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Finding the upside–and humor–in a health scare

August 7, 2017

A recent health scare has reaffirmed two truths for me. First, the universe has a really twisted sense of humor. Second, you can almost always find something to laugh about, even when things seem pretty freakin’ bleak. To wit:

In my last blog post, I ruminated about aging, writing and memory, concluding that because I’m painfully aware of who the president of the United States is (since I know the answer to this standard question that’s part of assessing someone’s cognitive status), my brain must be doing okay.

Well, just a few days after that post went live, I lost my short-term memory for about 10 hours. I had an episode of what’s called transient global amnesia (TGA)—the second time this has happened to me in 12 years (I wrote about my first TGA experience here). Here’s what happened this time:

I’d driven to my cardiologist’s office for an early-morning nuclear stress test to check out why I’d recently been having more frequent episodes of chest discomfort on exertion.

Based on symptoms and family history, I was initially diagnosed with angina in 2009, but a heart catheterization six months post-diagnosis showed that my major coronary arteries were in good shape. The assumption was that I had what’s called small-vessel, or microvascular, disease—a not-uncommon diagnosis in post-menopausal women whose main arteries are okay but who still experience chest pain. I researched it at the time, and there didn’t seem to be a lot of concern about the condition. Some articles I read even called it “benign.” To manage it, I began taking a statin, eating a more heart-healthy diet, and aimed to do cardio exercise three to six times a week.

So when I started having more frequent symptoms, my cardiologist agreed it was time for another stress test. On the appointed day, I drove myself to his office, checked in—and don’t remember what happened for the rest of the day.

Apparently, I completed the first part of the test with no problem, texting Hubs, “So far, so good.” At some point, however, the folks overseeing the test didn’t like what the EKG was saying, so they halted the test and sent me to the hospital in an ambulance.

Hubs says I called him to let him know what was happening, and I sounded lucid. But sometime between then and arriving at the ER, my short-term memory took a hike. By the time I reached the ER, I wasn’t making sense. I was confused about where I was, and why (I thought I’d had a heart attack). I had no recollection of being at my cardiologist’s office and thought I’d been transported by ambulance from home. And I kept asking the same questions over and over—because I couldn’t retain any new information.

I was rushed in for a CT to rule out stroke—about the time that Hubs arrived at the hospital—and examined by a neurologist who conducted a battery of neurological tests.

I recognized Hubs, no problem. I could recite my Social Security number. But when the neurologist asked me who the president of the United States was—that standard question to evaluate cognitive function—I drew a blank.

Funny, huh?

The neurologist confirmed that I was, indeed, having another episode of TGA, probably brought on by the sudden stress of thinking I was having a heart attack (which I wasn’t, thankfully). After he left and I was waiting to be admitted (the doctors still had to figure out what was going on with my heart), Hubs relates that he and I had a conversation that went like this:

Hubs: You really don’t know who the president is?

Me: Nope.

Hubs: He’s got funny-looking hair.

Me: [Blank look]

Hubs: He’s got the same first name as mine.

Me: I still can’t think of it.

Hubs: It’s Donald Trump.

Me: Are you shitting me?

And because my short-term memory couldn’t retain this information, Hubs would ask me the question every few minutes, and I’d “learn” all over again that DJT was president—with the same disgusted response. I was having my very own “Groundhog Day” experience.

Thankfully, my short-term memory began returning by that evening—and I no longer had to repeatedly relive the horror of discovering who #45 was. The downside was that I was again painfully aware of who inhabited the Oval Office.

I was scheduled for a cardiac catheterization the next morning, which revealed that my major coronary arteries were still fine. In fact, my cardiologist said they looked better than they had eight years ago, and I could go home. That was the good news. Oh, and as a bonus, I got a free shave of my bikini area as part of the cath prep—even though they ended up doing the procedure through my wrist, not my groin.

Once again, however, the assumption was that I had microvascular disease (MVD). This time, my cardiologist wanted me to have a PET scan to confirm the diagnosis. Once again, I started doing research—discovering that more current medical knowledge says this condition really isn’t so benign. It’s difficult to manage, there’s no ideal defined treatment, and the prognosis isn’t so great.

Damn. Not only is DJT president, but I’m going to die way sooner than I thought, and my quality of life is going to suck.

After a surreal, emotional week of pondering my mortality and how I want to spend the time I have left on earth, I undergo the PET scan.

The results? No microvascular disease! The number that’s used to measure blood flow to the heart is, in my case, solidly in the normal range. In the words of my cardiologist, “Prognostically speaking, this is excellent news.”

The sense of relief I felt was—and continues to be—HUGE (sorry). Yes, there are still questions about what causes my symptoms, but the answer does not appear to be cardiovascular disease. Whew.

I feel as if I have dodged a bullet. And I am extraordinarily grateful—to be here, to know the love and concern of family and friends, to have the opportunity to look anew at life and how I want to live it, and for the gift of laughter.

I’m even grateful for this entire medical crisis. It was scary as hell, but I wound up with a clean bill of heart health. And I got to forget who was president for a while.

I’d love to have your comments! While you’re thinking about it, here’s this week’s haiku. It’s reprised from an earlier blog about memory—and seems particularly apt in the wake of my “brain cramp:”

How can I recall
something sixty years ago
but not last night’s meal?






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  • 28 thoughts on “Finding the upside–and humor–in a health scare

    1. Carla says:

      So scary and so glad everything turned out OK.
      ( and I’m with you 🙂 I wouldn’t mind forgetting who the president was for a while, too :-))

      1. Roxanne says:

        There’s a silver lining to just about everything, huh? Thanks for commenting, Carla!

    2. Renee says:

      OMG, I laughed at this more than I should have but seriously you just couldn’t remember who the President was. I think you just had it buried so deep because you didn’t want to remember it…and then and then you had to remember it all over again like it was a new thing…you poor thing! Hugs to you!

      1. Roxanne says:

        Now that the medical crisis has passed, it IS pretty funny, isn’t it, Renee? I’m glad it made you laugh. Thank you for letting me know that!

    3. Haralee says:

      Wow what an ordeal and those heart catheterizations aren’t a walk in the park, bikini area groomed or not! I am so glad all came out OK and it is a benign mystery. It really is funny that of all the things you forgot it was DJT.

      1. Roxanne says:

        Thanks for your good thoughts, Haralee. Yeah, if I could only permanently forget that fact…!

    4. Barbara says:

      I’m glad you have such trust in your docs. One of the things I’ve said since we moved here was if ever I had an emergency, such as yours, I would go straight to Penn, in Philly. I don’t trust the docs down here. I’ve had a couple of bad ones but finally found a woman I like. Ironically she is a nurse practitioner! But, she seems much more knowledgeable than the first doctor I saw here. We joke about this place being called ‘Cape Maybe’, meaning maybe the plumber will show up when he said he would or maybe not. But, when it comes to doctors I know I can make it to the city if necessary. And, second opinions are always a good idea with serious health issues, I think.
      All that said…don’t you wish you still couldn’t remember who the president was?

      1. Roxanne says:

        I agree that it’s imperative to find healthcare providers you can trust–and it seems to be even more important as we get older and are often facing more serious health issues. And yes, I DO wish I still couldn’t remember who the president is!!! Thanks for taking the time to comment, Barbara. XO

    5. Hi Roxanne! Oh the joys of a changing body! I am not glad you had to go through all that…and yes, no matter how optimistic you are–it still sucks. But I am glad that the news is much better. And how weird and confusing to lose your memory like that. That is almost more upsetting than health things because if you’re anything like me, I’m rather attached to my brain and my thinking!!! Hopefully you’ll get to the bottom of it all though and then we’re counting on you to let us know!!!! Meanwhile, maybe you need to plan another trip to our area???? ~Kathy

      1. Roxanne says:

        It was indeed a strange episode, Kathy! Lots to process and prioritize, as you can imagine. And a mid-winter trip to the desert isn’t out of the question…:-) Thanks for commenting today!

    6. Victor says:

      Like you I had episodes of chest pains. After the 3rd one lasted 20 minutes, I drove myself to the ER. I parked the car and walked into the ER, where the lady asked me “how can I help you?” I said,”I think I’m having a heart attack.” All hell broke loose and come to find out I was having a heart attack (BP 200 over 100 – not good). Pumped full of nitro and sent to hospital. They did the shaving thing, but the nurse walked in, said “Sorry I have to shave your groin and your right arm.” Ok, so she moves to my left side and shaves away. She is about to shave my left arm and I say, “Didn’t you say my right arm?” She goes “OMG, now I have to shave the other side of your groin.” Very funny. I then looked like a 10 year old boy. And they took the cardiogram through my arm too. It was actually over before I realized they had started. Results: a small vein in my heart had collapsed/clogged and died, but my major arteries are only 60% clogged. But the shaving part is still good for a laugh or two. And all through this I could still remember who the president was… bush… wish I could forget that too. Glad to hear you’re better. Sending prayers for continued good health.

      1. Roxanne says:

        Thanks for your good thoughts, Victor–I send some back to you for continued good health, too!

    7. Laurie Stone says:

      Roxanne, So happy you’re okay! Sometimes awful, scary times give us the most relief and gratitude when they have happy endings. They help us see life through new lenses. (Plus, you got to forget who our President was for a few hours). All the best.

      1. Roxanne says:

        Laurie, you’re so right about seeing life through new lenses! I recently wrote about a friend’s terminal diagnosis of brain cancer and its impact on my perspective about life. But it still doesn’t hit home as hard as when something potentially life-threatening or -limiting happens to you. A LOT to process, for sure. Thank you for your comment.

    8. Sam Morgan says:

      I enjoy your writing and your stories. I am your brother-in-law, Jeff’s, nephew. I got connected with you through a post that Joanne made on FB. Sorry about your health scare. Glad all turned out ok. Take care.

      1. Roxanne says:

        Sam, thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog and comment. I truly appreciate it–and your good thoughts!

    9. Lynne Spreen says:

      Everybody has said all the things I wanted to say, so I’ll affirm, and add this: how very strange is that sweetness of getting your life back. Holy shit, Roxanne. Holy shit.

      1. Roxanne says:

        Yep. It’s still sinking in. But it IS sweetness, that’s for sure. Thanks for joining the conversation, Lynne.

    10. Jennifer says:

      You made me spit my water out with this line. ” Hubs: It’s Donald Trump.
      Me: Are you shitting me?”

      1. Roxanne says:

        I love to hear I got that reaction, Jennifer–thanks so much for your comment!

    11. Such great news, Roxanne. With those pristine arteries, you have some catching up to do. Come on over, and I’ll serve you a plate of nachos to celebrate. Yeah!

      1. Roxanne says:

        Ole! (Although I think my eschewing of nachos may have something to do with the fact that my arteries are in pretty good shape.) But wine is good. Or margaritas…:-)

    12. Sheena Sims says:

      Roxanne! So so glad it all turned out okay. And you still look young and beautiful too. Plus having your Donald to look after you is a definite plus. I have had some scary stuff too. Life is hard sometimes. Best to both of you and I wish I could forget DJT is president.

      1. Roxanne says:

        Thank you, Sheena! I know there are many of us wishing we could forget who’s in the Oval Office!!!

    13. Glad to hear that it all turned out ok in the end. I’d quite like to forget who your president is as well!

      1. Roxanne says:

        Thank you for joining the conversation here, and for your good wishes. Alas, if only we could all forget who’s president. Or if he’d just go away. Far away.

    14. I finished my comment with a laughing face, which for some reason disappeared. So here’s a LOL for good measure…

      1. Roxanne says:

        LoL back at ya!

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