Category Archives: Health Updates

Updates on the mystery illness and other family medical things

Finally, Three Diagnoses.

I am not going to apologize for being out of pocket for months.  I’ve been ill.  More ill than usual.  And, like a cat, I tend to tuck myself away and avoid everyone.  Unlike a cat, I don’t hide behind the refrigerator heh.

The diagnoses are:

Normocalcemic hyperparathryroidism.

Lifelong, never-before-diagnosed strabismus that just manifested a year or so ago.

Autonomic dysfunction (aka autonomic neuropathy).

The first one I can do something about (surgery).

The second one can only be managed by wearing very expensive glasses with prisms, so that’s a no-go and Medicare doesn’t pay for them, Medicaid pays $100 of the cost and it’s still unaffordable.  It’s getting worse and even typing all this is a major endeavor because my eyesight is so bad (double vision).

The third one I can’t do a thing about. There is no cure.  There are no meds.  Managing symptoms is the only thing I can do.

Medical lesson ahead!

Hyperparathyroidism is when someone’s parathyroid glands produce too much parathyroid hormone (PTH).  These glands are located in back of your thyroid glands, which are in your neck.  They’re normally really teeny tiny. 

From the website parathyroid.com:

Hyperparathyroidism occurs when one (or more) of the parathyroids develops a tumor which makes too much hormone leading to high calcium and other bad symptoms. 

In normocalcemic hyperparathyroidism, the blood calcium doesn’t usually get high, though mine will on occasion.  Because my calcium levels were not high every single time I got a blood test, the doctors initially thought I had secondary hyperparathyroidism due to lack of vitamin D.  But once this was corrected, I continued to have wonky blood test results, fluctuating PTH and calcium levels.

I’m not sure what symptoms hyperparathyroidism is causing – possibly the general malaise, headaches, and so on.  The main problems that it causes are kidney stones, which I have every few years, and osteoporosis, of which I have a mild case.  It’s not something a person can ignore indefinitely.

It may be responsible for, or contributing to, the bouts of high blood pressure.

My personal opinion is that it’s not “normocalcemic”, because I do get high calcium levels in my blood.  But, hey, I am not going to argue that point with my new endocrinologist.

Aside #1: I “fired” my last endocrinologist after she insisted I take a type of medication I told her I was allergic to (several times, it was an ongoing argument), and she finally got me to take one that she swore up and down wasn’t a thiazide – and I landed in the hospital with kidney failure.  Turns out, it was a thiazide. Contemplating a lawsuit, as my kidneys haven’t fully recovered to pre-hospitalization levels.

Ok, so anyway, surgery is the cure for this condition.  I am waiting to hear from my endocrinologist about whether or not he’s going to refer me to a surgeon in Pittsburgh.  Not sure what the holdup is here, but my next scheduled appointment with him is in November, which seriously interferes with plans to leave PA before winter weather.

I’ve already written about the double vision in another post, so I won’t reiterate.  It’s continuing to worsen and it’s majorly interfering with my life.  I can’t read labels anymore, I can’t read a lot of things anymore, and there are days when I trip due to lack of depth perception.

I did see a specialist in Hershey, and he told me I probably have had an eye alignment problem all my life, but my brain was compensating for it, and finally my brain “just gave up”.

I don’t know that I buy all that but my son and daughter-in-law have an excellent eye doctor, so I will get that all rechecked once I move back to Memphis.  Hopefully sooner rather than later.

Aside #2: I was wearing an eye patch – a common way to manage double vision – but even that doesn’t work now and my regular glasses’ prescription has apparently changed so…there are many times when I can’t see well enough to do much of anything.

Alright, now we turn our attention to the autonomic dysfunction diagnosis and the frightening test they did to decide that’s what was causing the nausea/sweating/labile blood pressure.

When I was last in the hospital – for acute kidney failure – the doctors took me off all medications except Atenolol (which is for my heart and which doesn’t harm kidneys), including the blood pressure medication I have been on for years (Lisinopril).

Lo and behold, my blood pressure was normal.  Without the medication.  So they told me I didn’t have to take it anymore, and also told me that this was most likely contributing to my bouts with very low blood pressure (I had been tracking my bp for a couple of months, at the request of my baffled doctors).

Aside #3: My blood pressure still fluctuates wildly, from 190/90 to 90/50.  That’s an autonomic nervous system problem. Which, of course, I mentioned years ago but was told that was unlikely, that it was probably due to something more common (like pheochromocytoma? really?), so they weren’t going to test for that.

Anyway, when I got out of the hospital and went for my followup appointment with one of Dr. Wonderful’s interns, she actually ordered a tilt table test for me.  She thought I had POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) because of the dip in bp and the palpitations (why I take Atenolol).  Especially when standing for longer than, say, 5 minutes.

My other symptoms are seemingly random dizziness and the weirdass heat intolerance thing I’ve got going on (head sweating, extremely high blood pressure, and facial flushing when the temperature gets over 72F or so).

Information about the tilt table test from mayoclinic.org:

Your doctor might recommend a tilt table test to try to trigger your signs and symptoms — lightheadedness, dizziness or fainting — while your heart rate and blood pressure are being monitored.

If you have symptoms while you’re in the upright position on the tilt table, the part of your nervous system that controls blood pressure and heart rate suddenly lowers them for a short time. Less blood flows to your brain, possibly causing you to faint.

So, they strap you to a table, then raise that table until you’re in an upright position.  If you faint, or start to faint, they stop the test (they’re supposed to).  Simple, right?  Painless, right?

No.

Not for me it wasn’t.

Single-Minded, Double-Visioned…and Getting Worse.

First of all, I’d like to apologise to everyone who has attempted to contact me via email or FB.  I haven’t been on FB for a long time, and when I finally went to my gmail account the other day, I had 16,000+ emails in my inbox.

Which I deleted, en masse.  I just decided it would be better to start over, considering my eye issues.

So…I apologise, really.  I have thought of many of you over these past months, but I didn’t want to email anyone (or write a blog post), ranting, raving, or crying about my medical situation.  Everybody’s got something crappy in their lives, right?  And, under 45, the crappiness has escalated to horrors that I don’t think anyone foresaw.

You’re all suffering, in one way or another.  It seemed petty and self-absorbed for me to go on and on about my troubles.

I’m sorry for not staying in touch.

Why get back online now?  Well, it’s because it seems my symptoms are worsening, and in some cases I have new symptoms, and I figure it isn’t helping to just ignore them.  If for no other reason, my kids can read this as a documentation of whatever illness this is, in case they have similar problems in the future (which was the original intent of this blog).

Here goes.

Last spring, my vision started to get really blurry.  I put up with it until my annual eye exam in August, then discovered that I was seeing double.  Up-and-down double, called “binocular vertical diplopia”.  I had to push the ophthalmologist to take it seriously – why she initially didn’t, I have no idea.  Asked what caused this, she said, simply, “Age.”

Side note #1: Really??  I know plenty of folks my age who do not see double.  In fact, most of them don’t, and the one who does has it from head trauma (car accident).

She referred me to their “double vision expert”, who is an optician who prescribes special lenses for the condition.  I have nothing against opticians, but they don’t get into why someone has issues with their eyes, which is what I need.

But I went to see her anyway. She did some visiony stuff, then told me that they could prescribe prism lenses but initially only “stick-on” ones, which they would try of different strengths etc until they found the ones that were most helpful.  Then they would make permanent glasses with prisms.

So then I went to see their guy who actually writes up the order.  He asked to see my glasses (which I purchased from Zenni, who are excellent btw), then commented, “I can’t work with these cheap glasses!”

Stunned, I replied, “Well, I’m poor so…”

Side note #2: Oh, microaggression, just what I needed.

“Never mind,” he stated, “it will be hard to stick the temporary lenses on these but I’ll try.”  With a big sigh.

“How much will that cost?”  I asked.

“$40.  Each time we stick ones on.  Then $400 for the permanent glasses,” he sorta smirked.

“$40, each time??  So if one set of stick-ons don’t help, I have to pay another $40 to try another set?  Until you get it right??”  I asked, making sure I understood properly.  All the while thinking, “$400? I don’t have $400 for the permanent ones, either!”

I took my glasses back from him and told him I’d have to think about it.

That was the last time I went there.  I complained to Dr Wonderful about them, and he confirmed he went there for his own glasses and was not at all impressed.

Yep, back to Dr Wonderful I went.  He sent me for an MRI.  He thought it might be multiple sclerosis.

MRI was normal.

Broken Toe and Lots of Snow!

(Generic snow pic, courtesy of Pixabay)

I think we got about a foot of snow here in Central PA since Tuesday.  Ugh.  Memphis got thunderstorms, and I think I prefer those – though, no doubt, my cats would disagree.

Still seriously planning on moving back south.  I want to be around my new granddaughter, and I really don’t like it here.  It’s boring.

The healthcare is ok, and it’s easier to access here than in Memphis.  Also, as much of a hassle as the buses are here, at least they have frequent ones that go where I need to go.  Memphis, unless it’s changed drastically, isn’t so great for mass transit.

On the other hand, Memphis is a bigger place and it has pockets of activism.  That gives it a huge advantage in my eyes, despite the obvious transportation issues involved (I would still have to find rides to demonstrations, etc).

Anyway, I am not going to post about anything important today, just health news.

I broke my toe about 2 weeks ago, and it still hurts, so my Planet Fitness plan is on hold until I can shove my foot into my Skechers.  Right now, I am hobbling around with a hard-soled sandal-type shoe that the orthopedist gave me.

I went to the endocrinologist also, and she is convinced that the hyperparathyroidism is due to the vitamin D deficiency.  As for the facial flushing, hypertension, diarrhea, and nausea, she says “we need to look elsewhere”.  She wants me to continue to track symptoms and see her in 6 months.

I am not as sick as I was 2 years ago, so ok.  I am tired of pursuing this.  As long as I don’t land in the hospital, I will just keep on keepin’ on.  For now.

I still have other (political) things I want to write about, but I will save them for the week after next – seeing as how next week is the last Wednesday of the month (“good news day”).

So, for those of you snowed in, I hope you dig out soon.  For those in the southern states, I hope you don’t get any more tornadoes.

Weird news of the week: What could possibly go wrong?  “Ax Throwing Gains in Popularity as Pastime, Sport”, Robert Bumsted, Associated Press via the SFGate website, 3/21/18.  Oh, those wacky New Yorkers!

Recommendation of the week:  LowIncomeRelief is a website that lists discounts you can get if you’re poor – of particular interest is ways you can use your EBT card (no, not for paying for non-food stuff, you use it to prove you’re low income so you can get discounts).  Discounts include $6.95/month for Amazon Prime, reduced admission to museums all across the USA, and cheap internet service.

Be good.  Be kind.  No more snow!!

 

Dragon-Ridden Days, Nightmare-Ridden Sleep

With apologies to Yeats, who wrote this in his poem “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen”:

“O what fine thought we had because we thought/That the worst rogues and rascals had died out.”

Here’s a link to the full poem: “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen” by Yeats

He was writing about Ireland, of course, but I think there are similarities with today’s political/social climate.  Plus, I love Yeats – he was the focus of my never-finished dissertation.

I haven’t written much, for a long time – not here, anyway.  But one of my New Year’s resolutions is to re-start this blog, and continue writing every Wednesday.

I can’t give you any good reasons or excuses why I have not been writing.  Some of it was this illness, some of it was a chronic state of upset over the election of the worst president in US history, and some of it was feeling overwhelmed in terms of subjects about which to write.  We here in the US are living each day in crisis.  Every day brings a new situation to worry about.

It makes sense in terms of narcissistic personality disorder, as 45 is responsible for creating chaos and crisis on a daily basis.  It’s what they do.  I’ve seen it time and time again in outpatient and inpatient settings, and usually was not sucked into it, but it’s hard not to howl at the TV when it’s happening to the entire country.  In a clinical situation, me ignoring behavior like this has an immediate impact on the patient; but, in the situation where the whole country is being played, me ignoring it or attending to it makes no difference.

That’s a hard thing to deal with.  And I didn’t want to deal with it in this blog.  Many clinicians and laypeople address this on a daily basis, and I can’t really add anything to the discussion.

So, briefly to start out, a health update: After many tests, and after switching endocrinologists (Dr. Asshat was pissing me off more and more), it appears as if I have hyperparathyroidism.  I am still taking Vitamin D and drinking copious amounts of calcium-fortified almond milk, and I get blood tests tomorrow.

My next endocrine appointment is Jan 16.  I am hoping it comes out that this is the actual problem, and that I don’t have to go see another specialist.  This endocrinologist thinks that it is secondary hyperparathyroidism due to Vitamin D deficiency, but the tests over time do not bear this out.  We’ll see.

The title of today’s post was chosen due to the imagery of dragons stampeding during the day – i.e., hearing and seeing all the wildly scary news on a daily basis – and having nightmares when finally crawling into bed, having no escape from the day’s insanity.  I imagine this scenario is true for the majority of the country right now.

I wonder, sometimes, what I would tell a client/patient if I were working right now, and was listening to the anxiety and depression that can be aggravated by societal upheaval.  Addressing the basis of the problem can, and does, get a therapist fired for “being too political”, but not addressing it and just suggesting the person medicate, meditate, and/or take up a new hobby just does not seem helpful.

We, as therapists, tend to put way too much responsibility on the client/patient, and not enough on the environment and other conditions that are aggravating or even causing symptoms in the first place.  Yes, we all can (to some extent) control how we deal with information, but we do not live in a vacuum where we can just “rise above it all”.

Not when the environmental stressors are due to actual things that might materially affect people, like cutting social programs and the like.  It’s really easy to be unaffected by 45’s policies when those policies do not affect you personally.

That seems really obvious, what I just wrote.  But it’s far too easy to put the entire weight of treatment on the client/patient alone, when a little bit of material relief would do a lot to ease symptoms.  Or when some kind of action the client/patient could take would make them feel as if they are trying to change the conditions that cause the symptoms.

I could see myself giving a client/patient the therapeutic assignment of “write an email to your representative”, if the person is overwhelmed with worry about his/her disability being cut, for example.

I could see this being relayed to another staff member or client/patient, who then writes up a complaint and sends it along to my supervisor.

Along with that, the client/patient is usually reassigned and/or talked out of writing an email to his/her representative, which is fine with them because, typically, clients/patients don’t like therapeutic assignments of any kind.  That’s why so few therapists assign them.

That’s also why so many therapists’ clients/patients don’t get better.

As I, hopefully, inch towards resolving my health issues and look to applying for jobs again, I am going to have to think a lot about where I can reasonably fit in.  I’m not seeing anyplace, to be honest.  And, without a car, my choices are really limited.

But that’s another blog post.

In weird news, Nebraska cops ruin Christmas by arresting elderly couple for weed.  The folks were trying to bring holiday cheer from California to Boston and Vermont.  The couple are the parents of the county prosecutor in Burlington, who has disavowed any knowledge of the felony his parents committed.  Jerk.  These people need a GoFundMe page.

Recommendation for today is for Schwan’s.  It is a food delivery service that’s been around for ages.  I am recommending them because they take the SNAP card.  Yeah, it’s expensive and you don’t get nearly the same amount of food you would get if you shopped at, say, Aldi, but it’s ideal for someone who is house-bound and it beats all hell out of Meals on Wheels (which, though free, has food that’s utterly disgusting).  So if you know someone who uses SNAP and has a hard time getting to the store, please tell them about this.

Be good.  Be kind.  Have a better year than the last one.

 

Poverty and the Search for a Diagnosis – Hidden Costs of Healthcare. Plus RWNJ News.

Sorry, had to update after initially publishing because a certain cat was trying to eat my laptop cord and I accidentally hit “publish” too soon.

Very brief lesson in parathyroid glands, calcium, Vitamin D, and doctors who don’t give a crap.

Health update:  Latest test results revealed a parathyroid hormone level (PTH) of 233 pg/ml, which is way over the upper limit of the range (13.2-98.4 pg/ml, which is somehow different at UPMC Altoona labs than the oft-cited 10-65 pg/ml that everyone else has).

My calcium was 9.2 (normal).

My Vitamin D levels were an extremely low 8.7 (normal range is 20-50 ng/ml).

In January, my calcium was 10.4 (too high for someone my age).  My PTH was 60.3.

The problem with that was, as your calcium levels rise, your production of PTH is supposed to shut off – so in this case, it wasn’t “suppressed” and it should have been somewhere around 20 pg/ml or lower.

When I asked Dr. Asshat about this, in January, he just shrugged and said my calcium “isn’t high”.  I tried asking him – 3 times – why the PTH was so high (60.3) when the calcium was high (10.4), and he just kept changing the subject, or said, “I don’t see anything abnormal, your symptoms don’t fit.”

When I asked him this past Monday why the current PTH level was so high (233), he responded as I guessed he would: “Your Vitamin D is too low.”  Yes, Vitamin D deficiency can cause high PTH levels, but then I asked ok why did I have the high calcium and normal-high PTH levels last time?  Those aren’t indications of a Vitamin D deficiency.

He just kind of looked at me.  Now you know why I refer to him as “Dr. Asshat”.

I knew he was going to mention Vitamin D, because it’s the easiest explanation if you disregard the January test results.  He reiterated, as he decided to order 2 more tests, that he doesn’t see an endocrine basis for my symptoms.  Here, then, are some of the symptoms of hyperparathyroidism that I have:

Loss of energy

Sleep problems

GERD (gastric acid reflux)

Kidney stones

Labile hard to control blood pressure

Nausea and vomiting

Heart palpitations

Headaches

Facial flushing (hyperparathyroid crisis)

Diarrhea

(“Symptoms of Hyperparathyroidism”, www.parathyroid.com, and “Hyperparathyroidism Symptoms”, www.uptodate.com)

When pressed, he asked me, “Are you on Metformin?” which is a diabetes drug.  I do not have, nor have I ever had, diabetes.  When I answered with a fairly stunned “no”, he then asked me if I “had anxiety”.

This guy, sitting at his laptop, doesn’t even know what’s going on with the patient sitting in front of him.  He can’t remember and I guess he doesn’t take good notes because he still asks stupid questions with the medical record open right in front of him.

I told him, “No, no anxiety”.  He replied, “Oh yeah, your metanephrines are low so, no, no anxiety.”

I then asked, “Yeah, about that…the last 3 tests indicate my epinephrine (adrenaline) is too low to measure – is that abnormal and why is that?”

He told me “they should bottle your blood, you’re so mellow”.   He wasn’t kidding.  He then regaled me with a story about highly anxious patients who “sit there and tell me they aren’t anxious when their adrenaline is off the charts”.

Then he told me to go get a test for diabetes, and one for vipoma (cancer test for digestive issues).  And to take 50,000 IU of Vitamin D once a week.  I followed him out…

“But wait!  What if my calcium spikes too high after taking the Vitamin D??”

His response?  “Oh, someone’s been reading! Ok, if it makes you feel better, I will test your calcium in 8 weeks.”

Dirty look from me.

“Ok, 4 weeks then!” he said, somewhat testily.

High calcium levels can cause strokes.  Giving someone Vitamin D whose PTH levels are high due to screwed up parathyroid glands can result in dangerously high calcium levels.

Got my diabetes test back last night – normal.  Vipoma is not back yet but I bet it was normal, too.

I see a doctor in my PCP’s practice next Friday (Dr. Wonderful is, as usual, all booked up for September).  Since I know this man will sit with me until every.single.question I have is answered, I am looking forward to it.

And I will ask him for a referral to another endocrinologist.  I really hope there is another one in Altoona who takes Medicare, because if there isn’t…well, I don’t know what I am going to do.

Can’t travel – no car, and no way to pay expenses of train, etc.

Blood Pressure’s Insane, Out With Whole Grain, and the Presidential Campaign

It’s been about 3 months since I last wrote in my blog.  I’ve been ill.

My blood pressure doesn’t want to come down, and the doctors will keep switching my meds until they get it under control.  And, YES, I’ve already tried meditation and all the other “natural” remedies…there seems to be some problem in my body that’s causing this and the other symptom of flushing.

The stomach problems I have been having are finally being properly addressed – I have a hiatal hernia, an inflamed esophagus, and something called gastroparesis.

Aside #1: Gastroparesis means that my digestive system is really super slow.  As in, it takes about 16-18 hours to digest a meal.  The symptoms are: feeling full after only a few bites, reflux, nausea, and sometimes vomiting.

Sometimes it is due to diabetes, but not in my case.  Mine is “idiopathic”, which means they don’t know why this is happening.

The solution to this gastroparesis is to change what and how I eat.  I am to eat 4-6 small meals a day (so far, not been able to eat that much), and I have to ditch my entire way of eating, grrrr.

My “normal” diet has included raw fruits and vegetables and food high in fiber.  Those foods aggravate my condition so…

Out with brown rice, in with white rice.  Out with whole wheat bread, in with white bread.  Out with raw fruits and vegetables, in with cooked-to-death products like applesauce and canned pears.

Basically, I have had to scuttle everything I know about a “healthy diet” and replace it with low fiber food so my stomach can get better.  That also means a lot of vegetable broth, Jello, yogurt, and other easily digested food.  Ugh!

The other symptoms I am having – high blood pressure and flushing – are still unsolved and now I have to go see an endocrinologist.  Might be a tumor somewhere, or some adrenal issue. So, the search continues.

Since July, I have been in the hospital about every 2 weeks, mostly due to the stomach issues but being kept in hospital because my blood pressure would not go down.

If the systolic number (the top number) is 180 or over, and/or the diastolic number (the bottom number) is 110 or higher, then I have to go to the hospital.  I’ve been out of the hospital a week now and so far my blood pressure hasn’t consistently gotten that high, so maybe I can finally keep out of the hospital for longer than 2 weeks.  It approaches that, and so far has been “very high”, but not a hypertensive crisis.

Aside #2: I really want to get back to my volunteer work, but have to give things time so I can make sure I can actually meet my volunteer commitment before I go back.  I need the stipend, I will admit. 

Meanwhile, as I have had a LOT of down-time, I have been watching a great deal of news, and also of course I have watched both presidential debates.

Wild, isn’t it?  I can’t recall a time when we’ve had such a dumbass like Trump running for president, and I certainly can’t recall a time when the sexism flew so freely – oh, except for the time when Hillary Clinton was first lady and had the nerve to propose a healthcare plan (that’s sarcasm).

I am convinced that much of the opposition to Hillary is due to the sexist idea that women can’t be presidents.   The reaction to her is too vitriolic and hateful to be anything else.

And, as usual, when you empower the far right to speak their minds, what you get is ugly rhetoric and hatred of anything that is, say, modern or post-1950.

Ah, the 1950s – when people “kept in their place”.  White men had the final say in everything, and everyone else was told to shut up.

To those people I say, “Shut up and crawl back under your rocks.  You can’t stop progress and, like it or not, one of the absolute best things about our country is its diversity.”

The thing that gets to me is how smug the right is.  They have those smirks on their faces as they talk about their “moral superiority”, even as their candidate confesses to sexually assaulting women because “when you’re a star, they let you do what you want” (“Trump Recorded Having Extremely Lewd Conversation About Women in 2005”, David A. Farenthold, Washington Post online, 10/8/16).

They spread lies about Hillary Clinton that are based solely on the trash that comes out of their candidate’s mouth.  If they would bother to fact-check, they would see that the liar is their candidate, not Hillary.  But…fact-checking is harder than just repeating outrageous gossip on Facebook, and apparently not as fun, either.

My sisters!!  What is wrong with you?  Did your parents not teach you critical thinking skills?

I often wonder which generation raised these idiots.  I guess maybe the one that came before mine, the ones who preferred to defend the Vietnam War and who spread fear about African-American citizens having the same rights and opportunities as white people enjoy.

That would kind of square with the “elderly vote” – Trump’s base of 70-90 year olds.  You know, my generation has been referred to as “the me generation”, but our attitudes pale next to the entitled, selfish, hateful ones of the people who came before us.

As for those who came after us, I have no idea why they are so reactionary and frightened.  I’m sure, though, dear readers, that you will be happy to comment about that on this blog.

Again, I feel it all comes down to the inability or unwillingness to take in multiple forms of information (not Breitbart or Fox News), evaluate, and form an educated opinion.  After all, it’s so much easier to react emotionally and commiserate with others of like minds than to form an independent opinion based on facts.

A cursory look at the most popular blogs and Facebook pages bear this out.

“Let’s all get hysterical!  Let’s spread fear!  We can get thousands of “likes” if we do!”

A Caution to Women Over 50: Our Symptoms are Different

I know there is a lot going on in the world right now, but today’s post will be somewhat brief because I just got out of the hospital last week.  What follows is a health update, but it is also advice for all women over 50, just to keep in the back of your minds.

Tuesday, June 29, I went for a doctor’s appointment so he could schedule an operation to remove my gallbladder.  He looked at the ultrasound and told me he would take it out next week.  Hooray!!

When I got home, I began to feel worse than usual.  I felt as if I had swallowed a bunch of acid of some kind.  Antacids didn’t help, as I couldn’t keep them down.  I couldn’t keep water or anything else down – and those of you with acid indigestion know how awful that feels when your stomach is intent on expelling copious amounts of bile.

And so it went on this way all day and all night on Tuesday, and then on Wednesday at about 11 AM I decided maybe I should call the doctor.  I was sweating and could not stop vomiting (I know, it’s gross, but I promise you I have a good reason to be specific about the symptoms).  I didn’t have any pain, but I did have a slight fever.  I figured it was just a gallbladder attack from hell.

I called my primary care physician – Dr. Wonderful.  I spoke with his nurse (that was disappointing) and she told me to call the gallbladder surgeon to ask what I should do.

So I called Dr. Kaneshiki, the excellent surgeon (I am providing his name as he is highly thought of, and if you ever need a surgeon in Pennsylvania…), and his nurse told me to go to the ER.

I texted Nancy Downstairs and woke her up, and told her I was calling an ambulance.  She said she’d drive me so 10 minutes later we were on our way to the ER at UPMC Altoona.

Thankfully, there were no other patients and they took me back and hooked me up to an EKG, took temp, bp, etc.

Tech: Um, do you normally have a fast heart rate?

I told him I didn’t and they then whisked me off to some room where a nurse was again attaching a heart monitor to me and yelling (yes she was, I am not exaggerating) “Quit moving, you’re messing up the machine”.

I wasn’t squirming or anything but it’s hard to be still when you’re sick to your stomach like that.

I said, “Maybe the lines are all over the place because it’s a heart problem?”

The nurse glared at me.  Touchy!

The ER doctor came in, barking orders at Mean Nurse for meds and such, and he put some pasty stuff on my chest.  He kept asking if I was in pain (I wasn’t).

Doctor:  Really? No pain anywhere?

Me: No.  What’s all this fuss about for a gallbladder?

Doctor: Gallbladder?  You’ve had a minor heart attack.  That’s why we drew all that blood, to look for the enzymes that indicate that.

Me: That’s going to screw up my surgery next week, I bet!

I was quite surprised.

Aside #1: Like most people, I had read things about how women’s symptoms for heart attack are different but I really didn’t internalize that information, I guess, because when I think of “heart attack”, I think of someone turning red in the face, gasping for air, and clutching his chest while stating that his arm and/or neck hurts.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I recall reading that women’s symptoms were different, but I guess maybe I didn’t pay attention.

The cardiologist came in and told me he had to do a heart catheterization on me, to see which (if any) of my arteries were blocked.  Coincidentally, he is also Nancy Downstairs’ cardiologist, so she came down to the waiting room for the cath lab to find out what was going on.

Aside #2: It really helps to have someone do that, as often they will recall things the doctor said that the patient, in her distress, won’t remember.  Our hospitals need patient advocates so that every patient can have someone in that position to assist them.  The only place I know of that has patient advocates is Minneapolis.

I was awake for the heart catheterization, which really hurts a lot.  What they do is run a catheter up the artery in your arm (or groin…fortunately he used my arm) all the way up to your heart.  They are looking to see if there are blockages or anything abnormal.

But of course me being a baby about things like that, I am just repeating “OwOwOwOw” sort of like a mantra, while the cardiologist is telling me, “But look!  You have perfectly clear arteries! That’s really good!”

Aside #3: It wasn’t my finest hour, but at least I didn’t cry or yell or get hysterical.  I did sneak a peek at my arteries and I have to admit, they did look pretty cool.  Must be all those years as a vegetarian. And now I can scratch off “wonder about the plaque in my arteries” on my list of “things I wonder about the older I get”.

Then they took me to some MRI machine, injected some dye, and looked at my neck arteries. That wasn’t too bad except in the beginning, when the tech kept getting the placement wrong, and would move me so far into the machine that it went over my head…which I alerted her to in a voice just slightly shy of full panic mode:

“No no no too far in no it’s over my head no no move it back you’re not MRI-ing my brain you know, I am going to get off this table if you don’t move back!”  Or words to that effect.

Aside #4: I was locked in closets as a child as punishment (yes, really), and have been claustrophobic ever since. No dosage of benzodiazepines works for me when I am approaching full panic mode in that situation, nor do the headphones that some places provide in an attempt to drown out the banging the machines do – they never have Tool or Alice in Chains anyway, which actually might help if I could sing along.

Apparently that test had ok results, too, because I never heard about it again.

I spent 2 nights in the hospital, under observation, and was told at discharge on Friday that I was cleared by the cardiologist for gallbladder surgery the following Wednesday.

On Wednesday, the surgery went as planned and I am now minus one gallbladder.  I feel so much better!  Of course, they have me on more meds, which I am not crazy about (1 for blood pressure, 1 for heart, 1 for the cholesterol problem I don’t have but “just in case”), but…well…doctors.

And the cause of the heart attack?  The consensus, for now, is “stress”.  Eating better and exercising will help a lot, but my main stressors are poverty-related, so I will have to do better coping with these conditions.  Transportation (length and type, I don’t mean “assholes on the bus” lol), living far from family, and not having set goals all take their toll.

Aside #5: After giving it some thought, I am going to add “being single” here to the list.  I don’t like admitting it, but I do think that I am one of these people who is happier when I am in a decent relationship.  “Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow”, or so states a Swedish proverb (ThinkExist.com).  Not everyone is like that, and I wasn’t like that for a long time, but after recovering from domestic violence I think I am ready again to share both joys and sorrows.

Anyway, to the women who read this blog, and to the men who have women in their lives…please pay attention to symptoms such as nausea/vomiting that lasts more than a day, with or without sweating.

I had very bad fatigue also, and had to stop after 2 or 3 steps on the stairs to my apartment (which is only 11 stairs up).

What I did not have was shortness of breath or chest pain.  That’s what tripped me up – I thought I had to have those 2 symptoms!  So, if you or someone you love has weird symptoms, even without chest pain or shortness of breath, go to the emergency room.  Far better to be safe than sorry.

And if you are thinking, “I can’t afford to go the the ER!” then ask yourself this: Can your loved ones afford not to have you around?  Hospital bills can be negotiated; your presence on earth cannot be.  My heartbeats were wildly unstable when I arrived at the ER, and I don’t know if I would have survived if I had just “toughed it out”.

Please just remember that when it comes to heart attacks, things are not always as they seem.

I don’t have any weirdness except for a “sort of” recommendation for a movie called “Oz the Great and Powerful”, starring James Franco.  It’s sappy, it’s happily-ever-after, it’s a morality tale, but I really liked it.  Suitable for kids over, say, 8 or so, and not nearly as scary as “The Wizard of Oz”.   I am a James Franco fan so I enjoyed seeing him in this part.

Be good.  Be kind.  Be mindful.