (mostly his and mine, and also Angie’s because she’s heard about them) very clear with him about why his attempts to kiss me (four of them in the last nine months) are absolutely not going to be met with reciprocity because he is still with Lydia. And also, what I haven’t said is that he is to Lydia what Jack was to me, and I don’t need another Jack. He doesn’t know anything about Jack, but I know enough to know I don’t need Javier to be another Jack. On this I am absolutely resolute.

But those shoulders, and the back of his neck, and the way he has to peer over his glasses to see his phone, and the way he looks in a shirt and tie…

Settle down, heart. You’re being watched.

 

 

 

I’m not dead. I just had a tetanus shot.

So I keep forgetting to write things.

It’s not because I don’t have anything to write about. It’s just that I get all caught up in other things and forget to write a blog post.

Does this happen to you guys?

Alright, so I’m writing this with my left arm hanging semi-limply at my side because grad school made it hurt. Apparently you can work on a college campus all fine and dandy, but if you want to set foot in a classroom (for more than seven class periods), you have to go to the health center to prove that which you’ve known since 1978 (I’m immune to measles, mumps and rubella – but since my pediatrician has been dead for lo, these many years because he was 102 when I was four and I’m now 36, and since he didn’t sign my immunization record, I have to have blood drawn to make sure) and also to  get the “Adult TDaP,” which was previously known as the DPT and which I also had plenty of when I was little. T, as you might guess, stands for tetanus and also Time To Lose the Use of Your Arm Because OW.

My second tetanus shot in eight freaking months. I’d rather have actual tetanus.

At least this time I remembered I had to have it in my left arm. I can’t sleep on my left side thanks to my jacked up cervical spine, and back in February, when I tried to hack my finger off with a steak knife, I let them give me the tetanus shot in my right arm, like a dumbass. After I got it again yesterday, a lot of things got kind of hurty, like my very bottom rear right side rib, my eyeballs, my neck, my head and something in my chestal region.

Some of that might have been a hangover from a pretty epic weekend. But mostly I think it was the shot.

In case some of you are wondering: I’ve had to draw a line with The Colombian. You might recall that, a month ago, he tried to beso me and then we had a conversation about how he “technically” still had a girlfriend and that probably wasn’t a good thing for her or me. Yesterday he invited himself over for Monday Night Football again, and as he was getting ready to leave, I asked him about the situation.

“Suuuuu…” he started.

“No,” I said. “Do you have a girlfriend or not?”

“We haffen’ talked aboud it,” he said. “We jes don’t see each ahther mush now. I habben’ seen her in…” (he thinks) “…nine dayce.”

“So you still have a girlfriend. You haven’t broken up.”

“Well…”

“So why are you here?” I asked gently, with a smile.

“Because I want to be here,” he smiled a bit shamefully.

 

“Javier,” I said with a sweet smile to belie my Bullshit Meter’s reading. “You can’t ask me to hang out one-on-one if you haven’t ended it with her.”

“Okay,” he said, standing up, seeming embarrassed.

“it’s not fair,” I smiled up at him, head tilted, hair tumbling over my shoulder. “Right?”

“Okay,” he said.

“I don’t know what to do with it,” I said as he hugged me goodbye.

“Okay.”

Okay.

Trying to apply lessons learned. It sucks. But I know I’m right. I’m totally right. No me gusta, but fish or cut bait, amigo.

 

 

Yogurt For Everyone!

You guys. Apparently there’s been a biomedical breakthrough that’s going to save us all from our stress, anxiety and depression without having to take another pill ever.

I say this in sweeping generalization because I’m pretty sure all writers are angsty.

Okay, so I found this on the internet – much like I found blogs – and that means it must be true. According to Yahoo! Health in association with something called Healthline and some quotes from the lead researcher at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine…

…I’ll get back to that in a second…

…yogurt is going to keep us all sane.

No, really.

It’s the probiotics! All those scrumptious live active cultures and happy bacteria supposedly create a neurochemical reaction that changes the way our brains respond to the environment we’re in. Another researcher, this one in New Zealand,  is running a study following 80 patients diagnosed with depression while they receive probiotic supplements for four months. That researcher said she hoped the study would find that probiotic treatment “changes levels of certain substances in the blood and brain, essentially making people happier.”

Nobody in this particular story mentioned exactly what those chemicals or happiness ingredients are, so I’m kind of assuming it’s the live active cultures and happy bacteria.

““When we consider the implications of this work, the old sayings ‘you are what you eat’ and ‘gut feelings’ take on new meaning,” said the UCLA researcher.

Yeah. She said that.

And she works at the medical school funded, evidently, by a huge donation from one of the most prolific and successful music producers ever.

Not a doctor. Music producer. Slash film producer slash theatrical producer slash philanthropist, so good for him, but maybe don’t let them put your name on the school, because huh?

Anyway, this is super-exciting news, for obvious reasons. I mean, I just ate some Chobani 0% plain yogurt mixed with some strawberries and blueberries and kiwi and a drizzle of honey. There’s a whole tub of that Chobani stuff in the fridge. And a leftover Yoplait I mistakenly bought because it was on sale and I didn’t realize it was full sugar and not really that good. So since I have all this yogurt in my fridge, clearly I can toss out my Lexapro prescription.

Right?

Now this wonder-food that helps regulate my digestive system, keep my stomach functioning properly, contribute to bone health and allegedly (with the proper sugar content) help me keep my waist trim will also keep me from having those pesky anxiety attacks!

This is huge!

I’m going to save so much money on alcohol!

What? The prescription is $30 for three months. That’s how much I spend on one magnum bottle of vodka.

Don’t get me wrong. Despite my satire, I totally believe that we’ve strayed so far from the evolution-established path of whole foods for whole health that we no longer understand that it’s not an “important discovery” when we reach back to cave time and remember it was better for us to eat real food than the processed crap that comes in boxes and cans at the store. But having said that, and adjusting for the environmental elements that make us crave more love, attention, self-actualization, etc than we needed in the paleolithic era, I’m still pretty sure that there were some cavepersons whose seratonin levels slipped below par. Hence all the clubbing.

I bet they wish they’d had some Dannon Fruit-on-the-Bottom.

(I just had the most awesome image of cavepeople dancing to a thudding bass beat under glow lights. Maybe the grunting was really just a vocalization of the rhythm? Uhn-tz uhn-tz uhn-tz uhn-uhn-uhn-tz uhn-tz uhn-tz… OMG I JUST CRACKED CAVESPEAK!)

Now, when you’ve had a bad day at work and someone cut you off in traffic and your significant other is acting strange and your mother is in the hospital, you can walk in the door, scarf down some yogurt and avoid that crushing chest pain, sensation of breathlessness and sleep trouble. You can sit in front of the TV stuffing your face with creamy cool white dairy goodness and forget bouncing your knee or sighing loudly. You can unclench your jaw without even thinking about it as you down spoonfuls of wholesome low-fat superfood.

Yeah… um… I’m gonna stick with my martini and Lexapro. You know. Until further research is completed.

The Hunchback and the Caller

There’s been a rash of burglaries in the neighborhood directly south of mine – a neighborhood everyone damned well knows has a higher median income than this one (sometimes it’s nice when relative poverty spares you from crime instead of making you a victim of it). Police have told folks in the area that the burglars occasionally break in when people are home, but their MO seems to be knocking on doors during the day to see if anyone is there, then targeting those which seem unoccupied for break-ins before 6pm. So we’ve been advised, if we hear a knock, to not open the door. Rather, we’re told to yell at the knocker that we’re not interested and they should leave or we’ll call 911. At which point, apparently, the cops will take their sweet time getting there, but before which they will patrol simply by driving by and never actually getting out of their cruisers.

Cops. Hmph.

I’m home today, for the second day, because my back is on strike again. Last night as I lay in bed, I thought about how much it would suck to deal with a break-in while also dealing with back spasm and nerve pain. Clearly the sound of the crime’s initiation would startle me, which would send shockwaves of electric agony through my body and render me virtually unable to fight. And also I’d have a busted front door and substantially less spending power, since these folks seem to be snatching checkbooks and purses rather than high-end stuff.

About an hour ago, someone knocked on my door. I shuffled my bent self over, with my ribcage rotated and shifted about 15 degrees to starboard and my hips rotated about 15 degrees aft, and peered through a space between the door’s built-in blinds. A man in a tie with a messenger bag crossing his torso and a brochure in his hand stood on my front step.

“I’m not interested,” I intoned.

He didn’t move.

“I’m not interested!” I yelled louder. “Please leave!”

He looked up and down the street, then stepped up and knocked again. He has to hear me, I thought. I hear everything on the sidewalk… how can he not hear me?

This time I put my face an inch from the glass and yelled as loud as my back would allow, “I’M NOT INTERESTED! LEAVE!”

He wished me a nice day and abandoned my steps.

Probably harmless.

It struck me as I shuffled back toward the kitchen: I had stutter-stepped all slumped and twisted, hair uncombed because I’d just gotten out of the shower, wearing a mismatched casual knit skirt and a t-shirt from my sister’s church, toward a knocking caller at my door, and hollered at him to go away in the middle of the day.

I am an old woman today.

“With a cat!” my dear friend Joey reminded me via text when I relayed the story to him.

“Oh hell. I forgot about the cat,” I replied.

Honestly, though? As I made my way at turtle speed toward the door to shoo off the visitor, my greater concern was not of premature infirmity or criminal activity. It was that I would actually know the person at the door and therefore feel the need to open it looking like I did.

Yep. That would have been worse. As Robert Louis Stevenson once said: “Vanity dies hard; in some cases, it outlives the man.”

Which reminds me, I was lying in bed this morning trying to think of what I’d like to be buried in and how I’d want them to do my hair.

I know. I’m a pretty sick ticket.

Anyway, if my house does get burglarized, despite the alarm and the conscientious neighbors, don’t worry. Since these punks seem to just want quick access to cash, I’ll probably just lie here and watch them, occasionally grunting in pain, and I’ll still have my laptop to tell you all about it.

Now on my bookshelf: A Visit From the Goon Squad

 

My Mental Exercises Should Be Sponsored By Mountain Dew

I’m evidently in a fasten-your-seatbelts-and-keep-your-arms-and-legs-inside-the-mindfuck-at-all-times kind of phase.

Most of you are familiar with the sagas of my mental musings… the stalker and the parents and the Jack and the Rick. It would not seem that they should all blend together and then get lumped in with my job, but somehow the elements of my life keep doing tricks worthy of X-Games entry and I’m all, “Oh! Well isn’t this an interesting development! Where’s the vodka?”

We had a staff meeting at work the other day to talk about some divisional goals. One of my boss’s suggestions was to increase awareness of our department and what we do by posting photos of ourselves, along with our names, professional contact information and a summary of our jobs, on one of the university’s websites.

Perfectly reasonable, really. As is legend for academic types, one must knock on their door, hand them a cup of coffee and personally tell them about everything, or they’ll never know, because apparently doing field-specific research renders them otherwise incapable of reading emails, looking at the front page of a university website or getting a text message to inform them of things like, “Yes, it snowed a little, but you have to work today.” So if you want to tell them what you do for them, you have to shove it under their noses and point their heads down.

I personally think it’s just smart not to circulate one’s name, workplace and photo around on the internet in general, if one is merely an ordinary citizen. But I blog anonymously, so of course I feel that way. My natural inclination these days is to tense up at the suggestion of my photo, name and location of employment being so easily available in a handy package, but I know there’s a degree to my sensitivity that’s largely unique because I’m the only real-life person I know who has had a stalker who went to prison for his actions and is now out. I don’t wish to inflict my sensitivities on others to a degree that might seem too far, in their minds. It’s actually a detriment, in business, to refuse this kind of PR. Still, when my boss, who knew nothing about my experience, made the suggestion, he happened to glance at me. He saw my reaction and I saw it register on his face.

So then I had to go into his office after the meeting and explain: he didn’t see me disagreeing with the idea or being critical of him. He saw my visceral reaction because I had a stalker.

Hate that guy. Keeps meddling in my affairs. Keeps making me feel like an over-sensitive attention whore who doesn’t want the attention. Very confusing.

So then what did I want to do? Well, I wanted to stop having a minor anxiety attack, for one. My anxiety level always goes up a little when I have to confront the stalker thing in any way, but the problem here wasn’t that; it was having to tell my boss a little bit about it so he would understand my response to his suggestion.

The other problem was this: I also wanted to tell Rick what had just happened. Not helpful. I’ve been telling myself and telling myself that I need to maintain a professional relationship with Rick and that’s all, not talking even a little bit about anything that pertains to personal lives. He asks me about how my weekend was and I’m like, Don’t ask him about his weekend. We don’t care about his weekend. That’s my intellectual awareness. My emotional awareness differs. Because of things like Jack’s engagement and my parents’ ignorance of why maybe my feelings about the stalker situation count more than theirs, I’ve found myself wanting to seek comfort from Rick. After all, this is the man I couldn’t help but like. This is the man who kissed like a dream and spent eight hours on dates. This is the man who sat with me for six hours in an emergency room, starving and covering me with cold compresses when I nearly passed out. This is the man who made my call for help for victims of crime a personal crusade.

Today, though, he made it the butt of a joke.

I had stopped into his office to talk with him about something that had come up in a meeting. He wound up bridging the conversation into whether I’d heard from his former boss, the state senator, to whom I’ve wanted to speak for seven months about further legislative proposals for victims’ rights. The senator, knowing he’d ignored several phone and email messages, had approached me after running into me at an event about helping him out with something in exchange for his willingness to listen to my ideas (though that’s not how he worded it, obviously). I made myself available. He hasn’t followed up. Rick wasn’t surprised and advised me on some other legislators I should approach.

He also, while conveying a story about something the senator had said, referred to his girlfriend.

Ah. Confirmation. He’s back with her.

Well, I had assumed that, hadn’t I? Yes. Yes, since the week before Mother’s Day when he made reference to going to see his mom, I had assumed that the reason he was no longer staying with his parents was because he was back with his girlfriend. This was the first official confirmation that I was right.

Dashed some of my hopes, though. I won’t lie. But it’s alright. I needed to know this for sure, and I needed  not to be the person who brought it up. I needed to be the person who didn’t react at all when he said the word “girlfriend.” With hesitation.

Yep. He hesitated. Don’t think I didn’t notice.

And then, minutes later, on another floor of the building, I nearly literally ran into him, and he said this:

“What are you, stalking me? You know there’s a bill about that in the senate.”

I think the look I gave him could have melted steel. “You should know better than to ever joke with me about that,” I said.

The apology landed in my email inbox two minutes later, sent from his phone before he even got back to his office.

Still, it felt like a betrayal of sorts. I mean, of course it wasn’t, but here I’d felt for two years like this man was my ally who understood. I never thought he’d make a joke about it.

Eh. Men are stupid.

When I replied to his apology, I made a point to say “thanks” instead of “it’s okay.” Because it wasn’t okay. But then I wound up mitigating my stern disapproval by saying that it’s already a touchy subject presently made touchier by recent repercussions.

He replied by urging me not to hesitate to let him know if I needed to vent.

You know what? No. You don’t get to do that. You don’t get to try to be my friend after making an insensitive joke just to try to make yourself feel better. I don’t want to be your friend. I don’t want to lean on you if all it does is massage your ego before you go home to your girlfriend. You don’t get to feel reassured that I still like you.

In case you’re wondering, the insurance issues have been worked out and I’m going back to see Ali Velshi tomorrow evening.

Bleach, Water and Hope

If you inhale aerosolized viral particles, and then you inhale aerosolized bleach particles from cleaning up… does the latter kill the former?

Please say yes.

Sister 3 and her boyfriend came to visit this weekend. We had spent about two hours hanging out downtown on Saturday when it became pretty clear that the energy level was low between the three of us. I could have been up for something else, but they seemed kind of meh, so we went home for a refreshing nosh before deciding whether to head out to another local event. Unfortunately, the bf started feeling sick as soon as we got home. He said he’d gotten really tired while we were downtown, and I figured something wasn’t right when he didn’t eat a single bite of the delectables I’d put out when we got back. I’d handed him a bottle of cold water right away when we walked in, but he was already behind the curve.

It started with the lower GI. Eventually (when we got past the politeness of not acknowledging the problem aloud), I pulled out all the home remedies I could think of: rice, oyster crackers, Pepto Bismol. I suggested miso soup, which he poo-pooed. (Haha. I made a joke.)  He kept trying the water. But it moved quickly and mercilessly to the upper GI. By 9:30pm, he was miserable, my plumbing and sewer lines were being tested, and I was heading to the grocery store for those familiar staples of stomach illness: Gatorade, ginger ale, saltines and toilet paper.

Sister 3 felt bad. Initially when she told me he really wasn’t feeling well (which was around 6:30), she said they might not be able to stay the night. But it was clear he wasn’t going to tolerate a road trip home, so he had to tough it out at my house.

He had a rough night – Sister 3 and I were treated to the sounds all the way on the top floor of the house from the basement. I’m glad I went for the Gatorade, because apparently he wound up with terrible leg cramps from dehydration. (“I had a charley horse and a hamstring cramp in the same leg at the same time,” he said later, “so I just had to scream into my pillow.”) The cramps, he said, eased when he – bravely, I think – forced the juice. Sister 3 cleaned both of my bathrooms. Twice, I believe. But I wasn’t so sure it would be enough. So as soon as they left, out came the bleach and bleach-containing cleansers for the fourth scrub in 48 hours (one was in anticipation of their arrival).

I’ll spare you too many details but give you just enough to say that the red colored Gatorade made it easy to know the basement bathroom floor needed to be washed with bleach and water. Sister 3 had already appropriated all the sheets and blankets for washing, as well as some other bathroom textiles. I just went ahead and grabbed the rest. If I could have put the couch in the washer, I would have. I had begun to suspect that this was norovirus, and when I looked up the length of time it can survive outside the body, I was delighted to learn it lives for up to 12 days on fabric.

So there’s a loveseat I shan’t be using for two weeks.

I scrubbed every non-porous surface that would tolerate the chemicals: faucet handles, doorknobs, places other than the doorknob where I imagined he (or my sister, who I’m sure will get it, too) might have touched. I washed my hands so many times that the skin is stretching to allow me to type. My lungs are a little scratchy from the cleaning solvent. I find myself wishing I’d bought a can of Lysol at the store last night – or this morning after church, when my sister and I went to pick up more Gatorade and some Greek yogurt to put those live active cultures to work in the boy’s gut.

I’m eyeing the remote controls for the TV and Blu-Ray player suspiciously. The boy never touched them, but my sister did. Again I wish I’d bought some Lysol.

The incubation period for norovirus is 24-48 hours from first exposure. Fingers crossed I’m still sitting up and taking nourishment this time Tuesday. Because Tuesday I’m scheduled to finally get back to seeing Ali Velshi (not really Ali Velshi, former CNN newsman turned Al-Jazeera America newsman… my therapist, who reminds me of AV).

Because my head needs to be scrubbed, too.

Things I Don’t Remember

As if I needed it, there was drama over the Memorial Day weekend.

I was at the Jersey Shore (stronger than the storm, bitches!) with my family – well, most of them; Sister 2, BIL 2, Youngest Neph and Shiny New Niece were elsewhere. Anyway, I was at the Jersey Shore, and Sunday night we went out to one of the local establishments – my parents, Sister 1 (BIL 1 was at the house with Twin Nephs), Sister 3, her boyfriend, three of her friends and their boyfriends, and a pair of former neighbors who have been friends of our family for nearly 20 years now. It was a nice night, not hot, not crowded. We were dancing. I had maybe four drinks? In three hours? After dinner. Vodka tonics on ice. Some guy at some point came up and started dancing with me, in which I was not the slightest bit interested, so I humored him for maybe 3/4 of a song.

Somewhere around 10:30, I bought beers for two members of our party and a drink for myself. I delivered the beers. I  took a sip of my drink. And then I rather suddenly realized I needed not to drink it. I felt weird. Sure, inebriated, but not dizzy, not room-spinning, not hot, not nauseous… just weirdly drunk. Instead of sipping my drink, I started sticking my fingers in it, pulling out ice cubes and chomping them. And then I put the drink down on the bar, turned to the bartender and asked him for water. He gave me a cup full, I laid a dollar bill on the bar (because the end of my drinking should not mean the end of a bartender’s tips if he still has to fetch my requests)…

…and that’s the last thing I remember.

Well, the last thing until I came around, sitting with my legs straight out in front of me on the curb outside the bar, with three paramedics in my face and an ambulance behind them, Sister 3 to my right and the rest of our party lined up on the sidewalk behind me.

Apparently, during the few minutes between me laying a dollar bill on the bar and sitting on a curb surrounded by emergency medical personnel, I collapsed.

According to my sisters and the family friends, I went limp and Mr. M had to catch me. He was holding me up with his leg and arms when Sister 1 came over to ask what had happened. She says I never closed my eyes, but I had turned gray and unresponsive. She and Mr. M shared the burden of my body weight while Mrs. M, who is a nurse, grabbed my arm and found me clammy. They tried to get me onto a chair, but I slid off it. The bartender vaulted the bar to try to help. Mr. M and Sister 1 picked me up and carried me out of the bar.

They say I started to come around as soon as they got me outside, but I don’t remember the beginnings of that. They say the medics asked if I had my ID on me and I told them it was in my back pocket. I told them my debit card should be back there, too, but it wasn’t – they found it inside on the bar, which is odd, since the bar only takes cash. (I’ve checked – the card number has not been used by anyone but me.)

What I remember is answering the medics when they asked me my name and how many fingers I was holding up. Then I turned to Sister 3 and said, “What happened?”

She had her hand on the back of my head, stroking my hair, as she answered me. She was very calm. She did a great job for a 23-year-old who had just watched her 36-year-old sister collapse for no real reason.

I was so alert, I could tell the medics exactly how much cash I had in what denominations in my back pocket. When they couldn’t find my pulse in my left arm, I told them to use my right because the veins in my left tend to roll. Given that degree of alertness, they didn’t transport me. BIL 1 had come to get us, and I vaguely remember climbing into the car, though I don’t remember getting out at the house. I stayed awake and talked to my family for about an hour, just to make sure I didn’t have some other weird episode. I felt boozy, but still not dizzy, not nauseous, not room-spinning drunk – none of those awful things you feel when you know you’ve had too much. I drank a ton of water and went to bed. Sister 3, sharing the room with me, woke me up a while later to check on me and have me drink more water. I woke up in the morning with a monster headache, a little dizzy… two cups of coffee and a two-hour nap straightened me out.

Then I was fine. Tired, but fine.

We wondered if I had been drugged. Had the guy who tried to dance with me slipped something into my drink? I never put a drink down – I need something in my hand when I’m out – like a prop, a security blanket, something to do with myself. But I drink slowly. Sister 3’s boyfriend remembers that the guy had tried to “grind” me, and I had told him no and walked away. I don’t remember that at all, though I do remember that I didn’t dance with him long. I think, if I had been drugged, the effects would have lasted longer.

Mrs. M. wonders if it was some sort of freakish medical event that was exacerbated by the drinks. Honestly, I wonder that, too. Someone told me my blood pressure had been 134/60. That’s odd for me; I’m usually around 100/70.  As I went to bed that night, I said a little prayer that if there was something wrong medically, it would be a quick and quiet death in my sleep. Seriously. I said that prayer.

I still haven’t figured it out. I’m waiting for my medical insurance to kick in, and then I’ll go for a physical and let the doctor know about this incident. I’m sure I’ll get a lecture about alcohol, but I’m no more than a moderate drinker on a high-intake day. Who is taking a break for a while.

Third Aid

Two weeks ago, I tried to hack off my own left pointer finger at the base with a cheap steak knife while attempting to cut a loaf of admittedly stale Italian bread. One week ago, the stitches came out.

It was a kind of odd experience: one of those generically urgent care places and a doctor who was strange enough to be wearing a pair of red jeans (or possibly fleece pants with jeans-like pockets… looking at you, Pithypants…) and a purple sweater… with no white coat and no other evidence she was actually an MD.

She was brusque but not rude – not gentle, either – as she snipped the stitches from my finger, telling me as she went that sometimes it hurts because she has to pull the stitches up from the skin to cut them. I winced and grunted a little at a tug and snip.

“Yeah, well, that’s why I told you sometimes it hurts,” she said.

Seven snips later I looked down to find the gaping wound from a week before magically…

…still gaping?

…Wait, what?

“Oh,” said the alleged doctor when she noticed what I noticed: that almost all of the cut was still pretty open (though at least the tendon was no longer visible). “Well, sometimes it’s better to leave the stitches in,” she said, waving her hand a little dismissively in the air, “but of course, you can’t know that until you take them out. And then we can’t restitch it, because the chances of infection are too high.”

So… let me get this straight. We have the ability to transplant a face… but not to properly close a simple knife laceration?

Okayyyy…

She put four steri-strips on it to try to hold the edges of the cut together. Then she slapped a big patch band-aid on it and called it a day. I went home, took the patch band-aid off because it was sticking to the cut, and then rebandaged it as I had it before, with rolled gauze and surgical tape.

I had asked the “doctor” how long I should leave the steri-strips on before the wound would close. “Oh, 48 hours or so should be fine.” Like hell. I knew there was no way that wound would be closed in 48 hours. So I left them on for nearly a week. Yesterday, I soaked them off to see how things were going.

Yup. Still open. Slightly less open than the week before.

So then I had to go buy some steri-strips and more rolled gauze, and re-bandage my hand at red lights on my way to work. To my knowledge, wound care is not a valid reason to ticket someone for distracted driving, and this was the only time I could do it. But did you know that it’s hard to put steri-strips on gaping finger wounds by yourself? I should have waited til I got to work, so I could find someone who wouldn’t be squeamish, to hold the cut closed while I applied the strips.

Maybe next time that’s what I’ll do, because at this point, I’m pretty sure it’s going to take a month for this baby to close up. Actually, I’m half certain the edges will heal over, leaving the squishy insides open forever and ever. Like I’m a zombie. ZombieFinger. That has to be my code name for a while. I was kind of looking forward to going by ScarFinger, but I’ll have to wait a while for that one.

Mental Health Care Is Making Me Insane

It’s hilarious, really. I mean it must be some kind of cosmic joke. Something on the order of irony, or a social statement on the need for serious consideration of mental health care. Only one of these things could explain the absolutely epic billing shenanigans going on here.

Right, so I told you about shrinkapy. The therapy sessions are required, in this health system, in order to allow for better living through pharmaceuticals, also known as a tiny little dose of Lexapro per diem, which keeps my endocrine system from squirting panic chemicals through me for reasons passing understanding at any occasion. My therapist, an LCSW I call Ali Velshi, is very cool, and we are simpatico, so that makes things much easier. We laugh, I cry… it’s better than Cats.

I laughed and cried when I got the billing statements, too.

See, thanks to my stupid union, I get medical care through no fewer than five insurance providers: one for vision, one for dental (oh, cleanings only), one for major medical, one for prescriptions, and one for mental/behavioral.  That one’s called ValueOptions. I think of it as Acme-Brand mental health care. ValueOptions is merely the insurance provider. The front money comes from my union’s health plan, which also does the billing.

It recently came to my attention that my union’s health care plan had not received the authorization had received from ValueOptions in order to have ten visits. Beyond that, my shrinkapist had to submit a form explaining the need for further treatment, which would then be approved or denied, all or in part, somewhat arbitrarily, by ValueOptions, and record thereof forwarded on to my union health plan, so they knew what to pay and what not to pay.

What could possibly go wrong?

So I got a bill in December from the hospital system with which the shrinkapist is associated. The bill was for nearly $1,300. It lists one date for service. That date was in October. This is the first bill I’ve gotten, and treatment began in June.

So I called the hospital, asking for an itemized bill, which I have yet to receive. I called ValueOptions, who told me to call my union health plan, who told me they had no record of certification from ValueOptions or communication from the hospital system. But I have right in front of me the paperwork from ValueOptions, certifying 2 initial visits with the psychiatrist and 10 therapy sessions with Ali Velshi, plus 5 joint appointments. And Ali Velshi told me that he talked to billing and they told him that they had record of at least 20 communications with the insurer.

I flipped back through all my medical records from the union. I found a couple of statements dating from July through September, which I had apparently previously completely blocked out of my head, because they list the charges for each therapy session at somewhere around $700.

Each.

People, I like Ali Velshi. But he is not worth $700 per hour. I don’t even think the most expensive lawyer in the state charges that. He’s an LSCW. He’s not even a doctor. And he is not the ghost of Sigmund fucking Freud. And these were the visits that I have record would be covered. Fo’ sho’.

So who’s crazy now, bitches?

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: insurance companies, doctors and hospitals basically take turns making it so incredibly difficult, confusing and bankrupting to seek and receive proper medical care that it is no wonder that we have massive health crises of the physical and mental varieties in the United States. Absolutely no wonder at all. The billing alone is enough to make someone with a relatively minor mental health issue go stark raving mad.

Or maybe this is all just a decimal point mishap. That could be it, right? I really only owe $6.83 per visit. That must be it.