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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Where Have I Been?

My usual busy day was interrupted Tuesday afternoon by a doctor's appointment, in which I explained a few minor symptoms to my sympathetic physician. When I came to symptom #3 he bounded from the chair he was sitting in and rushed me to the examination room. The cause for his immediate concern was that I told him that I had experience a mysterious swelling on the right side of my face on three occasions recently and once on the left.

I admit that the first thing I noticed when the swelling happened was a little heaviness in the face, and then I thought, "This is beginning to feel as if it's swollen," and then I looked in the mirror and it looked as if I'd had a rather large shot of Novacaine that extended up to the eye and down as far as the upper lip. It lasted a couple of hours and then disappeared--until it returned a week later and once much less, on the left side. It happened again Tuesday morning, too, and there was a little left of the swelling when I arrived at the doctor's office at 1 P.M. At no time did it feel numb or tingly. Just somewhat uncomfortably swollen, but not what you could call painful.

The doctor said, "I'm going to tell you something you won't like..." and I interrupted with a quip. He continued, "I'm going to say you have to go to the Emergency Room of the hospital immediately. I'll put you in a cab." Which he did, and I did; I was admitted to the hospital for tests at 2 P.M. Tuesday and stayed, being tested for every conceivable malady of the heart, blood, and brain until I was checked out yesterday at 3 P.M.

Being in the hospital was a surreal experience, having been thrust there so unexpectedly. While realizing the gravity of the situation I had to apply extreme concentration to hold onto the hope such a situation requires. The atmosphere at Hoboken Medical Center was by turns chaotic, noisy and awesomely efficient. I had an EKG, a CAT Scan, a couple of sonograms which sounded like video games but revealed to the experts the workings of my heartbeats and the clarity of my carotid arteries. I had blood taken at least four times. I had a drip of blood thinner attached to my right wrist. I wore a heart monitor dangling around my neck and attached to various spots on my frontal facade. I had an elderly roommate who made hilarious comments about the staff between her bouts of frightening coughs. I met nice, bright nurses and extremely helpful aides who called me "Mami." The neurogolist on duty examined the results of all my tests and talked to me quite a while, asking me to make faces and hitting me with mallets, ultimately coming to the conclusion that nothing really pointed to a stroke. The cardiologist said my heart was functioning perfectly.

All that had to be done last night was the one test I have dreaded ever since I saw a picture of the machine for the first time some 30 years ago: The MRI.

I have dealt with a slight case of claustrophobia since my early 40s, coupled with a tendency toward panic attacks on bridges and in high places. Tunnels and subways became extremely difficult for me. But in the early 1980s when I saw that picture of an MRI machine I thought, "If I ever have to go in one of those, it's all over, finito."

Over time, most of the phobias have faded. I can do the subway with no fear of the heart-stopping anxiety of the past. I can talk my way over a bridge and through a tunnel, knowing I'm going to come out the other side.

I asked the nurse how long they keep you in the MRI. "I don't know exactly," she said. "Maybe 15 minutes." "Oh, that's better," thinks I. "Fifteen minutes I could do. Just relax, get ready. I'm sure I can take it for 15 minutes."

When they wheeled me down, the MRI operator couldn't have been gentler or more solicitous. He made me feel protected from the big bad machine. He was so nice I thought of him as Tender Mercies, or T.M. Nevertheless there the MRI machine stood, big and sealed-in feeling, and I was scared. T.M. said it sometimes scared people because it makes a lot of noises--well, that's better, I thought. Noises I can deal with.

I asked how long the procedure would take.

"Oh, not long," said T.M. "About 40 minutes."

There was no way I was prepared for that. My time had come. There was nothing for it but just to take a deep breath and try to fill my mind with relaxing thoughts for 40 minutes while not being allowed to move a muscle, much less try to bolt upright and make a run for it. T.M. put a black bulb in my hand and said if I had a panic attack in the machine and wanted out, I could squeeze it at any time. I held onto that bulb for dear life, knowing I would not allow myself to squeeze it, but knowing that I wanted to squeeze it more than anything on earth.

I won't go into the experience of the MRI any more, except to say I could write a book about it. I came away aware I had been through my worst nightmare, and was able to face down my fears. My face was as red as if I'd run the Boston Marathon when I got out, and my first thought was, "I could use a drink about now." They don't serve booze in hospitals, but I promised myself I'd ask for a mild sleeping medication that night, which I did and it was heaven.

I made it--and the upshot was that the test came out negative for any signs of brain malfunction, blood clot, or anything out of the ordinary.

The experience in the hospital was on balance a good one. Now I've learned a little of the routine of a hospital from the inside, which is that everything takes a long time to happen, but the miracles of medicine are impressive and promise only get better and more awesome in coming years. I felt I had my grandmother, whom I never met because she died of a stroke in her early 50s, with me, and I was showing her things she never could have dreamed of--futuristic medicine that might have saved her life. She was a sturdy woman who probably would not have flinched at the MRI machine, as many (maybe most) people just sail through the procedure with little stress.

It was a profound couple of days. I kept thinking I could get some interesting blog posts out of it. The results did not reveal any immediate danger. In fact, if they revealed anything, it was minor and technical and my many new doctors didn't tell me. I've had an adventure or two, and in more ways than one, I can say for sure that I'm finding myself in Hoboken.

18 comments:

steve said...

Glad you're back and OK.

Mary Lois said...

Glad to be back and okay. Thanks, Steve. What if this turns out to be a newly developed allergy to alcohol?

irene said...

so glad everything is ok. what did they recommend you do about the mysterious swelling?

good for you for not squeezing the bulb!

Hoboken Kid said...

Your stay at SAINT MARY'S HOSPITAL, HOBOKEN...that unexpected adventure set you back a little, didn't it?

It's time for you to reshuffle the deck and take a new outlook on your health. As I see it you had a mild stroke. I'm not a doctor, but I've seen it happen with others...the good news is you caught it just in time. You got lucky. More good news, you will recover from this. Proper meds will do the trick. WE are at that age now.

That MRI...I too suffer from PANIC ATTACKS or may I say I did. Had it all my life til my doctor gave me a drug called ZANEX. Overnight I never had another panic attack since and that was years ago.

For those who never had one, they could never understand...that helpless feeling you get. DICK CLARK was not watching his health. See what happened to him...you sometimes have to play your own doctor. If you feel like something is not right, THEN IT'S NOT. Time to see a doctor.

TAKING A DRINK...have one, it's good for ya.

As for me, U had a good doctor that picked up on me having a bad heart. No I did not have a heart attack...but I was due for a big one, the kind ya don't want. After a 5 bipass surgery in which I may say was completely painless and quick, I walked out of the hospital in 3 days, feeling like a new man in every way, if ya know what I mean. As I said it's time to reshuffle the deck...ya not a kid any more. It's time to play a new game. IT'S CALLED PARTY TIME and fun and games. Take your meds and go get them lions for your front gate...and get rid of all your junk I know miss C will go nuts...ok, get the plastic flowers too.

Mary Lois said...

Slezak, you said a mouthful! Now what advice to take, and what to ignore...

Jim B. said...

Your hospital was probably known as St. Mary's. My brother and I were altar boys at the chapel there and we served at the 8:15 mass on Sundays. Many of the nuns were also nurses and came to that mass. The priest was Father Whitely, who was older and who always whispered to us about the nuns singing.

Mary Lois said...

Of course it was St. Mary's. Everybody in Hoboken still calls it that, which I think is very nice somehow.

No recommendation about the swelling, Irene. It isn't painful or debilitating, but I'll go to the emergency room if it ever occurs again. I'm now taking one aspirin a day and maybe that'll ward off a reoccurence.

Pat D said...

I could never do the head. I've prayed my way through legs, uterus, chest, even right shoulder. But the head would do me in. They'd have to completely put me out which would be difficult considering the noise.

What was causing the swelling in the face?

Dennis said...

I have had two strokes and yes, your face does swell up, especially on the side the stroke is on. One test is to stick our your tongue straight. If you can't and it goes to the right or left, better get to a hospital, after taking a aspirin. I have a 85% return so far and am pretty happy that I have that. Prayer sure works a lot in this situation also. My wife was a CNA and she spotted it right away in me. I am a very lucky person and am grateful for all my blessings.

Mary Lois said...

To everybody (including Pat D. and Irene) who has asked the question, "Do they know what caused the swelling?" the answer is still no. People have even suggested it could be allergies. The neurosurgeon thought it might be stress related.

And Dennis, that explains why every doctor I saw made me stick out my tongue! I always thought it was like when I was a little kid and they wanted to see if it was coated! I guess I could stick it straight. They also spent a lot of time asking me to make faces, which nobody ever did when I was a little kid.

I just hope whatever it was never comes back anyway (but we all know it probably will).

Hoboken Kid said...

The last MRI I had was of my head. They put a cage over my face...AND LOCKED IT, and strapped me down. HUUMM, I said to myself, this ain't good...I'm gonna flip out...Im-a gonna lose it...I asked this really lovely knockout girl doing the test, How long does it take? She said, ONLY 45 mins. HOOOOOLLY SHIP ONLY 45 MINS? I said to myself ...and a few other Polish words. 45 mins?? Not wanting to look like a SISSY, MARY, like Dennis da rabbi, who had two strokes (I'm glad hes doing ok, HE'S MY FRIEND). I laid there and pictured a clock ticking away...counting da minutes till I got to 44 minutes...one minute to go. NOT SO. It turned out to be 50 minutes...UNLESS I MISCOUNTED...quickly got out of that joint...went back to da doctor's a week later...he comes in looking like BELA LUGOSI...he gave me that evil eye look...and said VEE FIND NUTTING IN YOUR HEAD. MY WIFE, sitting there, SAID. I COULD HAVE TOLD YOU THAT.

Mary Lois said...

I think you topped me with that one, Bob. Any other horror stories?

steve said...

This guy is hilarious with the way he tells a story.

Mary Lois said...

Yeah, I'd say so.

Carolyn said...

First Slezak decides to decorate your house with lions and now he's a diagnostician!!
Jeez, Slezak lions AND a stroke??
Nope, just something transient.
Possibly Bell's Palsy, but that doesn't go away quickly. It does, however, go away.

Hoboken Kid said...

MISS C seems to believe I'm a diagnostician, somewhat (to a degree, without a degree) MISS C has a medical background, and mentioned BELL'S PALSY. I too thought of that...BUT I ruled that out. Either ya got it or ya dont got it. The good news is ya ain't got it...more good news will come from your doctor. The meds he will give you will control your blood and blood pressure...you are on the road of recovery.

Mary Lois said...

Okay, folks, enough of this. They did rule out Bell's Palsy--I thought of that too, but my muscles weren't paralyzed. My blood pressure was great the whole time I was in the hospital, Bob, and it always has been. So we almost know what it ain't but we don't quite know what it was. I don't think there's any medication for that.

We could get high blood pressure just discussing this. I gotta post another blog just to change the subject!

steve said...

Really could of been allergies or stress from the upcoming move.