Sunday, August 14, 2011

I'm having chest pains...

This is one of those stories that you hope your mother doesn't read (she'll see it, I know. She's our biggest fan).

The race (Raid the North Extreme) went well (hell, it went great! We were still on a high from our second-place finish!). We decided to split up the drive home after the race. Rather than driving all 7 hours from Rossland to Calgary, we would take advantage of the open-door hospitality of our team-mate James and his wife (and super race volunteer) Wakana, and spend the night in Cranbrook. 3 hours of driving the first day, 4 hours of driving the next. Smart. Not taking any risks of pushing too hard on these sleep-deprived bodies and possibly falling asleep at the wheel (Note to Mom: see how smart and conservative we are?) (Note to self: you're almost 40 years old, and way too concerned about what your mom would say.... oh well, I'm sure everyone has a bit of that in them until their last days).

Well, here's where it starts getting a little exciting; all of you reality TV show / NASCAR race crash-watching types might find this appealing. About an hour away from Cranbrook on the first day, I start getting some discomfort in the middle of my chest. Nothing too bad, but it's definitely something. As the remainder of the hour passes, it is getting a little stronger. By the time I get to Cranbrook, I ask James to check me out (as an E.R. doctor, maybe he can just ask me a few questions and determine that I don't have to go through all the hassle of going to the hospital to get it looked at). James listens to my heart, asks me a few questions, and then gives me the pink liquid to drink, to rule out whether this is indigestion. After 15 minutes, he asks me how I'm feeling. Not any better at all. He then informs me that I'm off to the ER for the evening and most of the night. Damn, I really wanted sushi....

I walk into the ER and get in line. It's a long weekend, and they are swamped with vacationing Albertans. The folks talking loudly and joking in line in front of me don't appear to be urgent cases but I guess they have nowhere else to go. I hold my hand on my chest as I feel my chest squeeze tightly. While I've been thinking this is no big deal, it's starting to get uncomfortable and a bit alarming. Finally the triage nurse glances down the line from her desk, stands up and points to me. "You. What's going on?" she barks as she points over the others and directly at me. "I started having chest pains about an hour ago", I respond, with my hand still placed over my sternum. Suddenly, I'm Business Class and being escorted into the lounge. They put me on a bed and get an EKG hooked up to me right away while also listening to my heart. Strong heart beat. Good curve on the EKG. I explain that I've already tried the pink liquid. The nurse questions why James would keep that stuff on hand. I now go through a series of introductions with various staff and explain to them the race that I've been through. I try to add some clarification to their questioning of "is that like a marathon?". The questions are sometimes amusing, as they give me a chance to boast a little about this sport and these races that I think are so fantastic, but I also sometimes tire of people not being able to comprehend, or comparing it to Amazing Race. No, I'm sorry, it is NOT like Amazing Race. Getting to the START LINE is like Amazing Race... then our race begins.

After 5 full days of beating myself up and functioning on about 5 hours of sleep (total, not per night), I now face what seemed like the most painful experience of the week. Perhaps my dehydration added to the challenge, or she was having bad luck, but the nurse put me through several minutes of fishing for a vein as she tried to set an IV. This is pretty high on my list of "Experiences I really don't enjoy". Coming from a sport where determination is key, and mottoes like "Never Give Up" abound, I should admire how she tried and tried to hit that vein as she fished around inside me with that needle. Instead of showing my admiration, I made faces like someone being tortured. Well,... that sure got my mind of my chest pains.

Chest x-ray. Fine. Then they fired up the ultrasound. The doctor, who seemed to comprehend our strange sport, made the whole trip worth the price of admission by showing us the ultrasound screen as he toured VJ and I through my insides. "There's your liver, and up here is your heart". Very cool. From the next angle you could see two valves (or is it the aorta and the pulmonary artery? I'm an engineer not a biologist) slurping and pushing happily, clear as day, while it made that cool ultrasound "whoosh-whoosh" sound. Very cool indeed. Then he rolled down a little and showed me the pericardium (a wall around the heart). Beneath this he showed a dark strip that he believed to be some fluid. "That may be what's causing your pain". Three Advils, and then another blood test, looking for enzymes that would have been released if I were actually having some cardiac trauma. All results came back fine, so after 7 hours they concluded that I was safe to release (especially given that I was sleeping in the home of one of the town's other ER doctors). Doctor's orders: Stick with the high doses of Advil, and follow up with another EKG and ultrasound when you get back to Calgary. Hmmm... see the title of my other blog.... ("Would I be healthier if I didn't do this?)

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