The Fixin’ Leaks and Leeks Team recently sent one of its most precious members to the hospital: Nate. For many years, Nate has had the resting pulse rate of a full-time Olympic athlete who might also relax on the weekends by scaling the Scandinavian Mountains and lifting large bricks. In reality, Nate is a thoroughly trained accountant who can run pretty fast on a treadmill, pump a bit of iron, and hike Mount Pilchuck once in a blue moon. As you can imagine, he’s quite fit, but he’s not exactly on the Michael Phelps activity and caloric intake plan. In the past few years though, his resting pulse rate has gotten even lower and now, it’s accompanied by heart palpitations, dizziness, and some tightness in his chest. These symptoms add up to what medical experts call symptomatic bradycardia, a condition which could require a pacemaker. So, last week, Nate spiced up the walk-in clinic’s day by stepping through the door and telling the medical team (as they were about to go home), that he was dizzy and had tightness in his chest. They sprang into action and ran the EKG machine, which indicated that he was fine. Since that didn’t solve the problem though, they told him to make an appointment to see a cardiologist in a few weeks. They also told him, in the meantime, that he should remain hyper vigilant and go to the ER if he felt “strange.” Well, on Thursday, he felt “strange” enough to visit the ER, which is something he has never done in our 20 years of marriage.
“Great! Maybe we’ll get some answers,” I said. “Get in the car.”
I thought Nate would be happy that I was driving him to the emergency room to get some answers, but he was not. He was not happy at all—and I was foolish to believe that he would be treated and released. I should have packed him some underwear and clothes. I should have grabbed deodorant, toothbrush, comfy shoes, a washcloth, soap, baby wipes, and playing cards. Instead, Nate went to the emergency room in a business suit, while carrying a National Geographic Magazine in one hand and a Clif bar in another. So, here are some “dos” and “don’ts” we learned during our hospital visit:
DO: Become extremely surprised to discover that people who are experiencing worrisome medical issues must go through security screenings and the entire admissions process before being admitted into the emergency room. As two security guards “wanded” Nate, they explained that his business pants had set off the metal detector that he had to pass through. Alex, Nate, and I were also asked for IDs and extra pictures, which took several minutes because the computers the two security guards had access to were not quite warmed up yet. However, once inside the emergency room, we realized we could have bypassed the entire security process if we had just run buck naked through the place yelling, “I’m the patient!” This is what worked for one woman while we were there. It kind of took a long time for the two security guards to come get her because they were busy “wanding” fully dressed people and explaining various scenarios in which their clothes could set off the metal detector.
DON’T: Just leave a loved one in the hospital without an extra set of clothes. In the emergency room, the doctor ran another EKG and did more blood work, which showed that Nate’s resting pulse rate was low, but that his heart was not skipping beats and there was nothing to indicate an absence of oxygen to the heart. However, the doctor wanted Nate to stay overnight for observation, so she admitted him to a room upstairs. Once he was transported to the upstairs room, I met his extremely attractive nurse and explained that I would leave for a little while in order to get Nate some clothes. Here’s how that conversation went:
Extremely Attractive Nurse (EAN): Oh, we do not need clothes in the hospital.
Me: Okay, but they’re going to give him a stress test, so he’ll want shoes—for when they put him on the treadmill—and maybe some underwear?
EAN: Oh, no. He does not need anything. In fact, you can go home. We will take good care of him here.
Me: Well, this is his first time in a hospital overnight by himself, so I think I’ll stay. I can’t spend the night, can I?
EAN: No, no, no. You cannot spend the night. Leave at about 8 or 9. You can leave now and not come back until the morning.
(EAN leaves the room momentarily.)
Me: Nate, I am going home, but I’m coming right back with the most unsexy outfits you own.
DON’T: Buy a plastic plant from the gift shop. Nate seemed to be sneezing in the hospital, so I skipped the live plants section and chose a very tasteful and realistic succulent type plant instead. I told him it would brighten up his hospital room AND he could put it on his desk at work.
“My work is stressful,” Nate said.
“Yes—yes, it is,” I replied.
“So why would you give me a plant that I could put on my desk at work—a plant that will now make me think of work?”
“Okay, I’ll put the plant in my office—on my desk.”
So, I basically went to the gift shop to buy myself a fake plant. Instead, what Nate really needed was some playing cards and more National Geographic Magazines—and apple crisp. (The dieticians wouldn’t let Nate have any apple crisp, even though it was listed as a choice on the cardio patient wing menu. So mean!)
DO: Watch television when you get bored. You might discover meaningful life lessons. For instance, Nate found the American Ninja obstacle course program and I watched it all the way through with him for the first time. I was especially fascinated by an obstacle course that contained what looked like a “Ninja Swing” suspended over water. On the opposite side of the swing was a net. Competitors were supposed to stand on the giant swing and move it back and forth with their core muscles. The momentum was supposed to allow them to propel themselves onto the net on the other side. Once they reached the net, they could climb down and go on with the rest of the course. The first competitor to try this event looked pretty tired to begin with. Maybe he had spent hours beforehand being “wanded” by security—I don’t know. In any case, he just kind of half-heartedly swung his body to and fro before flinging himself anyway at the net. I found myself yelling, “Oh! This is not going to happen! It is not going to happen!” and I was right. He totally missed the net and fell. I couldn’t stop laughing. It was the funniest thing I’d seen in my life. Upon further reflection though, I realized that the Ninja Swing was a metaphor for life. The Ninja Swing requires a full-on, unwavering commitment to the “ride,” which could be work, a part in the community theatrical production of Cats, a trip to the grocery store, etc. The net on the other side is any kind of meaningful goal, like a swimming pool, hot tub, or world peace. If you give the Ninja Swing your full attention, the Universe will wrap its arms around you instead of smacking you on the rear with the Ninja Swing. That’s what I think I learned anyway.
DON’T: Expect to leave the hospital with any new answers. Nate passed every test in the hospital. There is no blockage to his heart and his “wiring” does not appear to be faulty. However, he’s still experiencing heart palpitations and dizziness that have him on edge. He will see a cardiologist, who will give him a portable monitor in order to collect more information. With this portable monitor, he is supposed to do all kinds of “Nate” stuff like running, hiking, working in a stressful office, feeding SeaTac the cat, lifting some weights, and playing massive amounts of European War Napoleon 4 on his phone. In the meantime, he’s supposed to go back to the emergency room if he feels even more strange than he did on Thursday.
DO: Talk about your fears—like this:
Me: So, um. . . this all has me a bit worried.
Nate: Me, too.
Me: I don’t want your pulse rate to go so low that it never comes back again.
Nate: I know.
Me: I thought we’d ride the Ninja Swing together for a very, very long time, but I’m worried that the ride might not be that long.
Nate: So, what can we do?
Me: Well, I guess we just make it until Friday, when you get your portable monitor—and then you give it one heck of a ride.
Nate: That’s what I plan on doing.
Me: Still, I was hoping that if one of us fell off the Ninja Swing, the other one wouldn’t be too far behind.
Nate: Some couples get to fall off the Swing together, but not very many. Sometimes one stays on the Swing for a longer time. What will you do if I fall off first?
Me: Well, I’d be really sad, but I’d keep going as best as I could on that Ninja Swing—until I met you on the other side. In fact, I think I’d become really proficient at it. Except . . .
Nate: Except, what?
Me: Well, when my time comes, I might fly at you pretty fast. You might need a helmet or something.
Nate: You’d have a lifetime to make one for me.
Me: Yep. I’d call it the After-Life Helmet. I’ll get a prototype going for my blog.
Nate: I have full faith that it will meet high Fixin’ Leaks and Leeks standards.
Me: I love you too.
Your Turn: Do you have any tips for visiting the hospital/emergency room? Any tips for remaining “in limbo” when medical experts don’t have any answers?