Who woulda thunk it? I’m immortal or so I thought. Saturday morning at 0400 I woke up and discovered I couldn’t breathe. Imagine being under water for several minutes and struggling to reach the surface to take a large, overdue breath. Now imagine not being able to reach the surface. Boy howdy, if that doesn’t get your undivided attention then you’re really out to lunch.
Being the quintessential male, I got up and took a shower. Showers have immense therapeutic value to men. I’m almost positive that Mr. Einstein stumbled upon relativity in the rain locker. Standing also seemed to be the trick. Lying down was right out. Having learned back in 1996 about how delaying medical care sometimes makes you immeasurably worse, I decided to make coffee and analyze this. I let Cupcake sleep in because I correctly figured this might involve a meat wagon run.
At 0600, I spilled the beans. Females catastrophize everything. As men, we all know this and anticipate the downstream fallout. Thus it behooves you to make the coffee in advance and have the car warmed up before you hit the Claymore plunger. Wise I am, yessssssssssss. Born of many a ride in a meat wagon, I find sirens to be too ostentatious. I’m just not a parade kind of guy.
Therefore, due to my tardy announcement, at 0614 Hours we proceeded to Saint Anthony’s Hospital at an unsafe speed. I was chided quarter-hourly thereafter for delaying the inevitable expedition for two hours. As some of you know, I spent a year in the VAMC in Seattle with a few medical misadventures. That creates a bow wave of resistance to going near one. The flip side to tardiness is the endless recriminations I will suffer for the brief two-hour procrastination.
As expected, it’s ugly. Congestive heart failure with a side of pneumonia and a tentative diagnosis of Ischemic Heart Disease. The doctor asked me if I had any risk factors or a family history of this. Other than two years in-country with a breakfast diet heavy on AO/ABlue, I told him I, too, was drawing a blank on risk. That’s when the doctor drew his blank. He had never heard of Agent Orange. Neither had the nurses.
I would never believe our country’s collective memory of Vietnam and all the attendant, subsequent fallout could fade into oblivion in one generation. Consider this. The true nature of the rainbow defoliants didn’t even pop up on the radar of public opinion until a decade or more after the Vietnamese boundary dispute had been settled to everyone’s satisfaction in 1975. Beverly Nehmer’s 1989 class action lawsuit was the culmination of years and years of VA refusal to honor Congress’ unequivocal 1984 edict on the subject.¹
I had always considered myself lucky in some respects that I only suffered Porphyria Cutanea Tarda when all my fellow Vietnam Veteran friends were coming down with Parkinson’s, DM2, prostate cancer and worse. Somehow, I felt bulletproof. I’m an optimist in the truest sense of the word. Being physically active always seemed the panacea for avoiding the host of ills associated with AO. I’m not dumping on Vietnam Vets with DM2 when I say this but honestly, when your body mass index is off the charts for your size, it might be appropriate to venture farther afield to consider other possible etiologies. This is why I never even considered I’d have corroded arteries.
So, goodbye to salt, Brad. You’re off the hook for smoking any more for us. If the ‘cardiac’ diet they have me on here in the hospital is any future indicator, life is going to have a boring menu. But that is minor. I feel lucky that I got the 0400 wake up call early on and not a full blown heart attack as the initial exclamation point. However, the suddenness of it all did take my breath away (pun intended).
So now we sit and wait, Cupcake and I. We’re on day 3 and have yet to see a designated Cardiologist of any stripe-let alone my regular one. Let this be a lesson. Never fall ill on a weekend in this new world of Obamacare. Nobody wants to sign off on a heavy diet of IV Lasix or Levaquin to nip this in the bud. Instead, caution is the watch word with a heavy dose of “Let’s wait for the cardio doctor.” Waiting may have its own set of dangers. I have a hard time sleeping while standing up. Well, that and such an intense dislike of hospitals that I am half-tempted to blow this Popsicle stand and just make an appointment expressly to see the good doctor the old-fashioned way (by landline).
And yes. I did consider the idea that the VA’s Vocational Rehab counselor that came out last week might have salted the ILP forms with Ricin or Cesium 137.
News and film at six.
¹”Veterans’ Dioxin and Radiation Exposure Compensation Standards Act,” 98 Stat. 2725 (1984)