"I'm having a heart attack." I thought. Then second guessed myself and thought "That's your anxiety talking. Let's walk this off, we'll get better really soon." My partner, feeling a little bit of cabin fever already, suggested that we take a long walk, maybe all the way from Brooklyn to Union Square (a distance of three or four miles - not too crazy a walk for us). I agreed thinking that some physical activity would help stop my heart racing. As we had ticket to see T2: Trainspotting that afternoon, (regular readers know how big a fan I am of Trainspotting).
As we'd be gone for a few hours, I took the dog out for his walk. As I walked, following the pup along as sniffed whatever important smells there were on the street, I couldn't shake the feeling. I was short of breath, my heart was racing, and I was on the verge of blacking out. I was starting to feel cold sweats. Young people can have heart attacks. I don't eat well. I'm not really active. I was probably having a heart attack. Crap, I was having a heart attack.
Walking back in, my partner was getting dressed and I walked right up to her and said "Don't freak out okay, don't freak out — but I think I need to go to the hospital" Luckily my partner is awesome and professional when it comes to medical stuff (she was once an EMT and spent over a decade working in hospitals). She told me to call the nurse line that my health insurance has while she got dressed. I called the nurse line, explained my symptoms and had the nice nurse on the other line tell me to call an ambulance, then sit down and wait for them. So as I sat there worrying about everything, my partner called 911 for me.
Now, I should point out that my presentation was lazy as hell. I may not be the laziest transgender girl on the planet, but I'm at least in the top ten. As I mentioned before, often on weekends I'll just do jeans and a T-shirt, no wig, no makeup (or light makeup). That's how I was presenting. And that made it kind of tricky because despite my hair getting pretty long, nice arched brows and 15 months of HRT, I can't pass unless I'm fully dolled up. So, when my partner told 911 that a 37 year old female was having heart issues, the paramedics were a little confused. Also, I should add so were the FDNY and NYPD who also showed up in response to the call. Apparently I'm a big deal. Of course they were all men.
So, while they checked my heart rate and blood pressure and did an EKG, they were constantly misgendering me. While my partner initially corrected them, and while I explained that I was transgender and still in the process of transitioning, they still misgendered me. Honestly, I was kind of too worried about my own health situation to be bothered by it or to try and correct them. There were, as they say, bigger fish to fry.
But, I actually got my first ambulance ride! Luckily, I was okay with walking myself into the back of the ambulance. Already I was feeling kind of awkward with the amount of attention I was getting. Having a medical emergency makes you the center of a bunch of strangers' attention. It's an awkward feeling and nervously I kept apologizing for causing such a bother.
The ambulance ride actually provided a fun learning moment when the paramedics asked me some basic questions about being transgender. Kath and I used our Gender Rebels hosting skills to answer their questions about hormones, how the transition process works and why pronouns can be important. It was a nice moment on an otherwise scary day.
We got to the emergency room and the feeling of awkwardness only magnified. I was pushed around in a wheelchair despite being quite able to walk, and set down on a bed where they immediately started sticking me with various wires. These were for the EKG and blood pressure. I sat there, trying to be polite, trying to make conversation while the honest-to-god really great ER team danced around me. My partner Kath stayed at my side, held my hand and bade me to stop apologizing so profusely.
I was quite happy to get a medical bracelet with my real name and which listed my gender as F. Though a few hospital staff were still misgendering me, Again, there were bigger things on my mind then feeling bad for being misgendered. Finally though, the nurse did as if I preferred male or female pronouns and after I indicated that I preferred female the staff mostly went with that. I get it though. In a medical situation, in an emergency room where the word emergency is literally in the name of the room you're sitting in, I get that you want to be clear in your communication. If the nurse asks "do you want me to intubate her?" and the doctor has to stop and think about who the nurse is referring to, that can waste valuable time.
Luckily they didn't have to intubate me. Though it was about to get scary because they moved me into another room and hooked me up to more machines. They said it so they could run multiple EEGs on me to get a better idea of what was going on. I get that. I want my doctors to have all the data they need. The doctor explained that I had supraventricular tachycardia, which sounds super scary. It's a situation where the different parts of your heart's electrical system aren't communicating properly and that sends your heart into crazy town. It wasn't nearly as serious as a heart attack, but still, being in the special room and surrounded by what felt like a cast of thousands didn't help calm me.
The other thing that didn't help calm me was when I got to hear a doctor say to me "We're gonna stop your heart, just for a couple seconds. It's gonna feel really weird and unpleasant but then you'll feel better." Wait. Did she just say "stop my heart" as in, the thing that will 100% kill you? Yes she did. And I freaked out. I started asking them about what happens if they can't restart it again and the response was "If that happens we're here. You're in the best possible place for that to happen." Okay, that is not calming me down. They assured me that the procedure was common and that no one had died from it. And I was like "Then why are there are like twenty people in the room right now?"
She dismissed most everyone and only a handful of staff stayed in the room. I already had a couple drips in my arm; one for fluids and one for medicine. The plan was they were gonna put this medicine in the tube, stop my heart and then I'd feel better. The thought that came immediately to mind was "I could very well die in the next minute. This could be my last minute of life on this earth." All my thoughts went straight to my partner and I realized that my biggest regret in death would be losing her. It wasn't about wanting to accomplish more in life or to travel more or to have more experiences. No, it was wanting to have more time with Kath. And my dog. That slipped into my mind as well. The pup would be so sad if I died.
|I love these two.|
But then, the nurses and doctor kind of saw that I was really freaking out about this whole stopping my heart thing, and came up with another solution. They asked me to clench every muscle in my body and hold my breath for ten seconds. This is more difficult than it sounds and I've learned they don't rely on this method because most people can't do it for ten seconds. But, with the other option being stop by heart, I volunteered to try it. I held my breath, clenched every muscle as the assembled all counted aloud. I felt myself going light headed and starting to faint. The seconds seemed to take a thousand years each. My vision was starting to go black. Finally, I reached ten and let go.
Everyone seemed really impressed. My partner later told me that I got applause (though I don't remember it). I'd managed to drop my blood pressure by 90 points just on my own. In fact, they made me do it again so they could get an EKG print out of me doing it, for research I guess. The second round seemed to completely knock out my tachycardia. Thankfully, there would be no heart stoppage that day. They placed me on a milder medicine drip and I got to go back to the regular room. I was better.
They kept me on the one machine and I got a few blankets after I started to shake and shiver. Apparently, whatever I'd been through can set your body's homeostasis a little on whack and it takes a bit to get totally back to normal. So my partner and I sat there and joked with the nurses a bit. We tend to be curious and like to learn little things about people's jobs and daily lives. One fun thing we learned was about the cabinet labels. There were cabinets full of medical gear and they were all labelled. Most were labelled with literal descriptions, but some have codes. We found that the ones with codes were all the more horrible instruments like bone saws and drills.
After an hour or so the results of the blood work and X-ray results came back. Everything was okay. There were no heart attack chemicals in my blood, no blood clots in my lungs. I was, more or less, healthy. They told me sometimes tachycardia can be a one time thing, other times it can flare up and you can have periodic episodes. I got my paperwork, tried to sign some stuff (which is tricky when you have tubes and wires all over your hand), and some advice to rest up, take it easy and maybe binge watch a good show for a while.
This was my first real medical emergency. Sure I'd had some stitches back when I was a kid, but this was my first time as a grownup having a real health scare. Luckily in this case it was more scary than it was life threatening but I still feel like it was probably the heath scare I needed to make myself eat better, exercise more and drink less alcohol. Because of this, I've already given up caffeine and thankfully didn't experience any real withdrawal. In the few days since I've definitely noticed I'm sleeping way better, so that's a big plus.
And the doctors, nurses, EMTs and other medical professionals were really fantastic. Though they made some misteps with pronouns, they were all kind and understanding and did their best to be considerate as they treated me. I even showed a few some pictures from my phone so they could understand that I really am a girl even if I don't always look like it. Hopefully my partner and I were able to help them learn a little bit more about how to provide the best care care to transgender people. They were all amazing and I'm super glad they were there.
And I'm super glad to be feeling better.