Nurse Avenue | Facing my own mortality by Rhiannon Trabulsy
A little background. I am 40...soon to be 41 in April but still 40. I am in good health. I have a few extra pounds but, in general, I have few health problems other than being asthmatic...until today.
Here is my story....
I was returning from a vacation in Hawaii, a 40th birthday gift from my parents. Ten days of stress free bliss. I laid on beaches and snorkeled and zip lined and watched whales and ate local fare and saw amazing sunsets. And like all good things, I had to return to reality.
I am a travel nurse so I was flying from Maui to Seattle to pick up my cat and tie up some loose ends with a previous residence. I arrived in Seattle at 5:37am right on time. I dozed for most of the flight because hey, it was the red eye. I went and retrieved my luggage and was on my way to the Light Rail which is a train similar to the subway in NYC that would get me into the city for about $3. After the sticker shock of Hawaii, I was all about saving a few bucks even if it was inconvenient.
As I walked into the cold I remember feeling this pressure in my chest, like someone was pushing back against my efforts to go forward. I quickly attributed this to the change from hot to cold (80+ degrees to 38) and the fact that I am asthmatic. Not an uncommon thing and easy enough to dismiss.
I continued on and still, I felt fine. I chose a seat and sat texting my fiance for the next 20 minutes or so and still I felt fine. I wasn't even tired really, I just was anxious to get where I was going and get settled.
As I reached my stop, my fiance was telling me of his awful night and how his daughter had been in the ER. Holy cow, talk about feeling helpless. I said I was sorry I couldn't help and stood up to grab my luggage and get off the train.
I took two steps onto the platform and the pain that shot thru the left side of my chest into my back stopped me in my tracks. Of course I grabbed my chest and my mind immediately went to all the food I had eaten during my vacation and the alcoholic drinks I wasn't used to, it had to be bad indigestion right? But all of the sudden? No matter, I was blocking the flow of people so I pushed on.
I placed my bags on the escalator and was still thinking how ridiculous this pain was and then I felt the burning down my left arm. And that's when I knew...
I am a nurse, I teach people about this all the time. I knew right then it was my heart. And then came the denial. Like a freight train hitting me.
It was all I could do to handle my bags and get to ground level. I realized in my mania that I had to get myself the 10 or so city blocks and walking was not an option. I used a ride app called Lyft but had recently got a new phone and it wasn't update. I am not sure how but somehow I managed to not only install it but enter my credit card information. Soon the driver arrived and my hysteria elevated. Once seated, I was confined and unable to moved and could do nothing but realized how much pain I was in. I felt like someone was splitting me in half but in slow motion and no matter how many times I shook my left arm, the burning didn't go away.
I arrived like a psycho to my apartment where my old roomate was waiting with the tums I had requested. I chewed about 15 of them trying desperately to get the pain to go away. It would not. I was pacing, and panicked. I could not tolerate this overwhelming pain. I kept telling myself, I am only 40 and this is not how females present and that they would poo poo me in the er because I am young and healthy. I had a laundry list of reasons why this could not be my heart and yet I knew deep inside that it was.
I finally gave up and went to ED, if for nothing more than the unrelenting 8-9/10 pain I was in. As I expected they didn't seem impressed but did a very basic workup. I got labs, chest xray and ekg. Ekg had slight changes but were enough to disregard without other diagnostics. CXR was normal. That left labs. After 3 nitro tabs under my tongue my pain was down to 5 which was quite a bit more tolerable. I waited, hoping I was wrong even as I swallowed the GI cocktail they gave me for indigestion.
The look on the doctors face said it all...
Fifteen minutes prior we were talking about discharge and for a brief moment I felt relief...I was wrong.
I thought I could go home and yet, I still had that sense of doom. I cannot describe that feeling other than something was wrong that I just could not shake. And as he said the words Acute Coronary syndrome, I felt about 25 emotions at once and the tears started flowing.
I had a CT to rule out aortic dissection and soon after a cardiologist came to talk to me. I heard him say we suspect spontaneous coronary dissection but it was like hearing the words echoing in a tunnel. What the hell is that anyway? I have been a nurse for 12 years, a cardiac nurse for 8 of them. I work in ICU. I have never heard that and yet, I didn't care anymore. They knew it was my heart and they were going to do an angiogram to fix me and make this godawful pain stop.
Time went by and I informed my fiance and parents. Oddly, I was more concerned about ruining my parents vacation and further stressing my fiance. I had never cried so much. And then I was in the lab and the cardiologist leaned over eye to eye with me and said, its a dissection, this wasn't your fault, it was nothing you did, and I cried some more.
I spent a few days in the hospital going through all the stages of grieving but I have to say denial/disbelief is still the primary one I deal with daily. It still seems like a dream or distant memory. My cardiac enzymes peaked the second day and the pain was over but I had some arrythmia straight out of the lab so I had to stay a few days.
Aspirin, Plavix, Metoprolol and Lipitor. This was my new normal and yet it still seems so not normal. Little by little I am returning to the normalcy of my life but I guess the shock has not worn off. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around how close I could have been to death and how I should have listened to my body sooner and how this affects me going forward.
I don't even know what to do with myself lately I cry so much. Mostly I am frustrated right now that I have to do a bunch of nothing. Resting and relaxing are not my forte. My hope is that my writing can help make young people more aware about their body, and to educate others about a disease process that is not well known.