The third time I woke out of a sound sleep with a fist gripping the inside of my chest, I drove myself to the emergency room. (1st time was over a month ago.)
That's a relaxing ride.
"No, after you!"
It occurred to me as they jammed the fucking needle way up my vein (not no pin prick like when you give blood, they lodge that shit in there nice & deep to prepare for possible open heart surgery), I'd never been in the hospital like this before. I mean, aside from a fairly "routine" (planned) hernia surgery for a hernia (that they said I was probably born with), this was new. Like, pain brought me here. And not obvious pain like that time I fell off my bike at 14 and needed stitches.
I tried to tell them it wasn't actually my heart. It might SOUND like that from the description but I knew in my bones it was not cardiac. I was actually thinking gallbladder at first. When biliary ducts get clogged, the pain slaps you at your shoulder blades. Check.
"Describe your pain."
"Well, it's like there's a fist inside my chest right at my throat, gripping all the way to my shoulder blades, up the back of my head and throughout my lower jaw."
"How long has it been going on?"
"About an hour. It woke me out of a sound sleep."
So, say that shit to an ER doc and they start pulling out defibrillators and swabbing the table, practically ready to crack your chest open. I mean, those are classic heart attack symptoms.
I was so sure it was not a cardiac issue, however, that I refused a CAT scan. Do I really have to be exposed to that kind of radiation? I mean, CAT scans are intense. They're not anywhere NEAR as benign as x-rays, which still fuck up your DNA. You're only allowed 4 chest CAT scans in your entire life. Radiation exposure is cumulative, son!
They allowed me to decline the scan but still wanted to admit me for "observation." I mean, something was wrong, and wrong enough for me to seek help. We had to start somewhere. I didn't fit the classic profile. I was fairly healthy. I'd only had a salad for dinner, not, like, a fatty bacon cheeseburger, and there wasn't much significant family history for cardiovascular disease.
Although this is true!
Over the next 19 hours, they proceeded to draw blood to look for troponin, an enzyme produced by damaged heart muscle and every time I fell asleep (OMG was I fucking exhausted), someone woke me to prick me, take my blood pressure, ask me how I was or drop off a tray of fatty, cholesterol-laden eggs. (Okay, that only happened once, but shouldn't it be off-limits in the cardiac ward?)
I finally relented to the CAT scan the next morning when another doctor explained, "Sometimes that kind of pain can be caused by a blood vessel beginning to rip open inside your chest. The only way to see that is to do this particular kind of scan."
That scared me. Fine, make me radioactive. Whatever.
After several additional tests and torturous times of blood vial filling, I was cleared of cardiac signs and released.
I made an appointment with my doc when I got home and showed him all the test results.
He smirked, knowing instantly what it was.
"You had an esophageal spasm," he said. "Text-book case."
I was aghast. "WHY didn't anyone else realize that?!?"
"Well, they look at the most life-threatening thing first. Maybe that biases them on the diagnostic route. But I can say that fairly confidently because we ruled OUT heart. If you'd come to me with those symptoms, I'd have wanted to run those tests first too."
Crises test relationships, especially new ones: Amazing Boyfriend had seen me with Sex Hair (which I somehow unwittingly pull off whether or not such has happened) but he had not seen me with ER Hair. Matted clumps hung unceremoniously onto my hollow face shadowing the dark circles of sleep deprivation. I worried he'd see all this -- the "For Worse" part -- too soon but the look in his eyes was tender and warm and I felt very cared for when I was, frankly, quite scared. I hadn't wanted to burden anyone -- indeed, had driven alone -- but to have an advocate when you're at your most vulnerable... now that is love.
Sweet friends texted and offered to visit, but I have to tell you, the ER isn't exactly the most entertaining locale to catch up, unless you're keenly into people watching: I've seen enough backsides now to last me a lifetime. (Then again, my friends might actually enjoy that...!)
Now I have to figure out why my throat decided to close up during sleep (three times). Fun!!
The human experience is largely a narcissistic one, whether we want it to be or not. We come into the world alone and leave alone and our internal worlds are completely inaccessible by anyone outside ourselves unless we invite them in. And even then, they cannot know us completely.
I think this is why it's so easy to make the mistake of assuming that the experience we're having is also the same as another. This is easy to internalize for occasions and ventures but the same thing can happen in relationships and maybe why people can feel so blindsided by an ending or discovery in their relationships. Signs are there. Signs are always there. We ignore them because our
needs overshadow our senses. We want to believe so badly that we ignore
what actually exists.
I watched a friend try to interact with her adult son one weekend. He was peacefully reading on the couch, completely absorbed in a book. She came barreling into the room, oblivious to his intense focus and began chatting away, narrating her dizzying path through the kitchen. ("Hmmm, where did I put the trash bags? Maybe they're under here? I should get more paper towels, we're almost out. Boo, can you put out the recyclables? We need them done immediately and oh what is your schedule for tomorrow morning?")
He tried to gently fend her off with unenthusiastic grunts so he could continue reading. But she was persistent and continued interrupting him with both miniscule chatter and hard commands until they both lost their tempers.
Later she confided in me. "I think my relationship with my son is strained. He doesn't ever seem to want to talk."
She noticed his signs but didn't recognize they meant he wanted to be left alone. Because she hadn't paid attention to his more subtle cues, he had to amp it up.
I could see the dynamic from afar. Her need to connect with him emotionally overrode her ability to sense whether he was there too.
Unfortunately, in a conflict, the person with the strongest emotions
usually "wins." Driven by their unmet needs, they persist until the
situation erupts or the infringed party further recedes. It's easy to see when someone else mines for a connection that cannot exist; lovelorn friends in squelched relationships abound but the myopic view from our own driver's seats impedes cognizance.
One of the biggest precursors to heartache is not paying enough attention to reality. The other is noticing it and hoping that the sheer intensity of desire
is enough to transform it. A third is how we interpret our experiences. All can be abated by inviting in awareness and acceptance of reality. (Plus you can't change what you won't acknowledge!)
I believe it is possible to feel without those feelings defining you. That you can even go into darker places, acknowledge them, and return back to a sunny nature. That a sunny nature doesn't imply life has been perfect or that limitless joy abounds but just that I usually feel pretty good. I'm blessed with an extraordinarily easygoing disposition so I'm happy. I roll with things.
That being said, two things came up for me tonight after spending time with Amazing Boyfriend's adorable kids.
1. It's heartbreaking, in some way, to remember what it felt like when my parents divorced and then later began new lives with new people. Negotiating that was tough. And now they'll have to do that. The only reason I get the joy of experiencing their company is precisely because they've been through a hard time, and I'll be part of that by default.
2. I'm not ever going to know what it's like to be a parent. That's mostly okay, you know, but sometimes makes me sad. I wanted a family once. It didn't happen for myriad complex reasons when I was married and it's not going to happen now, at this stage of my life. I don't even want it enough to "make" it happen. The sadness is fleeting and I can deal with it. But let me mourn the loss of a dream for a bit, for now.
He's not familiar yet. I'm not yet used to him. His presence in my doorway is not yet commonplace, the sight of his shoulders twisting to displace the air inside the sweatshirt wrangled over his head: these things are still new. Still a surprise.
Yet the ease of his company, how to explain? It's as if I've known him far longer than these few short months. He's not familiar, but he's becoming home. I'm not self-conscious in his company. I'm not worried about how I must come across. Wait -- I am, sometimes, but he gazes at me with such affection that when squeaks of insecurity do rise, they become muffled by his warm embrace.
Our first trip away together this past weekend: magic! He woke in the dead of the night, reached for me, murmured sleepily, "love of my life" into my hair and fell deeply back into slumber. I don't have an inner filmmaker and I quite clumsily write about romance when I try, but if I were good at any of those things, if I had some kind of aspiring vision for how to craft the perfect chick flick, that'd be there. If I hadn't already been in love, I'd have fallen right that instant.
On the bus ride home, we were casually interlaced; his nose in a book and me going through a list of articles I saved to read on my phone. The list was quite long, some I'd added last year and not yet read. He peered up to see what I was doing, my steady swiping motion piquing interest. I was deleting titles like, "How To Get Over Him" and "Will He Ever Love Me" when I simultaneously noticed both his gaze and how pathetic my list, normally full of science articles, had suddenly become. I felt the need to explain, but he squeezed me and said, "I don't think you have to worry about that anymore."
And that is the power of being loved.
...Which is also not familiar yet.
"Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage." ~Lao Tzu