Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Hospital Experience #1: The Background

Recently I was in the hospital very briefly. This post and following posts will be about this experience. This post will describe the background leading up to the hospital experience. The next post will describe the hospital experience itself. Subsequent posts will explore my thoughts and feelings about the experience and what I've learned from it.

So, here is the background information, as best as I understand it. During spring break, I experienced my heart beating oddly. For several days, I had felt it beating in my throat. I also felt tired and very slightly light-headed. This wasn't getting better, so I decided to look on the Internet for symptoms of heart attack in women. The first site I consulted opened with this message: If you are reading this to determine whether symptoms you are currently experiencing are those of a heart attack, you really need to get off the Internet and get to a doctor now.

Okay, I thought, maybe I should go to the emergency room. After consulting by telephone with two friends and three family members, I went to the nearby Ochsner-Baptist emergency room. I was found to have very high blood pressure (no surprise, given my sky-high level of anxiety at that point), but an EKG revealed a normal heart rate. I was administered some medication to bring the blood pressure down and, once the blood pressure normalized, I was sent home with a prescription and instructions to follow up with my doctor.

Being somewhat doctor-averse, I hadn't sought out a doctor since returning to New Orleans in May 2009, so I didn't have one to follow up with. I went home and read on the Internet about the medication that the emergency room doctor had prescribed, and I kind of freaked out about the list of side effects (which I like to insist are not "side" effects but DIRECT effects of the drug that are unwanted) and the fact that once you begin this medication it is harmful to stop taking it without a doctor's supervision.

As a result, I decided to do three things:

  • Go to the Ochsner Resident Clinic where I could get a same-day appointment to see a resident and a supervising doctor
  • Make an appointment with a primary care doctor (also Ochsner-based) who was highly recommended to me by my friend Ninette
  • Completely revamp my eating and exercise habits

The resident at the Ochsner Resident Clinic had me wear a heart monitor for twenty-four hours. This revealed an occasional fast heart beat - quite fast - at times when I was not exerting myself. The resident strongly recommended that I see an arrhythmia specialist.

Although I felt that I was starting to get caught in a medical web, I reluctantly agreed. The arrhythmia specialist recommended a cardiac catheter ablation procedure (which I will describe in my next post), and I finally - very reluctantly - agreed to schedule this. All this reluctance comes from being doctor-averse, hospital-averse, and medication-averse.

When I saw my new primary care doctor, she prescribed a blood-pressure-lowering diurectic (apparently I have had untreated high blood pressure for some time, which has caused some changes in my heart) and encouraged the cardiac ablation procedure. Again reluctantly, I agreed to the diuretic and have been taking it.

This primary care doctor also highly approved of my new healthy eating habits (heavy on fresh fruits and fresh or lightly steamed vegetables) and my new exercise regimen, but I could tell she was a little skeptical because she has seen many patients who say that they will eat and exercise properly and will lose weight but fail to follow through. My second appointment with this doctor, however, revealed that I had lost twelve pounds in the month since my first visit to her, and a total of twenty-two pounds in the two months since my visit to the emergency room. My new primary doctor was very pleased - and so was I.

I really needed to lose this weight, and I feel much better as a result. I had been eating FAR too many fatty and sugary foods over the last several years and had not been exercising. When my friends express admiration, wonder, and sometimes friendly envy at my weight loss, I just say, "Well, a cute little visit to the emergency room is an amazing motivator!"

This post has provided background information leading up to my hospital experience for the cardiac catheter ablation to correct the heart arrhythmia. My next post will discuss the hospital experience itself.

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