Adventures With Chest Pain, Part One

It’s been over a month since I’ve been in the hospital.  I didn’t write about it before, because I was still soo irritated and teed off about the whole thing that I probably would have been ranting and on my soap box.  It’s been long enough now that I can actually look back at the incident and laugh Ho Ho Ho.  Not really.  Not the Santa laugh, anyway.  But I can look back with mild amusement and a sense of humor about the episode.

Since it’s rather a long story, I’m going to break it up into parts.  The first part is this one, where I get stuck in the hospital.  The second will involve me being sent home on the Greyhound bus.  The third part will involve the time I had to spend at home jumping through hoops to prove I could go back to work.  Ah, bureaucracy at its finest.

So here goes.

Where Holly Gets Stuck In The Hospital For Four Days In Gary, Indiana

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Holly, the human pincushion. Isn’t the pattern on my hospital gown to die for?  Both arms ended up with even more big giant bruises like the one you see here, because they weren’t done with the IV needling yet.  Oh no.

Back toward the end of March, I was feeling some chest pain on my left side.  It was a low-level constant headache sort of pain.  The kind of pain you would ordinarily tune out if it was, well, a headache.  Or, if it got bad enough, you’d take some ibuprofen and soldier on.  Well that’s all well and good, but it was my chest.  And it’s been drummed into my head that if there is pain on the left side, it can be a heart attack.  I didn’t have any of the other symptoms of heart attack, just the chest pain.  And I had it for a few days.  Sometimes it would get worse, sometimes it would get better, and sometimes I wouldn’t feel it at all for a few hours.  Then it would come back.  It seemed to hurt more with sharp intakes of breath, and squishing down on my chest (right over my smiley face tattoo) seemed to both hurt and help.  Don’t know how both are possible, but it seemed like it was true.

I was on a load that was supposed to take me out to New York.  I was sooo excited, since I haven’t been to New York in seven years or so.  I ignored the pain, even though I know that is a stupid thing to do, in part because I was excited for the trip and in part because we could really, really use the money.

I get to Gary, Indiana and stop at my company’s truck terminal to stay the night.  This was Saturday night.  I was extra excited, because I had contacted Bethany Jo Lee, a blogging buddy of mine, and we were going to meet face to face for the first time when I passed through Ohio, where she’s from.  I was seriously looking forward to meeting up with her.  I was fortunate enough to be heading though Ohio on the weekend, so we would have time to meet.  If it had been a weekday, she wouldn’t have been able to do it.

Sunday morning when I woke up, my chest hurt extra extra bad and it scared me.  It was the worst it had felt.  I walked into my terminal and said that I think they were going to need to take the load off me, because I needed to go to the hospital for chest pain.  Renee, the woman who was working the desk, was a real pro.  She immediately called 911 and then went in search of some aspirin, just in case it was a heart attack.  Paramedics came to get me and they whisked me off to a hospital in Gary.

I got taken to the ER and they started up an IV. Or tried to.  I had to get poked three times before the IV was successful.  I have slippery, uncooperative veins that also like to hide.  They had to use this red light machine to even find them in the first place.  They put me on some fluids, saying that my veins were so hard to find because I was dehydrated (funny, but my pee was fine and I drink a half gallon or more of water every day…).  They also took a syringe and started shooting something else into my IV without telling me what it was.  As they did so, I asked what the nurse was giving me, and she said, “Morphine for your pain.”  What?  I didn’t ask for that!  I’ve never had morphine in my life!  And while my pain was the worst it had been, it wasn’t morphine-bad.  That ticked me off.

Then the morphine hit.  And I was ticked off even more.

My experience with opiate drugs has been limited to Tylenol with Codeine.  I was prescribed that when I had my toenail removed, once upon a time.  The pills gave me a headache that was worse than the pain in my toe.  It’s like a sibling trying to be helpful when he or she says, “I’m sorry you stubbed your toe and it hurts; let me help you.”  WHAM!  And your dear, helpful sibling punches you really hard in the arm.  “There, now you don’t notice the pain in your toe, right?”  Yeah, so helpful.

The morphine caused a pain in the back of my neck that was worse than the heart pain.  It also made my head feel like it was way too small for my brain, and that my brain was going to leak out through my eye sockets or something.  It was NOT comfortable or helpful at all.

Around the same time, the nurse slapped a nitro patch on my chest.  Bear in mind, my heart rate was 122/72 at this point.  Common sense would tell you that nitro, which is supposed to make your blood pressure drop, would drop my normal heart rate down into the badland area.

Sure enough, it did.  I came *this* close to passing out, and the nurse rushed over and ripped the offending patch off my chest.

At this point, I’m wondering if my heart is trying to kill me or if the nursing staff is.

But wait!  It gets better!

They decide to do a plethora of tests on me, all standard operating procedure when dealing with heart pain.  I got my chest x-rayed, I got blood drawn (can’t use the IV for that, since it’s for fluids and other junk) for a couple of different blood tests, and I went in for a CT scan to see if I had blood clots anywhere.

This was fun!  The tech for the CT scan started moaning about how the nurse put the wrong type of IV in.  He called her down, whereupon they got into a heated exchange over what was the correct type of tubing to use.  See, when the test is run, the IV has some sort of warm fluid stuff that gets pumped into you so that the scanner can see your circulatory system better.  It apparently needs a bigger tube than the one the nurse insisted was the right size.  Finally, the tech caves and starts the test.  Sure enough, he was right.  The IV blows up and I start having fluid leak all down my arm and I’m shouting at him to stop the test and fix the dang needle.  He calls the nurse back down, and they do yet another IV line, this time on the other arm.  He finishes the test and I get sent back to the ER.  The nurse there is crowing about how she had to educate the young man.  Wha?  Her stupid insistence on using the wrong size tubing made the IV blow out.  How was it he needed educating?

The ER doc sees me briefly and tells me they are going to admit me over night for observation, since my tests are coming back negative and are looking good.  But they want to be sure.  That, and the next day they would like to do a stress test on me, just to be on the safe side, before they send me home.  I figured I would probably be stuck there overnight, so I was already resigned to that.

I get a room, and it’s pretty spacious.  There is a view of a school yard (?) back there, but I never really paid it much attention.  It wasn’t until I got my room that I started to get dehydrated, because they wouldn’t give me any food or water for about half a day until the people in charge knew just what my dietary restrictions were.  And I was getting thirsty, y’all!

The floor nurse checks on my IV, and it won’t flush properly, because the nurse who already gave me one botched IV had put it in the crook of my arm.  She had to take it out.  Then the floor nurse had to give me a new IV.  She also had trouble and I got stuck a couple more times.  Each time I get stuck, I end up with lumps in my arms and giant purple bruises.  I’m a purple dalmation!  Whee!  She finally gave up and put it in my hand (which is where I told her that my last really successful IV had to be put back when I had surgery in my 20’s, because the nurses then had similar problems, but she didn’t want to stick it there).

Despite the IV trouble, the nurses on my floor were all very nice.  They were all fascinated by the fact I was a truck driver out there driving solo.   For one nurse (CNA?), the fact that I was married, with kids, and was still driving really got her thinking! She said she might be looking at a new career and that she was going to have a conversation with her husband, lol.

The nurses explained to me that the attending doctor wouldn’t be in until the next day, and neither would the cardiologist doctor, and both would want to see me.  Fine.  Except that I didn’t see either doctor until after 8pm on Monday night!  At this point I had been on that floor for about 30+ hours.  I was not impressed.  I also was not impressed by the fact that neither one spent more than 2-5 minutes with me.  I was even more pissed, because the cardiologist would ask me questions, and in my mid-answer, would cut me off and ask a different question.  Excuse me?  Do you want to know what I have to say, or what?  How can you give good quality care if you don’t listen to your patients?

The doctors decide they want me to do the stress test.  Um, yeah, that’s what the ER doc said.  Why wasn’t I scheduled for that Monday morning?  The docs decide I will have it done Tuesday morning, since by the time they see me, it is too late.  So I’ve been sitting around all day watching re-runs of Law & Order waiting for the docs to decide to have a test done on me that the ER doc already said I needed to have done?  Ugh.

In the meantime, every 8 hours I was having blood drawn to check my triponin levels and some other test I don’t remember the name of.

The nutritionist comes and talks to me about nutrition, and I get on her case about how for a patient who is supposed to be in here for a potential heart issue, why the heck haven’t they put me on a cardiac diet from the get go?  I had to request it!  And their idea of heart healthy was laughable.  Chicken with the skin on, smothered in salty gravy?  Canned and/or frozen cardboard veggies?  C’mon.  She agreed that the hospital had quite a bit of work to do on their menu, and that it was something they were working on.  By the time we were finished talking, she was pretty convinced I knew what I was doing.

The cardiology nurse comes in and lectures me on my weight and eating and I tell her I lost 60 lbs last year, I walked 1100 miles in 8 months, and I eat heart healthy and have for much of my life because it’s the way my mom taught me to eat.  In addition, since my husband is diabetic and a dialysis patient, we read every label and are very conscientious of what we put in our mouths.  That shut her up.

I can’t remember if it was Sunday or Monday, but a sonogram is done of my chest.  The wand pushing down on my chest hurts like a bejebus.

Tuesday morning comes and goes.  By late morning, they finally wheel me down to get the test done.  Then I have to wait around another hour or so before they can even do the test.  Finally, I get wheeled in and see the cardiologist dude who doesn’t listen.  They put some kind of drug in my IV that caused my heart to race as if I had just been doing strenuous activity, and then gave me another drug to calm my heart the heck down.  Midway through, I’m like, “I don’t like this!  I really really don’t like this!”  They said it would be over soon, but I felt like I was having a heart attack.  There is absolutely no reason why your body’s heart should start pumping willy nilly when there is no accompanying sweating and warmth in your limbs because you’ve been working hard.  To just feel the heart go bonkers is….disconcerting… at best.  I kept breathing deep, trying to calm my heart the bleep down.  At least they were right about it being over soon.  The test itself only took a minute or two.

Because they did the stress test so late in the day, the staff who interpret the results had already gone home.  Which meant I had to wait yet another day before I could get the results.  And I continued to get blood drawn every eight hours.  Oh, and I forgot to mention twice a day, every day, I was getting a blood thinner shot stuck in my belly.  Fun!

Wednesday rolls around and the test results are in.  Finally!  The nurse informs me that I get to go home.  The docs didn’t bother to see me again.  I had to flag the attending doctor down in the hall, when I peeked out there and saw him.  He said the problem I was having was that the muscles on my chest wall (the ones under my pecs attached to the ribs) were inflamed.   Ironically, when I spoke to my dad (who is a dental hygienist) on Sunday, that is EXACTLY what he said the problem was.  Somehow I had done something to irritate them.  All of my tests were great.  My blood pressure was normal, my cholesterol was good, my stress test, EKG, CT scan, sonogram, all that showed my heart to be healthy and happy.  I wish I knew what I had done to hurt those muscles, but I haven’t the foggiest clue.

“So what do I do about my chest pain?” I ask the doc.

“Take ibuprofen if it bothers you.”

Four days of hospital crap, untold bills, lost wages, and I get told that all I need is some ibuprofen for what is essentially a pulled muscle?  Ugh.  You know, I STILL have outlines on my skin from the pads from the heart monitor.  The adhesive on the pads gave me a skin rash.  The rash is gone, but the adhesive and the outline of the pads is still there on my belly.

My family was worried sick about me the whole time.  It was Easter weekend, the Sunday I went to the hospital.  My mom’s family always has an Easter get together.  Micah and Willow and my dad went.  My mom didn’t get to go, since her car broke down.  Somehow at the party, it was slipped that I was in the hospital for chest pain.  My extended family gets all worried about me.  My Aunt Lynda calls my mom, who wasn’t home, and leaves a message saying she heard about me in the hospital, she hopes I’m okay.  Of course, my mom hadn’t heard anything about it, because I hadn’t told her.  I didn’t really want to tell anyone, until I knew whether or not there was something to worry about.  Since most of my tests were done on that first day, I knew my heart was in pretty good shape.  The other stuff was more just a formality.  But my mom hears I’m in the hospital for chest pain and has a freakout, since she has had heart issues herself.

So I have to calm down a pissed of mom who is mad she was kept out of the loop.  She wasn’t.  I wasn’t telling anybody.  I assumed that my husband would keep it to himself, since I had told him that I didn’t want him to tell Willow and get her all worried about me.  “Too late,” he said.  He had already told her and Willow was worried, so I had to try and calm her down.  I didn’t want Willow to worry about me, when she already worries enough about her dad’s health problems.  Anyhow, the word got out at the Easter party anyway, and I had some ‘splainin’ to do.

On the plus side, I learned that my heart is in really great shape and I’ve got no blood clots anywhere, which is good to know.  Truck drivers are known to have problems with blood clots in their legs, since they sit for such long periods of time.

And, while I was in there, I missed out on seeing Bethany, but she offered to take a day off work to come see me if I had to have any procedures done.  So that was pretty cool.

“You don’t have to do that,” I protested.

“Yeah, but your family can’t be out here, so somebody should be with you!”  she said.

God, I love that woman.  She is soooo sweet!  We’ve only been blogging and email buddies and I’ve never even met her in person!  And here she was offering to take time off work to come see me.  I told her no, it wasn’t necessary.  But the next time I manage to get through Ohio, I’m definitely going to look her up.  When I told Micah about what she said, he said, “I love that woman!  Tell her I said I love her.”

I called up my truck company, and they sent somebody out to rescue me pick me up.  Awww, glorious freedom!  I have to say, after that stint in the hospital, I have much more respect and admiration for my husband, who has to go through this stuff regularly.  I can’t imagine what it must be like to have to do this kind of thing–tests upon more tests, needles and more needles–all the dang time.  Dialysis and heart problems suck.  I NEVER EVER EVER want to have to go through that again.

So tomorrow, tune in to hear how my discharge papers that released me back to work are completely disregarded by my company and how I had to take a Greyhound bus from Gary, Indiana to Portland, OR and survived to tell the tale….

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3 thoughts on “Adventures With Chest Pain, Part One

  1. Hooooleeeeee sh*t! I am so so so sorry you had such a miserable time with the hospital staff! I’d be contacting powers-that-be until they dread to see my number on the caller ID.

    • Apparently the hospital that the paramedics took me to has a pretty lousy reputation. When I was talking to other folks from Gary about my experience, they asked me where I went and I told them and they said, “Oh there? No wonder. That was your problem. That place is terrible.”

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