Thursday, January 31, 2008

Of Course I'm Right. I Speak English.

Some people’s world view is a wee bit too narrow for my tastes, and my blood pressure.
Yesterday an advice column in a newspaper dealt with a question from a concerned grandmother. Her DIL spoke perfect English, but spoke some other language first. DIL was teaching her baby this tongue and grandma feared baby was being isolated from the rest of the family.
Umm grandma, your son and pretty much everyone else speaks English to the kid. Baby will hear it on the radio, the television, out on the street, and everywhere else. You have nothing to fear except being found intellectually wanting. The kid is going to have a great advantage in that s/he’ll be bilingual.

Maybe there’s hope for grandma, but I doubt it. I’ve heard too many people express something similar.
Back in the early 1980s I found myself in a bar in Athens in the wee hours having a few drinks with some people from Norway. Thankfully, they spoke English. They learn it in school along with several other tongues. It serves them well when they travel, especially when they’re conversing with some poor critter whose only tongue is English.

I was fascinated and more than a little ashamed when I heard about education in Europe as compared with ours.
We think English is the only language we have to know and it would be best if everyone would just learn it already so we can talk.

A year or so later I moved to a small town in Central Alberta where French was viewed with suspicion.
The common view of French: Okay, it’s Canada’s other official language, but nobody speaks it out here so why should we force our kids to learn it?

It’s the international language of commerce, we argue. It’s them furriner’s what talk funny that have to change, not us.

When I moved to Rocky 20 years ago a French Immersion program had just started at an elementary school. A local woman insisted at a public meeting that the kids would “lose their English.”
No amount of reassurance that they spoke it at home and virtually everywhere else except school eased her fear.

When you study a foreign tongue you don’t lose your first language, you gain a second. This woman went on to serve on the local school board for a few years. I’m pleased to report the French Immersion Program is still thriving today.

Years ago I tried to teach myself German. I got along okay and could even read children’s stories. I reached my goal of being able to read Die Wichtelmänner (The Shoemaker and the Elves) in German.
I discovered that it made me think more carefully how I expressed myself. I spoke better English for having learned some German.

Being bilingual or multilingual is an asset, not a detriment. I won’t win any argument with narrow-minded uniliguals, but I can say this to them with a certain satisfaction:
Scher dich zum Teufel.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tranquility And Oneness

Expand your horizons and embrace the world.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

What Does -40C Look Like?

The heated pet bowl was covered with snow. We use this so the birds can have drinking water when everything else is frozen.

The frost fairies were very busy.

And to answer the question literally:

It's Fahrenheit on the left and Celsius on the right.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Monday Gratitude - A Simple Pleasure

I had to laugh last evening as a TV weather forecaster described the current cold snap. Temperatures are projected to hit more than -40 C (same as 40 below F) and he called it unseasonably cold.
No. It’s winter in Alberta. That’s seasonably cold.

I’m grateful for the cold of this season. I’ve always believed that if we have the proper winter weather, then we’ll be rewarded with proper summer weather. I have no idea if that pans out, but it gives me great comfort during howling blizzards and -40 temps. I don't have a photo of a howling blizzard for today so this mountain winterscape will have to suffice.

What I do have is a house and a furnace that keeps it warm. If I’m too cold then I can bake something. I’m grateful I learned how to bake and I’m grateful that we have hundreds of recipes around for me to ignore.
If I don’t feel like baking my husband will. He does the Christmas baking and likes to try new recipes out during the rest of the year.
And if we’ve got plenty of baking around, then a pot of stew on the stove warms the house and fills it with an inviting fragrance.

Good food made with joy is a simple pleasure of life and a wonderful way to enjoy the seasonable cold. For that, I am grateful.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Friday’s Child – Defending My Self

I’m re-running several of my posts from the defunct Prozac Palace blog. I decided to run them on successive Fridays and then remembered the old poem “Monday’s Child.”
In it, Friday’s Child is full of woe. I’m not filled with woe, or anything of that nature. I simply like the way it matches the subject at hand.

(From Thursday, April 26, 2007)

Kick Back

My sister and I fought 2-3 three times week until I was about 10 years old and commonly over nothing.

She’s four years older and had been the center of attention during those four years. To hear her tell the story I started it. Apparently, back in the crib I wouldn’t let her near me. I’d kicked my legs at her to keep her away.

Later it became a good defense.

When I was about seven or eight I did the same thing. She’d start hitting me for whatever reason came to her mind and then I’d run. She’d be right behind me, hammering on me with her angry red fists and screaming. Getting away from her wasn’t the point; I needed to get on my back so I could use my legs.

My arms may as well have been useless. I might have put them up to guard my face, but mostly they hung by my sides. It came naturally. I never thought about doing this. The defensive move simply happened and it kept the jackhammers away from the softer areas of my body.

We kept it up for several minutes with both of us yelling for mom. When it was over, no matter what had happened, she always whined and stomped to mom, “She hit me!”

Thursday, January 24, 2008

I Thought I’d Get More Done

I’ve been blessed with solitude since late Tuesday afternoon as my husband got called away to work. He might be back today, or it might be tomorrow or even the tomorrow after tomorrow.
I enjoy my time alone and often dream about it when real life gets in the way of writing.
If only I had some time alone, then I’d really get the manuscript moving.

It’s a filthy lie.

Oh don’t get me wrong. I have been writing. I finished a draft of a chapter on Tuesday night fueled by some hot chocolate and Irish Whiskey. I’m not much of a drinker as my body no longer tolerates it well, but I’m writing a memoir. A Wee Sip smoothes the recollecting.

I have all this time during the day to write, yet I find other ways to spend it. I've got a great chance to meditate or do self-hypnosis because I know I won’t be disturbed, but I relax too much. The nap is welcome because I don’t sleep well when my husband is away, but I’m not getting the altered state work done.

Errands take up time as does eating. Keeping up with the household chores takes away from writing although I hardly make any dishes. If I got on a writing hot streak household duties would be the first to go.

Perhaps I need the distraction, or the company, or I need someone or something to ignore. That’s how I treat recipes. I refer to them, but they are guidelines at best. I am much more creative when I’ve got something to actively ignore.

I’ve got the house to myself and no schedule. I should be happy and for the most part I am. But I thought I’d get more writing done.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

As Bloody Fingers Clutch My Heart

I was the source of much consternation for half-a dozen doctors in three hospitals. As is my nature, I was not responding the way they liked, despite their best efforts.
The diuretics worked fine although after several days I still had fluid in my lungs and my heart still hadn’t calmed down anywhere near enough.

It had to be slowed even more and that meant breaking out the heavy artillery, digoxin. It’s a refined form of digitalis and it comes from the foxglove plant. Fortunately, I mustered enough sense to respond to it and was only on it a few days.

Meanwhile, rat poison takes a while to kick in so I had to be on twice daily injections of a faster-working anti-coagulant. It was to act as a bridge until the Coumadin took effect.
Needles are a fact of life. I refuse to let them bother me unless they’re to go somewhere unexpected.
“It’s injected in the stomach,” came the cheery news from my nurse.
Oh. No. It. Isn’t.

Either she read my mind or expected my reaction because she added very quickly that it was a simple subcutaneous shot. A quick pinch and it’s done. I had it morning and night for six days and it was as easy as a needle in the arm. The only downside was we were running out of injection sites.
I bruise easily anyway, add in a blood thinner and there’s simply no challenge. As long as I didn’t do much it was okay, but one day I got dressed in real clothes and Mike and I went outside for a walk. Pressure from the waist of my jeans was enough to leave a good-sized blue mark on my abdomen. It kept growing even after I’d changed back to the gown. Soon I was blue on the right side from waist to leg.
I told the nurse and we decided we’d watch it. Eventually she took a felt pen and drew a circle around the area where the flesh was raised and rigid, just in case it grew more.

By the time I left I had blotchy blue spots all over my abdomen and I expected to enjoy their company for quite some time. Bruises take forever to heal on me. Eight years ago during a trip to Australia I rode a camel for an hour and was bruised from thigh to knee for three months afterward.
I expected these marks would last at least that long. I’d been warned they’d take longer to heal because of the rat poison.
I did not respond as expected. They healed faster than usual. They were gone in two weeks and I still had a weeks’ worth of Coumadin to get through.
If you’re wondering about the post title, in the past one of the common, local names for foxglove was bloody fingers. (Ray Buckland, Witchcraft From The Inside, Llewellyn Publications, 1995, p.181)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Monday, January 21, 2008

Gratitude Monday - Normal Weather Edition

We had some snow over the weekend. Most people curse this. I am not among them.
It’s normal and I’m happy. This is Alberta and it’s supposed to snow.

We need the moisture and plants need snow cover for insulation. The little forest animals have long since donned their white winter coats. Without snow they are white against a brown background and that makes hiding difficult. Predators have to eat. Having their quarry easier to see is good for them. The prey has a right to survive, though, and normal snow cover is necessary for them.

Good reasons aside I like living where seasonal changes are definite and obvious. I’m not satisfied to look at the calendar and read that it’s the latter part of January. I want to peer though a frosted window and see snow. I want to step outside during a deep, dark chill and smell the wood smoke from fireplaces and wood stoves. I want the cold, dry air to assault my lungs.

I’m happy to say this is all part of the new snowfall package.
Crystals sparkle in the moonlight in the back yard. It’s cold and crisp and the earth is covered with a fresh, insulating layer of white.
This is normal and natural and it’s the way it’s supposed to be.
For that I am grateful.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Friday's Child - The Calls Are Escalating

The following originally ran in April of 2007.

My sister called a different cousin this time. She called this cousin once Sunday evening and then again on Monday evening. The cousin found the calls troubling enough to call me about it, and rightly so.

A bit of background: The last time this cousin heard about Dawn was in February. Dawn had been dizzy and had herself taken to emergency at a hospital on the south side of the city. She ran into some family members there and complained bitterly about all manner of things including how she hadn’t received any estate money from me yet. She’d received notification of my registered letter to her that contained the bank draft, but she hadn't picked it up from the post office yet. It wasn’t a complete lie, just a slick twist on reality to make her look hard done by.

Back to the call. Along with her usual complaints about how everyone hates her, and how her doctor made her this way, she gave the cousin her new address. It’s similar to the address she gave our other cousin, but not exact.

That might be simple confusion due to any substance she might be taking, but it’s hard to say. She told this cousin that she hasn’t been taking any medication. That leaves the way open for pretty much anything else. Because of that, I emailed a long-time friend of hers who might be able to help me get in contact with her caseworker.

I’d had three calls from three different family members in the eight days. The new moon was the previous weeek and its effect on her should have long worn off. It suggested to me that whatever’s wrong has worsened.

There's not much I can do, but I should at least look into it.


Update: I never did hear from the long-time friend. However, my sister called in early December and gave me her new mailing address. It's a PO box, but at least it's an address.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Emotional Vivisection

Memoirs are difficult. Writing a memoir means cutting deeply into the layered tissues of your life and exposing what you’ve found there.

If it was just resurrecting moments and dispassionately rendering them on to the screen or the page, then it wouldn’t be a painful, exhilarating exercise. It would be dry and boring and unsellable.
A dry rendering of the facts of a life works in some arenas; memoir writing is not one of them.

I’ve got a hand-written journal I wrote over the course of a summer more than a decade ago. Events were fresher in my mind then than they are today so it’s a great resource. My readership was me and that made noting the private, painful moments easier.

A few years back I tried to do a memoir, but it was restricted to the odd moments of my life. For instance, I used to see a drawing of a scary clown on a wall in the barn and I remember clearly being three years old and watching a beautiful being draw it.
But I can’t do one without the other. I have to write about growing up with a mentally unbalanced, violent sibling.
The two sides of my life, violence in one world, beautiful beings looking after me in another, go together.
Both sides have to be cut into and examined for a proper emotional vivisection.
I’ve started. I wonder if I have the courage to see it through?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Midnight Visitor

The doctor is knocking
He’s asking me questions
What’s he talking about?
(To the tune of Memory, from Cats. Forgive me Andrew Lloyd Webber, Trevor Nunn, T.S. Eliot, and humanity in general.)

I settled into my private room in the University of Alberta Hospital cardiac unit late in the afternoon of December 18. It was an inside room with a large window to the atrium and a clear view to the skylight and the outside world.
I’m not usually fussy or demanding, but I let it be known before I was even in my bed that I had to be fed. The phrase “borderline low blood sugar” is magic.
My nurse, Natasha, was very persuasive with the kitchen and I was soon enjoying a chicken breast. And I mean it. I looked down at my tray and there, nestled innocently beside the cutlery, was a small packet of contraband.
“Hey this the cardiac uni-”
Wait what am I doing? I haven’t seen salt in days.
Salt on my food and no cardiac monitor. My nurse told me where the patients’ kitchen was and encouraged me to walk around.
Around 10 p.m. I was told my medications hadn’t been sorted out yet as there’d been several admissions to the unit that day.
Salt. Freedom. No meds. My own room. I was fine with all that. They weren’t concerned about medication for me. I took it as a good sign.

As the clock joined hands for midnight Dr. Nasser Al-Hajieri knocked on my door.
He was well over 6’ tall, 30-ish, and had a thicket of wild, windswept black hair that teased around the base of his neck and framed his deep, brown eyes. He was a resident in Internal Medicine and he exuded quiet compassion and thoughtful intelligence.
Dr. Al-Hajieri sat on my bed and asked me few questions that I was mostly awake enough to answer.
“You are British? I think I detect a British accent.”
“Umm, no. I’m not,” I said.
“Oh, I am sorry.”
He discussed my heart problem and said something about low voltage.
“So, it’s an electrical problem.” It was a half-question, half-statement.
“Yes,” he agreed. “It’s an electrical problem.”

My eyes returned to his hands many times over our 20 minute conversation. His fingers were long and tapered and remarkably clean. Yes, I know that’s an odd thing to say. He’s a doctor. Of course his hands are clean. It could have been the way the light stuck them, I suppose, but it compelled me to keep looking. His nails were well-manicured, rather long for a man, and smoothed to a blunted point.

He got up to leave, hesitated a moment, and then said, “I see by your file you don’t have any children. Can I ask you why you didn’t have any children?”

So I answered his question and he left. I assumed I’d see him around the unit. I was there six days. I never saw him again.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Whooo Did You Say You Were?

We saw this owl on Saturday. It was perched on a wire above a stubble field listening for its evening meal.
The pic's a bit fuzzy, but it's the best I could do while sneaking around. I did my best to not annoy it.
We decided it fit the description of a Boreal Owl.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Gratitude Monday- Winter's Beauty

The sun is gaining strength and so am I.
How can I look to the west and not be grateful?

Friday, January 11, 2008

Friday’s Child – Woe Is Not Me

Today and for the next several weeks I’m going to rehash posts from the former Prozac Palace blog. Miss Prozac and I agreed that the blog had run its course. It’s gone.
I wrote those posts for a reason and I think they should live on so I’m going to rerun my entries here on Fridays. It won’t all be rehashed material. Some material will be new.
The standing head “Friday’s Child” was chosen because the posts are put up on Fridays and they’re mostly about me when I was a child.
It wasn't until well after I'd decided this that I recalled the old nursery rhyme Monday’s Child. The original version from 1887 contains the line “Friday’s child is full of woe.”
I’m not interested in woe. I’m interested in telling how it was.

This was my first Prozac Palace from April 2007.

"What Fresh Hell Is This?"

It is said that author Dorothy Parker greeted the ringing of her telephone this way. It used to just amuse me. Now I understand it only too well.These days a ringing phone might be my sister calling me to complain about her life, her assorted aches and pains be they real or imagined, and how everyone treats her unfairly.

About 30 years ago Dawn was diagnosed with OCD, called Compulsive-Obsessive Psychosis back then. She no longer compulsively washes her hands, but this is the only diagnosis I’ve ever heard so it’ll have to do. If there are others she’s opted not to say so.

It used to be that she rarely called me. That changed in early 2006 when she started calling regularly during the full and new moons. Her schedule differs from mine so we unplug the phones between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. now. Frankly, our sleep is more important than her whining. She’ll call during the day sometimes, though, just to throw me off.

I’m not the lone recipient of these calls. We’ve got plenty of cousins and many live within an hour of Dawn so she calls them occasionally, too.
Last week she called one particular couple at least four times. Both of them have called me about it due to the escalation of calls and because they believe something about her has changed. The last call advised me that Dawn had herself taken to emergency because she’d consumed something herbal offered by a friend and it didn’t agree with her.She refused to tell the relative what she’d taken and accused the relative of not believing her.

That’s pretty common with Dawn. We’re expected to take her at her word whether it’s grounded in reality or not. It’s hard to sift through what’s real and what isn’t when she calls. And even when it’s old news, it’s still a fresh hell.
Update: We no longer routinely unplug the phone as the calls have dropped off considerably.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Flip Your Tail Feathers

Finchley enjoys a snack.

Some days ya just gotta flip yer tailfeathers to the world and dig in.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Long Hot Shower Of The Soul

My private room in ICU in Red Deer was wonderful. It was huge, at least the size of my living room. It had a good-sized closet, at least two chairs that looked fairly comfortable, and laminate flooring. A bar fridge would have fit right in.

It also had a bed with a mind of its own. It was a pressure bed. Wonderful things. Great inventions. But it would raise and lower assorted parts of my body whenever it decided they needed shifting.
I could have unplugged it, but then I wouldn’t have been able to raise the head of the bed. Rather than fight I simply accepted these random launchings.

I was still hooked up to a cardio monitor and it was just as sensitive as all the others. However, this one had a long lead line and it gave me a significant amount of freedom within my own room.

I’d been in a hospital since Friday and I hadn’t been able to clean myself all that well. A quick wipe with a wet washcloth was about it. On Tuesday I was offered the chance to take a shower and I was all for it. Cleanliness aside, it meant I could get out of bed, stand up for awhile, walk a bit, and be untethered.


It also meant I was stable enough that it was okay for me to do this.
The shower room was about 100 feet away and around a corner. I was accompanied there, given towels and a new gown, and then left to my own devices.

Oh, bliss. The long hot shower of the soul. I hated to get out and go back to bed, but I knew if I stayed too long someone would be along to make sure I was okay.
When I stepped out a nurse was just coming along to see about me. When she saw I was okay she went about her business and I walked back to my room alone.

I was a fugitive. I’d escaped bed rest. I was walking and it felt good. So good. Then I had to stop and rest as my chest felt very heavy and I was a wee bit unsteady and that wasn’t so good. I was okay though. I got back to my room all by myself and washed my feet. I’d forgotten to wear shoes to the shower room and hospital floors are absolutely filthy.

Until I experienced bed rest and being tethered to machines I didn’t realize it’s a treat to walk to a shower.

Later than day I was moved to the cardiac unit at the University of Alberta hospital. I had a private room with my own shower. Much as I appreciated walking, having my very own shower was even better.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Pristine Farmland

I wish today’s crop of reporters knew enough to use words properly.
It’s bad enough that the news itself is considered emotionally–charged entertainment instead of information, but that’s for railing about later. Today I’m annoyed with the misuse of words by people who really ought to know better.

Specifically, it’s the word pristine. It means in its primitive state, pure, untouched, unsullied.

The most recent offence is some undeveloped land along the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton. It was described on the evening news as “pristine.”
It’s been used for recreation for quite some time. It’s a stretch to call it untouched.

By far the worst offence ever was back in the early 1990s. A print reporter wrote “pristine farmland.”

I am painfully aware of the chance I’m taking writing about this. The moment anyone rails about another’s grammatical errors she makes a whopper or two of her own or someone recalls a glorious error from the past.

Do as you will.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Gratitude Monday – A Bit Of Housecleaning

It’s never occurred to me until now; I’m grateful for being able to clean my own home.
This is not to say I like it. I was not successfully domesticated and I’d rather do almost anything else. Ideally, I’d rather do nothing.

Yesterday I was getting after the built-upon grease and grime on my ceramic stovetop. I had the energy, will, and stamina to finally do a proper job. I realized I was happy to do this. The initial reason is obvious. I’m recovering steadily.I get more done and nap less afterward.

Then I looked further. I turned it over and tickled its tummy and realized I have a home to look after and it doesn’t take that much work.

Also, we rented Soylent Green the other night. Among its other toothsome points the population was so great homeless people slept on stairwells. We have something similar here with homeless people taking shelter wherever they can, especially in the cold weather.

My husband and I have a home to ourselves,and I am happy to look after it.

Friday, January 4, 2008

No Room For Modesty

I spent more than 30 hours in in ER at Red Deer Regional Hospital. I was to be in Intensive Care, but the first bed available was in Emergency. Because I needed monitoring, it was the only other place I could be housed.

A few ICU beds opened that first evening, but trauma patients needed them far worse than I did. Sure I wanted my own room, but it’s hard to wish for it knowing there are only two ways a hospital bed opens.

My doctor, a resident in Internal Medicine, had been consulting with my Rocky doctor over the weekend so he knew exactly what was going on. He had the case because the cardiologist was on vacation.

I left the oxygen behind in Rocky and as soon as I was settled Red Deer I had the catheter removed. This pleased me no end even as it would have been a lot more convenient later that night when the 24 hour urine collection started. This was for the amyloidosis test, and I was all for it.

ER is a busy place and it’s hard to get to sleep. My intellectual capacity was down to maybe 70 per cent when this started and it has been slow coming back. I couldn’t concentrate enough to do a progressive relaxation induction on myself to get to sleep. Instead, I managed to picture a peaceful scene of a large lake between some lushly covered hills in a jungle or rainforest. But no matter how hard I tried to change it, my mind lake was a deep, beautiful yellow from a sunrise or sunset because while I was constructing it a Code Yellow, missing patient, had been called.

I’d decided to go gluten-free there so that my sinuses would remain fairly clear. If I was to have breathing difficulties, then I wanted to know exactly where they came from. The hospital did okay although it helped that I was quite hungry. I even liked the corn meal mush I was served for breakfast. In fairness there was rice toast and a hard boiled egg, too. Eggs and I both need salt and there was none to be had for me. I was beginning to feel like the salt-sucking creature from “The Mantrap” episode of Star Trek who had to have it to survive.

The big urine collection was due to start at 7 a.m. at the morning shift change. Instead my night nurse, a 30ish fellow, decide to start it at midnight. This was okay with me, especially as he decided he was going to pour the offerings into the collection container for me. I’d been told earlier that I was to do this myself.
My Commode Chair, already important, became the focal point of my existence. I was tethered to many machines so it was close by and, because of the need to save each drop, a plastic, removable “hat” was fitted over the container.
Modesty has no place in this. Mike was there all day and needed to keep an eye on me when I got out of bed. If my curtain was open too much a nurse had to close it unless Mike was there and I had to ring for the nurse when it was time to add to the bottle. I washed my hands with some large wet wipes used for bathing.

I have to say the ER nurses were phenomenal. Some were pulling 16 hours shifts because the hospital is short-staffed. They remained professional, courteous, and smiled even as they had to run into my room every few minutes.
My cardio monitor was uncommonly sensitive. When I moved, especially my right arm, it would disturb one of the leads stuck to me and it would go off. A nurse had ot check each time this happened. It sounded like that scene in the Star Trek two-parter, “The Menagerie,” where Captain Pike has realized what Spock is planning for him and he desperately signals “No.”

I had my first of three echocardiograms the next day. This is an ultrasound of the heart where more than 50 different pictures taken. I had a quick look at the screen and saw a thin skeletal shape hammering up and down. It was right out of a Tim Burton movie.

I felt sorry for the nurse who’d accompanied me down to the ultrasound room. She was a friendly, talkative woman in her late 20s who was in the middle of a 16 hour shift. As we waited for the pictures to be checked the diuretic continued its mission. Waiting to get back to my room was not an option. I still wasn’t supposed to walk around, but there was a bathroom about 10 feet away and we decided to chance it and she let me walk to it and back.
Yes, my doctor caught us but that went okay. The reason I felt sorry for her was we were still collecting my urine and she had to carry the little collection hat back to my room.

We do not pay these people enough.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Wild Amyloidosis Chase Begins

I was monitored virtually constantly. The nurses’ station was right outside my door in the Special Care Unit. This enabled them to keep a close eye on both me and the fellow in the next bed, 60ish lifelong diabetic who’d had a very high blood sugar spike, in the 20s or even 30s. For a while a nurse sat in a chair between us watching.

My vitals signs gave the assorted nurses and my doctor quite a time. They made several tries until they got a pulse and blood pressure readings they were willing to believe. They came to not trust their machines and usually did it the old-fashioned way, but not after up to three tries with the automated cuff. It seemed to be done every 15 minutes or so at first, then calmed down to every hour.

Irregular heartbeat can lead to blood clots so I was put on an IV drip of Heparin, an anticoagulant. Blood was drawn every four hours and I was on absolute bed rest.
Next I was given a nitro patch for overnight. It’s a vasodilator and it works. My feet got warm for the first time in days. I also enjoyed the common side-effect of a nitro headache. It wasn’t that bad, and my warm feet were a reasonable trade-off.
I was awakened in the night frequently for the vitals and bloodletting. This was good. The only problem was at one point in the night the catheter got a vapor lock or some such and didn’t work. It was unpleasant, but a nurse was in checking my vital signs at the time so it was corrected immediately.

My doctor likes to understand why things happen. He was flummoxed why someone my age, 49, my weight, about 145 lb., and in good health got hit with congestive heart failure. An ECG had suggested damage, possibly from a heart attack. I couldn’t think of anything in the past 3-6 months that would fit.

Meanwhile, I’d had Mike email my cousin The Bag Lady the first night as the next day was her birthday and she would wonder if she didn’t hear from me. This led to her doing a bit of sleuthing, as is her way, and found a cousin who said his family members had heart problems at around my age and he further suggested the doctor check for amyloidosis. That’s a disease where rogue proteins break off and attack organs.
My doctor is an animated fellow to begin with. When he heard this his eyebrows shot up to his hairline, his eyes bugged out, his mouth flew open, and he madly drummed his pen against my chart. “Yes! Yes! We’ll look for this. It would cause the kind of damage suggested in the ECG! Yes!”

Meanwhile I had more important things on my mind. Could I have chocolate?
I could, but my doctor said it had to be dark and “only two blocks.”
Now to me that’s a 4” x 6” x 1” slab. My husband said it meant two square sections of a chocolate bar. He won. Mike, who was at my side every day all day through this, got me chocolate and made sure I stuck to the daily allotment.

My doctor wanted more tests done so after two days here I was transferred to Red Deer Regional Hospital 55 miles away. It was the only time I was scared. Being transferred to a larger, city hospital meant unequivocally there was something seriously wrong.

I got my appetite back within about an hour of getting the diuretic that morning. I never knew how much I liked salt until I couldn’t have it.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

ER And Me

“If you weren’t sitting up and talking, I’d be worried.”
Although he was smiling as he said it the doctor was unmistakably worried: he’d been unable to find my pulse.
He frowned a bit over my blood pressure and gave me the stethoscope so I could listen to my heart. I believe he wanted to reinforce the fact that something was very wrong. My heartbeat was weak and rapid, up to 200 beats a minute.

Lack of breath and a ribcage that felt two sizes too small made me go to the clinic. I’d had this for a while but it when from annoying to painful overnight. I shoveled snow one day with no problem. I shoveled about the same amount of snow the next day in nearly identical weather conditions and my chest ached and my lungs felt as though they were been squeezed. I thought it was asthma.

Then one night I could not exhale properly. The following nights found me unable to find a position that let me breathe right. On a Thursday in mid-December I walked a half-block to collect the mail and had to rest four times. I hike in Canadian Rockies. Summers find me routinely taking 10 mile bike rides. Something was terribly wrong.

“Well, it’s not asthma,” said the doctor.
“That’s good.”
“It‘s something worse.” He went on to tell me all he could hear in my lungs was fluid. I was to get to ER now. He called over and told them I was coming and that I had atrial fibrillation.

The top two chambers of my heart had stopped. The bottom two were trying vainly to make up for it and this led to congestive heart failure.

At ER I was given oxygen first, asked several questions, and had a few IV leads installed. My blood pressure was taken as well as a few others vitals, I had an ECG and a chest X-ray and I was hooked to a cardio monitor that became my boon companion for the next several days.

Then it was time to get the fluid out of my lungs. A highly effective and very fast-acting diuretic was injected through the IV. I had to have a catheter for this and at first I didn’t want it. My mind changed quickly.
The diuretic took effect in less than 10 minutes. I recall saying that before they did anything else they really needed to put in the catheter.
A small balloon is inserted inside the bladder to keep it inflated so it can drain. Putting in the balloon and the tube is uncomfortable though blessedly quick.
Once we got a good drain going and it was obvious that my kidneys were fine it was time to straighten out the heartbeat.

I had an IV cardio conversion, a heart rebooting. A drug was sent in through the IV to stop my heart. Its own electrical energy restarts it, theoretically in proper rhythm. The drug sent jagged edged lightning speeding up my left arm.

When I was 11 years old I accidentally touched a live spark plug. I felt an explosion in my elbows and shoulders and the next thing I knew I was three feet away facing the opposite direction. I’m glad it happened because it put the cardio conversion in perspective. For as painful as it was, touching a live spark plug is worse.

The doctor had mumbled something about how the procedure might not work. It didn’t work. He also mumbled at one point, “We don’t have much time.”

I went in to Emergency round 9:30 a.m. and I was there until nearly 3 p.m. before being transferred to the hospital’s Special Care Unit.
I had up to six medical professionals working on me for about two hours. Long about 11:30 a.m. this dropped down to one person checking in sometimes.
This was a very good sign.

Showing off the assorted IVs as well as cardio monitor, oxygen, blood oxygen level monitor, blood pressure cuff, and there's a catheter, too, though the tube doesn't show.