Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Electric Tube Heart Show

The Electric Tube Heart Show

            "Based on the echo, there seems to be a slight thickening of the heart muscle." My doctor said.

            My pulse quickened.

            "It looked normal on the EKG, and on the results I'd read." I added.

            My doctor's normally buoyant nature was absent, as was the light in her eyes. Instead, her pupils looked black, and her manner was serious. She had commented previously that I was, "Ready for 2016 to be over," and that was true.

            Now, she wanted to make sure I didn't suffer a heart attack, just as my mother did two years ago. While it wasn't the cause of her death, her heart condition certainly didn't help.

            "This is a CYA situation." Doc said. "We have to schedule an MRI just to be sure."

            It was rescheduled for the 30th of December. I was nervous as hell. Just like the EKG in 2015, I was to face it alone.

            The nurse was helpful when she inserted the I.V. tube. She asked if I needed anything first.

            I said, "A bullet to bite down on."

            She laughed, and then said, "Let me see if I can find you anything."

            She was wearing red scrubs, which could either mean one of two things. She'd either be ace at this, like Scotty on Star Trek. Or, she'd be one of the unlucky redshirts that gets cacked in almost every episode. Or, she'd be like the cardinals that I used to admire when I had a backyard. If that was the case, then I'd be in good hands.

            She handed me a syringed filled with saline. It was too wide, even for my mouth, so I opted not to bite it. I didn't need it anyway--I'd grown used to needles from having blood drawn, and all the dental work I've had.

            I felt the usually pinch, and then a sting, and then it was all back to normal. I was concerned I'd leak blood, but then realized that wouldn't be the case. Still, I bent my left arm for a few moments, just to keep it elevated.

            Clad in my Ninja Turtle pajama pants (the last Christmas gift mom gave me) and a hospital gown (facing backwards) I waited for the MRI tech.

           I took one last look at my phone, and the photo that Eleanor sent me for Christmas. I've been worried about losing her ever since I met her, but I overthink everything. I worry too much, and that leads to even more worrying. Still, I looked at her photo, and took comfort in seeing her serene face, and those deep brown eyes. I could get lost in them.

            The MRI tech entered, and I put the phone away.

            She was blonde, and resembled Amy Schumer, just a tad. She was also clad in a red uniform.

            With my boots on, I locked up my backpack, and then followed her to the MRI room.

            "I thought this was an open scanner?" I asked.

            "Oh, it is." The Tech said. "It's considered open, because it 
only covers the top half of you. Are you claustrophobic?"

            "A little." I said. "I have anxiety, so it might be triggered."

            "We'll be talking to you the whole time." She assured me. 

"If you need us to stop, I'll give you a call button."

            It was a gray rubber bulb, like the kind used in enema kits. I just hoped that when I squeezed it, it would summon her, and not...well, you know.

            As I laid back on the scanner bed, she asked me, "What kind of music do you like?"

            "Have you heard of Lindsey Stirling?"

            "Yes! She's very talented."

            The Tech placed headphones on me, the old-school kind. Then I laid back.

            The machine was as large as I expected. The plastic tunnel was a short one, and as she assured me, my head would partially protrude from the other end. It was like a plastic womb in that sense. As I laid back, I started to have thought of seeing my mother laid out. Then I started to imagine her body being moved down a conveyor belt into the fires that consumed her. I started to panic, and then pushed those thoughts out.

            I laid back, and was slowly moved into the tube. It not only covered my chest, but also my head. I closed my eyes, so I'd not have to see the inside of a plastic coffin. At least my legs and arms were free. If I couldn't move my arms, I would have really freaked.

            I thought of Eleanor. I thought of Mom. I thought of England. Then I thought of my chosen family in California.      

            I mouthed, "I love you."

            Then the music started.

            The first song was The Arena, off Lindsey's new album, Brave Enough. It was one of the things that gave me the courage to get through it.

            Granted, I wasn't under the knife, but even remembering this experience gives me a few tears. I wasn't worried about the machine as such--more so by what they may find.

            Would I need medication?

            Was I at risk for a heart attack?

            All the Joyce men died from heart attacks, but in their 80's and 90's. It was my mother's side that had heavy smokers, that died relatively young from conditions like COPD, cancer, and other respiratory ailments. I didn't smoke, so I felt I might be in the clear. My heart should be okay.

            My doctor felt I didn't have anything wrong, but we had to be sure. I wanted to delay any reunion with my Mom for as long as possible.

            There's this pattern of thought I go through on occasion. I wonder, "Will my life have any future?"

            I sometimes get in ruts were my life seems to reach a stalemate, and I need to break free. This was one of those times. I had moved into a new apartment, only to find out it was almost as big a hassle as the previous one. Mold, a noisy flatmate, and other concerns meant that I wasn't completely comfortable there. Concerns about whether I could afford a place of my own, and still afford other things I need, has often come to mind.

            There's always the question of, "Am I the person that people want to be around?" That's an insecurity that floated back to the surface. Couple that with, "Am I scaring away someone I love," and I could have been in full panic mode.

            But inside that tube, I didn't panic. I knew I couldn't have the luxury of a panic attack in there. I had to lie back, and keep still, and endure.

            The device on my chest felt heavy, but I tuned it out. I thought of the heart underneath, and of the images the techs could see. Part of me wished I could see it. I watched when the EKG was being taken. The radiologist even let me listen to my heart for a few moments. It sounded like the recordings inside a mother’s womb.

            Thirty minutes in, and it was time for the contrast dye. Elyssa, the Tech, asked me how I was a doing.
                “Fine,” I said. “Though I did have an itch on my face, and couldn’t scratch it.”
                 She laughed a little, and then said, “You’re doing great. The dye might give you a cooling sensation though.

                I didn’t feel anything when the dye was injected. However, I did start to nod off a bit toward the end of the procedure, and had some strange dreams. Finally, the MRI ended, and I was ejected from the machine like played CD. The Tech walked me back to the room where I’d changed, and then removed the I.V. unit. It was then that I began to feel light-headed. The contrast dye didn’t make me feel cold, or give a metallic taste to my mouth. Instead, it made me feel drunk. Not a bad side-effect. Though it didn’t come in tropical flavors, or with a tiny umbrella. No twist of lime either.

            I went back to my recently-moved-into flat, and then passed out for a few hours. I had the strangest dreams as I napped, but fortunately, can’t recall any of them. When I woke up, it was late afternoon. New Year’s Eve was to be the next day.

            The end of the procedure was a bit of an anticlimax. However, it was the waiting that bothered me the most. I wanted to know, and wanted to know now if anything was wrong.
 I was emailed a link to the results a week later.

            It read, “Left Ventricle Ejection Fraction 58%.”

            I then thought, “What the hell does that mean?”       

            I understood the part about Left Ventricle and ejection. But what does that number mean?

            I texted Kethry’s parents, both of whom are medical professionals. Her father is a doctor that specializes in cardio, and her mother is nurse.

            “Russ says that in normal range.” Cheri told me.

            I was relieved. I thought 58% percent meant I was headed for a lifetime of medication, and fears of a heart attack. All the Joyce men died from heart attacks, except for my Uncle Mickey, who died from cancer. However, all the Joyce men lived to be elderly—late 80’s and 90’s. This was to see if I inherited a disease my mother had, so that’s something else. Hypertrophic Cardio Myopathy runs in families. My mother is the first person we’ve known of to have it. Luckily, I only inherited her nose and cheekbones. My heart is clear of any illness.
                I had some good news to start the year off with. However, I’m not taking it for granted that I don’t have a long-term cardiac condition. There were no guarantees, as some people who have the illness can be asymptomatic. Sir David Frost had it, and no one was aware until after his death. I visited his tomb as well, oddly enough.

            Yes, I lead a charmed life. I hang out with dead people while on holiday.

            I was more concerned about the living. I wanted to live to see what my future may bring. I want to return to Britain, see someone I care for deeply, and see a place that I love. I wanted to see my chosen family as well.  Mostly, I didn’t want to join my mother, not now. I must live to continue to tell the story. I’m not finished yet. It’ll be a long time before I am finished.

            I see my doctor again in three months. She’ll keep an eye on me, and we’ll take it from there. 2016 was such a hell storm of a year. It was time that things settled into normality, whatever that is, for a while.

Copyright Riley Joyce 2017

Author's Note: Some trivia. The first MRI machine was built in Aberdeen, Scotland.

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