Monday morning I was sitting in bed, reading the news on the iPad, when I felt a pain on my left side. Not a sharp pain. Much more like the pains I used to get when I was younger and my chest would constrict and I would have to take very deep breaths to expand the muscle.
I ran some errands and then I went to the gym to lift weights. My chest felt fine…except when I lay down to do the chest press. Mind you, actually doing the chest press felt fine — in fact, the pain went away when I did lifted the barbell. When I was just laying there, though, the pain intensified.
I made dinner (fish fillets, cheesy orzo, and salad). We watched Buffy. I went to bed. The pain was worse, but I figured a good night’s sleep would help.
At 3am, I woke up with some of the worst pain I’ve ever experienced in my life, and I’ve had two babies. A couple of times I actually felt my heart beat arrhythmically (not the first time I’ve felt that — my heart can be a little weird), but combined with the pain it was terrifying. Getting out of the bed was excruciatingly painful. I wondered if I should drive myself to the ER. I decided that wondering if I should go to the ER without waking Darin meant I still thought I had a choice in the matter, so I dug through the medicine cabinet, found some five-year-old Vicodin, and went back to bed.
In the morning the doctor’s office told me to come in immediately. The doctor asked if I was having shortness of breath, and I said the problem I was having with breathing was that it hurt to expand my chest, not that my breathing was impeded in any way. Then she asked me if I’d been on a plane recently (“Um…early January?”) or if I’d had a cold recently (“Nope”). The nurse gave me an EKG. The doctor read it and said, “The good news is you haven’t had a heart attack. The bad news is your heart is really angry about something, so I’d like you to get a CT scan.” The nurse scheduled the scan for me at a local MRI/CT place.
On the form the doctor had written “Pulmonary embolism?” The question mark did not reduce the anxiety I was having.
The top of my list of errands was: go to AAA, tell them I’d bought a new car, ask what rates they were going to offer me. But I didn’t feel much in the mood. I sat in the AAA office and did searches on “embolisms.” After a few minutes I decided that my current insurance would cover the new car until I could work out the messy details and headed home, had some lunch, and waited for my appointment.
CT scans are slightly different than MRI machines — you’re not totally encased in a scary coffin (I’m not claustrophobic and the MRI machine scared the crap out of me), but you’re inserted in this giant tube that whirls around you. The technician puts a catheter in your arm to inject you with the fluid that shows up on the scan. You have to hold your breath. It’s a deeply unpleasant experience all around.
When I got on the table I told the tech I needed help lying down. He asked me when the last time I ate was, and I said, “About an hour ago.”
“You have to fast for this. We can reschedule.”
“Can you find out if that’s true?” I asked. “Because I really need this test done today.”
The doctor in charge said I could do the test, but I should have a basin nearby in case I tossed my cookies. Then the tech said I needed to raise my arms above my head. I couldn’t do it. Raising my left arm was incredibly painful; letting it drop by my head felt like someone was knifing me in the side. He tucked a pillow under the arm so it wouldn’t have to drop all the way back. We did the test and at the end the tech had to lift me off of the table. Had I really gone to the gym and done my full workout on Monday? I could barely move.
I called the doctor’s office an hour after the test. Then an hour and a half later. Still no word. The pain in my chest was much, much worse, possibly because of the whole left-arm-over-the-head thing. The nurse finally called me back at 4:30.
“The scan was clear,” she said. “We’ll phone in a prescription for Vicodin.”
“Could you ask the doctor to look at it again? Because I am having the worst pain of my entire life.”
She said she’d call me back.
She did and said the doctor was absolutely certain about the scan. Chances were very high I had a pleurisy (an inflammation of the lungs), the kind of thing you usually get when you have a cold.
This pain was much worse than I could remember having from a chest cold. “Is there anything else could it be?” I asked.
The nurse said if the pain continued I would have to come in again and run some more tests. Awesome.
I went to the pharmacy, where I got my five dollar bottle of Vicodin pills (which might have greater efficacy than the five-year-old kind). The pharmacist had to give me a consult, so she could explain how to use it and what to be cautious of. “Any questions?” she asked.
“Yes. Why is this drug considered ‘fun’? I’ve taken it before, I don’t get get why it’s fun.”
“Neither do I,” she said. “It just puts me to sleep.”
We got Chinese takeout last night and I took my drugs. Generally painkillers don’t work for me (which is why I never think to take them), but I could definitely feel the difference when I took the Vicodin. We watched Buffy and then the series premiere of Angel, and I remembered how much I didn’t like Angel as a character on Buffy, but loved him on his own show.
There’s a scene where Doyle explains why he’s there helping Angel, and his speech includes a recap of everything we know about Angel’s life.
“Why is Doyle telling Angel stuff he clearly already knows?” I asked the kids.
“Because viewers might not know about it,” Sophia said.
“That’s what I was going to say!” Simon said.
My kids are awesome.
After that I went to bed, which was difficult because moving too suddenly brought the pain back. I woke up in the middle of the night and took more Vicodin.
This morning the pain has lessened a great deal. If it had felt like this yesterday, I wouldn’t have called the doctor in such a panic. I’ve taken my Aleve (the Vicodin can wait until I’m sure I don’t need to operate a car). And I am really grateful I have access to such great medical care when I need it.
Not a few times yesterday I wondered what I would have done if I didn’t have insurance. Or if I’d been afraid of being fired because I was going to miss a day of work. Heck, lots of employed people are experiencing the joy of no health insurance. I’m guessing I would have put off a visit to the ER until I’d been sure I was dying. And if it had been a pulmonary embolism (which you need to deal with immediately), I probably wouldn’t have gotten that far.
Our society needs to figure out what our priorities are.