“Let me ask you a question,” the granola-looking ER doc said. “Do you have a lot of stress in your life?”
I let half of my mouth turn up into a smile as my brain began running through possible replies. “Is the Pope Catholic?” “Does Donald Trump love himself?” “Is tonight’s the most dramatic rose ceremony yet?” “Can Adele carry a tune?” Was this guy serious? I mean, I have dusty fan blades and clothes I’ve fluffed in the dryer 4 times and a smell in my car whose source I can’t identify and goal pants, sir. But instead, I landed on, “Sure, I mean, I have a job and three young kids, so … yeah, there’s some stress there.”
But let me back up. Saturday night, I hosted a handful of gals I used to work with for our monthly get together, a social appointment we refer to as Pretty & Plastered. It’s basically an excuse to do what we do best: eat, gossip and laugh like morons. (Sidenote: I’ve discovered a secret species of great friend – the ex-coworker. You know enough to engage in a convo about work and hate all the same people, but you don’t have the yuckiness over late TPS reports and botched presentations.) Around 1:30 a.m. the last of the girls headed out and I considered finishing the dishes, vetoed that option, ate a caprese kabob and tucked myself in upstairs next to an already-snoozing Hank. Now, you’re reading writing from a woman who’s no stranger to the spins. After a few glasses of wine … you’re feeling a little twirly … you’re having a hard time focusing … you’re toying with the idea of maybe throwing up a little … I’ve been there. I know those negotiations. This was different. My heart was racing, and it seemed to quicken the deeper I fell toward sleep. The rapid pace would jolt me back awake and I was panicked, but eventually I dozed off.
Sunday was a Big Breakfast Sunday and Hank was hunting, so I packed up the chicks and headed to my folks’. I felt a little off but thought the coffee was just strong. There was a frantic fire drill when my brother’s lab ran away, but the canine crisis was averted thanks to a facebook page dedicated to lost and found pups. (Can I get an amen over how amazing it is when technology comes in for the assist and allows people to help other people? Hallelujah!)
By noon my heart was back to the races. I was constantly aware of how uncomfortable it was. I looked down at my fitness tracker; normal pulse. So, I’m crazy. Thus began a control freak’s worst nightmare. It was a frightening personal paradox; the more I tried to gain control, the more control alluded me. I realized that day that control is a truly illusive little shit.
When you recognize that you kinda-sorta might be completely insane, you immediately want to make contact with someone who would understand such a dilemma. So I called my mom. “You’re having a panic attack,” she said. “I have them all the time and mine started at about your age. Breathe into a paper bag, take a hot bath and just try to relax.” I’VE BEEN TRYING TO RELAX, WOMAN! But I followed her prescription like it was the crazy person’s gospel. No change.
Time to call in the big dogs. I sent a text to my friend Jackie, the nurse.
Me: Jac, medical question … my heart is racing, only it’s really not. Can’t catch my breath. Mind is frantic. Anxiety, right? Not heart attack?
Jac: That’s what it sounds like to me. What is your pulse?
Me: Like 64
Jac: Try laying down or do some yoga breathing.
Me: But no need to go in, right? They can last a while?
Jac: It sounds like an anxiety attack. You probably feel dizzy from hyperventilating. With no chest pains and normal vitals. Try to rest. You are not dying. Text me in 15-30 minutes and let me know how you feel. Love you.
[45 minutes later]
Me: My heart feels like it’s racing.
Jac: Do you feel any better?
Me: No. So sorry to text so late.
Jac: Damn, you might want to go in just to put your mind at ease. Maybe they can give you something to relax. I am so sorry Court.
And, as is usually the case, she ended up being right. After 2 hours of fearing that if I fell asleep I would never wake up again, Hank finally called it and we decided to head into the ER. My brother came to sleep on the couch just like he did the night we had Sloppy Joan. It was like deja vu, only I knew I wasn’t coming home with anything cute and snuggly.
And that’s how I came to engage in a conversation about stress in the ER in the wee hours of Monday morning, strapped up to a bunch of circle things wearing nothing but my favorite boyfriend sweatpants, running shoes and a gown. My EKG in the triage room looked fine, so there wasn’t a lot of bustling about like on Grey’s (total letdown). They eventually moved us to a room and, i gotta tell you, it was so romantic. Right across the way was a woman, whose face I never saw, who loudly vomited for the entirety of our visit. She only paused long enough to shout, belligerently, “You’re laughing at me! Quit laughing at me!” Judging by the sounds coming from behind her curtain, I’m quite certain that no one was laughing.
My doc was a kind gentleman who looked like a bit of a hiker. He wore field pants and comfortable boots and spoke wisely and calmly. He ran through all of the possibilities and my health history – never proposing what I was beginning to accept as my diagnosis; I was a touch of the crazy. After a chest X-ray, urine sample, blood tests and EKG, it was decided that I was fit to be set free and my ticker was tocking just fine. It was the most expensive checkup I’ll probably ever get. But I’m forgetting the best part … the prize I did get to take home …
As we pinpointed anxiety as the culprit for my spastic heart (that wasn’t really spastic at all in the land of the normal people), the outdoorsy ER doctor made an offering. “Would you like something to help calm you at this point?” “Yes.” I said without consideration. I was going on 26 hours of feeling like I was seconds away from delivering the opening monologue at the Oscars. It was either take the pill or start pulling my hair out. My mistress had a name, and it was Ativan. She came on slowly but once her effects set in it was goodnight, Gracie. We left the hospital in the early morning hours.
I woke up at 3:30 Monday afternoon feeling like Snow White. I hadn’t slept that hard since I occupied the bedroom with no windows in our college house. Were the kids at school? I didn’t know. Did I tell my boss about my absence? Hadn’t the foggiest. But my heart was beating regularly and the sun was shining.
It seems odd, perhaps, to write about experiencing something so wacky, but the truth is, I’ve discovered that once you put your crazy out there, everyone starts to share that they have a little bit in them, too. Turns out that losing control completely is a somewhat popular pastime and I’m not the only working mother of three who feels 2 burritos short of a combo plate sometimes. Will it come back? I freaking hope not, but I’d guess yes. Can I stop it? The doctor said that eating well, avoiding excessive caffeine, exercising and meditating can help, so those should probably bubble up to the top of the ole’ agenda, but largely I think it’s just something that’s bound to pop up with the full moon.
The next day I had an email from my dad saying he liked the blog post about him and Mom from earlier in the week. And then:
On your panic attack, your mother and I have both been through that. We both still fight it. She does more than I do. A counselor once told me that “Reality is what you perceive things to be”. The panic attack is a screwed up sense of reality. It is like in Divergent when they subject her to facing her fears. She is in a total panic and then she realizes that it is not real. Deep breaths and meditation can help. You’ll figure it out.
To which I responded:
Re: Subj: Blog
Thanks, Dad. I love you! And thanks for the great genes there, bud.