Summer fun!

Well, I guess I should come clean on my “interesting” summer. I finished mowing the front yard fairly early Monday morning, June 7, and, as was my usual routine, got a cup of coffee and sat down in a lawn chair to drink said coffee and have a cigar. (I love cigars!) In the process of doing this I coughed rather hard – thought I was gonna lose a lung. I attributed this to the dust I inhaled during mowing.

After coughing, I sat down to enjoy the cigar, coffee, and morning. This did not last long – I started to feel a bit uncomfortable. I had a spot about the size of a quarter next to the sternum along the nipple line that felt like I’d pulled a muscle. I tried stretching it out to no avail. I also noticed I had spot pain on the inside of both biceps. I went into the house to drink some orange juice and water – figured I was a bit dehydrated, hence the pains. I made a couple of phone calls and kept trying to get comfortable. Nothing worked. The thought came to me “Maybe you are having a heart attack.” Yeah, right. A heart attack. FFFFPPPPTTTTBBBB! Whatever. I just turned 56 the week before. No way…

Well, the thought persisted – it had to have come from God, because I wouldn’t have thought that. I found a sheet on the fridge that listed signs of a stroke. “Nope, no signs that match stroke. Wonder if there is anything printed on the back… Yep, signs of a heart attack. Hmmm, maybe I am having a heart attack.” So, with that thought in mind, I went upstairs, took two aspirin, took a shower, and got dressed. I moseyed down stairs and grabbed my wallet, keys, and sunglasses and drove to the Kaiser clinic a couple of miles away.

I parked in the south forty of the lot as is my habit, and walked into to clinic up to the check-in desk. The lady greeted me and asked if I had an appointment to see my physician. Nope, I responded, no appointment. She asked the nature of my visit, and I said: “Well, without being overly dramatic, I think I might be having a heart attack.” She said she would call the duty nurse and did I have my Kaiser card, ID, and $30 co-pay – (get the money BEFORE he collapses). Before I could hand over my card and ID, much less the $30 co-pay the nurse was standing by my side. She asked how I was and I told her what I was thinking, and she escorted me upstairs via the elevator. We walked into a room marked “Tornado Shelter” – 2nd floor, mind you – and told me to sit on this examination table/torture device. I parked my fanny on this thing and tried not to fall off. She put on a BP cuff and took the reading, and announced she didn’t like what she was seeing.

Well, people came out of the woodwork! She instructed me to take off my shirt and get comfortable on the examination table. Right, comfortable… I leaned back with the assistance of numerous nurses who were holding my arms and slapping ekg stickies all over my chest. A nurse hands me a teeny-tiny pill and says stick that under your tongue. I ask what it is and she says it’s a Nitro pill. Put it under your tongue now! Another nurse put an oxygen mask on me which pushed my glasses up to my eyebrows. Two other nurses have an arm clutched to their side and are prepping me for an IV in each arm. The nurse on my right got an IV in first and the nurse on my left was not having much luck. She kept telling me to relax while she tried to get a needle in several times… Relax, you’re a pin cushion… After the third or fourth failed attempt near my elbow she tried to put one in the back of my hand, and announced, loudly, “His veins are collapsing!” Well, gosh, that sounded encouraging. She finally got the IV installed; although, I truly do not remember where.

While being used for needle insertion practice the original nurse ran an ekg for my Doctor. He sauntered in a few minutes later and told me he assumed I knew I wasn’t going home this afternoon. Me being me, I asked where I was going, and he said, “The hospital”. OK, no problem, Doc, I drove over here. Which hospital do I need to drive to? He replied, “No, you don’t understand. I’ve called a helicopter for you.” “What do you mean you called a helicopter for me? Glad you called since that means You get to pay for it!” He smiles tolerantly at me and nods his head, and asks “Do you want to call ‘V’ now? No, I’m going to let you call her and give her that bit of news. She can be mad at you, not me!” Keep in mind that even my sharp mind has not figured out I am having a heart attack. I figure they are practicing some sort of drill to justify the $30 co-pay.

About this time someone announces the helicopter is landing out back and the Fire Department is here. The flight nurses came in along with their bright yellow gurney, and helped fill an already crowded room. The gurney was placed by my left side, hooked one of the IV lines and dang near dragged me off the table. I managed to get unhooked from the gurney and looked into the eyes of both nurses – remember, I am laying at a 45 degree angle which means neither nurse is much over five feet tall.

The flight nurses check both IV and oxygen, transfer the oxygen from the clinic to their portable bottle and help me slide over to the gurney. That done, they wheel me out into the hallway where I am greeted by no less than six firemen. I asked the nearest why they were there, and he said they always show up when a helicopter is called. I pointed to my Doctor and said “bill him”. As they are rolling me through the clinic I commented to one of the firemen I was glad I still had on my cargo shorts since no one bothered to put a sheet over me. He just smiled and told me to relax, and continued out the door into the very bright sunshine. Whatever…

On the west side of this clinic are two grass mounds surrounded by standard concrete six inch curbs. No path, no ramp. Just a fairly steep slope to the top of the mound. The flight crew and firefighters have a discussion on how best to get me up the hill. They move me from one side to another while discussing their options. I announced that I could have walked up the damn slope in the time they took to make a decision. They smiled and ignored me. Five firefighters; one pilot and both nurses grabbed the backboard I was on and proceeded up the hill toward the helo. Not all of those carrying me were the same height, so I was not being held level but at a rather awkward down and to the left sort of lean with my feet leading the way. I am trying to keep from sliding off the damn board and the nurses are telling me to lay back and relax.  Sure.

We arrive at the side of the helo – (a Jet Bell Ranger); they put me back on the gurney; strap me on so I won’t fall off, and begin sliding me in the side. It becomes apparent that I am longer than the cabin, and they tell me to move my feet and legs around so they can get me in. Remember, I am strapped down so I can’t fall off, nor move… I wiggle my feet, and they get me locked inside the cabin. My nose is a couple of inches from an air vent in the helo’s ceiling. One flight nurse gets in beside me, and tells me to enjoy the view. What view, the ceiling?… As the pilot takes off the flight nurse strokes my forehead and tells me to relax; there’s nothing to be scared of; the pilot is just taking off. I rolled my head toward her and said “This ain’t my first rodeo.” She puts on her flight helmet, visor down, and starts talking to the pilot. I asked if I got a helmet and she asked if I had a need to talk to the pilot. I said only if I couldn’t convince her to reroute the copter to Central City as I had some coin. She did not go for it. Spoil sport!

Arrival on the roof of St. Joe Hospital in Denver was uneventful – Thank God! – as was my unloading. Turns out the gurney the hospital sent up for me had a bad wheel and the gurney kept bouncing into the walls, head first, as we rolled merrily along. The flight nurse was almost walking on the walls trying to keep me from having collisions along the way. (Somewhere in this process they slipped me some drugs because I felt a bit loopy.) Just before we got to the elevators I looked up and saw two big guys in uniform – not sure if they were Denver cops or hospital security – I looked over to the flight nurse and told her “See, I said we forgot to go thorough TSA.” (I am so funny!) She ignored me but the cops laughed. They rolled me in to what I later found out was the Heart Catheter Lab.

This room was awesome! Large color flat panel plasma screens and robots! Looked like something out of Star Wars or Star Trek. Way cool! I scooted myself off the gurney and onto some cold table and lay flat. Masked people started coming toward me out of the darkness and the noise level increased. A voice from near my feet announced “My name is Steve, and I am one of your nurses today.” I did not ask him for a menu – severe brain fog at that moment. He proceeded to remove my sandals and socks and then asked me to raise my hips as they need me completely naked. “Well”, I said, “Of course you need me naked. Everyone wants to see the old fat man butt naked!” ( I noticed the flight nurse was still in the room along with several hundred others.) Nobody laughed or even paid attention to my discomfort. Almost immediately with the removal of my shorts and underwear another nurse was hovering over my groin shaving me. Geez Louise! What other indignation’s are coming my way? A masked face appeared out of the dark and gave me her name. (Couldn’t even tell you what she said.) Said she is my Doctor and she was going to insert a catheter into my femoral artery to my heart. She further stated this procedure could cause a stroke, or even death. I responded “Let’s just do what you need to do.” Next thing I know I’m trying not to jump to the ceiling! Dang, what the heck was that? That hurt! I fade in and out while on this table and soon the Doctor is leaning over me saying she is done and all appears okay.

They wheel me out of the lab and tell me I need to lay still and not lift my head or move my right leg at all. We stop by a room; the Doc goes in and comes out with ‘V’ and my brother-in-law, sister-in-law, and middle niece. The Doctor ignores me and tells my wife, et al, that a stent was placed in one of my arteries, and that I had two smaller arteries partially blocked; although, she could not do anything to correct the blockage because they were too small. She stated the damage was “very, very, minimal” and I should be okay. Off we go to my room, entourage in tow. The nurses slid me off the gurney and on to one of those wonderful hospital beds. You know, the ones with the plastic mattress with plastic cover, and 40-thread count sheet. I lay there while they do their medical speak and they all take turns raising my gown over my head so they can look at my gauze-covered wound – along with my shaved groin, of course… One of the nurses informs me I will not be allowed to eat or do anything for a minimum of six hours. Seems if the clot on the femoral artery breaks loose blood can hit a 10 foot ceiling – didn’t happen; though. Nurses come and go checking my gauze covered wound – and my shaved groin – several times an hour. They frown and mutter to themselves and wander out of my semi-private room dragging the separation curtain open so my room-mate and his wife can see my gauze covered wound and shaven groin. After three hours or so a couple of nurses come in to look at me and announce I am “seeping through the gauze!” Seeping what? No response, one of them places her palm on the gauze and leans compressing the gauze and wound; fingers close to my shaven groin. Another nurse leans over to watch, and “adjusts” my package so she can see the gauze better. (I guess…) This goes on for more than five hours when one of the nurses decides to try something else to stem the seepage. (Please note: I have not been to the bathroom since before I took a shower. I have had coffee, juice, water, and no less than two bags of IV fluids and who knows how much dye injected into my veins so the Doctor can see the heart blockage.) Her idea? They have this medieval device they use to stop seepage. It is a leverage device that places a small knob on the wound. A strap is pulled under your backside (of course) and around your hip through an opening near the knob. This strap is then pulled as tight as it can go to force said knob deep into the femoral artery. Gosh, can we do this again? Especially with a bladder as distended as mine! Woo Hoo!!!

They come check on me two hours later. They ask how I’m doing. I can’t answer ’cause I am drowning… They release me from this device – apparently for good behavior – and tell me I can urinate, if I want to. Sure, I guess I can do that, but not lying down. Just can’t pee lying down – ain’t happening! The nurses confer and decide I can sit on the side of the bed and urinate as long as I keep my right leg straight. Well, Hell, I sure can’t bend it with all the fluid in me… I say, “Bring two portable urinals…” Relief! I lay back down and the nurses come back in. Gown over my head and faces in my shaven groin inspecting my gauze covered wound. No visible seepage, so you can move a bit now, but keep it to a minimum.

My Doctor comes in the next morning pulls my gown over my head so she can inspect the gauze covered wound and shaven groin. (I am getting used to anyone and everyone coming in to look at my gauze covered wound and shaven groin, and am seriously thinking about chucking the gown-that-covers-nothing and walk around with nothing on but hospital socks; portable ekg; and a smile.) “So”, I say, “do I get to leave this afternoon?” She looks at me like I’m an idiot, and replies, “No, maybe tomorrow.” “Oh, come on Doc, what could be the big deal here?” She looks at me sternly and says “Mr. H, you had a serious heart attack.” Wow, first time anyone said those words to me! Rather overwhelming, when you think about it. The rest of the stay is uneventful except everyone still wants to pull the gown over my head and look at the gauze covered wound and shaven groin, except now there is something else to look at.

Seems the seepage has led to the creation of the most incredible bruise I have ever seen! This “thing” went from right side belt-line,down the right side of my “package”, down the inside of my right thigh nearly to my knee. (More on this later.) Holy Cow, I could have sold tickets for folks to see that – along with my gauze covered wound and shaven groin. I get to go home Wednesday afternoon. It was great to walk out of the hospital!

Fast forward seven days. Late morning, To be continued…

NOTE to Readers: I have attempted to inject some humor into what was, actually, very frightening for me, my wife and family. I have absolutely zero complaints regarding my care from anyone at the Kaiser clinic through the folks who cleaned my hospital bathroom! The care, concern, and professionalism shown was and is second-to-none. I would recommend St. Joseph Hospital to anyone needing coronary care! This is why I added a link to The American Heart Association to this blog.

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