Saturday, June 12, 2004

Marriage links for the week  

I learned a new word this week, thanks to Jollyblogger. Uxoriousness: excessively submissive or devoted to one's wife; foolishly fond of or submissive to your wife. He explains the word and offers some thoughts on it as it applies to Adam, Abraham, and all men who follow God.

Jollyblogger also expounds on the differences between guys and men this week. He offers a short self-evaluation to discover whether you're a guy or a man based on male role models and women you find attractive. I came down solidly on the man side in the comparison to other men, but solidly on the guy side in the women I find attractive. I think the latter has more to do with the women's age than with my own level of maturity, though.

Lloyd Nichols ponders some issues surrounding sex, marriage, and lust (link via Messy Christian).

IreneQ and her commenters explore the importance of both chemistry and compatibility in a romantic relationship.

According to King of Fools, one Texas politician has his own chapter of supporters living with him in his house.

Ronald Reagan left behind a legacy of love for his family, and especially his wife:

In the written and photographed record of their years together, running for governor, walking in inaugural parades, strolling Camp David, after the attempt on his life and her mastectomy, the Reagans always are holding hands, hers slipped into his. Sometimes, she wanted to hold him with both hands, and she reached around with her free hand to clasp his wrist as well.

One couple kisses for the first time on their wedding day.

I received another Where I'm From poem this week. Check out Where Deb's From.

Friday, June 11, 2004

His and Hers XIII  

His and Hers is a question or discussion topic relating to marriage that I post every Tuesday or Wednesday (though I didn't do that this week). On Friday, my wife and I each write our thoughts on the topic. I invite other bloggers to do the same with their spouses as an exercise in celebrating marriage. This week's question is:

What is your favorite expression of physical affection from your spouse?

Mrs. Happy's response

One of the things that made me fall in love with Curt was the way he hugs me with abandon, like I'm the only person in the world. I still love the hugs, but I think my favorite thing now is when he caresses my face.

Curt's response

When my wife lovingly strokes the back of my head and neck, I think that physical act makes me feel more loved than any other.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

My scary week, epilogue  

I rarely saw the man who shared my hospital room due to the privacy curtain drawn between us, and I never spoke to him. Everything I learned about him came from what I heard of the conversations coming from his side of the room. At first, I thought he was a mean, senile old man because he yelled a lot and didn't always make sense. Later, I learned that he could not hear very well and had probably suffered some kind of stroke. He had been in the hospital for a couple of days, and during my time there he began to slowly regain his senses. During my first night there he shouted angrily at anyone who came into the room, operating on the (not unfounded) assumption that anyone standing at his bedside wanted to stab him with a needle. He spoke more kindly once the sun rose, especially after his wife arrived to keep him company.

The first time that his wife visited during my stay, she spoke lovingly to him and he reciprocated. She was relieved that he finally recognized her, and she filled him in on all that had happened. At one point he told her, "I must have been close to death, but honey, I love you so much you make me want to live." He made a point of telling every nurse, doctor, orderly, lab tech, and dietary worker he saw that he loved his wife and that they had been married for 65 years. He also bragged about his children, one of whom owned a local restaurant and brought him French onion soup for lunch one day.

I can't testify with any accuracy regarding the state of that 65-year-old marriage, but the love between them was obvious in the way the two spoke to each other. The love of their daughter was also obvious during her visit. My wife and I have been married for six years. While we were sitting in my hospital bed doing a crossword puzzle together, I couldn't help but wonder what we would be like after doing this for another sixty years. I hope and pray that our love is as obvious at that time as it is in the marriage of my elderly stroke victim roommate.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

My scary week, Part 3  

Read Part 1 and Part 2 before going any further.

At some point during the morning, my doctor asked me about tests that my New York cardiologist had run. She wanted to see the results of the echocardiogram Dr. NY had administered, but I didn't have his phone number. So I told her his name and his city, naively thinking that the hospital would be able to get ahold of, or at least confirm the existence of, any doctor in the country. Throughout the morning, a nurse or an aide would ask me to clarify Dr. NY's name and city because they couldn't find him or even any evidence of him. After several hours of this confusion, my wife called her brother in Austin and asked him to see if he could find the doctor on the Web. He found Dr. NY's number while they were on the phone. That shook my confidence in the hospital a little. I gave my nurse the phone number, but they still couldn't get ahold of the doctor.

A cardiologist in the hospital came to visit me at one point while my wife was there. He told me that he had gone over all the test results and that everything looked normal. He said I probably had mitral valve prolapse, a heart condition that can allow a little blood to flow back into the the left atrium once it has passed into the left ventricle. It can cause symptoms similar to mine and is fairly common. He said he would know for sure once he was able to look at my echocardiogram from New York. He also told me that it is nothing to worry about, that it is relatively harmless, and that it's better to live with the symptoms than with the side effects of the medication that would alleviate the discomfort. Immediately after he left the room, my wife looked at me quizzically and asked, "Did he just tell you to suck it up?" I think he did.

Anyway, the NY echocardiogram seemed to be a long time coming, so they finally just administered one themselves. Shortly thereafter, the cardiologist came back to see me and reported that the test displayed no signs of MVP. However much my irregular heart beats disturbed me, they appeared to be benign in nature. The tightness in my chest could have been caused by any of a number of non-cardiac-related events. He said he would recommend to my attending physician that I be released. He didn't say this in so many words, but this is how I interpreted his statements: "You have a strong, healthy, well-formed heart. You don't smoke, drink, or suffer from stress. Your cholesterol level is fine, as is your blood pressure. You have no family history of heart disease. Exertion does away with your irregular heartbeats rather than exacerbating them. All the tests we've run have come back negative. And you're only 31 years old. We can't figure out what's wrong with you, so it's probably nothing serious. Suck it up." Both my regular doctor and my cardiologist echoed those thoughts when I later followed up with them in New York.

So they let me go. The nurse who discharged me assured me I had done the right thing in coming to the hospital. A lot of people with my symptoms ignore them and end up dying as a result. She scolded me a little, however, for coming to the hospital in a car rather than an ambulance. An ambulance has oxygen tanks, medicines, medical tools, and people trained to use them whereas a grandparent's car usually has none of those. Also, people who arrive in an ambulance are usually fast-tracked and not shunted off to the waiting room for seven hours. Now I know.

I thought that I would feel silly if I went to the hospital only to find out there's nothing wrong with me. Instead, I feel relieved. That pressure lasted about a week, and I would have been an absolute nervous wreck after half a day had I not been under the care of doctors. As it is, my mind is now at ease for the most part. I would have preferred to have a more definitive diagnosis, but medicine is an inexact science. Whatever the case, I'll be around for a good while longer, God willing.

The end…

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

My scary week, Part 2  

If you have not read Part 1, read it now.

In the emergency room, I described my symptoms to a triage nurse. She took down my information and sent me to the waiting room, where I waited a few minutes before another nurse called my name. Allowing my wife to tag along, he took me to a room where he asked me exactly the same questions as the triage nurse. He then administered an EKG, drew some blood for a test, and sent me to the X-ray lab for a chest X-ray. After that, we sat in the ER waiting room for six hours. Periodically, a nurse would emerge to evaluate my pulse and blood pressure and quiz me about my level of pain/discomfort. To pass the time, the family and I played Word Mastermind. It took my mind off the situation and alleviated my feeling of impending doom, but I think our fun and laughter may have annoyed the sick and injured people filling up the other seats in the room.

Finally, a little after midnight, a nurse approached and said they were going to admit me into the hospital as soon as they could get a bed ready. They gave me a temporary bed in the emergency room where I could have privacy (essential once they put me into a hospital gown). A nurse gave me an aspirin, a couple of nitroglycerin tablets, a nitroglycerin skin patch, and a shot of something (can't remember what) in my stomach. She also gave me an IV feed of saline (I think) to counteract the drop in blood pressure caused by the nitroglycerin, put an oxygen tube in my nose, and hooked me up to a machine that monitored my blood pressure and my heartbeat, a machine that squeezed my arm at regular intervals and allowed me to hear as well as feel the PVCs. I waited in that rolling bed for more than an hour before they took me to a real room. Mrs. Happy stayed with me and kept me occupied as well as she could.

The next few hours are too tedious to describe. Lots of talking to nurses and a doctor, lots of blood-drawing and blood pressure-taking, and lots of the same questions I had been hearing since the moment I walked through the door. Once I was settled in my room, they gave me a portable heart monitor and a bed pan, one of which I found impossible to use (hint: it wasn't the heart monitor). Eventually, they told my wife that she had to leave since I was in a semiprivate room with another male patient. She reluctantly left and returned to our hotel to get some sleep. Upon her leaving, I immediately drifted into a state of semi-consciousness, unable to fall completely asleep but too exhausted to stay fully awake. The night was broken up by periodic visits from nurses and aids, people yelling at my hard-of-hearing roommate, and a concerned phone call from a distressed Mrs. Happy.

Morning came and brought with it a combination of boredom and anxiety the likes of which I had never known. In the past, I have thought that being in the hospital would be kind of fun, with no responsibilities and all kinds of people paying close attention to you. I no longer think that. The nitro pills and patch in the emergency room had alleviated the tightness in my chest, but it had returned in the night and showed no signs of going away. The PVCs continued unabated. The oxygen had dried out the inside of my nose, leaving it feeling uncomfortably raw and a little bloody. The array of diversions available to me reminded me of the kind of joke I used to perform with my childhood friend Chris:

Me: I was in the hospital and I had nothing to read.
Chris: That's bad.
Me: I asked a nurse and she brought me a magazine.
Chris: That's good.
Me: It was a fashion magazine.
Chris: That's bad.
Me: She also brought me a Wall Street Journal.
Chris: That's good.
Me: I couldn't concentrate well enough to read.
Chris: That's bad.
Me: There was a TV in the room.
Chris: That's good.
Me: My roommate had the remote.
Chris: That's bad.
Me: He watched some interesting shows.
Chris: That's good.
Me: He also watched five episodes of Full House and two episodes of a show that resembled Teletubbies on acid.
Chris: That's bad.
Me: He couldn't hear very well, so he had to keep the volume really loud.
Chris: That's good. No, wait. That's bad.
Me: The TV's sound came through speakers in the bed rather than from the TV.
Chris: That's good.
Me: The speakers in my bed didn't work.
Chris: Crap.

Fortunately, the food was good(!) and nearly all the hospital employees were nice. The air conditioner was a north pole/equatorial jungle proposition. My attending physician spoke to me at length about how I was feeling and what tests she wanted to run. She said that the X-ray and the blood tests showed no abnormalities, and that the EKG had recorded my PVCs. Throughout the day, every three hours, people came up from the hospital's lab to extract blood from my arm. Some time in the mid-morning, they wheeled me to another floor where a woman performed a sonogram on my legs to look for blood clots. She found none.

My wife showed up around lunch time with her parents, two of her grandparents, and her brother. We passed the time amicably for about an hour, then the family went home, leaving Mrs. Happy with me. Our time together was as delightful as it could be under the circumstances. We sat in the bed together doing crossword puzzles. We strolled around the hospital floor and made some phone calls to update family and friends. We talked and laughed and kissed when no one was looking. Perfectly lovely.

To be continued…

Monday, June 07, 2004

My scary week, Part 1  

Imagine you're riding in a car being driven by your friend Frank. Now imagine that a drunk driver broadsides your car on Frank's side so that he's knocked unconscious. An ambulance arrives and takes everyone to the hospital. You walk away with a few bruises. Frank is okay except that he might be a little loopy for a day or two. When you call Frank's wife to let her know what happened, it's a bad idea to say, "Kelli, we were broadsided by a drunk driver. The doctors have Frank under observation right now." It's better and more sensitive to say, "Kelli, everything's okay. Frank and I are both fine, but we were in a car accident. Frank got knocked on the head, so he's a little out of it, but the doctors say he's going to be perfectly all right." The first statement allows Kelli's worst fears to run wild in her imagination and devastate her emotionally. The second puts the accident in perspective so that Kelli knows right up front that nothing is seriously wrong.

In that spirit, I should say right up front that everything's okay. I'm fine, but last week I went to the emergency room with symptoms of a heart attack.

My wife and I had been planning a trip to Arizona for a mini-family reunion. We were set to leave on Saturday, May 29, and return on Wednesday, June 2. We had one small problem, though, in that I have been experiencing irregular heartbeats with increasing frequency for the past couple of months. Thursday night, the premature ventricular contractions (as I later learned to call the irregular beats, or PVCs) were stronger and more frequent than any I had ever experienced. When a PVC occurs, I feel as though my heart stops beating for a split second then resumes, sort of like a car engine missing on a cylinder or two. Thursday night, I developed a fear that my heart would stop and not be able to start again. The fear wasn't bad enough for me to call an ambulance, but it did prompt me to visit my cardiologist's office on Friday.

The cardiologist's assistant said they would order a device that would record my heartbeats so that they could see the phenomenon and evaluate it. She also told me I should be okay traveling to Arizona. So Mrs. Happy and I packed up and got on the plane Saturday morning. I still harbored some fear about my heart stopping. I also worried that my troubles might stem from a blood clot, though I know absolutely nothing about blood clots except that they can kill and are especially deadly on airplanes for some reason.

I reached Phoenix alive, but the PVCs continued to grow in number and intensity. I fell asleep with them Sunday night and woke up with them early Monday morning. They stayed with me throughout the day, sometimes pounding my chest with such violence that they took my breath away or forced me to cough. My wife made a point of sticking close to me when she could and, when she couldn't, making sure I was never alone. Around four o'clock, I began feeling a squeezing sensation in the middle of my chest. I found a computer and looked up a Web site that listed the symptoms of a heart attack. The tightness in the chest was right at the top of the list:

I felt all of these symptoms to one degree or another, though even at the time I could attribute most of them to panic and imagination (pressure in my neck, nervousness, impending doom, etc.) or my natural state (paleness or pallor). But the tightness was unmistakably real, and it terrified me. Though the tightness was not painful—just very uncomfortable—the Web site stated that it is "vital to seek medical attention quickly if you feel the sort of pressing pain or heaviness described above. There is a 90 percent probability that pain of this type is angina. And even if it goes away, the artery blockages that caused it are still there and will grow progressively worse. Ignoring this sort of pain because it is not unbearable or because it goes away is the worst thing you can do. It is the only warning you are likely to get of a potentially lethal condition."

I made my fears known to the family as calmly as I could, and everyone agreed that I should get to the nearest emergency room as quickly as possible. So two grandparents, two parents, my wife, and I all piled into a five-passenger sedan and drove to what turned out to be one of the top ten heart hospitals in the country.

To be continued…