Friday, August 26, 2011

My Health Saga: A Continuing Tale of Woe

That right there folks is going to be the title to the story of my life, or at least it seems like it lately.

Ever since my emergency trip to the ER, I've been desperately searching for answers to what is wrong with me. I've had more doctor appointments this year than I think I had from 1991 to 2000 combined. A couple of weeks ago I had an endoscopy and biopsy performed - the biopsy was normal, the endoscopy revealed gastritis and/or a duodenal ulcer. Yesterday I had a consultant with a cardiologist after my holter monitor revealed that I have premature ventricular contractions. These are "minor" but my body's response to them is not. This is where my heart palpitations come into play, and the pounding in my chest happens. Also, the dizziness and numbness I get is not a normal response.

So, I met with the cardiologist yesterday. He is ancient. My doctor warned me that he's older and slightly "old school" but I think she was exaggerating. He was so unpleasant. If I'm there to talk to you about my heart, chances are I'm scared and not at all comfortable with what's happening to me - maybe you could try not to be a dick. First he says, "in just a few words, tell me what's wrong with you." I tell him, "I have palpitations, chest pain, dizziness, and my heart often feels like it's going to burst out of my chest." He starts writing this all down - slowly. I've seen first graders write faster than he did. So I'm just sitting there, waiting for him to say something. Finally he says, "Dizziness is not a medical term. Please tell me exactly what you feel when you're supposedly dizzy." Um, sorry. (1) You didn't say I had to use medical terms, and (2) I'm pretty sure everyone knows WTF dizzy means. So I told him that I get lightheaded, and woozy, and that the floor feels like it's tilting out from underneath me, while simultaneously I feel nauseated and tingly and sweaty." And he starts writing. And writing. And writing.

Then he asks me to tell him what medications I'm on. I start listing them and telling him what they're for and he snaps at me that I'm talking too fast. Right. You're old and slow. Got it. So I wait. And wait some more. Then he gets snide with me about the name convention of my birth control pills. I wanted to say, "look, I don't come up with the names, I just take them" but he's the doctor and I'm hoping he'll fix me so I don't want to push my luck. But for the entire length of my appointment he continues coming back to this point, at one point reciting lines from Shakespeare and then saying, "I don't know why anyone would name a birth control pill that." Am I supposed to laugh? Agree? Instead I said, "Mmm ..."

For the last couple of days I've been having pretty unrelenting chest pain so I was happy to learn that I was going to have an EKG done while I was there. The last time I was in for my echocardiogram and EKG was a pretty good day for me health-wise. Unfortunately - or fortunately, depending on how you're looking at this situation - the EKG showed up completely normal. Damn. I was so hoping it would show something, he'd take one look, and know exactly what was wrong with me.

Back in his office he tells me that he doesn't think I'm at risk of having an MI. Now, I don't know about you but I'm no medical professional so last night I had to look up what MI was because he wouldn't ever say - I assumed (correctly) that it meant heart attack (in which case, why don't you just use those words?!). He tells me that he doesn't know what is causing my chest pain or palpitations but that the dizziness worries him and so he wants to get more tests done to rule out this, that and the other. So I'm going in for a treadmill stress test in a couple of weeks. At first they tried to tell me it was a running test for 45 minutes which scared the bejeezus out of me - my knees will give out before my heart will. The pamphlet they gave me says it's a walking test, so that's good. I'm hoping the dizziness presents itself because when I exert myself in any fashion is when I seem to be at my worst.

Fast forward to last night and I'm out to dinner with my friends Ayanna and Julie. Every three to four months we get together for dinner and to catch up. Since Ayanna just bought a house in the Oakland hills, we had dinner at Montclair Bistro in ... Montclair. The food was just okay (small portion sizes with big price tags) but the conversation and company was as great as ever. I didn't stick to my diet all that closely since the menu wasn't all that easy to work with - I ended up having a handful of shoestring potatoes, three or four bites of puff pastry, and some bites of bread pudding and a cupcake. I was conscious about not overdoing it because I didn't want to have to pay for it later. Unfortunately about midway through dessert I started having really bad chest pains and difficulty getting in full, deep breaths. I felt exactly like I felt that day in Portland's wine country - tightness of chest, inability to focus, intermittent stabbing pain in my chest, heart palpitations, etc.

After dinner we drove to Ayanna's new house so that we could see it and give decorating advice. (Side note: I loved her house. It's a 1960s ranch with the most amazing living room fireplace and just so much space!) While driving on the freeway I had another episode like the one I had in the Town Car on the way to PDX. I felt a stabbing pain in my upper left chest and then a radiating of that pain outwards toward my arms, neck, and head. My arms started tingling, then my neck started tingling, then my face and head started tingling. This all happened in the space of a couple of seconds. I started breathing deeply and slowing my car down so that I could pull over on the side of the road. Unlike the PDX incident though I never felt faint or nauseated - just dizzy and tingly and in pain. At one point I said out loud, "I think I'm going to die." Then my heart started beating rapidly and painfully and I swear I could feel it in my throat and head.

But I couldn't be. I kept telling myself - as the tingling went away and the stabbing pain subsided - that I just had a normal EKG that morning and the doctor told me I was fine. I drove the rest of the way to Ayanna's with the windows down to give me fresh (freeway) air and that seemed to help. I also kept talking to myself out loud so I could hear how I sounded - at no point did I sound disoriented, nor was my speech showing any patterns of slurring. While I generally felt like crap, I convinced myself that I was going to be okay.

About 30 minutes later I left to go pick Alan up at BART. On the drive there I was having elevated heart rate and tightness of my chest, but the stabbing pains has subsided. The rest of the night I had terrible pressure in my abdomen from gas and as I was able to burp, I would marginally feel better. Unfortunately I kept having PVCs and so I didn't get to sleep until about 3 a.m. I woke up this morning feeling generally okay.

One of the first things I do in the morning is look at what people are saying on Twitter. This morning there were a few tweets to a security industry analyst I follow about his health problems. Following those I found a blog post he wrote about an experience he had recently that sounds all too familiar. Familiar enough, in fact, that given that these episodes are often caused by GERD, I'm wondering why no one in my long stream of doctor visits has brought this up as possible explanations for what happened to me at the airport. I have left my doctor a message so we'll see what she has to say. In the meantime, if this is what's wrong with me, I have a feeling that will alleviate a lot of the anxiety issues that I'm suffering with. It's easy to become depressed when you spend days on end in pain, with no answers as to what is wrong with you, thinking a heart attack could take you at any moment.

Even as I sit here writing this there has been a tightness in my chest (it feels like someone is pushing all their weight down onto me with the palm of their hand) and pressure in my abdomen. I'm waiting for the Nexium to kick in, but so far nothing. I'm getting ready to pop some Tums and finish out my work week.

By the way, I turn 34 on Tuesday. I feel old. It's been a rough couple of years.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so sorry that you're having a hard time - not knowing what's up must be a terrible feeling.

    Your last paragraph reminded me of something ... I think it was Dooce's husband who had heart attack symptoms that was related to his gall bladder. Check out her blog I recall she wrote quite a bit about it.

    I hope you can find a solution soon!


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