Everything ended up still fine, but I managed to scare myself and darn near everyone else. My diet rapidly had shifted to include nine of ten most heart healthy foods (The exception: beans. You have to balance cardiac health with air quality sometimes.) Apparently I’d been looking too hard at which foods are heart healthy, and not at which over the counter medications are one way tickets to the Emergency Room.
I’d been battling various sinus infections in the spring following the stent and tried a series of nose sprays that either burned, made me feel hung over, or both. I gave up on them and was doing better when I felt that old familiar brain squeezing begin in June. The ENT was on vacation, and my primary doc was out so I went to see the nurse practitioner after juggling at my daughter's end of year class picnic, which, for my convenience, was held during a tornado.
The nurse is a big believer in not overusing antibiotics. (This translates into her not really using them…at all.) She told me it looked viral this time, and wanted me to try Prednisone to shrink the swelling inside my head. Because of the need to do a lot in and out of work that week, I had been taking Sudafed (which I knew raised my blood pressure and heart rate but was told it “should be OK for a couple days”) and also drinking a little more caffeine than normal for the same reasons.
When I woke up the next morning with my heart pounding VISIBLY in my chest, I knew that it was likely the side effect of those three things, (that and the bird outside the window that sounded like a smoke alarm.) I knew that at 5:30 AM there was no doctor’s office to call and confirm this available for several hours. Lastly I knew if I waited, and they wanted to see me, I would likely miss the end of my daughter’s last day of school. Therefore, after confirming my rest heart rate was a hundredish on the crappy pulse meter on our exercise equipment as I head downstairs to the garage, I decided to go to the Emergency Room as a precaution, (taking time to scare the hell out of my wife before I left, so she knew where I was. I didn’t scare the hell out of my mother until I came home later with everything ok, no sense ruining everyone’s breakfast.)
As soon as I got to the hospital and was hooked up to a monitor, I saw my pulse was around 90 but steady, and my blood oxygen was 100%. At that point I knew it definitely was the side effects, but sadly you can’t just walk back out of the ER again. They hooked me up to an ECG and it looked normal to me. The nurse said she wasn’t allowed to diagnose, but if the doctor didn’t come running in I was probably fine. No doctor came running in, but the billing lady did. I asked her if it was that bad that they needed payment immediately and she apologized a bunch for the policy. They also took a blood sample, and then I began living the curse of the healthy guy in the ER. The two beds around the sheet from me held a guy with lung cancer filling up with fluid who wanted no tubes or catheters, and another guy who gets chest pain all the time, but never came in before because it usually went away. Plus there was a woman who just got off a plane from Asia vomiting uncontrollably in the quickly evacuated back room. With those house mates, I got pretty much ignored. My wife showed up to keep me company, and let me know when I had to reattach the ECG lead that kept falling off.
A cardiologist eventually showed up, told me it was likely the suspected side effects as I had been completely stable since arriving, and I was just waiting for the blood test results to go home. According to the printout, the blood test results were ready a little before 7AM. Most likely due to the other festivities going on that morning, I was handed them at a little after 11AM. They also told me I was slightly hyperthyroid (providing me with a detailed list of symptoms I’ve never had) and to follow up with my regular doctor, who I called as soon as I got home, along with the cardiologist.
My doc told me it was more probably the Sudafed more than anything else, and not to worry about the hyperthyroid thing as, “They tell everyone that” and we’d recheck it later. (I guess he really wasn’t worried. I called the next week to set up the blood test, and then called him back the day after the test. He went on about how great my cholesterol was. I stopped him as he went to hang up to ask about the thyroid test he said I needed to rerun. There was a long pause and he said, “I did…this is why I write things down. Your blood will still be there, I’ll call it in. Check back next week.” He was right again, it was normal.) He also ordered a CAT scan of my big ole head, which showed that I still DID have sinusitis. He put me on a 20 day course of antibiotics to treat it, which finally knocked it out; and nearly my stomach as well. (I’d taken to snorting acidophilus to get through the end of it.)
My cardiologist’s office also returned my call and told me I should NEVER take Sudafed. I feel that I should have figured this out sooner. I made my daughter’s last day celebration and everyone had a good time after the general freaking out. To add to the general freaking out of the month, one of my sister’s secondary blood numbers was off from her physical, so she had to take a stress test. She passed with no problem. Her husband passed one the following week. Honestly, I think the family was tested with stress quite enough. My sister peaked out between levels three and four, whereas I made it to level five. So if you don’t count my whole “blocked coronary arteries” thing, I won.
Unfortunately, an offshoot of this whole mess is I had to give up caffeine the rest of the week I was on the Prednisone. Sadly, once I’m off it, I always get some rapid heart things going on when I have any afterwards for the first week or so. Since I can’t afford a week of near palpitations now, caffeine joined the already rather large “stuff Jeff doesn’t have anymore” list. Naps loomed on my horizon.
The funny part after going off caffeine; I increased the intake of candy. As long as it’s fat free, I exercise enough to control sugar. Any time I take a long car trip, I have a bag of pretzels (Snyder's fat free/ salt free, thanx to a sale we had sixty bags in the basement at one point) and a box of jujyfruits. I eat the pretzels at five minute intervals (and the jujyfruits at fifteen) to keep the blood sugar up and me awake (if anal) on the boring stretches. This solution was found after nearly nodding off and terrifying the three of us on a highway drive when I was trying one of those wonderful nose sprays (which apparently had drowsiness side effects) for the last time...EVER.
In the month following this adventure, I had no ill effects on the treadmill, the bicycle, the roller coaster and water slides at Sesame Place, the emotional roller coaster of Toy Story 3, swimming across the Lake multiple times daily, Lake encounters with a turtle, snake and leech within a half hour, driving from the Lake to Atlantic City in summer weekend traffic, and walking full speed down the boardwalk and encountering a very confused hooker*. So I guess it didn’t affect my health long term.
*Explanation: The last remaining Lone Ranger slot machine in the Resorts Casino, which I always play about $10 in when we go, decided to get all happy and noisy for once. It was a rare turn for me to be the winning side of our breaking even in the meager amount of gambling we take turns at while the other puts our daughter to bed. Even being ahead, my ADHD that keeps me from being addicted to gambling kicked in, insuring quick boredom even in the face of slot success. Since there was no treadmill and I hadn’t exercised, I checked that the boardwalk was free of ruffians and hoodlums and went for a high speed walk. Even at 11 PM it was still all couples and families with one exception. In the midst of several bikini bars, and mini skirted Jersey girls dressed for a night out, a very small boned Indian woman wearing layers walked directly into my path. (Not in traditional Indian clothes, just layers…encasing her in about three times the garments of most women on the boardwalk. She must have skipped a class or something). She was hugging her shoulders and looked like she was going to ask for directions. As I slammed on the brakes to avoid smashing her flat, she said, "Would you like some companionship this evening?" I veered, increasing back to flank speed while saying "I’m good, thanx," and took off.