By Christopher Green
Got your Attention? Good. It seems like forever and then some that I have sat down in front of my trusty laptop to write about my delicate condition.
And given that the last post was really a repost of an experience I already wrote about two months ago for Democratic Underground, it has been more than eight days since I have posted here on the blog.
I feel as if I should say Forgive me father for I have sinned….
But it all really meshes. You see this is the year of my 35th High School reunion. I have been to all of my reunions. Each time we gather to meet and refresh our relationships as friends, lovers or just plain old classmates, the artificial and ephemeral boundaries that were erected around us fall further away and matter less the older we get.
I discovered that you can go home again even if it is only for a few hours every five years.
The only glitch in the celebration for me was the amount of energy I had to expend just to be there. And of course, I was moving around a lot more than I usually do and stood a great bit of the time. Friday night was draining because of the first rush of seeing old friends and the fact everyone had to scream at each other in order to talk over the band.
Saturday night was a bit more formal and in a setting more conducive to conversation. It was much more relaxing and yet I still felt it the next day. I slept all day Saturday and did not get going until an hour before we were to be at the reunion.
On Sunday, I slept almost around the clock.
The best part of the whole weekend was that people who are more comfortable in a tavern setting, the relaxed atmosphere, were able to reacquaint themselves with their classmates without having to attend the more formal event.
I would have to say that, between the two days, almost half of my former classmates participated.
This was special for me because having an organ transplant hanging over your head is bound to elicit thoughts of mortality no matter how upbeat you try to be. This could very well turn out to be my swan song as a member of Westlake Class of ’75. I truly appreciate all the love and affection people showed me this past weekend.
I do plan to attend the 40th the 45th and the 50th with bells and whistles blaring, but I am realistic enough to appreciate that I may very well not be able to attend.
Let’s call it eternal detention, which is how I felt when I sat in that stark room for almost my entire sophomore and junior years.
All the excitement from the weekend left me drained and so when I had to rouse myself at 6:30 am Tuesday for yet another trip to the Cleveland Clinic, I was still very groggy. Once again, my trusty sidekick, Brenda, schlepped me over to the east side campus.
We were to be there at 8:30 to sign in, 9:00 for an EKG and then 9:30 to prep for my second heart catherization in less than three weeks. If you recall they found blockage in one of the arteries feeding my heart.
What Dr. Lincoff, the heart specialist who is affiliated with the transplant team to deal with all things coronary related, was going to measure was the pressure on both sides of the blockage to see if a stent would be needed.
The good doctor had previously explained that the benchmark pressure point was .75 and that any measurement below that level would be reason enough to proceed with the stent.
Well 9:30 came and went and then 10:30 and 11:30 and 12:30 and still no word from the nurses as they scurried about the pre-op room trying hard not to make eye contact with any of the 30 or so people waiting for the procedure.
Now I hadn’t had anything to eat since the night before and nothing to drink since early in the morning. I was getting a little uncomfortable and was starting to feel ill at ease. Finally, around 1:30, we were told that someone in line ahead of us had an incident while having the cath done and that this put the whole day behind schedule.
All I could think was would it have hurt to let us in on the “glitch” before we all started to feel a little more anxious?
Meanwhile Brenda was left to put up with my increased bitching and yammering about inconsiderate minions.
When 2:30 came and went, I was starting to be concerned that there would not be enough time for me to recover in time for Brenda to get home to take at least a nap before going back to work.
Well at a quarter to 3, they came in and told me I was next. After escorting Brenda to the waiting room, I was whisked off down the hall to one of the Heart Catherization Labs.
This is where the shaving and shivering started. Okay, there wasn’t a Seeing Eye dog, but there were so many people hovering around my private parts that I was almost ready to start charging admission.
And this time, instead of a quick shave in the area of entry, they took it all and then some. There was more hair on that operating table than on the floor of the Marine Corps barbershop at the first day of boot camp.
I know, it is an exaggeration, but I was the one who is suddenly very bald and very chilly. They keep the room cool, one of the nurses told me, in order balance out the heat from the continuous use of the X-Ray machines that help the doctor in charge to guide the catheter to the place of contention.
It turns out they had not decided ahead of time which side to go in so that was why they gave me a full buzz cut.
They injected a sedative and then sprayed me down with what felt like grain alcohol. It was cold and it stung like the dickens as the disinfectant hit my newly exposed groinal area. And it wasn’t just a quick sting and then over, no they splashed enough to keep the thrill going for at least three minutes or so.
But having been in and out of hospitals a lot over the years, I decided to go with the flow and with what was probably a big assist from the sedative, I relaxed and let my body loosen up so that I felt one with the very rigid table.
Anyway, there really wasn’t much difference with the procedure itself, but because the day was going so well to this point, something else was bound to go wrong. Sure enough, the pressure unit that helped get the dye to the heart suddenly went on the fritz and I was left on the table for over 30 minutes waiting for the team to contact their expert to walk them through how to reboot the pressure.
They got everything going and the head nurse in the room thanked me for not being a pill about the delay, which made me feel a little guilty about getting upset about the guy who had the episode earlier in the day.
What was different this time from the cath I had just three one weeks ago was the drug induced stress test that they were going to perform on me in order to see how much pressure there was behind and in front of the blockage when I was in a state of duress.
I had to remain as still as I could and they told me I would feel warm all over and that my heart would start racing and that I should not worry if I became short of breath because the whole process would only last three minutes or so.
Well, that was the longest and most uncomfortable five minutes, of course they under estimated the duration of the effect, I have spent in a very long time. The chemical was making me feel as if I would never catch a full breath again and I was doing my damndest not to pant which is what I am sure they wanted to avoid.
They had the X-Ray unit right smack over my head, hovering about 3 inches above me so that most of the room was blocked out. Of course, this added to my anxiety. All I could really think about was now I knew I was claustrophobic. I could not imagine being a miner or even rolling under a car to work under the hood.
And just as fast as the anxiety swept over me, it ebbed and then was gone.
“Everything is fine Mr. Green,” began Dr. Lincoff. “Your pressure was .88 so you are in the real safe area of the scale and we do not have to put in a stent.”
I asked him should I do anything about my diet and he said, “Just cut out McDonalds, but if you want a steak have a steak. Take your meds. Better living through pharmaceuticals. Now I am going out to tell your family.”
That just cath’ed look.
And that was it.
I was a little disappointed because I was hoping that a stent might increase my O2 level. But still, it is good to know that my heart won’t be much of a factor when it comes time for the lung transplant.
I had one more moment before they released me at a little past eight. The room was starting to feel close and so my chest was tightening up. I felt really uncomfortable and asked for the nurse.
Brenda pulled back the curtain to get her attention and all of a sudden the fresh air from the hallway came in and I started to feel a little bit better. They must turn off the vents in the recovery alcoves after a certain hour because they don’t expect anyone to be in there.
After a rather grueling day at the Clinic, Brenda drove me home, I talked to Laurie, ate and then lay down and was out for the next two days.
It was a tough week for me. But in the end, there was a very satisfying outcome with both the reunion and my latest ordeal at the clinic.
Here is a really good and quick look at the operating room and how a heart catheterization is done. It’s about 3 minutes long and shows you why the Cleveland Clinic can and often does schedule 25-35 of these procedures on any given day.