Sunday, February 23, 2014

Like a Heartbeat

Staring at the institutional blue walls in the emergency room, I wondered why they're so drab and lifeless.  Suddenly the room was full of people wearing colorful tops and warm concerned faces. They seemed practiced at not looking alarmed, but their actions weren’t casual, especially their eyes that wandered with regularity to the monitor above my exposed left shoulder. The voice of a nurse comforted me as she asked questions,  "It’s going to be okay Gia, do you have any drugs on board, cocaine, marijuana?" "No, " I answered.  "How about alcohol?"   I replied, "yah, vodka and wine," as the nurse standing to my right drew blood from my arm.  Fortunately my roommate was home last Sunday night, and while she was in bed fighting a horrible cold, she still drove me to the hospital.   

While I was lucky to have a friend there with me, I could see her face turn pale as they pushed the crash cart to the foot of my bed, just a few feet from my faded white winter boots that stuck out from my hastily tied Johnnie.  She didn’t need this added stress in her life. Neither did I for that matter.  For the past hour my heart had been racing, like I had just run up all 1,860 steps to the top of the Empire State Building.  It was beating so fast; I couldn’t feel
my pulse.  Earlier that night, I was watching the Olympics from the comfort of my living room, sipping a glass or two of red wine and eating Valentine Hersey Kisses I bought for myself, unaware of my impending adventure. 

With a doctor now in the room, the next steps were under his control. First I was asked try some of the techniques I read about online while I was deliberating going to the hospital.  They didn’t help.   My heart was still beating around 190 beats per minute, which is more than three times my normal resting pulse, typically in the low sixties.  The next course of action was to chemically interrupt my heart rate. As the casually dressed physician counseled me about what I was experiencing, other nurses attached wires to my chest and back.  He gave a name to the event, calling it
Superventraicular Tachycardia, SVT.  Then he let me know they were going to inject a drug into my IV to restore my normal heart rhythm.  Sounded like good plan to me.  Before administering the injection, my IV line became occluded, so I had to wait until two different nurses struggled to find a new vein. With a new line established the doctor was called back to the room and I was reminded of what the procedure might feel like.   You might get a metallic taste in my mouth, then it will feel like you’re going down the first step pitch on a rollercoaster.  With the doctor and nurse making eye contact, 6 mg’s of Adenosine was injected into my bloodstream, and I was overcome with dread.

Last Friday was Valentine’s Day.  I worked late, writing an article about LGBT Dating Violence. Being single for nearly four years, the irony of the situation and circumstance wasn’t lost on me. Unfortunately, Valentine’s Day can be a dangerous trigger for people who aren’t in love and/or suffer from deep sadness.   It doesn’t help, that I live in a part of the world where winter lingers for months, and this year, there’s no end in sight.   Valentine’s Day used to bring me joy, but also anxiety.  Sending and receiving cards
in elementary school was a pressure cooker.  Would I get any? Who should I send cards to? What should I write?  These questions haunted me.  I remember one year, a classmate questioned me after receiving my card. They wanted to know what I meant when I signed the card, “Like” instead of “Love”.   It was difficult to explain and I felt horribly embarrassed for calling attention to myself trying to be clever.  

I also remember an incident in high school.  Students would send carnations to their special somebody.   Fortunately, I got one fro a close friend, I wasn’t dating anyone at the time, and decided to where it on my white dress shirt.  Little did I know this was too flamboyant for some of my friends.  At lunch, in front of a crowd of hundreds in the cafeteria, a buddy called me out for looking like a sissy.  He ripped the flower right from my chest, and in the process tore my shirt open, exposing my chest.  I was hurt and I retaliated the only way I knew how, with anger and violence. Before either of was seriously injured we were separated and sent to the principal.   In the office, I couldn’t share why wearing a flower was so important to me. As a queer teenager in the closet, those things weren’t said in public yet.  

Later in life, Valentine’s Day became symbolic of my relationship with my now ex-partner.  We got engaged on February 14th, and for many of the seventeen years while we were married; it was a special, yet simple day, usually celebrated with tulips, homemade cards, and a special dinner.  While we’ve been separated for nearly four years,
and divorced for two, we’ve continued to live together.  This winter marks our 22nd anniversary as roommates. But this will be our last.  She bought a house and plans to move in next month.  So last Sunday, just ten hours before going to the ER, I was at her new place, helping with the demolition of her kitchen.  For a short while, I swung a sledgehammer, shattering brown ceramic tiles into small bits.  It was very satisfying, but I couldn’t take it for very long. My asthma was
acting up; and I was out of breath after just a few swings.  Eventually I realized I should stop. So I departed and went snowshoeing to clear my head before settling in for a night of Olympic melodrama. 

My right arm was suddenly warm and my saliva tasted of aluminum. It felt like I was free falling into a dark well.  While the process only lasted a few seconds, it felt like my soul was imploding, as if my heart my being unplugged.  Is this what the end feels like?  Cajoled by the team in the room, tears of fear streamed together with tears of relief.  Indistinguishable from one another, they ran down my frightened face until a calm enveloped my beleaguered body.   With every breath, my pounding heart slowed until it returned to its normal rhythm. Before leaving the room, the nurse looked back and said, "we used 6 mg, remember that for next time."