Postcard from the edge
0500 hours, Tuesday, May 30, 2017. Skyland Ranch, Gold Bar, Washington.
It was my usual morning here at the Ranch. I was up early, listening to MSNBC, puttering around, cleaning the place up, enjoying the early morning solitude. There was a slight drizzle, but I didn’t start a fire, as it was warm, and I even had the doors open.
As I was walking toward the sink, I suddenly got dizzy. My vision blurred, and a wave of warm chills spread from head to toe like I had been hit with the wand of the good witch. It lasted about 10 seconds, but was to repeat itself a dozen times or so in the next couple hours.
I have never had a TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack), but I could think of nothing else. I know my recent scans had all come back clear, but I still could think of no other explanation.
I posted on Facebook, asking for feedback. It also could be PAWS, as I stated therein, (Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms), which mirror drinking symptoms in the first year of recovery for some people.
Most people thought I should go to the emergency room right away… and then the symptoms stopped. I felt fine.
I called my doctor and left a message, and promised my FB friends that I would go right in if it happened again.
I felt fine for the rest of the day, and all of the next.
0400 hours, Thursday, June 1, 2017.
Up a little earlier today, heavier rain, slept pretty well. Dishes and cleanup all done, coffee made, cat fed.
The radio is ablaze with the results of the Trump trip to Europe, and the impending departure of the United States from the Paris accord.
I was standing on the balcony, enjoying the rain, when the first one hit, at around 0430. Shit. Same exact symptoms, but there did not seem to be any favoring of one side, like a TIA would typically cause. My pupils were equal and reactive.
There were a few more in the next half hour, and then a pause.
I reached for my phone, but I absolutely loathe the couple of high-maintenance people I live with. On the other hand, I had a promise to keep.
A pause ensued. I started gathering my things, and I took a shower. People started eventually waking up, and things went along smoothly for a while.
The morning chef was under the weather, so I whipped up some eggs/tomatoes/cheese, and some bacon. I felt good, and maybe I was imagining it, or maybe it was PAWS.
Then they started again. Every 15 minutes or so, lasting for up to 15 seconds.
We ate, the chores got done, and we had our morning meditation, our weekday, routine, get-started-on-the-right-foot tradition.
After we were done with the Serenity Prayer, I casually mentioned to Mike that I needed to go to the hospital, and that he could drop me off his way to Costco for groceries.
“Is it your back?”, he asked.
No, something else is wrong.
“Shit! Let’s go right now.”
I had said “something” reluctantly. As I said, we have a couple guys here who are high-maintenance, always imposing on staff for this or that, while at the same time contributing almost nothing to the fellowship. I didn’t want to be one of those, but, in my heart, so to speak, I knew something was really wrong with me. Little did I know at the time.
So we set off. I felt pretty safe, as my doctor was along the way, my dentist, and I knew where the fire stations were, of course.
We arrived safely at the ER in Monroe. I barely got to sit down at the desk and get out, “I think I have been having TIAs…” before I was whisked off to a bed.
Before long, the ER doctor was looking at several EKG printouts. They kept looking at the lead connections, did some shaving, and switched me to a 12-lead, all thinking there was a bad connection somewhere. There were blank spaces where there should not have been.
Turns out they were not blank spaces at all — they were flatlines.
“We’re sending you right away to Kirkland for a pacemaker.”
They left me alone, to make arrangements.
I burst into tears for about five minutes. I have always been pretty robust, and this coming face-to-face with age hit me hard, right between the eyes.
I got over it pretty quickly, realizing that this was just my fate, and I was a little slapped around, as well, by a couple more episodes.
Code 3 ambulance to come get me, quick load with the guys from Northwest, and Code 3 to Evergreen Kirkland.
I went through the emergency room straight to the Cath Lab, where Dr. Kim and his band were all ready for me.
“Hi, I am Doctor Kim!”
“I’m Tom. You didn’t go to Stanford, did you?”
Two quick signatures, and after a couple more episodes that generated some “Whoas!”, they put me three-quarters of the way down, and shot me full of local anesthetic.
I could hear the cutting and smell the blood, but it was completely painless.
Less than an hour later, the pacemaker was in place and two harpoon wires had been launched via artery to my heart.
For 30 days, I have to take it easy, and not raise my left arm over my shoulder height. It takes a full month for the harpoons to set permanently.
I go back in on the 12th, and I will return with a machine that can assess the pacemaker, and transmit the data back to the hospital. The technology that has evolved just during my lifetime is truly amazing.
Well, I guess I technically died a few dozen times. I mean, nobody ever gets to watch themselves flatline while sitting there in front of the EKG monitor, let alone multiple times, right? Except me.
I was very calm about it, never really thought seriously about my heart not restarting. I thought about my family a bit, but I didn’t feel any regrets, or any disappointments… no “Hey! Wait a minute! I’m not ready!” moments.
The prognosis is excellent. After a month of taking it easy, as I said, I have no restrictions. None.
I am too old to reproduce, and have been, as my youngest daughter says, “fixed,” but I can still go through the motions without worrying about destroying somebody’s sex life forever by collapsing in situ.
I can fish, hike, bicycle, canoe, ride horses, shovel horse shit and buck hay without fear. I can even participate in Trump Watch, stressful in the extremus, without hesitation.
While I didn’t know any better, they say my color is better.
Oh. What’s out “there”? I don’t know. My vision got blurred, and I got shivers and tremors, but I didn’t “see” anything.
No bright lights. No fog banks. No smiling, cherubic faces, and nothing that looked like the Time Tunnel. No relatives, nor any of the close friends I really would like to see again.
So, did I explore the beyond, and get an answer? I don’t know. I don’t even know if I went far enough into the depths that would be required. If I lost consciousness, it was only for a fleeting moment, and was not even enough for me to fall down.
I would love to be able to tell you definitively that there is something out there waiting for us, to be able to validate the religious beliefs of so many of the seven billion people living here — but I can’t.
So, my life goes on. I still embrace the Spirit of the Universe, still pause to observe what goes on around me, particularly the geese and eagles that so often adorn the local skies.
The solitude of my mornings are just that much more special, more profound. My puttering, and doing odds and ends here and there, have more meaning, as does my writing, my blogging, and the love I feel for my family.
I stood at the edge of the abyss numerous times. At least for now, the answer was “Not yet!”