I spoke into the darkness. “David, what if that was a heart attack?”
“But you said the pressure in your chest made it hard to breathe. That sounds like—”
“I had pressure, not pain,” David said. “It wasn’t a heart attack.”
All that evening, his shoulders had felt tighter than usual. As he’d transferred the few steps from wheelchair to bed, the pressure moved down into his chest and made him light-headed. He finished the transfer, sat on the edge of the bed, then said, “I’m going to pass out.” His ashen face convinced me. I swung his legs up and settled his head on the pillow. We took his blood pressure, and it came out high. But the second time, just a few minutes later, his color was back to normal and so were his numbers.
Whew. Maybe I should’ve taken my blood pressure too.
Now, lying in the darkness, I said, “I looked up symptoms of heart attack. A lot of people have pressure and no pain.”
“I feel fine. I’m not going to the ER.”
I couldn’t blame him. We’ve done the nighttime emergency room run before, and it’s always miserable. But I wasn’t happy about doing nothing.
I’ll skip over my mental gyrations throughout that sleep-deprived night. But next morning, as David’s home health CNA was about to head off for his next client, I asked (loudly) if David had said anything about what happened last night. I knew Eddie had had an episode himself some years earlier. He’d told us that he denied the possibility of heart attack, then agreed to take a blood test the next day and discovered his heart had indeed been damaged and needed treatment. I figured he’d be on my side.
Sure enough. He shot David a look as fierce as anything I could give. As I backed away to get myself ready for the day, I heard the lecture begin.
When I came out again, David was on the phone with DispatchHealth, a come-to-your-home medical group Eddie had just told him about. In a short time, a kind, competent, cheerful young woman arrived to hook David up for an EKG. Like most things medical, it didn’t all go smoothly. Her team had recently been provided with new equipment, and her monitor wouldn’t connect with the electrodes. She called a nearby co-worker who stopped by to drop off another set. That one didn’t work either.
This meant she had to call the EMTs, who filled our quiet street with fire engine, ambulance, and uniformed men and women. They were also kind, competent, and cheerful. Their EKG, which worked fine, showed no heart attack happening at the moment. But as for last night’s event, this would require going to the hospital for the blood test Eddie had described.
That made sense. Lesson learned.
Poised to bring their stretcher in and load him up, they gave David the option to say no. He took it.
When the EMTs cleared out, the woman from DH remained. She hadn’t let frustration with her equipment interfere with her commitment to us. “It’s a good idea to get that test,” she said.
“Can we just go to an Urgent Care? We have one we really like.”
She shook her head. “But you could go to an ED.”
“What’s an ED?” David asked.
Another lesson learned. Within fifteen minutes, we were in the van and rolling toward a stand-alone Emergency Department affiliated with a small hospital not far away. An ED can do more than a UC and almost everything an ER can do. Our DH person had called to let her doctor know, and her doctor had called the ED. They were expecting US. I mean, us.
We wound up being there for several hours, but this wasn’t nearly as tiring as half that amount of time at any ER I’ve dealt with. Everyone took excellent care of David, kept us informed, led me to the little cafeteria so I could bring back lunch for us both, and took blood for all sorts of tests. David has challenging veins, but the phlebotomist nailed it first try. Our congratulations were heartfelt.
The upshot: David is healthier than just about anyone I know. As for the pressure and dizziness, I’m almost certain it came from how he sometimes holds his shoulders rolled somewhat forward. That means he has to crane his neck, especially when trying to stand, which would make anyone dizzy. He had definitely been doing that the other evening.
So, why did I title this “On the Edge”?
As David and I organized ourselves to leave the room where we’d spent the last few hours, an official-looking woman came in, masked like everyone else. I figured she wanted our insurance information. “No,” she said. “I’m the manager of this ED. And all our staff out there are talking about you.”
We both got the big-eyed uh-oh look.
“You may be used to treating people like that,” she said, “but we’re not used to it.”
Above the mask, her eyes brimmed with quick tears. “You have been so kind to everyone here. They’re all talking about you. The pandemic just about did us in. Some of our staff got Covid, others wore out and left nursing altogether. I know Covid has put our patients under a lot of pressure too, and they treat my staff so badly. I try to protect them, but…”
The tears ran down behind her mask. “This has gone on so long, and it’s so hard on my people. I just wanted to thank you.”
She turned and hurried out.
Toward the end, a young nurse had come into our room. I looked at her. “Your manager really cares about you all.”
“She’s the best.” Above the mask, her eyes were intense. “If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t still be here. It’s been hell.”
David and I did nothing out of the ordinary. We treated those people the way our parents taught us to treat anybody. For basic civility to so amaze this hard-working little group of people … I don’t know what to say about that.
No, David’s health was far from being on the edge.
But the medical community is. Be kind to them.