Saturday afternoon I arrived at the Tucson Medical Center ER. I’m becoming quite the expert on ER staff all around the country. This place was friendly and the wait wasn’t long. My only complaint is that they did not have an ophthalmologist on call on the weekend. Also, they had free RV parking they allowed us to use over night. That’s a really, really nice feature but you’d think they would have mentioned no eye doctor when I arrived and said I was having vision problems. I could have easily gone to the hospital that did have a staff ophthalmologist. Way to waste my time and money. So I’m a little bitter despite their niceness. Another example of my underlying Afib freaking everyone out. They were concerned I was having an eye stroke. Long story short: I did need an ER visit but I did not have an emergency eye problem. The ER ruled out an emergency where I might lose vision if I didn’t receive timely care and told me to get to a real eye doctor on Monday.
Sudden eye floaters with flashes might be a sign that you have a detached retina. A detached retina requires emergency treatment in a short window of time to have the best chance of saving vision. With the detached retina ruled out I was safe to go back home for a few more days. I was released to our RV in their parking lot Saturday night. Sunday we headed to a friend’s house as planned. We had planned to spend a few days in Tucson to do pre-Mexico errands and earn a couple bucks. This part of our schedule was working out as hoped. Monday I called the ophthalmologist associated with the TMC. They got me in that morning. On the up side I am not hallucinating and I do not have a detached retina. On the downside I am not hallucinating and I have a posterior vitreous detachment (PVD). PVD is very common and most people will experience it if they live long enough. There is nothing I can do except hope the roach runs away. The doctor told me the large floater might disappear in a month to a year. A YEAR. This floater is right in the middle of my line of sight. I have mistaken it for bugs, birds, and eye glass smudge. It’s everywhere I look. The flashes have died down. I also am at higher risk of developing a retinal detachment and the doctor suggested I have a pupils-dilated eye exam every two months for the next six months. A nuisance but easily accomplished in Mexico. Everybody likes Dr. Lechuga and now I’ll get to meet him, too.
Meanwhile my back was killing me through all of this. Two weeks later and the back pain and the eye floater are my new frenemies. We go everywhere together.
I’m on here again. Writing every day takes effort. It would be so easy to skip today. I feel sad and tired. I woke up feeling panicked at 3 AM. Thinking about evil, anonymous poisoners is trying my trust in humans. Elvis is unwell. He’s 11 and in pain. We’re taking him to the vet tomorrow. I suspect cancer and have for about 2 years. He’s a dog of low pain tolerance and high anxiety. For this reason we opted no investigation or treatment for his lumps. So here I am second guessing myself when I don’t even know what is wrong. Olive is wary and weak.
Our assignment is to contemplate what is missing from our lives. I am missing energy and drive. Two years after a heart surgery and many exams and month long studies and this beta blocker I just feel robbed of vitality. I am tired. Yoga is hard work. Walking to yoga takes the same mental effort I used to use to run a marathon. Every week my clothes feel smaller. I can’t stop the weight gain. The double wammy, maybe triple wammy, of menopause, medication, and heart palpitations. I do what ‘they’ say to do and I wonder how much worse would it all be if I worked and didn’t have time to exercise and eat right and avoid stress.
Sometimes trying to hold a simple pose that I used to find easy I wonder if I will ever feel strong again. And I realize what a privilege it was to have had a strong body for so long. Boy do I miss it.
So my doctor Jay has a sharp physician’s assistance named Chris. For decades Jay has been my doctor but he’s so darn popular and doesn’t do my girl parts and we decided it would be easier to see his PA instead. OMG. Chris was great. So great she managed to get me to do something Jay and three cardiologist have tried but failed. She convinced me to give a beta blocker a try and see if it lessened my afib symptoms. Who knows I might like it and it could save my life. I am in my 3rd day. I’ve resisted because betablockers are notorious for causing lethargy. I am feeling stoned. I also have a governor on my heart rate and can’t move quickly. Yet. The pharmacist and drug literature says it should pass in about a month. Stay tuned. Now’s the time to schedule a tennis match if you want to take advantage of my sloth like footwork.
Despite me languidity yesterady I managed to fly fish and enjoy Yellowstone with Burt and Sue and Jay and play music and tour Gardiner with Zondra. My phone says I walked 5 miles over the course of the day. I did also happen to fall asleep just 100′ from a herd of bison in grizzly habitat while my friends fished on. Refreshing and startling little nap.
I am taking the new drug day by day. I hate the idea of being on a beta blocker for the rest of my life but I like the idea of surviving long term. I hope to have more fish to catch and wolves to see.
The Portal Rodeo Hiking Club headed out for its regular Thursday hike this morning despite the dire weather predictions. Eight people and three dogs showed up to head out towards Hummingbird Springs and beyond. The pace was a bit rapid for me. This was a group of fast movers. I’m feeling fit but we headed uphill too fast and my heart rate maxed out. About and hour and a half into the trek I had a heart palpitation. The rule I’ve come up with for trying to hike with this condition is: If I have a palpitation I do not go further. So I told my companions I was heading back. Rolf did not want me to head back alone and I did not want to shorten Rolf’s hike. We reached a compromise. I agreed to wait. I put on all my clothes and sat down with the Olvis and ate my lunch. I was wearing a windbreaker, two pile jackets, an alpaca knit hat, gloves, and a rain coat. It was pretty much every piece of outdoor gear I own. Most of my clothing is second hand. Rosemary, Darcy, and Betsy all contributed to the ensemble.
My companions made me promise I would not wander away while they hiked further. It was a little hard to sit there by myself. I felt fine. It was chilly. When might they come back? I had hiked alone in the area many times. The weather was on my side and I did not have to wait long. The dreaded winter rains popped over Portal Peak and my companions decided to turn back before they were caught in the winter mountain storm. I was sitting probably 30 minutes. Olive and Elvis kept me company the whole time. I was really pleased they waited with me instead of seeking further adventure with the pack.
The group had not eaten so we found a snug sunny spot and everybody had lunch. I ate my grapefruit. Jonathon had a snazzy alcohol fueled stove. That was a treat to watch. He fired up a tiny burner and boiled some water for his meal. Hot cocoa and lentil soup. It made my cheese sammy and grapefruit look ill conceived for such a blustery day.
I am corresponding from my snug trailer post-hike. The weather has arrived and the rain and snow are happening as predicted. I am post-arrhythmia exhausted but glad I made the effort to get some exercise. I have secured dinner invitations for tonight and Saturday night. That makes 4 out of 5 evenings that Burt is away where other people are cooking for me. I am very grateful. I still have Friday free if anyone wants to feed me. If not, I found some soup in the freezer. Soup I made.
Last night both Gypsy Carpenters were insomniacs. Burt finally got up at 2:45 and headed to coffee and work. I took a pill just as he gave up. This morning we moved the gNash to a new job site. Our current project’s clients just arrived today to move into their home. We thought we’d get out of their hair and so moved to another site just a few hundred yards away. The Mother-in-Law cottage is not quite done so Burt will have to commute for a couple of weeks to finish the trim and install doors and cabinetry.
After we moved Olvis and we piled in the Dodge for a drive to Sierra Vista. We were going to finally get the test results from my month long heart monitoring and visit Home Depot for the (hopefully) final shop of the current job. Word from the doctor was the same. The monitor caught some minor atrial shenanigans. Some Premature Atrial Contractions most likely but nothing dramatic. The plan is to continue on living life with no restrictions. If I experience another bout of intense and prolonged wackiness then we will discuss further diagnostic options. One option is to install a 3 year heart monitor under my skin. The other is to put me on the table and try and induce an event in the lab. Neither sound enjoyable. Procrastination is my new best friend. We’ll just skip this for now. Maybe, as Burt says, I’m cured. So I have an appointment for June 17, 2016 for follow-up.
One of the things keeping me up at night was a follow-up letter I was asked to write to the Forest Service about my experience as a volunteer. I loved my job duties but until now I have refrained from complaining about the Forest Service culture. I was not too impressed with how the USFS works in this part of the woods. Ha ha. I was voicing my concerns to the people from the organization that has actively tried to keep my position filled. They wanted something in writing so they could try and improve the circumstances at the VIS for volunteers and paid staff. Here’s what I wrote:
I wanted to thank you for the opportunity to volunteer at the Cave Creek Visitor Information Center this summer and fall. I love the Chricahuas and it was a pleasure to share my enthusiasm for the area with our visitors. I enjoyed all of my interactions with the public and didn’t mind the mundane cleaning chores. I do have some ambivalence about working with the Forest Service in general. As a volunteer in a visitor center I was the public’s representative of our government and your organization. After a nearly 20 year career as a former federal regulator I take this responsibility seriously. The lack of coordination between the various offices of the Coronado National Forest and Region 3 of the USFS and the visitor center made it impossible to always give out accurate information. Since I live in Portal I am frequently asked for USFS news by local citizens, too, not just visitors. This was an uncomfortable situation for me.
My main source of information about the status of campground closures and road construction was Facebook. USFS staff only contacted me directly once to inform me about a campground opening and it was already 12 hours after I had learned about it on Facebook. Despite a few attempts on my part to remind staff that I had email at all times, staff seemed to not be able to recall my email or to add me to local email mailing lists. I am not the only volunteer that found communications infrequent and often too late. Meanwhile my requests for much needed supplies (hand soap for the public restrooms) remained unfulfilled the last 6 weeks I worked there. Recently I was in the awkward position of hearing from one USFS source that the USFS would never open Idlewild Campground and two days later hearing from another USFS source that Idlewild was under repair and would be open for camping next spring. Imagine my consternation when people here ask me what is going on. I have to respond that the USFS doesn’t know. I suspect two different organizations are responsible for the road repairs, campground repairs and campground management decisions and that this has led to confusion amongst staff.
My last day on the job was Saturday, October 31, 2015. I had offered to work into the late fall but was told that through October was sufficient. I was told more volunteers would be found to replace me by the end of October. I have not heard, nor has the community, if the USFS has found staff to keep the VIC open through fall. Meanwhile, I have left the job. I considered staying on and just opening the VIC until somebody told me to stop but with the communication issues and the failure to heat the building (I inquired but nobody would turn on the heat) I decided to only work the dates I was assigned. I have not heard anything from USFS on what to do with my keys. I had expected someone would contact me before I left. Perhaps they lost my email. Again.
As an aside, I have been informed that the Friends of Cave Creek Canyon Organization has offered to supply the VIC with a new computer and pay for the installation of Wi-Fi. This offer was made at least a year ago but, according to my sources at FOCCC, the USFS has not figured out how to manage this simple donation. Wi-Fi would greatly enhance communication between the USFS and the public. VIC staff could find road reports, weather predictions, and get emails about real time USFS decisions.
I have a new appreciation for the annoyance of wearing a medical device. I am almost three weeks into my month long stint wearing a LifeWatch King of Hearts cardiac event monitor. I can be grateful this thing exists and might spare me from a permanent subcutaneous monitor but I can still hate every second of wearing it. Well, not every second but most of the night and half the day.
If you haven’t been following along you might wonder what is going on? A year ago this week I underwent a 6 hour procedure (operation) called a cardiac ablation. The goal was to eliminate atrial fibrillation. It doesn’t always work and in my case it appears that I came out on the wrong side of the odds. Some twenty to forty percent of these procedures fail. I don’t know who’s keeping records. My own surgeon has no idea that I am suffering complication or failure or whatever we’re going to call this. He’s in Montana and he pretty much stopped returning my call in month one so I have a new doctor here in Arizona. So I suspect that actual success rates are lower than advertised. But I am not at all bitter about this. I took this path willingly and knew that it wasn’t guaranteed to fix my situation. here I am a year out and my heart is still prone to intermittent episodes of random beating. Palpitations doesn’t quite cover it. About a month ago I suffered three events so debilitating I could not stand up and my chest hurt and my breathing was erratic. These events lasted long enough that bystanders could take my pulse and freak out. My pulse was doing a poorly timed Mambo. All three events occurred in one week. So despite the super duper results of my stress test there is still some kind of electrical problem in my heart.
My new doctor decided on this 30 day event monitor. The goal is to try and figure out what is happening. Here’s how it works. I wear this pack of cards sized thing around my neck for 30 days. Two electrodes are attached to me, one on the upper right, the other on the lower left. An electrical signal is sent between the two electrodes and the monitor is making a continuous loop recording of the heart. The recording constantly overwrites itself until an event is saved. The monitor or I can record an event. If the monitor senses a disturbance it makes a recording. If I sense a disturbance I make the recording by pressing the big record button. three recordings can be saved on the device. When I have two or three recordings I call the company and send them in over the phone. The downloading of the data sounds like a fax machine. Burt says my heart sounds like an alien.
Sounds pretty straightforward. Hah. The first monitor expired in 3 days but not before waking me up on night one sounding the alarm. It said something happened in my sleep. At 1 AM Burt and I walked to the client’s house and phoned in the event. The new monitor arrived a few days later. It’s pretty humid here. I don’t sweat much but the electrodes kept falling off. I taped them on. I developed an allergic reaction to the tape. Blisters, itching. I called the company and asked for the athletic person’s electrodes. I had avoided these because I knew I was sensitive to some adhesives but I figured I might as well try. These active person’s electrodes stick and only cause a minor skin irritation. Every three days or less I move the electrode site. Sleep is problematic. First off, Mimi walks all over me and tries to make recordings. I have to keep the monitor button down so she doesn’t trigger it. Secondly, I accidentally press the button while moving around. Thirdly, the electrodes disengage from the electrode stickers and send an alarm. Fourth, its no fun trying to sleep with wires and straps flopping all around.
Yesterday my replacement monitor failed. I called the company. I replaced the batteries. I turned it on and off. Nothing. I was primed for an event. I had worked two days of hard labor. It was hot. I was caffeinated. Tennis on the agenda. Sure enough big event during tennis. No monitor. Insert your preferred expletives here. Burt was so upset he could hardly hit the ball. I have yet to capture a significant event (that I am aware of) since I’ve been wearing this thing. It’s a classic problem and has happened to many people. The nature of this condition is very unpredictable. I swear the King of Hearts is some kind of biofeedback device. It’s sending waves into my heart telling it to be cool. Burt’s theory that I am cured went out the window with yesterday’s unmonitored event. Meanwhile, The King of Hearts reset itself while it was resting on the table unattached to me and now it is working. Insert more expletives here.
Here I sit with 9 more days to try and capture the big event. If it doesn’t work and we can’t get a diagnosis it looks like I’m a candidate for an internal monitor. Meanwhile I can commiserate with how wonderful and awful a diabetic pump and other external devices must be for the people that wear them. The thing I find most irritating is wearing the device puts the problem front and center and I can’t get away from thinking about every beat of my heart. I also am grateful because it could be much worse and I am getting fitter every day as I try and trigger an event by overdoing it.