Monday, April 11, 2016

My Recent Health

Some of you are familiar with my old punk rock war story of me getting jumped by a bunch of skinheads and krusty punx after my first band's first gig.  I was 16, and as a teenager I was overflowing with creative energy and also a sense of everything still being new; even when something was awful, it was an intriguing new experience I wanted to examine with a feverish intensity.  So I wrote and wrote and wrote about the attack.  I did a zine regularly for years and at least 3 issues of it are practically exclusively prose and lyrics, and comics, and clip art, relating to my experience of being attacked.

Other than that particular life-changing experience, though,  I tend not to record the big events in my life.  I didn't really write in any diary, fiction or essay format about living in my first roommate-free apartment, or my first heart surgery, my wedding, the birth of my son, my second heart surgery, the month or so I spent of rehab with family in Florida.  I bring blank journals along to write down the experiences but then it doesn't seem like -- I don't know -- I guess it just seems like the event is so major there's no need to record thoughts for posterity, and to write about my feelings is such a secondary goal to actually trying to survive, at least in the case of my medical issues.

I'm processing this surgery differently though.  I had a 3rd heart surgery on the 18th or 19th of March.  As I get to be older, still maintaning a counterculture ethos predicated on bravely being oneself (in  short-hand I refer to this belief system as still being punk rock).  I'm 37.  I'm a young woman but I've learned a lot and I want to be of service as a reference for younger people if it's ever useful.  An example is this 25 year old home health care nurse who comes to check my INR levels (how thick or thin my blood is  --- an important detail of my recovery).  She's good at her job and is clearly intelligent and funny but she always undercuts her worth with self-deprecating jokes.  It's not like I'm thinking to myself "Dude, stop making jokes at your own expense, it's gonna ruin your chance at happiness."  I think a person who teases themselves a little is usually a fun person to shoot the breeze with because it's a sign of a sense of humor.  At the same time, it is a sign of a lack of confidence, and when I brought that up to her the other day she was like "Oh yeah, I TOTALLY lack confidence."  Learning how great she is is, of course, her own journey, but I want to be able to share what I've learned as someone older than her, to let her know that that lack of confidence is entirely unwarranted.

That was the long way of illustrating how and why I feel the need to be very vocal about this most recent surgery.  I want to be of service in sharing my experiences if it's helpful to anyone else (and also just for my own emotional healing process).  In the hospital I used the voice recognition feature of my phone to stay in touch through emails and texts and to write a lot of my experiences as lengthy Facebook posts, and it felt amazing to be communicating.  I was in a tremendous amount of pain for weeks and it really helped me, psychologically, being able to reach out to people online.  I couldn't use voice recognition to work on this blog though, and my preference is to keep my Facebook posts rather succinct and write all my longer thoughts on here.  So, now that I have enough stamina to sit upright at my computer (at least for a while), I'm back here writing.  

This is a post I left on Facebook recently that I feel is an important footnote ... or something... to my healing process:  

Dear Women: the sad truth is that, at some point, you may have to strongly advocate for yourself even in a life or death situation. I'm still processing what inept and sexist paramedics took me to the hospital the night my aneurysm almost exploded, or whatever it is that was happening (I'm still unclear). They wasted precious time insinuating that I was having a panic attack, then more time being like "so you're sure you really want to go to the hospital," and i had to pretty much pretend that i was a persistent hypochondriac who wouldn't let up until they took me to the hospital, where, presumably, it'd end up being a panic attack. in the ambulance, when they were calling in to the hospital, they spoke of me as though I were a ridiculous, stubborn pain in the ass. When asked by the hospital over the radio how much I weighed, the paramedic said 145, and I said 190, and he said, "I was trying to be generous" -- i believe my weight is an important thing for doctors to know when it comes to knowing what kind of dosages i need, so i didn't really need the 'compliment' that i was 40 lbs lighter than i am. But i just had to keep pretending to be the nagging woman who insisted on the trip to the hospital. Advocating takes many forms. just do what you need to do to get what you need for your life and don't get worn down by people who don't give a shit about you. you matter.

This was an important thing to share within my Facebook community because, well, shit, what a prime example of how a person really needs to save their own life sometimes.  A lot of things might get in the way of your health.  Usually money, unfortunately.  But sometimes, for women, it's just garden variety sexism that could lead to a full on fucking fatality.  

Here is some else of what I shared on Facebook when I was unable to write on my blog, chronologically.  Here is a series of photos I took of myself from my hospital bed that I posted to Facebook.  

this is photo is awful quality  but I sort of dig it like that.  My husband took it of me on March 20, when I was still in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).  

ICU selfie, March 21


March 23.

When I moved out of ICU to the less urgent cardiac care floor, I wanted to capture the stillness of a night by myself in a hospital bed, being able to see a vaguely surreal bit of the outside world.  this is the nighttime view from out my hospital room's window:

I took this on March 26.  The lights are coming from the hospital rooms of people convelescing, like me, in the adjacent hospital wing.

March 27

This one was taken on March 28 with the caption "It Sits."  I did feel more like an it than a she sometimes, not necessarily in a bad way, just that I was an entity that people were working to fix and maintain:

March 28:

 And so on, daily.

I have been at home from the hospital for a couple weeks-ish and this is a photo of a good saturday afternoon with my amazing son:

another thing I posted to Facebook that feels like a significant thought to me (april 4) is that cynicism was an utter waste of time.  There is no point in thinking of life sarcastically.  You may hate it, but hate it thoughtfully, and if you have the brain chemistry or luck or strength to be able to love life, that shouldn't be done sarcastically either.


I'm still working to grasp the order of recent past events.  I think it was the second week of March, I got a sudden back pain that felt unusual.  I went to work with it and then later in the week I went to urgent care -- they help with pain management there, not diagnosis, so the doctor there can't be faulted with sending me home with some medication to deal with the pain.  I spent Thursday and Friday home on my back, trying to get better.  I went back to work that Monday with a still very sore back.  After work, I stopped in at my beloved South Pasadena Library and while I was walking around, I got a pain I knew was something awful, but I still acted natural, stood in the check out line, drove home at a normal speed, then sort of exploded in pain as soon as I got home, let my husband know I thought I was having a heart attack.  He started driving me to the Cedars Sinai Emergency Room, which is my hospital, but it was too urgent, so we went back home and called the ambulance.  As described above in my "Dear Women" piece, the paramedics were beyond inept.  The nearest emergency room was in Alhambra Hospital.  It's not a good place to get stuck at.  I was assured that it wasn't my heart, and then, that it was definitely my heart and that I had an aneurysm that was ready to burst and kill me very soon.  The young and nice but dumb young man who was trying to find a hospital bed for me elsewhere (since the doctor at Alhambra didn't want anything to do with me) was calling hospitals and saying "We have a young woman here who has a very serious situation with an aneurysm and needs to be operated on immediately."  I heard him make this call to a few different hospitals, each time sounding more dire.  Patient care etiquette should dictate that you don't let the patient overhear you saying over and over (to paraphrase), "There's a woman here who is about to die -- do you have an available bed for her?"  It was one of those gallows humor moments in life.  

What took the cake, as far as gallows humor goes, was the fact that the first available bed they found for me was at the county hospital.  I don't have the words or clarity to describe how horrible it was to be at that hospital for as long as I was (over a week, I think), but I will tell you with certainty that I would be dead if my husband hadn't done everything in his power to finally secure a bed for me at Cedars Sinai hospital.  

To explain, the back pain had been a symptom of a serious thoracic aneurysm I had.

Anyway, that's all I want to write for now, but I know I want to describe this experience and the revelations that went with it and the different kinds of pain, for many posts, the way I did with my old punk rock injuries when I was still a passionate teenager and not someone so aware of the very real need to keep one's shit together and try to live as strongly and as best as possible.