Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Ya gotta have heart and music

So I've survived my little faux heart attack, and the pain in my chest has dropped from an 8 (out of 10) on Sunday to a 5 yesterday to a highly manageable 1 this afternoon. And now that I'm a full 12 hours out of my last Vicodin fog, I can more lucidly share some of the details I left out of yesterday's narrative about my 911 adventure.

First of all, I have no idea how I hurt my ribs. I had just danced three shows that opened with a pretty aggressive swing number, but we didn't do any lifts and 99% of our exertion took place from the waist down. I did lift my partner to my shoulder for the final pose, but she (yes, she—the Chicago Gay Men's Chorus doesn't discriminate, and I got to dance with our token straight woman) is a trained dancer with a low bodyweight. And I'd done that same lift hundreds of times with much heavier dance partners over the last two decades, all with no injuries. All I know is I went to bed fine on Saturday and I woke up in excruciating pain on Sunday.

Also, if you're a healthy, physically active 39-year-old with hearty (ahem) relatives, it's surprisingly easy to believe that crushing chest pain and classic heart-attack symptoms really aren't a heart attack. Plus, I'm the type of person who refuses to ask a clerk for help finding something in a store because I hate to be a bother. So I was not about to call 911 without someone actually telling me to do so.

On top of that, I have a not-unrealistic fear of getting a jillion-dollar bill in the mail for an ambulance ride and a hospital visit. So I figured my financial bases would be covered if my insurance company's ask-a-nurse told me to do it.

Of course, Blue Cross doesn't seem to actually want you calling its nurses; the phone number is pretty buried on its site. And this is going to make me sound totally Republican, but I was a little miffed that the nurse who answered was obviously in freaking India. I know: She was going to offer the same service whether she was in Chicago, Paris or David Vitter's diaper. But when you think you may be having a heart attack, placing an international call feels like a bit of a misguided luxury. In any case, she gave me the psychological permission I needed to call 911 and we were all off on our little adventure to the ER.

* * * * *

There's this guy in our building who is the quintessential adult frat boy: untucked shirt, baseball cap, omnipresent beer, laid-back dudeitude ... you know the type. And every time I've talked to him I've left with the feeling that he thinks I'm a total dork. So of course he sauntered by with his dog as I was clutching my chest and beginning to sob on our front stoop Sunday morning. He gave me a perfunctory "How ya doin'?" before he realized what he was in for. Fortunately, the sirens flared up at that moment, and I managed to mutter through my sobs, "I think that's my ambulance." I think that's my ambulance. I mean really. Can you picture anything more pathetic? To his credit, he jumped around and waved his arms so the EMTs could find me, and he waited to make sure everything was under control before he continued on his way to the the doggie park at the end of our block. But I think I've totally killed my last opportunity to be invited to his place for a Super Bowl party.

* * * * *

The EMTs who showed up seemed like they knew what they were doing, though they came straight out of central casting for a Saturday Night Live "Da Bears" skit. But the moment they determined I was not dying of a heart attack, they became awfully flippant about stuff. As they were triaging me in the ambulance, they made fun of the people stuck in the street who couldn't get around us. And when I asked what they thought was wrong with me, they dismissed my chest pain as an anxiety attack ... and the way they said clearly indicated they were describing a housewife-whose-meringue-came-out-droopy kind of anxiety attack. I've had many anxiety attacks—I was diagnosed with a social anxiety disorder five years ago and I've worked pretty hard (and paid a lot of money) to beat it—and I knew this was not an anxiety attack. They explained that they'd found me sobbing on my front stoop, and apparently adult men sobbing = anxiety attack. I tried to explain that I was in crushing pain and I was about to get a visit from My Very First Ambulance and it was totally freaking me out, but they were having none of it. They'd made their diagnosis and apparently that was the end of the discussion. I choose to think the whole conversation was their way of distracting me to calm me down. But still.

For the record, they also said that calling ask-a-nurse is a waste of time because the nurses always tell you to call 911 to cover their own asses. I'm still glad I did, though, because it will give me ammunition if I have trouble with my insurance coverage.

* * * * *

You know how when you're watching Law & Order or ER or whatever the kids are watching these days and they pull someone out of an ambulance and the gurney thing just drops its wheels to the ground and you think wow if you're already in pain it's totally gotta hurt when the gurney wheels fall out from under you and smack the ground? Well you're wrong! I kept waiting for the big smacking feeling as the wheels dropped out from under me when we got to the hospital, and I didn't feel a thing! That wheel-dropping mechanism is a miracle of modern engineering!

* * * * *

I thought it was interesting that while all the EMTs and ER nurses and doctors were checking my vitals and gathering my medical history and asking me if I'm a drug user and learning all they could about me in case I lost the ability to communicate, nobody noticed the ring on my wedding finger and nobody asked me about a wife or a husband or anyone they should contact on my behalf.

Other than that, the ER nurses were fabulous. They were chatty and jokey and very solicitous. One of them carried on an extended joke with me about how she was seeing other patients, though the others meant nothing to her. Another excitedly told me how nice it was to have someone to take care of who wasn't faking a head injury to avoid being arrested. Which tells me a lot about my neighborhood that I probably already knew. My only complaint was with the admissions woman, who first of all was a total mumbler. And then she seemed upset that I didn't know how my insurance worked in an ER setting. Dear admissions woman: You work in an ER every day. The patients you talk to are probably still a little surprised to find themselves in your ER, and they're probably more than a little traumatized when they talk to you. So cut us some slack if we can't recite our deductibles and co-pays for you on the spot. And speak up already!

* * * * *

I've often joked that I need to break a leg so I can get caught up on the stuff on my TiVo and all the books I've bought but never read. I hereby rescind those jokes. Being wounded sucks. Being cooped up while you recuperate from an injury sucks. And though I've cleared a seven-hour backlog of Modern Marvels and Cities of the Underworld off my TiVo in the last 48 hours, I did not have a lot of fun doing it.

* * * * *

I don't understand addiction. People have joked that one little injury can transform upstanding citizens into shady characters who try to sell their grandchildren for a hit of Vicodin. I like to think that's a bunch of hooey, but then if someone as self-righteously arrogant on the subject as Rush Limbaugh can get addicted to the stuff, what's to prevent me from secretly churning out my own grandkids to keep my Vicodin high going? But then I've taken five of the pills over the last 48 hours and all they did was make me fall asleep. I like to be awake. I'm still the kid who pleads to stay up another half hour every night. Unfortunately, I'm also the parent who always gives in. So I see no reason to pop another Vicodin ever again. Besides, they hardly even took the edge off my pain.

* * * * *

I didn't feel well enough to take a shower until late on Monday. Which means since I'd last showered on Saturday afternoon, I had danced two sweaty shows in a very dusty theater, spent six hours in an emergency room, shivered off a sudden sweat under a pile of blankets, and had innumerable naps on our couch and in our bed. All in the same underwear. And yet even the fiancĂ©—who is not obligated to sugar-coat these things—commented how fresh and lovely I smelled as I finally climbed into the shower yesterday. I guess I just have a gift.

* * * * *
I'm going back to work tomorrow. And I can't tell you how excited I am about it. Even though the hallway's still not finished and there's laundry everywhere and the shower needs a good scrubbing. And I probably won't venture back into the gym for at least another week. But I'm not dead. I'm not in unmanageable pain. I'm not addicted to Vicodin. And I can totally say that I've ridden in an ambulance!

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