The Friday of our local fall festival, Wo-Zha-Wa, I had a 2:30 appointment at the clinic because the last few days I had felt light-headed and dizzy. Ten days before that, swollen ankles prompted a visit. My blood pressure was high (unusual for me) and I began taking a pill, hydrochlorothiazide, that many people take successfully to help with that problem.
At the clinic, my blood pressure was 100/60, so the staff and I discussed my cutting the pill in half. I was pausing at the desk to make a follow-up appointment when I became light-headed and knew I was about to pass out. I told the receptionist I didn’t feel well and slumped to the floor. Within seconds I was surrounded by staff. One elevated my feet while another told the results of my recent blood pressure. Soon wet compresses cooled my forehead and the back of my neck.
I paused to think how lucky I’d been not to be alone. I began to feel better and told them so. One suggested I try to sit up. I agreed. When I did so, clammy sweat poured from my body. Nausea and shakiness brought me back to the floor.
“Are you thinking the A-word?” One nurse asked another who agreed.
The nurses talked to me about going by ambulance. I said, “Do you really think I need that?”
They described how white I’d gotten when I sat up and thought I needed to go.
“I didn’t mean to make this much fuss,” I murmured.
I had no idea how much “fuss” I’d end up making.
Staff tried to contact my husband who was parking cars for our Kiwanis club, but it went to voicemail, so I gave them the name of a neighbor who could find him. A siren whined in the background and soon I was carted out of the air conditioning into the humid air and whisked into the vehicle. Within seconds, my vision changed. It was as if I was looking through a cloud. I’d heard that stroke victims can feel like a veil is covering half of their vision. Was I having a stroke or was this something else? Back in 1983, before a needed surgery, I began “going for the light,” but that was warm, glowing light at the end of a tunnel, not a fog.
Then my vision began to clear. I tried to laugh. “I can see again. My glasses had just fogged up.”
The EMTs were too busy setting up an IV to respond. The tests went on. They kept asking me about shortness of breath and chest pain, which I denied. I could tell by their tones that things were not looking good. The male EMT said to the female, “I’m calling it.”
Calling it? What did that mean?
He turned to me. “Your blood pressure dropped to 60/40. Your heart is in distress. We’re meeting the med-flight in Baraboo to take you to St. Mary’s hospital.”
Med-flight? But they only do that for people they fear are dying.
Sirens wailed. While on route, an EMT explained they worried I was having a heart attack.
Heart attack? But I’ve never had any heart issues. This couldn’t be happening.
But it was.
They warned me I’d arrive at the cardiac wing of the hospital where they would evaluate me and be able to do what was necessary.
A stint? Heart surgery? Never would I have imagined this in my wildest dreams.
The ambulance arrived at St. Clare’s and almost immediately afterward, I heard the roar of the helicopter. So efficient! They gave me earmuffs to wear for the loud noises and whisked me away.
I’ve only had a chance to be in a helicopter one other time, and I had loved it. This time, however, I was strapped onto a cart, staring mostly at the ceiling and could only see the pilot who was intent on his mission—to save my life.
During that brief flight, my thoughts, I realize now, ranged from silly to serious.
Silly thoughts: This is all going to make a great story.
Practical thoughts: I have farmer’s market tomatoes in the car. They’re being left out in the hot sun.
Responsibility thoughts: I’m supposed to be helping the Kiwanians at Wo-Zha-Wa this weekend. My husband will get pulled out. Will there be anyone to fill in for him? And what about our dog? And if I’m about to have surgery, what about all the recovery time? There are too many things on my plate right now.
Family thoughts: I don’t want to die and leave all the people I love, my husband and kids and grandkids, or my many friends.
Spiritual thoughts: If this is the end, will I soon be in heaven? Will I see my mother and father? I let my mind float for a moment in the glorious image I have of heaven.
The helicopter arrived on the rooftop of St. Mary’s. It was a beautiful evening. I wished I could linger in it, but I was whisked inside where more stickers were added to my chest for more tests.
The results came back that I wasn’t having a heart attack. I called my husband. As I waited for him to answer, I realized it had been Wo-Zha-Wa weekend when he’d gotten the devastating news that his father had had a heart attack which would turn out to be fatal. When my husband answered I could tell he was on route. I told him my good news, and we talked briefly before I was sent to another room where they drew blood for lab work. The IV drips they gave me had made me feel much better. I got to think about returning to the living.
I found out that my sodium level was 124 mg, very low. The medication I began 8 days ago for high blood pressure had contributed.
I had the option to return home and chose to which turned out to be a mistake since while on the road, I had another clammy/shaky/nauseous episode, so we returned to the hospital. I had a Doppler of the heart, another EKG, and a heart ultrasound but basically it came down to needing to stop the high blood pressure medicine, limit my intake of liquids so I didn’t flush out what sodium my body did have, monitor my blood pressure, and follow-up to figure out the cause of the higher blood pressure.
This was a costly lesson, and I shudder to think about sifting through the medical statements that will arrive soon. I’m still trying to process it all, but revelations, like my defogging glasses, reveal themselves daily. I have a new respect for the very powerful effect of medications. One little pill, the size of an unpopped kernel of corn, had brought me literally to my knees. Second, the medical staff I dealt with were competent and compassionate. They have the tough job of making life and death decisions in a matter of seconds. Also, even for people like myself who think they’re healthy, life can be cut away in a heartbeat which I plan to keep in mind. And lastly, it’s given me a deeper appreciation for all the loved ones in my life. It’s disasters like this that make a person realize how important we are to one another. And that, right there, is a valuable reminder.