Christian recently blogged about the agonies of turning 40, and being the understanding mother that I am, I commented that getting old is not for sissies. David and I had an up close and personal experience with that yesterday.
As part of his birthday celebration, Christian and Amy are spending a few days in Las Vegas. Her dad provided the condo, and David and I came to Pueblo to stay with the grandkids. We’re having a great time, but we’re not used to all the activity and are grateful for school and childcare to give us a break during the day.
Yesterday, after we dropped Zoe at childcare, David started to complain of pain in his chest on the left side. It kept getting worse, and when he moved the surge strip from the office to the living room, a small job that required squatting down in both rooms, he was so out of breath he was puffing like he’d run a mile. I wasn’t having chest pains, but I was feeling a knot of fear in my stomach.
“Do you think you should go to the emergency room to have it checked out?” I said.
“We can’t afford it,” he said. When he retired several years ago, he dropped his health insurance and now gets his healthcare through the VA.
“Is there a VA here in Pueblo?”
“I’ll check, but that may get complicated,” he said.
Our permanent address is in Texas, but because I go back to Florida twice a year to see my hematologist, he’s still registered with the Tampa VA. He found a VA clinic in Pueblo, so he called. He was told to come in, register as a “traveling veteran,” and they would check him out.
The nurse took a brief history and did a brief physical exam. “It’s probably a muscle strain, maybe involving an intercostal muscle,” she said.
That was a relief, but short-lived one.
“But since you’re a little dizzy and because of the shortness of breath, I recommend you be checked out further.”
The Clinic wasn’t equipped to do the testing and diagnosis, and the closest VA emergency room was in Denver. David didn’t feel like he was in any eminent danger, so we went back to the house to make some phone calls. He called the VA Network Payment Center, and they okayed a visit to a local ER. The Piatt homestead is very close to a hospital, so we left the car in the driveway and walked.
When you go to an ER with chest pain, you don’t have to wait. David was whisked into a room and surrounded by several people who seemed to know what they were doing. I tried to focus on positive thoughts, but it was hard with all those tubes and wires sprouting from his chest and arms. The EKG, chest x-ray, and blood tests were good. When the cardiologist performed a physical exam, she was delighted when she was able to recreate the pain by twisting David’s arm into an odd configuration. He didn’t share her enthusiasm, but he was glad to hear that she agreed with the VA nurse. She said the chest pain was probably a muscle strain from retrieving Zoe from the clothes hamper, putting her into her car seat, and various other grandfatherly duties. The shortness of breath was probably due to the change in altitude from Texas.
Once we got the good word, I asked if we could get a quick release so we could pick up the kids. That was no problem since the doctor was leaving anyway, but right before we left, the nurse gave David something to relieve the pain of the muscle strain. The something was a shot of dilaudid which made him so loopy he couldn’t walk the two blocks back to the house. I went to get the car, picked up loopy Grandpa and made it to the school with three minutes to spare.
Grandpa was nauseous and sleepy, so he conked out on the couch when we got home. The grandkids were very concerned and were glad that he felt well enough to get up and eat a little dinner with us. The effects of the dilaudid wore off overnight, and other than being a little sore, he’s fine today. I doubt he’ll be picking Zoe up anymore, though. I’m not sure how long it will take me to get over it.
During my years as a caregiver, I was plagued with a lot of worries and fears. One of the more personal ones was, Is this my future? Will I end up this way? Yesterday, looking at David on that ER gurney with a call button in his lap and a monitor over his head, I wondered how often I’d be doing this in the next decade or so. I’ve already sat with him in ICU after he took a header over his Harley’s windshield, and I watched a dermatologist cut a chunk out of his shoulder to remove a melanoma. On the other hand, maybe the roles will be reversed? He sat with me in the ER while the doctors worked to even out my heart rhythm and slow down my racing pulse, and he has sat in several waiting rooms while I underwent tests for CLL. That’s one of the harder things about making a lifelong commitment to another person. Unless we end up going down in a plane together, one of us will end up once again being a caregiver. We’ll learn for real what it means to love someone in sickness and health.
So what do I do with these gloomy thoughts, these morbid feelings? I let them come, and then I let them go. One of these days, David may have a heart attack, or I may have a stroke, but not today. At some point in the future, he may develop emphysema like his father, or I may develop Alzheimer’s like my mother, but not today. Today we’ll sit on the front porch and enjoy the cool Colorado breeze, and then we’ll go pick up the grandkids and make some more memories. Sure, my knees are a little stiff when I go up the stairs, I get a little out of breath playing at the park, and I have trouble seeing the little numbers and letters on the CD player. That’s okay; bring it on. I’m no sissy.