Content Warning; This update contains addiction, heart issues, hospital stays and talk of death and dying.
We’re gonna need to give you another IV, so we can get this potassium in you. I can only see his eyes peering through the PPE and I’m terrified ’cause I can’t read them or him. This was going to be the third IV I’ve gotten in my life, and the other two just happened a few hours earlier.
Let me back up.
It’s Friday two weeks earlier. I finally admit to myself that my health isn’t going in the right direction. 2020 has been a real bitch and I’ve been falling back to old, bad habits.
I’m overeating. Again.
Making excuses for my addiction. Again.
I decide that I’m going to do a seven day fast. Just water and tea and vitamins for 7 days. I’ve done this before, it went well, I kick-started weight loss, refocused my mind, rediscovered my good habits and lots of other great benefits. This time I did one thing differently, and as it turns out, it was a big fucking deal.
During the fast, which turned into nearly 8 days (due to schedules and my appetite) I felt generally fine with one exception. I had a lot of headaches and muscle cramps. I chalked this up to sugar withdrawals, and ignored it. This was my second mistake, the first mistake I didn’t realize at this point. After I broke my eight day fast, I immediately began an intermittent fasting schedule of 18 hours off with a small 6 hour eating window. I followed this schedule until Thursday evening—when all hell broke loose.
Let me explain a little something about myself. I think about death a lot. How I will die, when, why… The whole scenario plays out in my head near constantly. One of my biggest fears as a husband and father is dying on a Holiday. The idea that I would ruin that holiday for my loved ones is unbearable to me. Holidays are supposed to be happy memories and happy times. But how can you celebrate Christmas if your dad dies on Christmas morning? For fuck’s sake, this old brain of mine can be a real asshole sometimes.
I’m in the hospital. It’s midnight. On Thanksgiving. I am positive I’m not coming home. I’m lying on a bed in the emergency room praying that I survive to see my kids one more time. To hold Lu’s hand while we watch shows. To Hug. To Love. To Smile. To Frown. To Feel. To Live… I fall asleep. I’m in an out, the adrenalin that got me here is gone, my body and mind are weak, I feel myself drifting away. Every time I wake Lu is there, right there.
I tell her important things, I tell her
I love you a hundred times, and that
I’m sorry. So Sorry.
I’m asleep again.
I’m at home. Thanksgiving dinner coming soon, I’m looking forward to it. I’ve eaten exactly one meal a day for the last 6 days, and fasting 18 hours between meals. I’m hungry and really excited for my Thanksgiving bowl. It comes and goes. I’m fasting again, 10 hours to go. I decide to have a cup of tea before bed. I prepare and causally drink a cup of Throat Coat tea, a medicinal herbal tea, a tea I’ve been drinking 1 to 2 cups a day for the last 13 days. A choice that sends me to the hospital. Around five minutes after I down the last sip my heart starts racing, I mean really trying to win some fucking race I didn’t know I was in.
I’m in the bathroom. I think I’m having a panic attack, my Apple Watch says
No, this ain’t that bro. It says my heart rate is 174, then 76, then 180, then 90… It’s gone nuts. I call for Lu. She appears, her face is stoic, calm. But her energy is worried.
My heart, my watch I mutter.
This isn’t right. Something is wrong. And then I say it, the line that sends her into emergency mode.
I’ve never felt anything like this before. That is how she knew this wasn’t a garden variety panic attack. Something I’ve been living with almost as long as we’ve been together.
I’m out of the bathroom. I’m pacing, it feels like the right thing to do. We argue briefly about going to the hospital. I don’t want to go ’cause COVID. But, this isn’t stopping, and I don’t want to die even more.
We jump in the ship, Lu behind the wheel and me in the passenger seat trying to stay alive. I fuck up my one job, navigating us to the hospital and I send us the back way. The switch-back way. The wrong way.
It takes forever to get there. My breathing feels labored, I’m not OK. I’m shaking. This is adrenaline, right?
I’m waiting in the emergency room, masked and trying to stay as far away from others as I can. I hear a cough, I wince. Lu is laser focused, she’s going to save me. She always saves me.
Mr. Mathy-ass? That’s me. No one gets it right, and in the south that’s as good as it gets.
I’m weighed. I’m crushed.
I realize I’m going to have to take my shirt off, somehow it’s not a thought that lingers like usual. Context really matters in matters of nudity.
I’m in the bed, they’ve determined I’m in A-Fib. I’m assured that this is
The best thing to have wrong with your heart. and
Very survivable. I don’t believe a single. God. Damn. Word.
The put me on saline, and meds. Meds to kick my heart back into sinus rhythm. The meds aren’t working. I’m asleep, then awake, asleep and awake. I can’t deal with any of this right now.
I wake and try convince Lu to go home check on the kids. I’ll be here, she knows where to find me. She refuses. This happens several more times before she agrees.
Lu’s gone home now. I’m surrounded by people, but I feel alone. I’m still scared, and still sure I’m going to die, but I had to put on a brave face for her.
The doctor wakes me up, asks me a bunch of questions I’ve already answered, I know what they are doing—making sure I’m still here. I am, and I’m not man. I’m floating away. It’s time.
I say to the doctor, I’ve been fasting, and the nurse says my potassium was super low. He waves it off.
Oh that’s nothing to worry about. I don’t believe him.
I’m going to start you on a new medicine the first one never really works, but we try it first as protocol. Uh huh.
You’re going to be fine. It’s going to be fine. He leaves. Later he charges me for 80 minutes of his time for this 5 minute interaction. Tell me you live in America, without telling me you live in America.
About 10 minutes later the Nurse comes back
We’re gonna need to give you another IV, so we can get this potassium in you. Potassium? I thought the doctor said another drug was next.
Yeah, he looked at your labs and thinks we should try this first. Uh huh.
It’s going to take a few hours for the Potassium to drip into my system, and it fucking hurts, it burns going in. The nurse cuts it with some saline, still hurts, but its tolerable. Going to take longer now though. I fall asleep again.
As the potassium drip ends the nurse asks me to take two enormous potassium pills. He turns to get me water, and when he turns back the pills are down the hatch. He’s impressed. I shrug it off. He glances at the monitor and says
Oh! You’re converted! I say
Yeah I felt it change, but didn’t want to jinx it. He cocks his head and I can tell he’s smiling.
Did you tell your wife?
No, I didn’t want to jinx it. I whisper
This is the first time I think, I might live.
The irony of this whole stay is that I’m fasting again because they keep trying to give me pork chops. They hand me Styrofoam containers with stickers that say American Heart Association, inside a menagerie of foods a heart patient shouldn’t consider, let alone a Vegan. I say I can’t eat this I’m Vegan. They promise to get me a Vegan plate. This never happens. But each time they bring me food over the two days I’m here it’s not Vegan and it’s always sponsored by the American heart Association. I collect the stickers.
Lu has come back bearing fruits and veggies a whole bag full. It’s quite tasty. I tell her the news. Her face lights up brighter than I’ve ever seen. Hope is filling her from top to bottom and bursting from the seams. She’s five feet, eleven inches of sunshine.
They won’t let me go home, they want to keep me for observation. Uh. Huh. Later they will charge me $246.37 for the on staff doctor to write me a scrip and sign my discharge papers.
Lu goes back home, I spend the night upstairs this time, private room. The ER needs the bed. I sleep well, though I’m sure I’ll slip back into a-fib if I let my guard down. I don’t. TLC goads me to sleep. The nurse wakes me up every few hours to check on me and ask me how tall I am and if I played basketball. It never ends. Mother’s don’t let your babies grow to be six feet seven inches it’s a constant fucking circus.
The next morning they won’t let Lu upstairs. They say it’s a COVID floor. Downstairs, she panics. I freak out. Upstairs the story is different, but that was quite the five minute period of holy shit hitting the fan.
It takes a couple of hours of prodding and pleading to get them to let me go home, and once they relented they had a small nurse come to push me in a wheelchair down to the lobby, I was not allowed to walk out of there. I felt very bad for her, it was not the easiest trip she’d ever made. But as we sat in front of the Hospital, while Lu grabbed the ship, the wind swept our faces and she blessed me. She gave me a gift right there. Nothing that could be wrapped, or held in my hands. But I hold it in my heart to this day. It was a very zen moment we had and I will cherish it always.
Lu pulled up and I’ve never felt so happy to see that minivan. I was about an hour from hugging my kids. And I was going to make it, for real.
Everything changed on Thanksgiving night. The Universe gave me a second chance.
And I accepted with my whole heart.