January 29, 2012

The Lost Weekend

Being in rather fine health, I had been fortunate not to spend a single night in a hospital since I was a toddler. Until now.

I know my body pretty well, and on Friday afternoon I knew that something was wrong. Cardiac symptoms in women can be unusual, and I knew it was imprudent to ignore my discomfort. At the end of the day, I got a ride home, and drove myself to the local hospital emergency room.

Having done this drill with a friend a year or so ago, I expected a similar outcome: they would do an EKG, blood tests, chest x-ray, reassure me that my heart was fine, and send me home.

Little could I know that I was about to become a hostage.

EKG. Blood drawn. Chest x-ray. Nitroglycerin? [Hmm.] Morphine? [Whoa, the pain is not that severe.] Routine, the nurse explains; it helps to dilate your blood vessels.

Enter Dr. 1, test results in hand. Recognizing my phone, he chatters on about the pros and cons of Androids and iPhones, and problems with local carriers. Drug-induced haze or not, this was surreal. After ten minutes, he turns to my EKG results, in which he sees something unfamiliar that he thinks the cardiologist should review. [Uh oh.]

Enter Dr. 2, the Admitting Physician. In his introductory monologue, he announces that he had written Chapter 1 in some medical text or other, about triage. [This is playing out like a David Lynch movie.] He is sure the cardiologist will want to do a stress test. He is sure that will be a waste of time and show nothing. [Flash back to the Stelvio Pass last summer, as I peppered the cardiologist in our group with questions. What you just did was much harder than any stress test we could administer. You are fine.]

Meet Roommate 1, upstairs on the cardiac floor. Elderly stroke survivor, gravely ill, relocated to cardiac intensive care the next morning. With all manner of truly horrifying sounds, beeping equipment, and a horde of people attending to her, I might have gotten an hour of sleep.
Lesson 1: Get that Advance Health Care Directive done. Years down the road, I must not be the woman on the other side of that curtain.
Enter Dr. 3, the Cardiologist. When I describe my symptoms, he is visibly annoyed. Evidently I am wasting his time with my non-classic symptoms. He orders a CT scan to check my aorta before we attempt a stress test.

Enter Nurse, one of many. Time to take your meds. What meds, I ask? She rattles off a list of five or more, all of which I challenge. My blood pressure is normal [quite healthy, in fact]; why would you give me medication to lower it? All prescribed by Dr. 2; she checks with Dr. 3, who agrees none of the meds are needed.
Lesson 2: Ask questions before you swallow. You can refuse medication.
That CT scan was quite fortuitous, as it revealed the likely source of Friday's pain. My aorta, and my heart, are fine. The stress test was boring; they stopped it at 173 bpm (ha!), considering that "104% of normal" for my age. [Don't get me started.]

Now you would think: it is time to go home. There is no reason why I should still be hooked to a cardiac monitor and intravenous saline drip.

Dr. 2 appears, spreading FUD [fear, uncertainty, and doubt]. You need to talk to the surgeon before we can release you. Poking and prodding, he is perplexed that I don't even wince.

Dr. 3 proclaims the the health of my cardiovascular system. Cleared for surgery.

I want to go home, I say. That's up to Dr. 2, he wants you to talk to the surgeon.

Enter Dr. 4, the Surgeon. [More pain-free poking and prodding.] Yes, I believe what the CT scan found. No, I do not want surgery today. No, I do not want surgery tomorrow. I want to schedule it. [More FUD.] I will not procrastinate.

Dr. 4 fails to inform Dr. 2 that we have spoken. Dr. 2 ends his shift and refuses to release me.
Lesson 3: You can check out any time you want. Your insurance will not pay the bill. (I did not test this.)
I am a prisoner.
You want to go home? Bwahaha. Just confess! er, we mean consent!
Through another night of beeping, voices, bright lights, refused meds, and one more unnecessary blood draw, I resolve to try a new tactic.

It is time to charm my captors. Thank them for their solicitous oversight. Assure them I feel fine. [Request nothing for that caffeine-withdrawal headache, lest they order a brain scan.] Click my ruby slippers.
There's no place like home. There's no place like home ...
And home I am, at last—my left arm tracked with the pricks and bruises of four intravenous shunts (including one aborted attempt), my right arm bruised and swollen from countless blood draws.

How much did that second, completely unnecessary night on the cardiac ward cost? [Postscript: $3200 just for the room; associated charges, unknown.]

January 15, 2012

Leader of the Pack

Where is the rest of the group?
Someone must have gotten a flat.
No, they are a bit slow.
All the guys are with pep.
Ha, there is a comment I never expected to hear. I encouraged them to pass me—really!—but they insisted my pace was just right.

This ride lived up to its billing as a Social Climb. The guys chattered on behind me as we made our way to Joseph D. Grant County Park.

I knew that Mt. Hamilton Road was graded for the horses that hauled construction material to the top, to build Lick Observatory. From my companions, I learned that the flat segments were included to provide some rest for the animals. More than a century later, the animals are different—but we do appreciate the respite just the same.

The best story was about an antique car. The key to driving his Model A to the top of Mt. Hamilton, one rider recounted, was to pace behind a cyclist. That way, the engine would not overheat.

No one overheated at my pace today. Twenty miles, 2,565 feet of climbing.

January 7, 2012

Hi Sierra

There are some fine valley views at the summit of Sierra Road, and if you continue along the back side there are some fine views of seriously steep canyons and the receding Calaveras Reservoir. Getting up there is breathtaking. Literally.

It is a memorable climb, and not just for the physical challenge. I have climbed it with friends and with the Low-Key bunch; I have watched the pros, in rain and shine, and even raced it once myself.

Today's climb was memorable for the wind, with gusts strong enough to test my agility on two wheels. Our return trip looped along Felter and Calaveras, where a tempting downhill straight is outfitted with an electronic speed sign. With no car in range, it was mine to trigger: 35 mph.

Luckily, that is precisely the limit.

To my left, a car nosed out, then stopped. There is no side street there ... what the ... uh-oh, it's the California Highway Patrol. That must be one revenue-generating spot.

January 1, 2012

Lick-ety Split

Destination? The top. It is a Bay Area New Year's Day tradition to cycle up Mt. Hamilton, and that can be a hard sell on a frigid day.

Around Joseph D. Grant County Park, feathery bits of white fluff flew through the air and swirled in eddies on the pavement. Here, they close the road whenever there is snow at the summit. This being January, snow would not be a surprise. This being California, where some plant is always in bloom, the fluffy bits were seeds released to the wind. It was a freakishly warm day, in a winter so dry that the hills have not yet turned green.

The temperature at the summit peaked above 67F; I shed my jacket before I reached the halfway point and hoped the sun would be kind to my un-screened arms. I regretted wearing wool socks. I drained both water bottles. In January?

Not seeking a new record today, I spent a leisurely three hours on the climb to Lick Observatory. Nonetheless, I managed to catch and pass a few riders on the way up (and, on the way down). Round trip: 39 miles, with 4,895 feet of climbing.

Another local club was also out for some fun on the mountain. I tallied 47 Porsches snaking their way down the hill, but it was the interloper in their midst that caught my eye. Orange. Italian.

Tomorrow, I think, is not for bicycling.