Archive for September, 2011

30somethings on hold

September 4, 2011

I have discovered through personal experience that there is nothing like a fractured rib and a punctured lung to put sex — or writing about sex — on the back burner.

Something about having the 911 operator ask for permission to break down one’s door makes certain mundane routines seem much more desirable. “No, it is NOT all right to break down my door; this is a rented condo.” But dang, I’m so dizzy and my head is bleeding (I hope I don’t need stitches), so maybe I can lie on my back and push myself across the living room …

I know. You think I’m joking. I wish.

Last weekend I spent my first night ever in a hospital, getting lots of CAT scans and chest x-rays to diagnose my injuries and the condition which caused them: neurocardiogenic syncope, which basically means I might faint when I stand up in the mornings. Apparently my heart is sometimes a second too slow in pumping blood to my head once I go from horizontal to vertical. And while the fainting isn’t dangerous at all (cue laugh track), it’s the fall that’ll kill you.

I felt lightheaded as I got up that morning, so I put both hands on the door jam and wall of my bedroom, but it wasn’t enough. The next thing I know I’m on the tile floor of my hall, blinking at the ceiling and trying to figure out what I’m doing down there. I have no idea what all I hit on the way down, but I’ve been finding mysterious bruises and sore spots all over my body. I don’t think I’d want to watch a replay, but my doctors could have used a hidden cam of the fall.

Head wounds bleed a lot, so that was disconcerting, but the whack on my head didn’t need stitches after all, for which I’m very grateful. But I hit the floor with enough force that my rib cage hit my lung and made a hole. Thankfully, the rib didn’t actually break, which I guess is what usually punctures lungs.

Anyway, that punctured lung, on the left side, is what brought on all the drama. Once the air leaked out, I began to have trouble breathing, and the symptoms mimicked a heart attack. It honestly felt like a hand was squeezing my heart, and with enough force to cause terrifying pain. By the time the paramedics arrived, I was gasping and having trouble talking. Pain level on a 1-10 scale? 10!

They did heart readings immediately (just inside the door of my condo, where I lay after finally unlocking my door) and determined my heart was OK, which was a relief — but NOT! I couldn’t figure out what could hurt so much in my heart area, that wasn’t my heart.

The one light moment of the whole event came when the guys were asking me to tell what day it was, whether I had any history of heart attack in my family, how old I was. I could not get breath to answer anything quickly, so on the age question, one guy tried to helpfully supply the first part of my answer: ” Thirty …. ?” he said.

Laughing was out of the question. Even smiling was beyond me. I finally just slowly gasped, “Fifty …. seven.”

“She doesn’t look it,” muttered an unseen but appreciated paramedic.

It was all downhill after that; actually it was downhill from the moment I fell. The elevators in my condo building are too small for a gurney, so I had to be strapped into a wheelchair for transport to the ambulance. I spent a couple of hours in the emergency room where they found the fracture in my rib and hole in the lung. Fortunately, only 10 percent of my left lung had collapsed; but such holes can expand and I was admitted in case I lost 25 percent of my lung capacity. At that, they would have put a tube in to reinflate it, I believe. It’s hard to pay attention to everything when the doctors and nurses come and go in dizzying fashion.

The good news is my wonderful friends showed up immediately at my bedside and didn’t leave me alone for any of the scary, confusing, humbling hospital stay. They formed a network to provide rides, errands, Rx refills, Blue Bell ice cream and more. I spent 4 nights recuperating with one saintly couple before they cleared me for independent living again.

I returned to my little condo with relief, but also some trepidation. Nothing bad had ever occurred there, and now I have unsettling memories to add to all the peaceful, happy ones. It’ll take a while for everything to integrate. I’m torn between wanting to pretend it never happened (start exercising right away and ignore the warning that ribs take 6 weeks to heal) and remembering what it felt like to regain consciousness on my tile floor, confused and alone and bleeding.

I told a friend this, and she offered her belief that it’s best to honor all your memories, good or bad.

I know she’s right. It’s just going to take a little time to assimilate this whole experience.

Since there isn’t a cure for neurocardiogenic syncope, I might faint again. (This is actually the second time it’s happened; the first time also occurred just after I got out of bed, but I had 19 stitches in my head that day, and no diagnosis, just the assumption that it was an accident.)

Now I am more nervous about the slightest dizziness, and I am resigned to grabbing at walls even when there’s no need. One nurse told me the treatment for this condition is to sit down when you feel dizzy. Real high-tech right? And I read online that it’s more common in tall people, supposedly because the blood has a tiny bit farther to go from the heart to the head.

So … I’m educating myself and that’s a good thing. One friend told me of a young man in his 20s with neurocardiogenic syncope who faints a lot, like in the middle of the day even. My heart goes out to him, and his case gives me perspective. With only two incidents to date, I feel fortunate instead of cursed.

So that’s the path I’m on: taking stock and looking for the good in every event, even the ones that truly suck. Having a diagnosis is good. My goal is to take precautions so any future faints will be nothing but mild little swoons, an ever-so-common occurrence in this Southern summertime heat.

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