Friday, November 26, 2010

Lub Dub

Yesterday I had my first ever echocardiogram.  The referral was generated during my Emergency Room Adventure.  Although I'm feeling better now, I figured I'd keep the appointment, partly because it literally doesn't hurt to have the test done, and partly because there is value in keeping one's reputation as a compliant patient.  I try to do everything my doctors suggest, within reason.  If I think I won't like their suggestions, I don't consult with them in the first place.

The test was not as interesting as I thought it would be.  I had hoped to watch the monitor so I could see my heart in action.  Sadly, I was told to lie on my side, facing away from the technician.  I did get to listen to the various sounds made by my heart and by blood circulating, which was pretty cool.  It didn't sound all serious, like a heartbeat heard through a stethescope.  It sounded, in fact, like there was a guy with a microphone hiding in the supplies cupboard, making silly sounds with his mouth.  Maybe there was.  What do I know?  I was lying facing the wall in the dark with my glasses off.

One thing I remember from other ultrasounds I've had in the past: they sure do slop on a lot of gel. 

After the test I got to see the doctor, who was a nice fellow in his early 40's.  He asked me to tell my story.  I said I'd had a virus, that I felt the rapid heart rate was purely due to stress on my body from that virus, and now that I was getting well again my heart felt fine.  He said my heart looked and sounded completely normal, and that he agreed with my assessment.  No reason to do any further tests. 

He did say that it was worthwhile to run the Echo, because some viruses can cause lasting damage to the heart.  Good to know.

So that pretty much wraps up the heart issue.  I wish I could say that I was back 100% from the virus, but not yet.  I need 9 hours of sleep lately just to get by, and even so I'm VERY cranky by the end of the day.  My stomach is finnicky about what it will put up with.  It's getting tiresome, but there's nothing much I can do but be patient.

In other news, I'm trying to get used to a new electric toothbrush.  My dentist said it does a better job than hand-brushing, and considering I'd like to keep these teeth for another 50 years or so, I figured it was a good investment.  I charged it up, and then used it for the first time this morning.  I managed to spray toothpaste all over the bathroom, for one thing.  For another, dang, it is irritatingly loud!  The handling will take some getting used to.  I thought it would be easier than brushing by hand, but for now it's way more awkward.  We'll see.  Hopefully I'll figure it out soon.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Chicken, Nephrology, and Evil Velcro

Three cheers for grown-up food!  That's what I put in my belly today, and it was good.  Chicken (not puréed, but an actual slice of solid meat) with egg-fried-rice.  Udon noodles with seafood, and tofu teriyaki.  A fresh, warm crêpe with dark chocolate and strawberries.  I didn't clear my plate by any means, but heck yeah, fist pump for Real Food!

I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to eat properly again.  On Thursday night a promising experiment with two slices of very plain pizza (no cheese, just green peppers, mushrooms, a hint of tomato sauce, and a few paper-thin circles of pepperoni) went horribly wrong.  I thought I was fine, until I woke at 12:30 am with gut-twisting pain.  There was no jettisoning of pizza, however the misery in my belly kept me awake most of the night.  On Friday I felt exhausted and my spirit, broken.  I went out and bought another week's supply of tasteless mush.  Now I'm thinking the food bank box at my local supermarket is the best place for the rest of that stuff.

Today was also the first day in weeks that I got out of the house with Ken for some quality time together.  Even before I fell ill he'd been working on the weekends for a while, so it had been more than a month since our last outing.  We were in desperate need of a chance to discuss something other than house chores and the state of my digestive tract.

A friend had given us free tickets to the Everything to do with S*x Show.  We figured it would be good for a laugh, so we set off for the downtown Toronto Convention Centre.  There's an indoor tunnel several blocks long from the train station to the Convention Centre.  We walked along it surrounded by well-dressed, attractive people in the 25-50 age range.  "Look at all the perverts!" said Ken.  "They must be going to the S*x show too."  I remarked that they were dressed more in line with an outing to an upscale restaurant than anything kinky, but what do I know?

Once at the Convention Centre, we squinted at the LED notice board to determine which hall we should head for.  Let's see... The Nephrology Nurses and Technologists' Association Convention.  The Food and Wine Show.  And...  The Nephrology Nurses and Technologists' Association Convention - wait, we saw that one already.  I suggested that Ken check the tickets, which had been solely in his possession since they were gifted to us.  He did.  And guess what?  We were at the wrong convention centre.  All those "perverts" were in fact headed to the Food and Wine show.

OK, no problem.  I wasn't really all that jazzed about viewing displays of rubbery toys or watching strangers model leather gear.  It would probably have made for a fun blog post, but I can truly live without the experience and feel no poorer for it.

Instead, we took care of an errand that meant much more to me.  We walked to the nearby Mountain Equipment Co-op store.  I purchased a new winter coat.  A winter coat with SNAPS and NO VELCRO.

For the past three years I have been living with a cannibalistic coat.  It eats clothes.  It even chews on itself.  It's one of the most annoying pieces of clothing I've ever dealt with, and that's saying a lot.

The old coat fastened with a zipper, and overtop of that, a flap secured by half-a-dozen tabs of velcro.  Super-industrial-strength, no-pity-for-the-weak velcro.  No matter how I tried to avoid it, that velcro got its little hooks into all my sweaters, all my scarves, even my stockings, and tore the crap out of them.  Sometimes the damage could be somewhat smoothed over by rubbing down the frayed fabric, but other items were instantly wrecked.  It would attach itself to things while I was putting it on or taking it off, or worse, while I was carrying it around indoors folded over my arm.  Which was usually while I was shopping.  You know, for new clothes.  Brand new, previously perfect clothes.  Despite my best intentions, I may have occasionally lost control of my coat, allowing it to take get its vicious teeth into garments hanging innocently on display.  But I'm not admitting anything; the evidence is all circumstantial; and anyway it's the malls' fault for not offering lockers or a coat check.

Both cuffs of this stupid coat were totally trashed from repeatedly snagging on itself.  It looked like a dog had gnawed it.  Not attractive, trust me.

Today, I bought a similar coat, different in two important ways.
1)  It's plum-coloured, much nicer than the old one, which was depressingly black.  I only bought black last time because the alternate colour that year was a nasty shade of military green, which made me look jaundiced.
2)  NO FREAKING VELCRO!!!  It has metal snaps instead.  I can wear my favourite sweaters without worrying that they'll be destroyed.

The old coat took one more bite out of me as I squashed it into a little ball and shoved it into the "donations" bag.  It knew where it was going, and it was bitter.  That coat was a bad egg from the start.  I'm glad to see it go.  I hope that the person who ends up with it is someone who likes to wear pleather and PVC all the time.  Or I'll just be passing on the problem to someone else...  Geez.  On second thought, maybe I should burn it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Much Better, Thanks.

Yesterday I went back to work.  On the way there, I almost asked the cab driver to turn around and take me home again.  I was shaky, but I persevered.

The virus did a number on my nerves.  I felt so sensitized for a few days there that I could barely handle leaving the house.  Simple things, like riding in a car on a beautiful, sunny day with the window down, were too much to handle.  My neurons went OMG!  TOO MUCH MOTION!  TOO BRIGHT!  WHAT IS THIS OFFENSIVE AIR BLOWING ON MY FACE?  PANIC!  PAAAAANIIIIIIIIC!

As my heart revved up to a wild gallop, I'd be consciously talking myself down.  Relax.  It's just a car ride.  This is all totally normal.  Stop over-reacting.

That's how I got to work.  Once I arrived, I had to sit quietly in my office with the door closed for half an hour until I stopped feeling like I might pass out.  I asked myself if I had possibly made a mistake in coming back too soon.

Fortunately, as the hours passed, I got re-acclimatized to the office environment.  I shuffled around with the equivalent energy of a wet dishrag, but I was damn glad to be there.

I'm still mainly eating baby food.  That and toast, hard-boiled eggs, and a little peanut butter.  You know, baby food is actually pretty great stuff.  It's the healthiest prepared food you can buy.  It has no preservatives and, more importantly, almost no sodium.  I'm talking about the ones with meat and vegetables combined in a jar.  I can throw one over a portion of brown rice, zap it in the microwave, and have a balanced lunch in two minutes.  I can see this being a lazy-dinner option that I might occasionally fall back on even once I'm healthy again.

Today I'm good.  Still tired, but the racing heart thing seems to be gone.  Granted, I won't be exercising for the next few days, just to be on the safe side.  Could be worse.  Free excuse to not exercise.  Anyone jealous of me now?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sinus Tachycardia

First a note to my squeamish friend LL Cool Joe and anyone else who has a phobia of things medical: do not read this post!  I'm fine, see you next time, bye bye now!

For those of you who are still with me, you get to hear the exciting story of how I spent yesterday in the emergency room.  Even as I was gasping for breath, wondering if I might actually be dying of a heart attack, I managed to whisper to Ken "This is going to make one helluva blog post."

As you know I've been sick since Monday.  As the days rolled by, I was itching to get back to my regular routine.  I started re-introducing elements of normalcy, at what I figured was a reasonable pace.

On Thursday evening, I ate my first regular-sized meal since I got sick.  That didn't sit so well.  As soon as the plate was empty, I broke out in a cold sweat.  I didn't feel like throwing up, but my body went into fight-or-flight mode and stayed that way for three long hours.  I was flooded with adrenaline and my heart was pumping a mile a minute.

Finally I settled a bit and got a decent night's sleep.  The next morning I decided that if I couldn't eat normally at least I could do a light stretching and exercise routine.  I have done this routine almost every morning for the past 15 years, even when I'm sick.  I always seem to feel better with moderate exercise (I'm talking about lifting 3 lb. hand weights here, nothing crazy).  It has never let me down before.

I was  partway through my workout when my heart started racing again.  I immediately put down my weights and sat on the floor.  I tried to stay calm and breathe through it.  Ken chided me for overdoing things.  He had to go out to run some errands, so he settled me on the couch and left.  I waited to feel better.  But it was soon clear that I was only feeling worse.

I called a nurse-friend of mine.  She asked me some questions and determined that I should get medical attention.  She offered to come over to my place (she doesn't work far from my home) herself, or she said that I could just hang up and call 911.  Of course at that I panicked.  I asked her to please come over.  She wanted my street address, which I gave her, but I was too distraught to remember my own postal code.

My friend called Ken on his cell to meet her at our place.  She counted my pulse at 120 beats per minute.  I was grey in the face and was having trouble walking.  She recommended that we go to an emergency room right away.

In the walk-in triage waiting room, I struggled to catch my breath.  The worst of it came in waves, during which I'd put my head down and just try to endure.  I was so faint that I had to keep my feet up, but there was no place for me to lie down in the walk-in area.  Ken asked the staff, but there were no stretchers available.  I had to curl up in a chair, and then ask Ken to stand in front of me to stop my feet from sliding off the seat, because it was too much exertion for me to hold the position on my own.  At one point I was pretty much ready to lie down on the floor, but I managed to keep it together until a reassuring murse talked to me and got me registered.  How long was it?  I'm not sure.  It felt like eternity but it was probably less than an hour.  Lesson learned: if you really think you might be having a heart attack, don't go to the walk-in e.r. - call 911 and go in an ambulance, or you could die in the triage waiting room.

Finally they strapped a bracelet on my wrist and got me into a room with a stretcher.  Lying down was heavenly.  Someone had painted one of the acoustic tiles on the ceiling with big, colourful flowers.  That was a nice touch.  I still felt like crap, but at least this was progress.

As soon as I was in my gown, a nurse came in and hooked me up to so many  wires and tubes that I felt like a computer.  I only wished that I had a USB port for them to use instead of needles for blood samples.  Initially they took four tubes of blood, then they came back for a fifth (from the other arm this time).  I also had to wear an IV needle, which they never used, but which was sore and gross and I hated it the whole time.  My arms were quite stuck full of holes by the time all was said and done.

My favourite tube was the nasal canula.  Maybe it was partly a placebo effect, but I did feel better knowing that I was getting my own personal oxygen supply.

In fact, I have always thought that being in the hospital, especially being stuck in the emergency room for hours and hours, would be totally unpleasant and I'd be dying to go home, but I wanted to stay.  I felt safe, hooked up to my monitoring machine and surrounded by nice nurses.  Ken barely budged from my bedside the whole time. I was feeling ill and frightened enough that I would rather be where help was close at hand.

As it turns out, however, after seven hours of monitoring and tests, there was no help for me.  They had ruled out every life threatening cause of rapid heart rate; my blood pressure was fine; my heart rhythm was normal in every respect except for the b.p.m., which was spiking up to 130.  They couldn't figure out what might be causing the problem.  They even did a pregnancy test on me (My first ever!  Historical day!) which came back negative, of course, or this post would have a different title.  They were afraid to give me a sedative to calm me down, as all the "sedatives" I've ever tried have resulted in exactly the symptoms I was currently experiencing: rapid heart rate.  Chances are, drugs would just make things worse.

The doctor said she felt badly for not being able to offer me more.  She wrote me a referral to get a Holter monitor test done next week.  She said that if the symptoms became unbearable over the weekend I should come back and she would admit me to the cardiac ward where they would start the Holter test right away.  Then the nurse came to take the nasty IV needle out of my arm and Ken brought me home.

This morning the symptoms started as soon as I stood up.  I toughed it out until 9:00 am, and then called my mother.  I expected her to freak out.  Instead she said: "Oh, that's something that runs in our family."

Oh really.  Nice of you to let me know now.  Is there anything else I should know about my family history before we go on?  Are we prone to fake appendicitis? Might I grow an extra nose one day, from the middle of my forehead, but it's nothing to worry about?  It'll dry up and drop off spontaneously after around three weeks?  Seriously, people need to be warned about these things.

Apparently my mother and her father are both prone to bouts of sinus tachycardia, triggered by physical or emotional stress.  My mother said that when it happens to her it usually resolves gradually within 2 or 3 days.  Of course, as soon as I heard that my anxiety decreased, and within five minutes I was feeling measurably better.  I'm still feeling kind of weak and weird, but it's a world of difference from 24 hours ago.

Now I'm going to go out to buy some easily digestible iron juice to help me recover from those five unnecessary tubes of blood.  *sigh*  That's a month's worth of iron supplementation undone in a day, and this anemic sickie can't tolerate high-powered Palafer at the moment.  I can't even stomach meat.  So I'm going to wobble off to the health food store to find myself some Floradix.  Wish me luck.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


If you've been following my Twitter feed, you know I've been sick.  Tummy flu, or at least something with a powerful element of nausea.  I spent most of Sunday lying down, feeling exhausted, and then on Monday morning at 12:30 am, the event I had been dreading finally came to pass: I upchucked for the first time since 1997.  I guess it's like riding a bike; once you've done it once, you can go back to it at anytime without having practiced.  Although in most other ways, it's not much like riding a bike at all.

The worst part wasn't the actual barfing, although that was unpleasant.  The worst part was the horrible, unrelenting dizziness that had the whole room spinning around me  if I so much as moved my head an inch in any direction.  For four long hours, I stayed as still as possible, fearing that if I stood up I would pass out and break my face on the floor.  I would have about five minutes break from the dizziness right after each barf attack, and then it was back into a nightmare of vertigo.  It was a long, long night.

My loving husband kept a vigil with me, bringing me chamomile tea (which I promptly upchucked) and other necessities.  Around 4:00 am when he started nodding off, I encouraged him to go to bed, seeing as I was starting to feel marginally better.  Instead, he rolled himself up in his duvet on the floor next to me, preferring to stay close in case I needed him.  I can't tell you how grateful I was to have him there.  I can't imagine anything lonelier than having to weather a stomach flu without anyone there to help.

The next morning, my body was still keyed up on adrenaline, and I knew I had a brief window of energy to fetch supplies for my recuperation.  I grabbed my granny buggy and took a walk to the supermarket, where I bought a selection of baby food in jars, plain cereal, plain crackers, and juice.  That's been my lot ever since.

I'm on the mend, but I've a ways to go yet before I'm well.  I'm exhausted, and still a bit feverish.  And that is my sad story for today.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Breaking Ribs to Save Lives

Good news: CPR is easier than you thought!

I used to be scared of taking a CPR course. I thought it would be gross, involving lip-on-lip action with someone other than my husband. Also, I figured it was probably complicated, with lots of steps to remember, and counting, and if you did it wrong and the person died you could get sued.

I was wrong on all counts. First of all, four Canadian provinces, including Ontario, have passed Good Samaritan laws. According to

Good Samaritan Law or Doctrine:a legal principle that prevents a rescuer who has voluntarily helped a victim in distress from being successfully sued for 'wrongdoing.' Its purpose is to keep people from being so reluctant to help a stranger in need for fear of legal repercussions if they made some mistake in treatment.

Cool! Check your local laws to see if there's an equivalent in your area.

Artificial respiration is not required. What? How can you keep someone alive without the kiss of life? Well, it seems that when you are pounding away on someone's heart, you end up working their lungs like a bellows. Proper chest compressions go down to half the resting height of the chest, and then back up again, which sucks air in and out of the lungs, which equals breathing. It may not be very deep breathing, but your patient will get some oxygen as long as the airway is clear.

Our teacher said compressions-only CPR is the next great trend. It's so new that he's not officially supposed to be teaching it yet, but it'll be on next year's course. Therefore, no counting of compressions or breaths is required.

Spark's short course in CPR*:

1. When you see a person collapsed on the floor, first check for environmental hazards before approaching them. You don't want to be the next victim of toxic gas or a gang fight.

2. Tap them and shout "Are you OK?" a few times to see if they are responsive. Hold your ear over their mouth for ten seconds to see if there is regular breathing. If they respond or if they're breathing, they're not dead, so they don't need CPR.

3. If they don't respond, call 911!

4. Here insert more protocols if the person was choking, to clear the airway. Things are also different if you're dealing with a child under the age of 9. However, if you've got an adult who is probably in the midst of a heart attack, proceed with compressions.

5. It's not recommended that you bother to try to find a pulse. It's hard for medical professionals to find a pulse on a wide-awake person. Joe Average is probably not going to be able to locate a pulse one someone who is unconscious with low blood pressure. Here's the thing: if their heart is beating, you're not going to stop it by doing CPR. The worst you're going to do is break some ribs. (Good Samaritan Act!) And if they're dead, they can't get any deader. So you may as well start compressions to give them a chance of being resuscitated once the paramedics get there.

6. Put one hand on top of the other, palms down. Interlace your fingers. Lock your elbows. The instructor said, and I quote, "Find the centre of the nipple line". I'd say a better way of putting it is find the spot directly between the armpits. Place the heel of your bottom hand on the bony centre of the ribcage over the heart, and start pumping!

7. Each compression should be halfway down the depth of the ribcage. As I mentioned before, there is a 99% chance that you will break ribs. If you don't compress deep enough, there's no point to the exercise. Even with effective CPR, a person's chances of surviving a massive heart attack go down by 10% with each passing minute. Most ambulances take 9-10 minutes to arrive. So compress that chest like you mean it, because you may be giving that person their only chance at survival. Also, at the top of each compression, all your weight should come off your hands for a fraction of a second.

8. Sing "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees. Out loud. Seriously. That is the tempo you need to keep up with your compressions.

9. Recruit bystanders to help you. CPR is exhausting. You probably won't be able to keep up effective compessions for more than 1 or 2 minutes at a time. Coach your helpers on how to do the compressions properly.

10. Keep it up until the ambulance arrives and the paramedics take over.

11. Go have a good, stiff drink. See, you can do it! I knew you could!

*Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. I have only taken one CPR course and I don't guarantee that my notes were 100% perfect. This post is for entertainment purposes only and is not meant to be a real CPR education. If you'd like to get properly qualified, please take a course from an accredited instructor.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Missing Muskoka

The Muskoka Sands Inn. From 1980 to 1983, when I was 7 to 10 years old, my parents and I vacationed there every summer for two weeks. Because I was a kid, soaking up every second of sensory input and weaving hours of detailed memory-fantasies, in my mind it's like we lived there for months on end. Beautiful months upon summer months.

Muskoka is a rural region around 2 hours' drive north of Toronto. It's cottage country, a mosaic of lakes, rivers, and forests. You know you've arrived when the highway starts cutting through outcroppings of granite. Speckled, rough walls of veined pinkish or rusty rock loom over the car on both sides as you fly from the city towards your vacation. It's the Canadian Shield making its presence known.

The Muskoka Sands Inn still exists, but it's been totally renovated. I was only back there once since they rebuilt the place, and I didn't like the new look. I preferred the quaint, 1960's guest cottages that used to surround the main building. My folks and I used to stay in the same one every year: The Elm. My room had an orange shag rug, wood-panelled walls, and a brown-and-vanilla floral patterned quilt on the bed. The tap water from the bathroom sink came out smelling like the lake.

Lake Muskoka was the centrepiece of the resort. Most of the people vacationing there windsurfed, water-skied, and para-sailed all day long, stopping only for beers, burgers, and fries on the patio restaurant over the boathouse. On Sundays a live band played jazz on the patio, and I was allowed to order a banana split after lunch. I had to eat it quickly before it melted in the hot, August sun. Then if I was lucky my parents would give me quarters for a few games of pinball inside the restaurant.

Once every two weeks, the servers from the Inn put on a water skiing demonstration. They did tricks on inner tubes, made human pyramids, and, as a gimmick, skied on their serving trays.

The formal dining room, where breakfast and dinner were served, also overlooked the lake. It was a big, wide room, surrounded on three sides by glass windows. The sunset views were phenomenal. There was a parquet dance floor in the centre, and on Saturday nights the same jazz band that played at the boathouse would play big band music in the dining room while all the grownups danced.

My favourite moment in that dining room occurred when a server was bringing a huge tray from the kitchen to restock the breakfast buffet. It was filled with little glass cups full of stewed prunes. The server lost his footing as he stepped onto the dance floor, and lobbed the entire tray up into the air as he flailed for balance. It rained stewed prunes that morning.

My favourite place to be was in a special little cottage shaded by ancient trees, next to the shuffle-board courts. This was the potter's cottage. The owner of the inn was married to a sweet Dutch woman who had set up her clay studio there. She made beautiful dishes, mugs, and vases which she sold in the front room of the cottage. She used to let me stand quietly in a corner of the studio, watching her throw pots on the wheel. It was like magic, seeing a slippery, grey lump of clay turn into a bowl right before my eyes.

Once she let me make some bowls and stamp them with my initials. My mother still has them. It was only years later, when I took a pottery course and sucked at it, that I realized how much help I must have had making those neat, symmetrical bowls. She must have pretty much made them for me and then let me take all the credit.

On busy, cold days, I miss the Muskoka Sands Inn. I miss wading knee-deep in the cold lake, letting the minnows kiss my ankles. I miss taking walks with my mother, holding our breath while walking through clouds of gnats. She always ended up with at least one bug in her mouth, no matter how hard she tried to keep them out. I miss falling asleep in my squeaky twin bed, listening to the maple trees rustle in the wind outside the cabin window.