TRIGGER WARNING: This blog posts contains descriptions of a fall and medical treatment.
Listen, this one is going to be long. I spent almost a day in the hospital under observation on the general med-surg floor without my laptop or my phone charger. And the special type of not knowing in the hospital means you can’t trust them when they say you’re going home until they pull the IV out of your arm.
I’m going to use subheadings and break it up with photos. Gayle says I need to start writing a television sit-com. I would– but I’m not a screenwriter. Maybe I’ll change this into a play at some point.
The Unexpected End to the Evening of 3/13/23 (the fall)
It had been a busy day– maybe too busy: work, hand occupational therapy, a killer chest workout at the gym– but it was a good balance day. I could stand on one foot, I felt myself, and I was jovial. The only weird thing was on the 13th rep of every set of barbell bench presses, my right pinky would tingle. I even mentioned it to Andrew, and in the back of my mind, I was concerned because when my blood pressure spiked in early February, my right hand tingled.
I got home, had a lovely dinner with my daughter that included a massive bowl of brussel sprouts (which are one of my favorite things in the whole wide world) and made a cup of valerian tea to take to my room because I felt a little hyped up and it was almost bedtime.
I had the tea cup in my left hand, and my buddy straps for my sprained pinky on my right, and I was probably using the banister with my right hand. Three-quarters of the way up the steps, probably where the banister ends, I felt myself falling backwards. Just like a tree swaying in a storm (which considering the weather we’ve had recently sounds like the right metaphor). My normal falls start from my lower body. This did not.
I made a sound and started dropping f-bombs as I cascaded, according to the Teenager, sideways then straight out and dropped at a ninety degree angle onto the air conditioner. The Teenager ran to me. The air conditioner knocked the wind out of me, seriously knocked the wind out of me and now judging the bruise on my back it might have been a kidney punch from the stairs. I slowly rose and sat on the bottom step.
As I did so, I saw a frightening look on The Teenager’s face.
“I’m fine,” I assured her.
“No, Mom,” she said. “You’re not.”
Later she explained to me that blood was “pouring from my mouth” and she worried that I knocked teeth out. Honestly, from the pain in that moment, I feared I had broken my jaw (in part because in my chin-meets-sidewalk accident of spring 2010, the ER staff and the dentist marveled that I had taken enough impact to spit out teeth but had not broken my jaw).
The metal frame that holds the air conditioner in the window had sliced open my face under my lip. The tea cup had ended up between my breasts and smashed into pieces. I looked at my hands. They were covered in blood. And the floor. And the wall.
My pajamas were wet. And most of me had driblets of blood here and there. The Teenager got me a rag and a bag of frozen peas and we sat on the stairs for a minute and tried to stop the bleeding. The lightheadedness, feverishness and sweating started. I handed The Teenager my phone and told her to call Sassy, because she witnessed the last fall and this felt identical. I also checked my blood pressure: 106/81.
Sassy answered despite being at a restaurant with her family. It passed and I promised to keep an eye on myself and call my doctor in the morning. But when I looked in the mirror, I knew what my daughter described as a cut was a gash and it needed stitches.
I peeled off my pajama top. Blood streamed across my chest, perhaps from the tiny pricks made by the broken ceramic but more than likely from my face. I left on my fuzzy Cat-in-the-Hat pajama pants, threw on a tiny yoga tank and a Stitch Fix t-shirt and zipper hoodie and headed out the door in dirty slip-on sneakers and no socks.
In the Emergency Room: When the doctor listens and the patient acts responsibly
My daughter took my car and drives me to the hospital literally 600 steps away. She didn’t trust me to walk. It’s literally half way between our house and her high school, but she doesn’t know how to drive there so we wiggled around the neighborhood. We wandered in, registered, and were taken right back. 8:20 p.m.
The Teenager did have time to buy refreshments from the vending machine.
Once we got into our room, we saw nurses and a doctor very quickly. Our Emergency Room physician was amazing. I explained what happened, including my description of how my falls have not been normal, and he gave me three options.
- He could stitch me up and send me home and I could be home by 9 p.m.
- He could order bloodwork, fluids and an EKG, but then I would be there an hour or two.
- He could go all out and order CT scans and all the things, but then I’d be there for hours.
I chose option 2. I already felt something was off, and I thought bloodwork would give us a starting point without going crazy like some sort of hypochondriac. (Speaking of hypochondriac, my current favorite podcast is Hypochondriactor with Sean Hayes and Dr. Prianka Wally.)
They even allowed me to throw out my rag and get a big old pack of gauze.
The nurse hooked me up to an IV of fluids just in case the incident was amplified by dehydration. Here is the first mistake we made, not putting on the hospital gown until after my IV was installed. So when they came in for my first EKG, I had to shimmy my shirt and tank down the IV line to the bed.
The poor technician with the EKG machine had a terrible time getting it to work and she was so close to the end of her shift and tired. The Teenager had her intrigued that she had found a half-iced tea, half-lemonade Monster in the vending machine. The technician ended up getting a second EKG machine and the doctor came in to do the stitches but decided to come back later.
That’s about when The Teenager almost sent Sobaka’s mom a text that I was in hospice, thanks to auto-correct.
And the blood pressure and heart rate go crazy
You know that look you never want to see? The one where the doctor almost gets an “oh shit” expression? Now remember– I came to the hospital for stitches. And I’ve been monitoring my blood pressure for six weeks. And maybe it had been a day or two since I checked it, because we went to Waffle House, had margaritas and ordered Dominos in the same weekend.
I was informed that my blood pressure was high and they were going to administer a beta blocker through my IV line. After it kicked in, I looked at the monitor and it said 150-something over 90-something. I’m glad they had it turned away from me before giving me the medicine.
The second EKG revealed I was in atrial fibrillation. And as my blood work started rolling in, it should my white blood count and TSH was high.
Meanwhile, I am texting my travel companion M, because he’s a medical technologist by trade and loves numbers.
They also asked when my last tetanus shot was, to which I responded, “two weeks ago.”
When the doctor came in to do my stitches, I asked if he could unhook me from the IV so I could use the restroom first. Because I don’t know about you, but I find it horribly difficult to handle pain when I need to pee.
The doctor finally had his chance to shoot up my face with lidocaine (that second shot was a bitch) and sew up my lip. We irrigated the wound by me holding a basin under my face and him pouring the solution over my face so I ended up with quite a bit of liquid and a little bit of blood on my gown and down my chest.
I got three stitches, and he did a nice job. Not that I have a whole lot of experience. I’ve only had stitches once before.
And then I got a third EKG from a new technician also about to end his shift.
That’s when the doctor said I was still in A-fib and he’d like to admit me for observation. If that was okay with me. And if the hospital administration would allow it. Which probably means if the insurance company would allow it.
At 11 p.m., I was wheeled into some narrow elevators and transferred to room 353, which had to have made M happy. All prime numbers. I was admitted to the med-surg floor and I think I might have been the youngest person in the hospital. As we rolled along, I noticed they have a whole lounge of the chair I love that the dog ate!
The nurse had some situation going on so it took us until 1:30 a.m. to finish my admission survey. I had fun with some of the questions: “Are you safe at home? Do you face any physical or verbal abuse?”
“Only from my cockatoo,” I replied.
They had to take photos of my bruises, too, and take my cardiac enzymes, blood work and vitals every few hours. And the floor seemed to be crazy until 2 a.m.– and remember, I had gotten up for work at 4 a.m. I managed to take two naps each about 45 minutes.
I thought I had turned off my work alarm, but I had not, so it went off at 4 a.m. and then the nurse started her rounds at 4:45 and my work friends started texting at 5. So I was up for the day, with no phone charger and a book by Katherine Ramsland as my entertainment. I read 150 pages.
I was delivered the most boring, high carbohydrate breakfast I have ever seen.
And the staff kept offering to bring me water, and when I said yes, they would disappear forever.
I met with the cardiologist, the occupational therapist, the physical therapist, and the hospitalist (who needs a caretaker for her beagle when she visits India for a month this summer).
By morning I was allowed to move independently, which meant I could use the bathroom without someone watching me walk. The staff quickly learned that although I have cerebral palsy, I am adequately mobile.
The cardiologist explained that we would start a beta blocker, as that is the easiest form of management, and based on the echocardiogram and the information from the heart monitor I will be soon wearing, we can determine if different or more aggressive treatment is needed.
Often, A-fib raises risk of stroke so patients often take blood thinners. My cardiologist and I agree that will my tendency to fall, those medications would do more harm than good.
Echocardiogram and therapists
The echocardiogram was fascinating. To see an ultrasound of my heart in motion was truly an amazing reminder of what a complex and marvelous machine the human body is. My mitral valve regurgitation did show up on the test, but even with that my heart function was normal. That was great to hear, because lord only knows I didn’t want to hear that the mitral valve was failing and confusing the rest of my heart. I have never had medical surgery and would like to keep it that way.
The occupational therapist I met asked me what my everyday challenges were. I answered that my biggest challenge was dealing with my socks and shoes. She showed me an extended shoe horn and a sock aid. The sock aid is basically a big piece of plastic pipe with a jump rope attached to it. You put the sock on the end of the pipe, stick your foot it and pull the tube away from the sock with the rope.
I think you probably kill the life span of your socks by stretching them out, but if it means you can put them on, that’s cool to know.
And the physical therapist okayed my gait and my walking, especially knowing that I was already scheduled to start fall prevention therapy on Monday.
I was able to order my own lunch, but even though I ordered the entree salad, I got something much blander. But compared to breakfast it was delicious.
The Teenager came around one, because the hospitalist said I would soon be discharged. The hospitalist had declared the fall was mechanical, even despite my protests it was not. She told me to follow up on that with my neurologist. And I plan to. The poor neurologist has been getting so many portal-based text messages from me.
The head nurse came in and gave me a gift blanket— that would have been nice to have the night before.
The nurse removed my IV and 2:30 and we left the hospital about 3:30. I filed my short term disability claim, made an appointment with my primary care physician and took my first set of meds. The Teenager made dinner and I was in bed, asleep by 5:30.
My bruises hurt. My lips are dry and sore but finally the cuts are healing enough that food doesn’t burn them.
I have proposed to my employer, and plan to bring paperwork to my doctor tomorrow, to leave me out of work for at least three weeks. I have six weeks of leave left. The three weeks would give me time to see if the medicine is working, finish hand rehab, participate in fall prevention, wear the heart monitor and take ALL that information to my neurologist.
Because no one wants me having another episode at the warehouse.
The cardiologist assures me that I can’t blame this on Waffle House, margaritas and Dominos, but how can we know that when the last fall down the stairs happened after Little Caesars, Taco Bell and Diet Coke. Coincidence? Do my overbooked days add to the triggers? The risk factors for A-fib include anxiety, being overweight, alcohol and caffeine. That’s my life in a nutshell.
I’m going to see Nicole today, not sure I need a chiropractor right now, but I had the appointment already and I like the idea of her checking my post-fall body.
So I think that’s everything.
It’s good to be home.
My heart monitor is on the way.