Sunday, August 21, 2016

We all make plans

"But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep."
We  all make plans—long term, very long term, much shorter term, and sometimes much more immediate plans, like for later in the day. Sometimes all of those plans can be totally disrupted by good or bad things, and sometimes the disruption is both good and bad.

I was in hospital most of the past week due to a chain of events that ultimately saved my life. It meant I didn’t have the week I’d planned, but because of it all, I’ll have weeks yet to plan.

This all started, really, in February when I saw my doctor for a relatively routine check-up. She ordered routine blood tests, which showed somewhat high cholesterol, but not scarily high levels. But I also had high blood pressure, so she doctor put me on medication.

What followed was several weeks of feeling bad, profound fatigue and, later, angina, though I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time—I just thought the pills were giving me indigestion. I complained to the doctor I saw (my usual doctor was on annual leave), and he said that I was a “naïve patient” because I’d never been on that class of drugs before, so it might take many weeks to settle down. It got mostly better eventually.

A couple months later, the doctor I saw (a third one) increased my dosage, since my BP still wasn’t low enough, and all the bad feelings I’d had returned. I gave it a month, but it just never got better.

So, feeling worse than I can ever remember feeling, I made an appointment with my actual doctor to see if maybe I could change to a different drug. That was this past Monday morning. I explained everything I’d been feeling, she listened, and—suspicious—ordered an ECG. Next thing I knew, I was in the back of an ambulance on the way to the hospital.

At this point, I still thought it was a bit over-the-top for dealing with a reaction to a prescription, but the Emergency Department doctor was concerned. He wanted me to have a treadmill stress test, but the earliest appointment was Thursday and, he said, “I don’t want to wait that long to get you tested.” So, he admitted me to hospital.

I had my test the following morning, and they stopped it only a few minutes in because of an abnormal reading in the ECG. After that, the cardiologist decided I needed an angiogram, which I’d have the next day.

The hospital performs around 20 angiograms a day, using two teams and two labs. Even so, there was no guarantee of when I’d been seen because someone in a more critical condition might come to hospital. The next morning, Wednesday, they told me it would be around 12:30pm.

At 10am, the nurse from the unit came to get me because they had an opening. It was a bit of a panic, but I got ready and off we went.

The procedure itself was not painful at all, apart from the needle they used to inject the local anaesthetic in my right wrist. My arm got a bit hot as they injected the dye, but that wasn’t horrible, either.

There were only two freaky parts. First, I could occasionally feel something moving around inside my upper arm and into my armpit. The other was that I could sometimes see the monitor they were looking at, and I could see my dyed arteries dancing around on the screen. That was surreal because I knew it was my heart, and yet, it was on a screen—it could also be a video.

They found a blockage, and placed a stent to open it and reinforce the walls of that artery. I was told it was a “significant blockage”, but the next day I found out it was 90% blocked. I’d had absolutely no idea.

What this means is that if my doctor hadn’t started everything in motion, it’s possible that sooner rather than later the artery would have blocked and I would’ve had a heart attack, and it could very well have been fatal. Again, I’d had absolutely no idea that was the case.

I’m now well on the mend, with new medication, some instructions for diet and exercise, and a new lease on life—kind of literally, really.

All of this came about because my doctor listened to me and investigated my complaints, but the reason I complained was because Nigel both nagged me and coached me. Without his support, I may not have pursued this, and there’s no way of knowing whether I’d have had another chance.

Already, only four days after the procedure, I can say that the profound fatigue I’d been experiencing for a very long time has gone. I haven’t yet experienced any more angina, and they said I may not, but they gave me medicine for that specifically. I feel pretty great, really, and have slept well and become more rested than in a very long time.

The main lesson I take from this story is to listen to one’s body, talk to the doctor about any concerns, and insist, if need be, on being listed to. Then, to be sure to follow doctors’ instructions. The other lessons, such as not taking life for granted, are ones we all know but sometimes need to be reminded of.

This all explains why I often struggled to blog regularly, or podcast more often, or continue making videos: Sometimes I was just too tired/drained to do any of that, and it had a cause. As I return to full strength, I expect to be better about all those things.

So, all my plans were disrupted and the cause was a bad thing. But it led to a very good thing—living. I’d much rather not have gone through all that, of course, but the end result was a good one.

We all make plans. Because of the disruption to my own plans, I’ll now have the chance to continue to make plans. Ultimately, that’s all that matters.

The photo up top is one I took of Hubbard Road in Paeroa in 2005. I used it in a post back in 2010. The caption is from “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost.


rogerogreen said...

Obviously and as I've said elsewhere, I'm glad you're better. I find plans highly overrated.

Arthur Schenck (AmeriNZ) said...

Thanks—I do feel better. I like plans well enough, but I also like to be able to set them aside. I'm just not too keen on dramas shoving them aside, especially my own dramas.