The Truth about the Hospital 8/14/08

Wanna hear about my latest fun adventure? Why, of course you do!

The other night, I was having a pretty cool dream. Specifically, I was playing Lego Indiana Jones (it's a video game, for those of you who might be living under a rock). In the dream, I swapped into a character and realized he was bugged. His little plastic chest had been crimped or melted or something, and suddenly I had fairly severe chest-pains and shortness of breath.

I tried swapping into a few other characters, but they all had the same bug--the same crimped chest. I remember thinking, Oh crap, I'm gonna have to reboot this game, when suddenly I woke up.

Oddly, the pain in my chest and shortness of breath followed me into the waking world. I started thinking that maybe I was having a heart attack. I didn't feel any shooting pains down my left arm, but maybe this was a special heart attack. Bottom-line was, I had no idea what my other options might be. So I did what any self-respecting 39 year-old with chest pains and shortness of breath would do.

I got on my computer and I googled "heart attack."

After some searching, I found an article that said if treatment for a heart attack is sought immediately, then it's likely the patient won't suffer permanent damage to the heart. Since I'd already spent several minutes searching, immediately had come and gone. I decided that maybe it was time to wake the wife and call 911.

I had time to dress before the paramedics arrived--'cause who wants to go to the hospital in their pajamas?

The paramedics did a quick EKG before we went to the hospital. The nurse there gave me another one once we arrived. Neither showed any sign of a heart attack. I would have thought that would make everyone relax a little bit and stop worrying, but it didn't. They decided to try a few blood tests. I remember them taking four little vials of blood (or so), and I remember feeling all cold and clammy and thinking that I was going to pass out.

After that, the next thing I remember was someone yelling, "Scott!" as I slowly regained consciousness. It took a long time for me to come all the way out of it--much longer than it would have taken if it had been a scene I was writing. I would have given the character thirty seconds in a daze, tops. This was at least four or five minutes. Maybe even longer.

Someone asked me if I wet myself. My response was something like, "Good Lord, I should hope not." I slowly came to understand that I hadn't just passed-out; I'd had some sort of half-assed seizure, complete with arm-flailing and unintelligible noises. The reason I say it was a "half-assed" seizure instead of a fully-fledged seizure is that, apparently, it takes a much longer time to recover from a fully-fledged seizure. My recovery was so quick that no one wanted to call it a seizure. One doctor said that I'd probably hyperventilated. Another said that I'd had a fear-reaction to the needles and what I'd had was a panic attack (and refused to listen to the fact that I'm not afraid of needles) (I wasn't even afraid of needles as a child, when you're supposed to be afraid of needles). Another doctor, I'm told, pulled my wife aside and told her not to listen to the other doctors, and that what I'd had was definitely a seizure.

I don't know. Maybe there's something tricky in the definition of "seizure" that I was never aware of. Clearly, all of these people went to different medical schools. Unlike Geography, where California is always south of Oregon, or Geometry, where a right-angle always measures ninety degrees, Medicine is apparently a bit more subjective.

But the important part is, I was right in the room when it happened and I don't remember a thing of it. For that reason I'm electing to believe that I simply passed-out, and they came up with this seizure story as a practical joke. Very funny, you fuckers. Hah-hah-hah.

Anyway, my doctors used this seizure story as an excuse to scan my head at the same time they were scanning my chest. This is where my story gets pretty cool, so pay close attention.

Doctors came back to us a little while later and said that I'd had a pulmonary embolism. If you're like me, you've heard those words before but likely have no idea what they actually mean. Well, here's the quick-and-dirty definition: a blood clot floated through my body until it got caught in the capillaries (smaller blood vessels) around my lungs. If it had gone to my head, I would have had a stroke. If it had gone to a muscle in my leg, I would have been Dr. House with a cool flaming cane. Eventually, they told me that I'd actually had more than one pulmonary embolism. They also told me that the plural for embolism is "emboli," which sounds a little thin to me, but whatever.

So, I had pulmonary emboli. Pretty cool, huh? But wait ... it gets even cooler. Dr. House would love this wrinkle.

When they scanned my head, they found a little ... "something." Their initial concern was that it was an annurism. And what would be so bad about that, you ask? Well, I'll tell ya. The treatment for pulmonary emboli is to give you blood thinner, which prevents more blood clots from forming and asphyxiating the life out of me. However, if I have an annurism that's being kept from bleeding by a blood clot, then giving me blood thinners might make that thing in my head go Pop! and away I go.

If you have any concern for my health, set that aside for a moment to consider just how cool this is. What a great plot twist! It's the fuckin' Lady or the Tiger told in an emergency room! They couldn't treat me because they didn't know what was going on in my head yet, and they couldn't not treat me because another clot might come along and finish me off. That's the side of it that I saw when the doctor initially told me about the suspected annurism. My response was an impressed, "Wow," as if I were congratulating the imaginary author of my life on a job well done.

So they decided that I should be flown to Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia. And they thought about it a little more and re-decided that I should be driven to Jefferson Hospital in an ambulance, because the altitude might make my alleged annurism say to itself, "Fuck this and fuck all of you! I'm outta here!"

(SPOILER ALERT: If you're wondering why I keep referring to my little brain-friend as a "suspected annurism" or an "alleged annurism," and you guessed that the reason is that it turned out not to be an annurism, give yourself a Gold Star!)

We waited around most of the day for a room to become available at Jefferson (whether we were waiting for someone to check out or waiting for someone to check out was never made entirely clear). Eventually, they loaded my tired ass into an ambulance and drove me across the river to Jefferson. Once there, the tests began in earnest. I had blood tests, scans, ultrasounds, x-rays, and rectal probes. (Okay, I didn't really have any rectal probes.) (But it wasn't because I didn't ask.) What they discovered was that the little thing in my head wasn't an annurism at all. It's called a cavernoma. Specifically, it's a cavernoma on my Circle of Willis. Hell, I didn't even know I had a Circle of Willis. Did you? The bad news is, cavernomas are known to bleed from time to time. The good news is, it's pretty infrequent--something like a 1% to 2% chance every year. They're not at all like annurisms, which can pop like a balloon and shut off a person like a light switch. I think it just leaks a little sometimes. And the anti-coagulants they would use to treat the pulmonary emboli don't prevent me from clotting entirely, they just make it take a little longer.

The doctors decided to start me on a heparin IV. They stepped it up a little at a time, to make sure my cavernoma wasn't going to do anything crazy. It took them five days to get my levels up to the point where I could be released from the hospital.

Five days. Five days. Five fuckin' days. I don't even want to be someplace nice for five days straight. I certainly don't want to lay in a bed with many, many wires dangling off me for five days. I don't want a heart monitor mistaking my sleeping heart rate for a dying heart rate and summoning nurses every time I start to drift off.

But more than that, I don't want there to be anything wrong with me. And now, quite suddenly, I'm one of you ... one of the humans. Don't get me wrong, I'm quite fond of some of you. One might even say that I've grown accustomed to sharing the planet with you, and not just because I have no other choice. You guys make things interesting, with your talking on cell phones while driving and voting Bush into office for a second term and the thousand other moronic and endearing things you do on a daily basis.

However, as fond as I was of you, I wasn't even close to ready to join your ranks. I didn't really want to say anything, but you are some fragile mother fuckers. You're maybe the most fragile species on the planet. Pills, for example. There are thousands of you--maybe even millions of you--who need pills on a daily basis to stay alive. How many other apex predators do you know who need to take so much Goddamned medicine? You never see a wolf with an Anacin. You never see a shark with a Geritol. And you only rarely see a bear with a Flintstone vitamin. It's just not done. It's just not cool.

Now, this apex predator is on Coumadin--a blood thinner--probably for the rest of my life. I can't smoke because nicotine reacts with my blood thinner. I can't drink, because if I have more than two it reacts with my blood thinner ... and who the hell wants to have only two drinks?

Against my will, I get to give being human a try.

I'm gettin' hungry. What the hell do humans eat, anyway?