Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Sunday night I awake in a hot sweat.
The only problem - I'm alone.
I roll over. No good, I can feel my heart racing, my pulse thundering in my ears. I tryto relax, take long deep breaths, but the best I can manage are short, tiny gasps. After fifteen minutes I get up and measure my pulse.
110 beats per minute. That would be great, if I was running a marathon.
Now I'm concerned. Could I be having a heart attack? I decide to do what I always do when I'm feeling sick.
I turn on the TV.
I click on the DVR and watch episodes of Breaking Bad, Lost, 30 Rock, and Family Guy. After a few hours, I feel slightly better, but my pulse is still racing.
Should I call in sick? I hate calling in sick, I consider illness a personal affront, an insult to my well being, a mockery of my values. Sick? I don't get sick. When I'm not feeling well I just ignore it until it goes away.
But then I think about having to handle a room full of sarcastic, ill-mannered teenagers, and I silently cringe. A few minutes later I'm dialing up the school to explain I'm taking an illness day.
I call to ask Garcia if she can watch my class, when I tell her what's wrong she admonishes me to go the doctor.
"Sure," I lie, "I'll see him today."
In the five years I've had medical insurance, I never once seen my doctor.
I doze briefly, but my pulse continues to surge, my breath is still short, and I feel a slight twinge over my heart.
A few hours later other teachers from the school call concerned. I tell Kazani I haven't been to the doctor yet, she calls out the big guns and puts Owens on the phone. "Brian," Owens exclaims, "Forget the doctor! You need to go the emergency room!"
I don't want to go, but I can feel myself start to panic. What if this is serious? I tell her I'll go.
Only problem, I'm not sure which emergency room I'm supposed to go to. I call my provider and they tell me to go to Cedars Sinai, which is about a mile and a half away in Beverly Hills.
Cedars Sinai is the hospital of the celebrity, their agents and managers, and wealthy Jews. It's Hollywood Hospital, arguably the most cutting edge, most well equipped, and best funded hospital in the United States, if not the planet.
Having Blue Cross doesn't suck.
I drive to Cedars, park in the wrong building, then walk two blocks to the Emergency Room. When I walk in a nurse asks me for my name and my symptoms. I explain what has happened and she nods. "Why didn't you come in last night?" she asks.
There is only one answer she wants to hear. "Because I'm stupid."
Mollified, she nods again, has a technician give me an EKG. From there I go and sit the next two hours in the waiting room. I debate calling friends and family. Do I tell them, and if I do, aren't I just scaring them?
But then, what if I'm really about to go down for good?
I decide to wait and finish a book my roommate let me borrow. Jumper. So much better then the movie.
A couple hours later I'm admitted into the ER. I put on a hospital gown and take off my shoes. A lab tech takes a chest X-Ray, and a minute later a doctor enters with a nurse. I explain my symptoms and she goes from mildly concerned to openly alarmed. A minute later I'm put on oxygen to help my breathing and I'm hooked up to a monitor which measures my pulse and every few minutes checks my blood pressure.
Now I am scared. With a heavy sigh I get out the phone, call work and fill them in on the details so they don't worry more. Kazani and Garcia both offer to come visit. I tell Kazani it would be great, I know it's not out of the way for her, she passes by the hospital on her way home. I tell Garcia to go home.
For her, the hospital is on the other side of town.
A nurse enters and takes several vials of blood, gives me an IV of nitro and glycerin. Why are explosives are good for your blood? Who knows?
Kazani enters and stares at me with saucer wide eyes, seeing me hooked up to an IV, breathing tube and monitor in a hospital gown is a bit of a shock. I ask her about the gossip at school, turns out it's me, I'm the gossip.
I have her take a couple of photos on her I-Phone, all of which I pose for with my trademark thumbs up pirate "arrgh". I figure if I'm dying, this is how I want to be remembered.
"Have you called your sister, Leiken?" Kazani asks.
"Call your sister!"
I call my sister, tell her to leave a message for Mom. I don't want to hear her panic over the phone. I leave a message for my father, call Harry and quickly explain the situation.
I leave everyone else in the dark. What's the point? They can't help me and I'd just make them worry.
A tech named Victor arrives to explain the battery of tests I'm going to go through including a pair of chest X-Rays and a stress test. "It takes about 3 hours. They put you on a tread mill."
"For 3 hours?" I ask, incredulous.
"Yes." He replies. I stare dumbfounded. "I'm joking." He adds.
"Can I at least go to the bathroom?"
"No." I stare at him. "I'm kidding."
This time I chuckle. "You this funny with everyone?"
Victor shrugs. "Don't worry, you'll be fine. I've helped lots of people, you don't look anywhere near death."
"How do you know that?"
"You're laughing at my jokes."
I'm tempted to ask if that's what killed the other patients.
The nurses wheel me out for a special chest X-ray. I'm injected with minute traces of gamma radiation (LEIKEN SMASH), then lay down on a platform which lifts me up into a machine that reminds me of a C-SCAN. The machine rotates as it photographs my heart and gamma radioactive blood.
Then I'm wheeled out on the bed for a stress test. I feel like I'm 6. "Wheeee!" I cry out.
The nurse looks embarrassed.
"You know, I can walk myself."
"I'm sorry Mr. Leiken, that's against regulations."
I sigh. A moment later I raise up my hands again. "Wheee!"
The nurse still looks embarrassed.
The stress test is a tread mill with wooden handles surrounded by about fifty thousand dollars of expensive looking equipment. A cardio specialist tells me to try to stay calm and keep pace. It takes about 10 minutes, every 2 1/2 they raise the pace while the cardiologist monitors the readouts like a hawk.
I'm short of breath, I normally would not be even remotely winded after ten minutes, but now I feel myself tiring out.
Afterwards I'm allowed to drink cranberry juice. It's the first drink I've had in hours. I wonder why I haven't been more thirsty, maybe it's the nitro IV?
The doctor asks where I'm from. I tell her Illinois, and she explains that I look like I'm from Illinois. I have no idea what this means.
I tell her it's just like LA, except in Illinois we boo our teams.
This gets a laugh. Even when I'm dying, I have to get in a laugh.
I'm wheeled back for a second chest X-Ray. This time they photograph the front and back of the heart. I can watch the monitor from where I am laying, it reminds me of a lava lamp as I watch diagrams of my heart slowly form on the screen.
From there I'm wheeled back to the ER. The nitro patch is removed. I get a call from my sister that she's out in the waiting room.
An older doctor comes up to shake my hand with his prognosis. He reminds me of the doctor from Battlestar Galactica. "Mr. Leiken, you appear to be fine. No blood clots, no clogged arteries, no damage to the ventricles. Your heart is fine. We're going to release you."
I feel like I won the lottery. I would give everything I own just to be healthy.
"What do I have?" I ask.
The doctor shakes his head. "I don't know."
I stare at him. Three gamma induced chest X-rays, one stress test, a handful of blood tests, and they don't know.
"We call it chest pain." the doctor continues. "In the 30 years I've been in the ER, I've seen this everyday. Someone comes in complaining of chest pains, we monitor them, and by the time we're done they are feeling fine and we send them home."
"What about my blood pressure?" I ask.
"It's elevated, but not life threatening. Your blood pressure has also gone down considerably since you've been here."
"What about medication for the blood pressure?"
"You need to see your doctor about that and I recommend a cardiologist just to be safe, but personally, I don't think it would help. Your blood is fine."
Ten minutes later I'm getting dressed to sign out. I don't feel 100%, but I do feel better then when I entered. I catch the eyes of a few other patients, they look at me with a mixture of joy and pure envy.