Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Winter Blahs and EKGs

I hesitate to call this past week a bad week, because all has turned out okay in the end. As you can tell if you have been looking at my other blog posts, I have been making a lot of cookies, a pastime that is very Zen for me. As a matter of fact, Beth came over one evening and we quietly sat for a few hours while I iced and she decorated gingerbread bears. I have added the photos to the gingerbread people blog post. While doing that, we watched an episode of The Simpsons, and the children’s animated movie, Cars, on television. Baking cookies was a great way to start the month and hopefully put me in a good frame of mind to deal with the rest of my week.

One of the hospice volunteers who comes to visit Mom is a Holocaust survivor, originally from Budapest, where Mom’s father was born and raised. In an unbelievable coincidence, she told us that her twin sister lives in Jerusalem and, in the last few years, married a rabbi there from Canada after his wife died. In further conversations, we discovered that the rabbi whom her sister had married had been Saul’s family’s rabbi for many years here in the United States before he moved to Canada. While she was here with Mom, Saul and I got haircuts and had a late lunch together. I chose poorly, and thus began my downward spiral. I suffered a long time ago from esophagitis. I had the condition for about ten years between the time I had a serious virus right after my thirtieth birthday until it was properly diagnosed and I was able to cure it around the age of 40. Nowadays, if I feel any discomfort from what I have eaten, I take Prilosec, which is a wonder drug for me. If it had been available back then, I would never have had to go through all the pain and suffering I experienced over those ten years. My father, in his day, only had bicarbonate of soda to deal with the condition. I remember the many times he was hospitalized with ulcers and seeing him there obviously in tremendous pain. When Tagamet was invented, that became the wonder drug for both of us. He used to live on baked potatoes at the height of his problems. I once lived mostly on bread, crackers and water for almost three months.

Ken and Randi invited us, along with Larry, to Shabbat dinner this past Friday, and Randi made us a really incredible meal—a delicious Caesar salad, homemade roasted peppers with capers and fresh mozzarella, parmesan and pistachio-crusted fresh haddock filets, and quinoa pilaf. I timed the challot so that we left as soon as I took them out of the oven. They were still warm at dinner when we made our brachot. For dessert with our coffee, Randi had a mini carrot cake from Wegman’s, and beautiful fresh raspberries and blackberries with home-made whipped cream. There were also chocolates from Stutz, a local confectionery for many years that still makes good chocolates. We all ate heartily, including Mom. With some help from Ken, Mom was able to make it down the stairs to see the renovation that had just been completed. Ken made her comfortable down there and screened the animated movie, Kung Fu Panda, for her. She enjoyed it very much. It was a very good day for her.

While we were in DC, we had purchased a digital picture frame, half-price, at Micro Center, as a Chanukah gift for Saul’s Mom. He loaded it with hundreds of photos. We were able to arrange for Adele to stay with Mom while we were at Shabbat services, and then Ken and Randi spent the afternoon with her so that we could visit his Mom at Lion’s Gate in New Jersey. As soon as they unlocked the door to the Safe Haven facility for Alzheimer’s patients, we spotted her conversing with one of the staff. She recognized us immediately, was thrilled to see us, but disappointed that we hadn’t brought the “two little girls.” In conversing with her, we noticed a deterioration in her mental state. She was beginning to lose her Hebrew language ability, did not remember family members in Israel, and was at a loss for words frequently. Her ankles are more swollen than I have seen them in a long time, so I suspect she is retaining fluids due to a weak heart. She was happy and in good spirits, though, again telling us how pleased she is with the facilities, the staff members and the food. Considering what she was like before, never happy with anything, we are grateful that she is finding comfort at the end of her lifetime. During the long drive, I was becoming aware that I was developing a stiff neck that was being aggravated by the car’s vibration. We stopped on the way home and had lunch at a deli where I again ate all the wrong delicious things that aggravate my stomach, especially sour pickles and pickled tomatoes. I took a Prilosec before going to bed on Saturday night. The pain in my neck was growing worse.

On Sunday, I went shopping to get some needed items for the cookies and carried in a heavy bag which contained a five-pound sack of flour among other heavy items and lifted it onto the counter. I carried it in my left hand. Saul and I made a number of cookies, including mango teacakes with white chocolate glaze, lime cornmeal cookies (my favorite of all the ones we make), and mini chocolate ganache cupcakes. For dinner Sunday night, we layered fresh tomatoes with fresh mozzarella and drizzled it with extra-virgin olive oil and salt and pepper. We also had fresh spinach ravioli dressed with sour cream and parmesan. Tomatoes were the last food item I was able to put back in my diet after the acid reflux finally ceased. By bedtime, my neck and back were aching and my stomach was feeling unsettled. I took a Tylenol PM which usually works like a charm on aches and pains and keeps me asleep until morning.

I awoke at 2 a.m. from the gripping ache from my neck down to my elbow. I was nauseous and in a clammy sweat. It suddenly occurred to me that although I had been thinking this was a combination of stomach problems and muscle strain, I might be having a heart attack. I was shocked that the Tylenol PM had not worked and decided to take a Prilosec and wait for a while to see if I felt better. I didn’t. I checked the symptoms for a heart attack in women on my computer and scared myself silly when I learned that it can manifest as a pain in the back or jaw. I decided to try to drive myself to the emergency room without waking anyone. Saul is a heavy sleeper and would have been beside himself, and he needed to leave the house by 7:30 a.m. for the final week this semester. Mom could not be left alone. If I was, indeed, having a heart attack, at 2:30 a.m. on Monday morning, I was unlikely to harm anyone else on the road. I reasoned that if I needed to call 911 on my cell, I would be halfway to the hospital. If I arrived at the emergency room and felt okay, I could just turn around and go home and nobody would be the wiser. I didn’t feel worse on my trip to the emergency room of Abington Hospital, but I didn’t feel better either and I decided to go in. It was the first time I had ever gone there when there were no other patients in sight. Within about 5 minutes, I was in a hospital gown and hooked up to an EKG machine. The attendant was calm and told me the EKG looked okay to her, but that a doctor would be reviewing it immediately. The doctor came in within a few minutes and told me the EKG was perfectly normal. I was interviewed by a resident about my symptoms and past history. Then a medical assistant set about the difficult task of taking blood while putting in an IV connection. He believed me when I told him I was the world’s worst person for finding a vein and took his time. He only had to stick me twice, eventually getting what he needed from my hand. I was then wheeled down the hall for a chest x-ray of my heart. After about two hours in the emergency room, and the assurance that I probably was not having a heart attack, I felt much better and wanted to go home.

Although I had been reassured that everything they had done looked perfectly normal, the doctor wanted to keep me overnight and run a series of other tests because of my age and symptoms. I told him that it would really be a hardship because of my mother. I assured him that I would contact my doctor to schedule additional tests if they were warranted. The medical assistant, who took my blood, read and explained the release forms to me, and I had to sign in a few places to extract myself from the hospital against the doctor’s recommendations. He was very formal about the procedure when I tried to be a little light-hearted about the situation, explaining to me that what I was doing was a “big deal” as far as the hospital was concerned. By 5:40 a.m. I was getting back into my clothes to drive home, and I decided to call Saul and wake him to let him know that everything was okay and that I would be home in time for him to go to school. He was furious with me for not waking him, but understood my reasoning when I explained the situation. I would have summoned him immediately if the EKG reading had been a problem.

My doctor did not return my call on Monday, something about which he is usually very conscientious, probably because he determined that there was nothing dire in the results from the hospital. On Tuesday, Larry came over to stay with Mom when the ache in my back and arm persisted and the doctor was able to fit me in at 2:15 p.m. Saul met me at the doctor’s office after completing administering his final exam. The doctor did another EKG in his office just as a precaution which turned out normal as well. He actually felt the area on my upper back from which the pain was emanating and said that I had a large knot there in the muscle. He told me that he agreed with my assessment that I had unwittingly created the perfect storm of symptoms and gave me a pain-killing topical cream, Voltaren Gel, to apply to the area so as not to irritate my stomach further with pills. He told me if the pain persists beyond a few more days that it may turn out to be a pinched nerve, in which case, I will need further testing. He also gave me a prescription to have a stress test done once the pain has dissipated.

In between all this, I have managed to get my computer work done on time, but I never realized how much I use my left hand and arm for a right-handed person. I am a left-handed mouse user; I usually wrench open both my sub-zero refrigerator and freezer with my left arm; and my left arm usually takes a position at the top of my steering wheel. As soon as the pain starts to subside, I find myself forgetting and doing things that aggravate it again. I have always avoided chiropractors feeling that “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it,” but Jessica is urging me to see one ever since she had so much relief when she pinched a nerve in her leg exercising. If I do not get beyond this soon, I probably will seek one out.

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