BB's Home Page > Rainbow Stories Index
Subject: Hospital Story
From: Butterfly Bill <butterflyb...@grapevine.net>
Date: Saturday, October 21, 2000 6:55
I'm going to present a tale of my latest medical happenings. I write this mostly as Western Yoga for me, it is a significant event in my life and I am still trying to sort thru my thoughts about it all, but some others might find it interesting and relevant to their own lives.
Throughout the gathering in Montana I had been noticing myself getting out of breath sooner than it had been before. There was even a time back in Bus Village when Mic Lac asked me if I had emphysema. I admitted that I was huffing and puffing a lot, but said no to that. I thought it might have been the altitude. But it continued after I got back to Lawrence, Kansas, elevation about 600 feet. By the beginning of August I was having to sit down and gasp for a few minutes after only climbing the stairs to my room on the top floor of a two story house. I then suspected that it might be time to quit smoking so much weed, so I laid off it all week until Saturday and Sunday for three weeks, then quit completely.
The period right after that was one of the most uncomfortable I had ever spent. I had been doing it daily, often more than once, without letup for almost all of the previous three years. My throat and lungs had become coated with residue, and it took about three weeks to get it all out. A cycle started, my bronchial insides would coat over with mucous, it would sit there for 12 to 16 hours, it would drain off, then start the cycle all over again. When it was draining, it tasted terrible, not unlike if you had scraped your pipe and just ate some of the tarry residue. I flowed down into my stomach and gave me the mother of upset stomachs. The only thing I found that vaguely relieved it was peppermint tea. I could feel the purging start with the parts of my lungs furthest from the main bronchial tube, then gradually work its way nearer to the throat itself, with a side trip to the back of my nasal cavity and sinuses.
After about three weeks it had retreated to the area around my larynx, but I was still short of breath, and having trouble breathing when lying down on my back. In bed I would huff and puff violently, and have to sit back up to get any relief. This started keeping me from getting much sleep, and on the job I was having to stop and rest after only about five minutes of effort. My boss finally laid down the line, go see a doctor about it - but I didn't know who, nor know if I would be able to pay for one without totally draining my savings account.
I tried a poor people's clinic in town, but on the phone they gave me an interrogation over whether I was really poor enough ("we only have a few limited resources"), and the question came up of whether I was with the VA. I told them I was a veteran, but I was not in their system. They told me to check there first, then said goodbye. I was pissed at first, thinking I had been given the runaround, but I was later glad they did what they did. I found the website for the Department of Veteran's Affairs, clicked on the medical links, found out there was a hospital in Topeka, 20 miles away, so I drove there the following morning (Sept. the 26th.).
I went in and told them I wanted to start the initial application process. I was thinking I would have to apply, and then wait a few days. I was directed into an office, and the guy asked me for my DD-214 form. I had learned long before to take that piece of almost tissue thin paper with all my Navy service and discharge info on it, and preserve and protect it like it was holy scripture in gold ink on parchment. It had the dates I went in and got out, the branch of service and rank attained (ATN3, E-4), and most importantly, the word "HONORABLE" in caps by the words "Type of discharge:" The guy took it, made a Xerox of it, gave it back, and asked, "What can we do for you?" I told him all about my withdrawal symptoms, and to my surprise he said maybe they should admit me today if I'm having such problems.
He gave me a form of about two pages to fill out. I turned it in, and he directed me to the Urgent Care Unit. A nice chatty lady entered stuff into the computer, then told me to go to the waiting room, where I remained for almost two hours. Finally I was called, I went into an examination room, I told my story again to the male nurse there, and he proceeded to take my blood pressure with one of their electronic sphygmomanometers and listen with a stethoscope.
My blood pressure was sky high, my pulse rate was 130, they immediately stuck electrodes all over my chest to connect up their electrocardiogram. They found atrial fibrillation starting, there were eventually five people around me, including 2 MD's. They told me to lie down on the gurney I had been sitting on and they wheeled me into intensive care.
They stuck an intravenous needle into the back of my hand that was to remain there for seven days, held in place by tape and an elastic fish-net glove without fingers. They used that over and over again to inject medicines, rather than stick me again and again with separate hypo needles. They stuck more needles in me to take some blood samples, and attached four round rubber thingies to my chest, out of which came wires. I lay on the bed in the ICU for the afternoon, thru the night, and until late the next morning, with those four wires, one IV tube, a little clothespin-like device around an index finger to measure my oxygen level at the end of another wire, and an air hose with a blood pressure cuff around my biceps that inflated automatically every 15 minutes - all attaching me to a computer monitor that continuously displayed all the data. This data was also being sent to a control panel at the main nurse's desk where they were watching it. I was able to get out of bed to piss in a bottle while feeling like a mast on a windjammer.
A woman came in with another box with a screen on a cart and told me it was an echo cardiogram. It had a wire connected to a metal cylinder with a ball on one end that she coated with Vaseline, that she ran over my chest while she listened to thru headphones to the sounds in my chest that it made. Sometimes she turned the speaker on and let me listen.
About two hours later they came in and told me I had just had what they called Congestive Heart Failure. Years of having high blood pressure and ignoring it had finally caught up to me. My heart had not stopped, like in a full blown heart attack, but the atrium, the upper two chambers of my four chambered heart, had been intermittently going into fibrillation (wiggling spasmodically instead of making a strong pumping beat). The whole heart had expanded, and the muscles had gotten weak, from years of having to push extra hard thru the high pressure. They started giving me stuff to get my heart rate and blood pressure down, a tranquilizer, and a diuretic (medicine to make you piss) to get down the swelling from fluid build up that had started in my lower legs. They gave me two folders to read with several sheets of paper and booklets explaining the whole thing.
The meds had calmed me down by evening, and settled into sleep, sweet glorious sleep, for the first time in weeks.
The next day they disconnected all of the rigging except the chest wires, which they plugged into a box the size of a walkie-talkie that was put into the chest pocket of the green hospital jammies they gave me, a telemetry transmitter. I went to a regular bed in one of their wards, in a two-bed room that I had to myself for the first three days. They assigned me a single doctor to stay with my case, and he came in a few times a day. He was a man in his late 30's, who looked sort of like Al Gore, who answered all questions I had and seemed to know his stuff.
There was a TV with cable and a remote hanging from the ceiling, and since I don't normally watch TV, I took this for an excursion into a different world. The Olympics were on, there was a James Bond festival on a movie channel (I regard those like comedies), there were programs from Deutsche Welle in German on one of the educational channels, there were the judge shows and CNN. I wasn't bored for that short a time (tho I was finally reminded of why I normally reject TV).
Four times a day they wheeled in an electronic box with digital readouts and a hose and cuff to take my blood pressure. They took my temperature by taking a thing that looked like a glue gun and pressing it in my ear. They took my pulse rate and oxygen level with the aforementioned device that looked like a black clothespin around my index finger. A nurse came around periodically with a cart full of pills, some of which he dispensed to me. They had put on my wrist a plastic bracelet band with a bar code. The man shined a red laser light on the bars with a handheld reader, and that made the laptop computer he had on his cart display the screen for me that told which pills I was to receive. This served to prevent me from getting the wrong ones. But every morning I had to accept an old fashioned needle in my arm as they withdrew two tubes of blood samples.
This whole affair had started on a Tuesday, and around Friday and Saturday was my only period of fearful doubt over whether or not I would make it. The blood pressure readings were varying erratically, and by then it was starting to sink in how near to the edge I was really standing. Until then I had just taken my eventual recovery as an assumption, no anxiety, the confidence of knowing something as a fact, but this time I was beginning to wonder. I started thinking of prayer, I even tried repeating as a mantra the opening to the Unity Church service, "We are now in the presence of Pure Being, and immersed in the Holy Spirit of Life, Love and Wisdom", but my skepticism won out. I could look at the news programs on the TV with their coverage of wars and disasters and arbitrary killings. I was reading an old National Geographic with an article about the Australopithecus boisei competing with the early Homo erectus, and the whole long story of evolution and competition. I just couldn't accept that there was some kind benevolent being looking out for just me. Whatever was guiding all of this was doing the whole picture, and I had no way of knowing what part I really had in it. In the foxhole I was an atheist.
My way out was keeping my awareness, always looking for ways thru it, and not hesitating to follow them. As they say in that same Unity Church, the Christ is within me. What's going to save me I already have. It came down to just looking at myself, and the operational assumption of optimism that was keeping me going. I asked myself, "Do you want to give up and just lose it?", and the answer soon came, "Hell no!" I was going to keep believing in my own future and keep trying, even if I had nothing to support it with but faith. I went back to the Unity Church, not really to pray, but to be around other people who shared my desire to look deeper into things, and try to practice love and compassion - to find community to aid my own will.
The fear of immediate death was not so predominate as the simple re-realization of my own mortality. I'm not going to live forever, it's gonna end some day. I'm not a feeble old man yet, but I am no longer a young whippersnapper. I don't have the physical stamina to try just anything. I am restricted a bit in my behavior; I have to take some things easy. I can no longer work on a concrete crew or get a job fighting forest fires. I may even have trouble keeping up 40 hours at something only as athletic as painting. I can't take off and go tramping anywhere and take whatever day labor throws at me. I have to live where I am at least near a VA hospital.
A sweet woman in her mid 20's had started coming around periodically, she had introduced herself as a "social worker" and asked if there were any things she could do for me. I first asked her to try to get in contact with the minister of my church, which she did. I got a phone call from her that felt good. Then I asked if she could find out how much all of this hospitalization was going to cost. The second to the last day she came in and told me that I qualified as being under their "low income guidelines," and there would be no charge to me for all those days. There would be a 2 dollar "copayment" for a month's supply of pills. Did it feel good to hear that, or did it feel good? Not only that, but my question of what was I going to do further into my old age, when I would be needing more medical attention, was answered. I was damn glad I had put in those four years as a squid. This was now worth every midnight watch I had to stand, every personal inspection and every MAA giving me shit about haircuts, every plane I had to wash and every deck I had to buff, every time I had to be back in my rack before midnight bunk check after Cinderella liberty, every ounce of chickenshit that I had had to put up with. I mean, anchors aweigh my boys, now for a change I could count on Uncle Sugar.
The care I got from the Colmery-O'Neil VA Medical Center in Topeka, Kansas I could only describe as excellent. They explained everything they were doing and what it was supposed to achieve. They answered all my questions. They gave me jammies with pants instead of a short butt showing gown (others were even staying in their own clothes), and they let me walk around when I felt able. Never did I feel treated with condescension or arrogance. Most importantly, they pulled my ass thru my crisis to live to write this. All this ended my long held doctor-phobia. I had been reluctant to go to them for years; they stick needles in you and charge you lots of money. Now I was ready to put up with some temporary minor pain to get a more informed awareness of my body than my previous attempts at self-diagnosis. I was ready to have things measured. I had never even imagined what was really wrong with me while trying to cure myself.
On the last day they gave me a paper bag full of pills. Three to lower my blood pressure (Lysinopril, Diltiazem, and another in a form like one of those nicotine patches for my skin, Clonadine). My heartbeat was slightly irregular, so they gave me pills with digitalis in them (Digoxin) to try to straighten it out. If it didn't, they were going to give me an electroshock treatment. For until this happened, another pill to thin my blood and prevent a blood clot from forming in a vessel and going to my brain and giving me a stroke (Coumadin). Taking all of them left me with a slightly queasy feeling in my stomach, so I started doing them just before bed, so I would be sleeping during the first effects. I have trouble imagining myself taking such things for the rest of my life. My minister says there are some methods the swamis use to control their blood pressure, I haven't been able to get back with her yet.
I went back to work on the construction site the following Monday, but only to do a few hours a day. My boss told me not to wear myself out, and I've been able to do enough hours to subsist. But I'm wondering if a career change isn't coming up. I don't want to start sitting at a desk all day, but I don't want the level of activity I was used to.
They told me I had to eat a low sodium diet, lay off salt. No more pizza, sausage, ham or cold cuts, flavored potato chips, soy sauce, fast food, canned soup or vegetables, or Mexican or Indian or Italian restaurant food. I even have to watch out for things like bread and pastries, which not only sometimes have lots of salt, but also sodium bicarbonate, baking soda. I didn't have too much trouble adjusting to this in my own cooking; I started using my vegetable steamer a lot, and seasoning meat with garlic and Lawry's seasoned pepper. But the times during lunch break at work became very frustrating (and I don't know how I am going to get thru the next gathering trying to eat out of Rainbow kitchens, where I see them just pouring the salt in). Taking the Coumadin also means no vitamin K (it helps your blood clot). So this also means no green leafy vegetables, no lettuce, broccoli, spinach, no soybean products of any kind, and no green tea. Hopefully this will be temporary. I've learned how to make a salad out of red cabbage, carrots, onions, and green peppers with plain vinegar and oil at the salad bar.
About a week after getting out I fired up a bowl of weed just to review where I'd been. I had bought my own blood pressure machine, and I measured myself a few times during the buzz; for a long time I had wondered what pot's effects really were on it. I took a baseline before smoking. Five minutes after toking I found the systole up 50 points and the diastole 30. After an hour and a half it was still up by 20 over 10. My pulse rate also climbed above 100 for a while. I decided I couldn't do juane too often in my condition, and I have to wonder how much all the previous smoking had aggravated it. My future smoking would have to be only occasionally, sacramentally, in a place where I didn't have to do physical exertion and where I could devote all my attention to what I wished it to amplify.
So in conclusion I advise all, if you have high blood pressure, don't ignore it. Lay off the salt, don't do psychotropic drugs nonstop and athletic things while on them, and don't be afraid of doctors. It's good to be alive, I'm gonna make a habit of it.
– Butterfly Bill
BB's Home Page > Rainbow Stories Index