When I first went into the Army, as were all recruits, I was subject to an endless round of physical and mental testing: intelligence, capability and stress tests, measurements, and the collection of various bodily fluids to assess our professional military capability to be injured and/or killed in whatever situation we found ourselves.
Most of the tests were conducted by enlisted personnel rather than doctors or nurses (who would have been commissioned officers and above such grunt work). After being stuck a few times by OJT blood-takers who couldn't quite find the vein and left me with apple sized bruises all over my arms, I was finally told that I had a condition known as "rubber veins", in which the vein was evident below the skin but slipped away from the needle as it approached.
I've continued that problem, to my great dismay, over the intervening years, with the rare phlebotomist and/or nurse actually being skilled enough to nail that little blue tube the first time and spare me the accompanying discomfort and bruising.
A couple days ago, after the second call to 911 I have ever made in my life, I had the opportunity to revisit all that again. A team of otherwise highly skilled EMT workers not only managed to eventually find an appropriate vein after many attempts but also shaved my chest to attach EKG leads...all while their 12,000 pound, tightly sprung ambulance roared its way from my house to St. Luke's ER.
God bless 'em...I never complained. Because I was experiencing almost ten years to the day the same chest pains that led back then to a cardiac bypass. Or, as we survivors of that procedure say:
Death...been there, done that, bought the t-shirt.
Guys with chest pains generally get sent to the head of the line and suddenly I was beset upon by a pride of doctors, nurses, techs and others representing some damned departments I didn't even know existed who were all asking me questions at once. In short order, I was properly punctured, intubated and patched with leads for various machines that all beeped at different rates.
Actually, it sounded like my kitchen when all the cooking devices were set to deliver a meal at the same time. It just didn't smell as good.
I hadn't eaten all day, so I managed to charm a couple of the attendants out of a couple turkey sandwich halves and a pack of sugar cookies. But no more, just in case surgery would be the order of the next day.
Of course, by this time, the pain in my chest and back had subsided and I was starting to feel that maybe I ought to slink away and guiltily find my way home. But medical people know that symptoms are, well symptomatic, and they weren't inclined to let me go without finding out the underlying reason. Never mind that I did not exhibit the other peripheral symptoms that normally accompanied a heart attack.
Eventually, with the preliminary tests complete and the results being developed by the hospital's various labs, I was gurneyed to a room...and believe it or not, it was Room 6606. Too close for comfort, but they plugged me in for a long night's rest, with visions of heparin coursing through my veins and monitors a-go-go chirping the night away. Who could sleep? I watched "The Man In The Grey Flannel Suit" on AMC and read until Carroll, bless her forever, got back and waited with me until it was my turn in the barrell. By this time, I had related the story of my latest medical misadventure to everyone on the floor. And when the Cardiac surgeon arrived, I related it once more. After many "Uh-hums" he told me that I would be cardiac-catherized at 10AM.
This is a procedure I had had once before, ten years ago, and the fun level tops out at about minus 45. The room nurse noticed that I was flushed and a "bit apprehensive" so she decided I should get me a pill called Xanax. I had heard of this drug, but had never taken it. Evidently it's in common use to reduce anxiety.
I herewith assure you that it does that well and, in combination with various other drugs, can make your life very, very different. More on this later.
For those of you who don't know what a cardiac-cath means, here's what happens. The nurses prep you by shaving any remaining hair from your chest and groin, totally eliminating any remaining dignity and then drug you sufficiently with Demoral and another drug that will reduce any memories of the indignities you are about to encounter. These drugs suddenly interract with the Xanax and you are capable of pretty much only giggling and promptly go into some kind of induced trance.
Then you are wheeled into an OR, which is invariably kept just above freezing, no matter that you are wearing only a light cotton hospital gown and no underwear. In short order the Cardiologist POKES A HOLE IN YOUR FEMORAL ARTERY AT THE LEVEL OF YOUR GROIN!
Into it he slips a long, flexible tube with some kind of vision device on the end and proceeds to move it up the artery and into the veins surrounding your heart. During this time, he examines on monitors whatever blockage there is in them and makes a decision as to what procedure should follow: treat it with medicine, place stents within to hold the offending blockages at bay, or schedule the patient for bypass surgery to replace the veins entirely.
I got lucky...there was only a minor blockage that could be managed with medicine and so no further surgery was required. The chest pain that I experienced was probably caused by stomach or intestinal distress.
Yup, a ten-thousand dollar fart.
But now comes the REALLY fun part...when they take you to post-op and lay a bag of shot on your open femoral wound to cause it to close and heal. The bag is surprisingly small for something that feels like it weighs nine thousand pounds. And it must stay there for about six hours, during which time you must not move.
Of course, I was flying pretty high on the Xanax-Demoral combo and I'm told I kept trying to get the thing off my "groinal area". The nurses and techs attending Room 6606 earned their money that day.
Eventually, I woke to a point where I could walk a bit and, when that happened succesfully, I was allowed to go home. I don't remember much of the ride home, but I understand more fully than ever how good Carroll is to an old grump like me and how much I love her for it.
Bottom line is I have to quit smoking. This will be an interesting Spring and Summer. Wish me luck. Any suggestions you may have will be very welcome.
It's always something.