Thursday, November 29, 2012
Bless My Heart
I debated whether or not to write about this, but this is where I keep a record of what goes on in my life. So here it goes.
I do not enjoy having experiences that serve as a reminder of my mortality.
Take last Tuesday, for instance. I was lounging on a beanbag in the front room, enjoying a movie with the family before bedtime. At some point I noticed that my ear felt funny. I reached back and touched it, fascinated by the lack of feeling in my right ear compared to my left. I tested my hearing by plugging each ear. It was fine. The outside of my right ear was just numb. Weird. I figured I must have been laying on it funny and turned my attention back to the movie. After a while my right arm started to feel tingly so I changed positions and shook it out. I realized that my ear was still numb and that my jaw was a little numb as well. My arm went from tingly to... I don't know. Not numb, just weak. I stood up and walked into the other room and realized my right leg also felt weak.
I continued pacing around the room, exploring these awkward sensations on my right side, when I remembered that something like this happens to people who are having a stroke. Don't freak out, I told myself. You're fine, this will pass. I didn't want to scare anyone. I kept it to myself, waiting for the feelings to pass. They didn't.
When Allen and I went to bed I casually mentioned what was going on. "But I'm fine," I told him. "I can talk fine and my face isn't drooping and I can comprehend everything." He asked me a whole barrage of questions and asked if I thought I should go to the emergency room. "I'm just tired," I answered. "Let's see how I am in the morning."
Allen got online and googled my symptoms. He thought I might be having what is called a TIA, or transient ischemic attack, something like a mini-stroke. I insisted that I felt totally fine except for the weakness and that I just needed to sleep. So that's what I did.
In the morning my arm was still a little weak but all other symptoms had disappeared. I called my OB/GYN office and asked the secretary and nurse for recommendations for a good regular doctor and they gave me a few names. "So, are you sick with the flu or a bad cold or what?" the secretary asked. I described my symptoms from the night before, emphasizing that I felt fine now, and she said, "Don't call a doctor. You need to at least get to the Instacare. Like, right now. And the nurse here is nodding her head, too, saying you need to be seen today. Like, NOW."
Because it was the day before Thanksgiving, Allen was home. I told him what they said and he told me to get going. It was so strange to be driving myself to the Instacare, feeling perfectly fine. I got there about 15 minutes before they opened and sat outside their inner door waiting for someone to arrive. I told the woman at the front desk what my symptoms were, she went back and spoke with the doctor on call, and he came into the waiting room to talk to me. "You need to just go right over to the ER," he said. "They'll probably put you at the front of the line." "But I feel fine right now..." I started to argue. "Better safe than sorry," he answered. "You don't want to mess with this kind of thing. It could be a sign of something much more serious." They graciously erased my visit from their computer so we/our insurance wouldn't be charged for it and I headed around the block to the ER.
He was right, I was immediately admitted and put through a whole barrage of tests. Seriously, every test you can imagine, I am pretty sure I had done on me. Four blood draws for blood work. An EKG, chest x-ray, CT scan, and MRI. Everything came back looking good. The doctor on call as well as a neurologist came and conducted some strength and touch tests. All good. My final test was an echo ultrasound of my heart - with bubbles. This was where they discovered a hole. Apparently this hole is likely a PFO or Patent Foramen Ovale. It is something we all have when we are in utero but it usually closes itself after birth. Some people have them their whole lives and never know. Then some people have weird things happen (like me) and find the hole in their heart that way.
The other possibility is that the hole is an ASD or Atrial Septal Defect. I will need to have another test (called TEE) done next week to see if this is the case, and to find how large the hole is regardless of which kind it ends up being. The TEE gives a clearer picture of the heart since a typical echo ultrasound has to see around the ribcage.
Because Thanksgiving was the next day the doctors allowed me to go home rather than admit me to the hospital and keep me under observation for a couple of days. The neurologist made sure to emphasize that if I had ANY symptoms again I needed to come immediately to the ER. "You don't mess around with this!" she reprimanded me. "No questioning. Just come in!"
So here I am, a mortal being, a little bit nervous and a little bit scared and a huge bit hopeful that this will be no big deal.