Wentz: Paging Dr. Gravy! Dr. Gravy to the E.R., please!

Feb. 28, 2013 @ 10:56 AM

I entered the emergency room at the little hospital in the mountains at 1:30 p.m. I was told at 3 p.m. that I’d be admitted overnight for shortness of breath, low oxygen level, and a “funky” EKG, even though I insisted to everyone within earshot that my EKG had been funky since I was 17, and my heart is fine! 

So, I tell poor Lindsey, who had come with me (for the last time, I’m sure) that she should go home, walk and feed the dogs, work out, and try to salvage a sliver of the day, and I’d call her with my room number later. She tries not to appear delighted at the prospect of not being here when I keel over, which they’re expecting at any moment, and she scrams. (Who could blame her?  It’s not like she’s in the will ... anymore.)

Next is the CT scan (administered by the nicest, young, bearded, newlywed guy, just chat-chatting away - why not? He wasn’t the one about to croak! As I was being slid into the scanner, he told me “lift both arms like you’re praisin’.” This is the Southern mountains, after all. Then, I’m returned to my cubicle in the ER, trailing tubes, and open my 775-page novel, assuming that, as with everything in my life, things will move slowly. 

At 6 p.m. (yes, I said 6 p.m.!) my nurse bustles in with a dinner tray, and when I take the dish covers off, I’m in shock. 

These folks supposedly believe that my heart will attack me sometime in the next few hours. I’m sitting there with a blood oxygen level so low that student doctors are coming in to stare at me. I’m breathing oxygen through a tube, and I’ve been increasingly short of breath for a week. I’ve told Lindsey where my will is (and given her my health care power of attorney, which was stupid, since I’ve pretty much blown this trip, and between being forced to sit around here another 24 hours or pull the plug, I’m fairly sure which one she’d choose) and where I hide my good jewelry...like I have any good jewelry.

So, the stage is set. Vicki’s going down...any minute now. And, I open the dinner covers to see a clump of cheesy lasagna as big as a shoe, covered in a lake of sauce. There is a big, fat breadstick beside it, a small mound of crucified green beans, a carton of whole milk, cranberry juice, and a piece of carrot cake so large my bottomless son couldn’t finish it. This is clearly Cardiac Arrest on a Plate, and, naturally, the visual is extremely misleading. The taste is worse than the heart attack would be.

It is 8:10 p.m. (yes, I said 8:10 p.m.!) when they finally come to take me to my room in the cardiac wing, on the Moderate Care hall. These people are serious, my friend. Lindsey shows up right behind me with chicken soup from Panera, iced tea, my pillow and a small suitcase. She’s somewhat relieved to see that I’m still pre-keel, and gets dinner set up while I change from hospital gown to flannel nightgown with little scotties all over it.

In comes another nurse with a needle, to take more blood, but she doesn’t waste time unnecessarily looking for a shy vein, quickly deciding just to stab me in the back of the hand. I look at her, alarmed, but she smiles serenely and says, “It’s okay, honey, we’ll get through it together with Jesus.” STAB! The vein blows up like an acorn and I’m indeed calling for Jesus...how did she know?

Next morning, after two hours’ sleep, an echo-cardiogram - and after a breakfast of (I am NOT making this up) a gigantic biscuit covered in white floury gravy, three sausage links, a blueberry muffin, one slice of pineapple and more whole milk - a doctor in a ponytail enters and declares my blood work normal and my heart fine (“Seems your EKG has shown this since you were young.”...I’m like in a parallel universe here!) and tells me the reason I’m short of breath is that the lower part of my right lung is collapsed. 

They don’t know why, but it’s obviously not as alarming - or invigorating - as an imminent cardiac event. How do I fix it? Not with a needle, which is my main concern, because it’s not the entire lung, just the bottom part. I feel like apologizing.

She tells me to do this yoga pose several times a day to help the lung expand, and that it will also improve when I come down from the higher elevations. Which it has.

Meanwhile, I’ve secretly changed the designated person on my health care power of attorney...what?...you wish!


Vicki Wentz is a local writer, teacher and speaker.  Readers may contact her at chh@heraldsun.com, or visit her website, www.vickiwentz.com