That’s just a fun fact that I wanted to share with you. I don’t know if riding in an ambulance is on the morbid side of your bucket list, one of those “well, I’d like to but not because I need to” activities, but well, I can check it off whatever list it was on. Sigh.
I blame the cook
So let’s have a small health recap. I have diabetes, under control with mild medication. I have reflux, also under control. Oh, and high blood pressure. And again, under control. I’m a maintenance worker basically.
About 18 years ago, my brother had a heart attack. That may not sound particularly relevant, but the behaviour that went with it was…he had pizza for dinner, over-indulged a bit he said, and then had bad heartburn later that night. He put up with it until about six in the morning and decided it wasn’t going away, so off to emergency he went. Nope, not heartburn. It was just his heart. Not surprising, given our family history for both my father and my sister. Plus own comorbidities for diet, etc.
Anyway, fast forward a month after that, and I was at home with Andrea. I don’t remember what we had for dinner. But at about 8:00 p.m., my digestive system started kicking up a fuss. Really aggressively. I took something, Gaviscon I think (my default save all for digestive stuff), and there was no change. Worst than I had ever had it before. It was discomforting, and a bit painful, probably a 4 or 5 for a scale out of 10. Not screaming agony, but it had my attention. Probably just digestion, I thought. But well, that’s what everyone thinks. Including my brother. And I knew that time was muscle, so I trundled off to emergency to be sure.
Of course, the inevitable happened. I went to emerg, and they tested me on a monitor, give me no results, and send me to triage waiting. I didn’t know at the time that of course the nurse basically ruled out the most likely signs of a cardiac event, but I didn’t know that, so I sat around for about 7 hours wondering if I was having a heart attack. Nope, I finally saw the resident and supervising doctor, they gave me a pink lady (lidocaine is the numbing agent of choice, it comes in a pink liquid form like a small shot of Pepto Bismal, and down the hatch it went). Instant relief, 7 hours later. They hooked me up with acid reduction meds, they generally work for me as a preventative, keep things under control, except once in a while I’ll have a bit too much of something, or over-indulge on something like pizza, and I get a bit of residual indigestion. Over the last almost 20 years, I have come to know what it feels like, and I take Tums if it is basic or I feel like I need to just burp a little, or I go to Level 2 for the Gaviscon. My father had similar issues and Gaviscon always worked for him too. Some people swear by the pink over-the-counter stuff, but Gaviscon works.
So, the last few weeks have been a bit stressful at work, getting into the new rhythm of the job, and I’ve eaten out more than I should. I’m also trying to do some other stuff around the house and fix my website, I don’t have a lot of bandwidth for planning meals, and I’ve generally been doing a crap job of eating healthy even without going out. Let’s say I didn’t go into Sunday with a stellar foundation. Can you see where I’m going with this?
Yep, we went out for dinner to Golden Palace on Carling Avenue. Some consider it one of the best Chinese restaurants outside of Chinatown, and swear by their spring and egg rolls. We had it a couple of times for take out, but we’re trying to “emerge” from our hermit shells a bit more, so we went on Sunday night. I confess, again, that my stomach was NOT doing as well as I might have liked, but I figured I’d take it easy on stuff, avoid spices, just have a nice simple meal and it wouldn’t cause too many issues. If I had a bit of gas, I’d take Gaviscon.
Dinner was great, and it is the first time we’ve taken Jacob to an actual Chinese restaurant (outside of more buffet-like places). We haven’t taken him to Chinatown but it’s on the list. We lost our favourite Vietnamese restaurant, and we all like Chinese, so thought we’d give it a go. Jacob loves their Sweet and Sour Pork so we had some of that, with a small portion for me…I’ve eaten it before, no worries. Won Ton soup is popular for Jacob and I, and if Andrea can’t find something more interesting, she enjoys it too. All good.
We wanted to introduce Jacob to something with Black Bean Sauce, even though he tells us that he doesn’t like black beans. We told him we don’t either, but the combo is good, so we went for a chicken option. It’s not something we normally have, can’t even remember the last time I had it. Could be 10 years at least. I still salivate over the first time I had it at Ben Ben’s in Chinatown way back in about 1993. It seemed fine, both at the time and in retrospect. I didn’t go crazy or anything on it, had a small serving.
My error might have been the beef and broccoli. I like beef, I like broccoli, and I love how it is served so crisp. The downside? It had a TON of oil on it. And I had it as my main dish. It went down fine, no issues, came home feeling fine. In fact, I was a little proud of myself that I didn’t over-indulge in anything, I kept under control.
Jump ahead to midnight, Andrea and I were binge-watching a show, time for bed, shut off the show, sat up and wham. A little bit of indigestion that had been sitting there hit me like a vise on my chest.
A two-inch swatch of pain right below both breasts, stretching basically nipple-to-nipple. And it was intense. I initially thought it was just partly positional. Nope, I could not get it to subside. And on a pain scale? It was hitting a solid six with pretensions at seven. Feeling like NOTHING I have felt before. Way different than what I felt almost 20 years ago, it did not feel like simple indigestion.
Hey, my name is Sadler, I have to start with denial. We got ready for bed, I was convinced that once I laid down, got comfortable, I’d be fine. It had dropped to about a five or so for pain and discomfort. And I knew it wasn’t likely my heart. Oh, wait, I skipped that part of the backstory.
About 4 years ago, I was having some weird chest pain that seemed positional. Which made no sense. But a couple of times I had it while exerting myself, raised with doctor, they sent me to Heart Institute for full review, all good. My heart came back totally fine. I’ve also done stress tests. All good. Which is not to say I’m good to go for life or there aren’t ongoing risk factors, but all things being equal, it may not be the first likely cause.
It took me about 30m to get ready for bed, tried Tums, tried Gaviscon, working slowly I thought. I laid down, tried to get comfortable. Back? Nope. Right side? Nope. Back again. Nope. And the pain was back, up to a 7 now. WTF?
Okay, I knew that wasn’t normal for any of the previous experiences, and as I said, this felt different. Soooo I was thinking…could it BE my heart? Doesn’t quite feel like it should be, but time is muscle, as they say. Well, frak. And I was in too much pain to drive myself or take a cab to the hospital to be sure, and if it was my heart, well time is muscle. Crap, frak, and double fraking crap.
Okay, I called it. I was going to the hospital and if it was my heart, I needed an ambulance. I didn’t want to go that way, but well, that was the most viable option. If it was indigestion, I probably didn’t need to go. If it wasn’t, then I definitely needed to go.
Andrea called while I got dressed, they took about 8-10 minutes to get there. Brought in portable heart monitor, everything showed normal. But the pain was still present. The 911 operator told Andrea to have me take aspirin (it helps break up clots if there are any) and the paramedics gave me some more. We were at the house about 15 minutes I think, and then I walked outside to the gurney, they loaded me into the Ambulance. We sat in front of the house for another 10 minutes or so, and then they took me to Queensway Carleton.
You know that bucket list thing I mentioned? It’s not so exciting. I was sitting up a bit on the gurney, but I’m kind of long, so there was no support for my head or upper shoulders. I felt every bump on the way, I felt like I was riding in the back of a pickup and needed to hold on. Every sway sent me to the side. It was fine, but I didn’t feel particularly safe, I must say. It’s a short run to the hospital from my house, maybe 5-7 minutes.
The triage nurse took all the details from the paramedic while I hung out on the gurney. It was not particularly comfortable, not only just the pain was still there (holding in about a 4-5) plus some general stomach-ache discomfort, but also because I couldn’t find a position where my legs and back were well-supported. They offered to move me to sitting up in a wheelchair which I probably should have taken, but I stayed put because I was more afraid the chairs would be too uncomfortable, unable to stretch out a bit.
They took blood to test for traces of cardiac arrest, ran another set of monitors through the portable machines. The blood test came back clean-ish, but there’d been some clotting issues, so they redid it with an IV entry in my arm just in case. I probably should have taken the IV, but I didn’t feel like I needed it and they didn’t push it. The second bloodwork came back clean too.
All of this time — about 90-120 minutes, I was just hanging out at the hospital. But the paramedics had to stay until they got through all of that testing. Why? I have no idea. There were lots of paramedics hanging out, even for a quiet night. After a while, they were down to just 4 of them, just chatting. One veteran of 32 years was chatting with a newbie of 2 months. Swapping stories but mostly listening to the old-timer. I learned some interesting things, maybe I’ll use them in a book some day. But me? I just wanted some answers.
My pain and discomfort were down to about 3-4 when triage “accepted” me and they transferred me to the regular waiting room. It was dead quiet, only 2 people in the entire place. And the paramedics left.
About 20 minutes later, I was called into the back area to see the doctor for the night. He basically told me that they had pretty much ruled out my heart and he was instead much more interested in my gallbladder. I can tell you, gallbladder was not on my list of pool picks if we’d been running a pool. Heart had been relatively eliminated as soon as the paramedics ran the monitor at my house. I still wanted to go to the hospital though as I was in too much pain not to go. I’d thought of kidneys (hey, I’m diabetic, EVERYTHING makes me think of kidneys!), but didn’t seem likely. I know what kidney pain feels like, this wasn’t it.
Spleen was on my list. But it had been on my list in the last month anyway for some extra discomfort I had on the left side of my body at one point. Likely early indigestion stuff in the month. I’ll remain in denial about that for the future for a while longer. Pancreas? Liver? Ulcer? Gallbladder never made my list.
So after he told me that it was likely my gallbladder, I checked out the list of symptoms (as did Andrea, she was at home with Jacob but I had texted her). Yep, they look like a lot of related symptoms. Okay, huh. What was next?
First up, they had decided it was gastro, and would give me the lidocaine. You get it in a small cup with a straw and told to try to get it down as fast as possible, as deep in our throat as you can, to stop the numbing agent from working on your throat and tongue. That wasn’t awesome for someone with a HUGE gag reflex, and I started to feel nauseated. I had a vomit bag, but I never had to open it!
Secondly, while he tried to do a basic ultrasound in the examining room, he needed a full ultrasound and tech to review it. They wouldn’t be available until the morning.
Thirdly, I needed to do more extensive bloodwork looking at all my other organs outcomes, not just the heart that had mostly been ruled out.
He gave me an option to hang out at emerg for the next five hours until I could go to imaging, plus another couple of hours after that with them for results of everything. No thanks, that didn’t sound like fun. I offered to do the bloodwork so that would be done before the morning, which prompted some serious thought.
He looked at me, looked out into the bay. Looked at me, looked out into the bay. He then said, “Well, we could do that, but we only have 1 nurse right now and she has 25 patients to monitor.” Oh, right, okay then, tomorrow morning it would be!
I grabbed a cab home which seemed like more work than it should have been to order and come, got home, and the pink lady had fully taken effect by then. My discomfort was still there, like an upset stomach, but still thinking it was gallbladder, I followed the advice of some reputable organizations online that said to sleep on my left side so my gallbladder would be free to do its magic with no compression. It worked. Andrea didn’t even hear me come in. I fell asleep around 4:00 a.m. and slept solidly until 8:00 a.m. or so.
Because life continues
I had no real concept of time for any of the night before. We didn’t call the ambulance until after midnight and I was home in bed by 4:00 a.m.? How was that possible? I felt like I was there for hours and hours. I normally run Jacob to school, but I was not up to it this morning. I generally don’t say no to that, ever, I make it work. This morning? No, I was not going to be vertical in time. We let him stay home, as he was likely to be worried anyway.
I was a little stressed for the day. Sure, I was at the hospital, that trumps everything for my own work, of course. Except I wasn’t dying or anything. I was home. And I was supposed to act today, as my Director and other two managers were away, as was my #2 in my team. It was like the perfect storm. And with 4 hours sleep, I wasn’t running on all cylinders, that’s for sure.
My cellphone rang a couple of times before 9:00 and I knew it had to be the imaging department. I don’t get a lot of calls. And before work? Almost none. But I wasn’t ready to talk to anyone yet, I was still dozing. I’d had a conversation with Andrea about Jacob, but I don’t even know if I was coherent or not. I dozed until 9:00 but I had to get up…not for work. Not for Jacob. Because my bladder was trying to get my attention. 🙂 You know, normal stuff.
Talked to the imaging people, agreed to 10:00. No food for me, just as well, I didn’t know if I wanted anything. The ultrasound took almost 45 minutes to an hour. One star, would not recommend. I have increased empathy for the pregnant women out there…It never looks like they’re pressing that hard, but they had to work hard on me today to see the organs. Too much blubber in the way.
And apparently, the tech needs to concentrate. I was nervous, asking questions, babbling basically. Until she told me essentially that I was distracting her and she needed to reduce the chit-chat, plus I was moving while talking. A very nice way to tell me to STFU. Back to emergency, a bit of confusion checking me in as I already had the arm bracelet from last night, but they got me sorted, all good.
While I was in the waiting rooms in multiple parts of that journey, I was using my workphone to update various people about being half out of it for the day, everyone was concerned, solicitous and reassuring of course. I have a great work environment. But I still wanted a few files to keep moving. Cause life continues and I wasn’t in pain anymore.
They did the bloodwork and sent that off, back to the waiting room. Finally got called around noon to go over to an examining room. And the doctor gave me the diagnosis.
Something I ate
My gallbladder appears fine. No signs of stones. No signs of anything.
Liver? All good.
Spleen? Not distended.
Everything across the board? All good.
So despite it looking exactly like the description of a gallbladder attack, as the night doctor had suggested, the body and tests say otherwise.
Which means it was likely just something I ate. Most likely either the excess oil on the beef and broccoli or perhaps the pork was too fatty. Not likely the black bean sauce, but we can’t rule it out. Or maybe there was MSG in the meal. Or maybe it was just the accumulated load of the last few months, years, decades on my body.
The solution is pretty basic — totally bland diet for about 3 days, slowly reintroduce other stuff, and adjust my diet over time. Be more careful about what I eat.
I was back home around 2:00 and ate some soup and toast that Andrea made for me. Then I did some work for about an hour, although I don’t know for sure, I wasn’t doing well on tracking time. Andrea went over to the pharmacy with Jacob for me to get some ginger ale, more aspirin (the other batch had expired) just in case, and some Pepto Bismal for a possible future re-occurence.
A small mental downturn
I could mentally kick myself that I ended up taking an ambulance to the hospital for what was basically indigestion, but it was really painful, so if I hit that level again, I would need to go anyway. And I don’t want to hit myself too hard at the risk of not going the next time I think something could be my heart. Which of course they all hammered me hard on, congratulating me on NOT just dismissing it but coming in to have it checked out immediately. The paramedics were talking about all these people they’d brought in for actual heart attacks where the person was having a heart attack while continuing to do chores around the farm, cuz the chores needed to be done. I don’t think I’d be that crazy, but then again, I was working on my phone all day.
I’m generally okay with signs of changing lifestyle and diet. But what is kicking me around a bit are two things.
First, it wasn’t like I had over-indulged, big and heavy, or anything. I ate basic portions, didn’t over order. I ate responsibly, if I’m looking for a description. That doesn’t mean I haven’t done OTHER things wrong and maybe this was the accumulated impact of the last little while in particular. But it’s a bit hard to “avoid” the trigger the next time if you didn’t see what you ate as a giant red flag in the first place. Andrea agreed, I hadn’t gone hog wild or anything. So that’s a bit disconcerting for the future…how big a trigger will things be? If oil on beef was a trigger, what else might be vs. a full aggressive change in diet? If I have to do the latter, it can be done. But I need some semblance of scale too, and I don’t really have one yet. The only way to know is to try certain things in the future and see how my body reacts. Which is a weird place to be, honestly. There have been other nights where, for example, I’ll decide to have an extra slice or two of really good pizza. Should I? No, but it has never been more than mild indigestion, and I was willing to pay the price. This time? I had a small indulgence (the oil) and I got a five-alarm fire in my stomach? Hard to set up a good warning system other than just trial and error in moderation.
Second, and this is a bit harder to adjust to, there’s no treatment option for the future. My gallbladder was fine. If it had been that, they could have removed it. But it’s not. So it’s just that my stomach reacted. If it happens again, I asked if there was something else I should be taking besides the Gaviscon which is my nuclear option usually. And it didn’t help. So what else is above Gaviscon? Basically, nothing.
If it happens again, I just have to ride it out. If it is bad enough that I need the lidocaine, I can go to emerg. But there doesn’t seem to be a Rx option for something like my acid reflux meds, but more of a “responsive side”. I can do everything I can for the preventative side, maybe that’s easier or harder, but it can be done. But not having an option for treatment at home if/when it happens again? Yeah, that’s not fun to think about.
I should celebrate it wasn’t my heart. I know that.
And I didn’t have to have surgery to remove an organ. Another plus, all my original organs are still inside my body. All original equipment.
But the thought that I could eat something with a bit more spice or impact than I’m expecting, that I might end up in a full-on level 6-7 pain experience, that I either go to the hospital for the lidocaine or I just ride it out, that’s not a great mental thought process I want to spend much time on.
It may be “just indigestion”, but it sure kicked the crap out of my body over the last 24 hours. I’m exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally. Hopefully, moderation is sufficient and I don’t have to be anal-retentive or paranoid. I can handle what it means at home, not sure I want to handle what it means when I travel to inlaws or at the cottage or visiting friends. As I said, it’s just a mental health thing. I’ll adjust to the new normal eventually, but trial and error is rarely my preferred method of learning.