Long Drive

    After taking a few minutes to regain myself, I walked down the hill and then to the right to the house I lived in. The bright and beautiful day didn't matter to me anymore. I wanted to go in my room, get in bed, and lie down until I felt completely better. That took about an hour. Afterwards, I took a shower to get all of the grime and sweat off of me. I sent a message to my primary doctor about what happened, and his office replied almost at closing time that they have an opening tomorrow morning but recommend I also schedule an appointment with a cardiologist. When I submit an appointment request to cardiology that night, I got a call the next morning from an office in Burlingame that's in the same medical network with all of my providers. They said that one of the doctors had an appointment spot on Friday and could see me then. I immediately cancelled with my primary doctor, who in hindsight never noticed for two years my irregular heart rhythms and only blamed things on my weight and never knew that my weight gain was actually edema, and waited the extra day to see my very first cardiologist. 

    Friday came around and I drove down to Burlingame, about a 30 minute drive on the highway, just one turn to get on and one to exit, the most simple drive compared to this nonsense in New Jersey. Looking back, I actually loved my drives down to Burlingame because they gave me answers to questions I had about my health, they helped me stay calm by providing comfort about what to expect with what I was dealing with as a young adult living on their own, and I had a scenic 30 minute drive down a gentle slope the was just ever so slightly turning left down the way there. After the exit, its just down another hill until I see a white parking garage next the brick-orange rectangular hospital face. Its here I would visit weekly for the next few weeks before moving on to the next phase of how serious things would get.

    Inside I check in, get seen by a nurse, and then start waiting in the patient exam room for the doctor. In walks a doctor who, from first appearance, must be in his mid-50s, good physical health, wearing glasses and a white coat with the name Tak C. Poon, MD, FACC in red lettering across the chest. He greets me politely and asks how I've been doing and what is going on that brought me in. I explained to him about the drive home from work and how suddenly I got sick and something felt very wrong with my chest. The very first thing he explained was that my resting heart rate worried him, and he wanted to get a chest x-ray to check for any abnormalities, and if nothing was apparent then he wanted me to see a doctor to perform an angiogram to rule out risk of heart attack and any blockages in my heart. Now that I know what he was worried about, his sense of calmness was comforting and he did a great job at not alerting me at what may have been going on. 

    The next week I got my x-ray, and that quickly ruled out any visible abnormalities. While the results were good, they were mixed because it also meant that I needed to go forward with the angiogram and get an actual procedure to have a tiny catheter go into my heart. Dr. Poon reviewed the x-ray results with me and placed an order to have me wear a type of monitor that was basically a heavy band-aid that goes overtop of your heart on your chest and takes readings for 14 days. The angiogram was scheduled for the following week, and I started wearing the heart monitor patch the day the x-ray results were reviewed with me.

    During this entire period, I had been hospitalized 3 or 4 times because of chest pain, shortness of breath, or feeling faint. Each time was a different combination of reasons, but they must have happened at some inconvenient times for my housemates because my landlord the week before my angiogram happened told me that he was no longer renewing my lease and would start showing my room to other renters in April. I argued against how illegal it was that I was being evicted for medical reasons, but he insisted my lease was month-to-month with no guarantee on renewal and that me disturbing the other housemates had nothing to do with his decision, though when he text me informing me of his decision he did mention that they had been complaining and he hopes I get better. Having been homeless in San Francisco once before, I was in awe that this was happening at a time when my doctor had ordered me to work no more than 5 hour days and no more than 4 days a week, with plenty of rest and to start taking medicine that would make me urinate dozens of times daily. On the bright side, my landlord was reasonable and accommodated the day that I had my procedure and did not show my room during that day so that I could recover from anesthesia and rest in peace. The procedure itself was uncomfortable because it was in a cold room where they told me I'd be asleep, but as I told them I was still aware of what was going on they said that I would eventually fall asleep. Though for the better part of the procedure I must've actually been asleep, I still remember the serious pain in my wrist when they brought the catheter out and I shouted in pain. The nurse to my right said, "You felt that?" to which I obviously replied "Yes, I told you I am awake!". After the doctor said that I would forget about it, they applied a painful amount of pressure to my wrist for several minutes before wheeling me to the PACU where the nurse offered me orange juice since I was already fully awake. She discussed my discharge info with me and that they had scheduled an appointment with Dr. Poon to follow-up with my next steps. 

    A few more days later and I get a message on Facebook from an old housemate that moved out of where I was currently being evicted. She told me that she recently purchased a house and had a room available. It was the only thing that took weight off my shoulders at this time, and I could never thank her enough. Mary, if you read this, know that you helped me during one of my hardest times when I was living all alone and I really appreciate it. The day after Mary messaged me and I saw the room, I booked movers to do all of the moving and lifting for me since I was on orders to not over exert myself now. Before my last day living in that house, I had an appointment with Dr. Poon to go over the angiogram results. Sadly, there was nothing wrong. My heart vessels were clear, unclogged, with no leakage or blockages. It sounds like it would be good news, but it isn't. Its the exact opposite of what you'd want to hear next. He had me come off from sitting on the exam table so that I could sit on the chair next to him. He explained to me that the the angiogram shows the large blood vessels on the heart, and that there are smaller ones that can be seen on an MRI and that is the most detailed imaging they'd be able to get, but he suspected there was problems on an even smaller scale. After reviewing my medical record more extensively, and I mean way back since I arrived in San Francisco five years ago, he looked at how my A1c was (my blood sugar average) and told me the most likely cause is that the microscopic vessels that fill with blood that surround the heart are toughening and becoming stiff, and that is why my heart is overcompensating by pumping so fast since it needs to pump the correct volume of blood. The percentage of blood being pumped with every heartbeat was normal, the problem is that the heart was beating so fast to compensate that fluid would start to build up in the lungs and the rest of the body. This is what caused the shortness of breath, the weight gain, and the swollen legs. It was called edema, and its caused by excess fluid held by the kidneys. The medicine I was on would help my body process extra fluid by forcing me to pee it out. Between the x-ray, reviewing my history, my physical exams, my stress echocardiogram that I did in between the x-ray and my angiogram, and lastly the constant state of fast heart rhythm from the heart monitor; after all of those tests, he wanted to order a cardiac MRI and then told me that he would refer me to a different cardiologist that specializes in advanced heart failure. That was the last day I had seen Dr. Poon, and a week later I moved into my friends house, into a comfortable new room where I felt relieved and at home. I was welcomed again. On the days I came home from work and she was there, she would offer me food she was cooking or ask how I was doing. She always cared. I would only live there for less than 3 months. 


Ian said...

This sounds like so much for one to experience in such a short amount of time. I had no idea you were shouldering all of that.

Brady said...

That's why I felt the need to write a lot of this down. You were probably my closest friend and you didn't know how much I had going on. I shouldn't have hidden it, and I'm sorry Ian. But our time together will always bring me moments of happiness