Heart Failure: The Second Episode

I didn’t regain my strength after the “flu”. I thought it was normal. I thought the flu took everything out of you and it took a while to get you strength back. So, a week even tow weeks after Spring Break I wasn’t worried about the fatigue in my legs or why I was always short of breath.

I could still, with effort, get on my stationary bike or do calisthenics for thirty minutes. I could get to sleep with much medication – Nyquil, generic acetaminophen PM. I could still walk to work but I had to stop four, five times or more, to rest my legs, to catch my breath, to will myself, to stop trying to figure out what was wrong with me and just get on with it.

I honestly thought it was age. I was 48 years old. 50 was around the corner. Of course I was getting slower. Of course inclines and hills and steps were getting harder for me. I wasn’t special. The down slope of life wasn’t going to miss me, if I lived long enough. I should have expected it. I just didn’t expect to to happen sop suddenly and completely. One week I was walking “young”, with life and spring. The next week, I couldn’t walk up three flights of steps to my apartment.

I should have known something was wrong. I should have. But, the symptoms, the warning signs were always accompanied by cold- or flu-like symptoms. Runny nose, then congestion. A strong cough.

I struggled with the aftermath of “the flu” for five months, then the bottom fell out and all the symptoms returned. At once. My quality of life deteriorated. I couldn’t sleep. I had insomnia plus I couldn’t breathe when I was lying down. I couldn’t breathe comfortably when I was sitting up. I could breathe “okay” when I was standing but I was too tired to stand for hours and I hadn’t had any sleep. So, I kept trying to fall asleep while I was standing up. I was leaning against walls, coughing, congesting, aching, miserable, drowsy, fatigued, and trying to catch a few Zzz’s before my legs gave out. My legs would buckle. I would sit down, than have to stand when breathing became too difficult.

This went on for days, DAYS, while I remained convinced the flu had returned. In August. And, why me?

I wasn’t thinking clearly during this time, either, couldn’t concentrate for very long, or focus on my homework. This led to me hopping on a bus, determined to get to the emergency room of the nearest hospital, which is St. Luke’s. But, I said St. Joseph, in my foggy state of mind. It took me thirty minutes to realize my mistake, and an hour to get home. I didn’t know where I should have gone and I decided to go home and try again the next day, if I wasn’t feeling better and hadn’t gotten any sleep.

Overnight, still not sleeping, still not able to even rest and breathe, I go online and looke dup my symptoms on WebMD. Among the possible diagnoses was heart failure. I didn’t beleive it. Didn’t. Why would I have heart failure? My heart wasn’t failing. I wasn’t having a heart attack. My arm wasn’t tingling.

But all of the symptoms mirrored mine. The fatigue in my legs. The shortness of breath when I tried to exercise or walk up an incline. The inability to lie down comfortable without trouble breathing. I didn’t want to believe it and I didn’t.

It took a while, a few days to feel like I was dying. Then I called for an ambulance.

I also didn’t want to go to the hospital. I didn’t want to call an ambulance, didn’t want to wake up my neighbors. Didn’t want to be the center of attention. Didn’t want anyone to know I was sick.

Didn’t want to spend another night (and day and another night for days) in misery, coughing, wheezing, gasping, until this blew over. I’ll just go to the hospital, I told myself, and they can figure out what is wrong with me and fix it, and this will be over.

I figured they would diagnose me with a sever case of the flu and give me some medicine, a shot, some pills, some pharmacy-grade medicine, something, and send me one me back home and I could get some sleep and start getting my life back.

Still, I went back online and checked to see which hospital had the best heart program, the best cardiologists, who was ranked number one. St. Luke’s. I stuffed my phone and my work phone in my pocket and called the operator for assistance with getting an ambulance.

I walked downstairs, slowly, and waited in front of my apartment building for them to arrive. I didn’t want a thousand stomping booted feet running up the stairs. It always sounds so fatal.

A fire truck came, not an ambulance. a fire truck came and they laid me in a gurney and asked me which hospital I wanted to go to. Then, we were off. One of the firefighters took my blood pressure as we pulled away from my building. I didn’t look back once to see if anyone was watching. They had to have been. I would have. I was facing forward, somehow, watching the road as we sped to the hospital. The streets were empty, like I had never seen them before, and quiet except for the siren and the firefighter calling St. Luke’s to tell them I was coming.

I don’t know what my blood pressure was. I know they were surprised. I had never been in an a fire truck before and I don’t remember anything about it. I was just relieved I had finally done something to end my illness and it was all going to be taken care of soon.

All I remember is lying alone on a gurney or hospital bed in a surprisingly nice room, with an IV in my arm, and an oxygen mask on my face. The floors of the emergency room I was wheeled into where laminated wood. They looked great. The nurse told me she was dripping Lasix into my body, a diuretic. The IV was attached to a mobile stand so I could walk down to hall when I needed to urinate – which was soon and often.

Lasix is some powerful stuff. I was jumping up every thirty, forty minutes, for a while. Oh, yes, the nurse told me I had fluid on my lungs, which was a huge surprise and frightening, and Lasix would get it out of them. And, I wasn’t getting enough oxygen.

I had dosed off for five, maybe ten minutes before I realized I was able to doze off. I was getting some sleep. I was jumping up, to pee, every ten seconds, it seemed, and the oxygen was tickling my nose.

But, I was getting some sleep.

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