Near death experiences are pretty simple; they end one way…or the other. It’s the “near” part that one gets to live to tell and that part is what I am going to tell you about now.
A couple of weeks, after a particularly stressful month or so, I got up on Sunday morning, only to realize that I had no energy to stay up and after my coffee, went back to bed. Since mid-July I had been traveling, hosting travelers, traveling some more and beginning my crazy-quilt series of jobs that I do to pretend that I’m gainfully employed. Quite frankly, I was tired. So I went back to bed to catch up on some much needed sleep.
For what seemed like the entirety of the two hours that I slept, I dreamed that I was having a heart attack. I was breathing hard and experiencing crushing pain in my chest and asking people for help. At times, I would realize that I was dreaming and try to wake myself up, only to continue dreaming and breathing hard and feeling pain. I pretend woke myself up about three times before I finally actually woke myself up. I was exhausted.
I got up and found the nearest comfort at hand: a peanut-butter and potato chip sandwich on white bread. It has been my go-to comfort food since I was a kid. (Don’t judge me. It was spectacular.) After my sandwich I submerged myself in a Law & Order: SVU marathon. I was still rattled and I couldn’t shake that awful feeling of not being able to breathe. I also was rattled by what I hoped was an old wives’ tale that dictates that if you dream you are dying, you’re dying. That was not comforting. Later that night, at bedtime, I was eventually able to sleep, but it was very late and after several rounds of Sudoku.
The next day I had a routine doctor’s appointment. The pharmacy I go to had messed up my prescription – again – and when I called my doc to have him resend it, they saw that I hadn’t been in awhile, and suggested that I come in. Fine. At my appointment, we chatted about boring aging stuff and then he said, “Anything else I should know about ?”
I said, “No. Well, I’ve had this thing with my arm, where it doesn’t move for a few minutes.”
He said, “Hm.” He sounded serious. “It sounds like a TIA.”
A couple of things here…the first one is that one of the reasons I go to this doctor is because is not an alarmist. No worries, very laid back…take the meds, don’t take the meds…no skin off his teeth. I like that in a doctor. (By the way, my GYN was recommended to me by a girlfriend who swears he saved her life. I like that in a doctor too.) The second thing is this TIA he was talking about is a Transient Ischemic Attack – …a mini stroke. All of a sudden this guy is talking about strokes and blood pressure and he wants to listen to my heart and knock on my knees. What kind of a doctor was he anyway??
“Is there anything else?” he asked.
“No”, I said. Like I was going to tell him about the white flashes in my eye.
I left with him telling me he was going to set up a carotid Doppler. Isn’t that for weather? That didn’t sound fun at all. I figured I had some time before I had to do that, when, on the drive home, my cell phone rang. It was the Imaging place calling to set up the appointment. For the next day.
Now I was getting really scared. Since when does any test get scheduled for the next day? I’ve never had anything scheduled less than three weeks down the pike. The fear and chest pain from my dream came roaring back to me…was it foreshadowing? Was that happening? I was so scared that when I went home that I didn’t even talk about it, not to my husband, my parents or any of my friends. The appointment was after school, and I wouldn’t need a ride, so no big deal. I went by myself. After it was over, and they didn’t rush me by ambulance to the nearest hospital, I decided I was okay. The tech said I would hear from the doc by the next day.
The next day, the doc’s nurse called to schedule both an MRI and an MRA…of my brain. She set it up for the following day. The following day! When does this ever happen – unless time is critical. Once that appointment was made, I was a wreck. I kept thinking that I would have to write letters to my family. You know what I mean—good-bye letters. Just thinking about it made me cry. I pictured my head as a big black time bomb like in a cartoon…just waiting to go off. That’s what I was…a walking time bomb. I dragged all the stuff off the emotional shelf…I was about to become a grandmother, I still have to publish something – anything, I only just got to Italy – was my time up already?
So, let’s jump to the end. (No pun intended.) At my office on Thursday afternoon I got the call that I was fine. At least my brain didn’t indicate that there was any damage or potential danger. Supposedly. But really, and not to sound too catastrophic here, but with us humans, there’s always danger. We’re all so fragile, so oblivious. I don’t know if this experience really counts as a near-death experience, but is has impacted me. I learned lessons. The first one of course is to always keep your mouth shut when you go see your doctor. The second one, and more importantly, is to NOT keep my mouth shut with the people I love. Keeping things to myself – good or scary – doesn’t do anyone any good. Especially me, but it’s not fair to the people I love, either. Then they don’t get to comfort me, boss me around, do endless research on the internet in the hopes of providing alternate diagnoses or feel scared themselves.
As I drove home – oh, let’s be honest – I drove to the liquor store and got myself a bottle of nearly expensive wine – I was smiling. I smiled all night. I wondered if I could get a copy of my brain scan from the Imaging place for the profile picture on my Facebook page. And then, I fell asleep…and didn’t dream much of anything at all.