I have a canary loose in my chest. Quite frequently throughout the day, the little pissed-off bird lets me know she wants out. There is a thumping, bumping, fluttering sensation pounding at my inner walls. It is the new state of my heart. My heart, moving to a scattered rhythm of its own, decided one day last month to go rogue on me. I don’t know why.
As a result, I quit caffeine. I did it for the only reason I would ever do such a thing – I thought I was going to die. If I thought caffeine was slowly killing me or doing some minor physical impairment to my body, perhaps I would have stayed on it. I love coffee. And I am not just saying that. I am referring to real – true - love. We’d been together for over twenty years. If it didn’t make me feel like I was dying, we’d still be together.
I did go off of caffeine for my pregnancies. But I confess, I’m pretty sure on more than one occasion my babies nursed latte straight from my breast. There’s only so much a mother can sacrifice. And here I am, in that group I never really trusted or fully respected. I’m a non-coffee drinker. Sigh. I miss it. Oh, and the whole decaf thing is just mean. Mean, mean trickery.
It all started with a simple cup of French-press espresso at 6pm on a Wednesday evening. It was a good brew. Sigh. I had planned to work late, novel-write through the night. No such luck.
The squeezing pressure in my chest came on suddenly and lasted about thirty seconds. It traveled down my left arm. I felt light-headed as the pressure slowly subsided and the squeezing sensation stopped. My arm felt tingly. Shit. I think I’m having a heart attack. I took two aspirin.
I was slightly dizzy as I walked to my bedroom. My goal: A fresh change of clothes before leaving for the emergency room. I contemplated brushing my teeth. Then it happened again. Another horrible, squeezing pressure in my chest, more pain down my left arm. Damn. My daughter asked what was wrong. I told her I didn’t feel well and was going to have dad take me to the emergency room for a test. She burst into tears. Damn.
My husband and I convinced her it was no big deal “just a flu test”. We got in the car. I had another squeezing sensation in my chest, more horrible pain down my left arm. It was the worst one yet. I told Lee to floor it.
Long story short, it was not a heart attack. I was having premature ventricular contractions. The contractions by themselves are not life threatening. People get them all the time. Because of the severity and frequency, they were concerning. Radiology showed a small amount of fluid around my heart. At first, they were going to admit me to the hospital for further testing. But as the contractions became further apart and lighter, I felt better. I was told the caffeine probably triggered them and that as the caffeine wore off, I might start feeling better. By 2:00AM I did feel better and I was allowed to go home with firm instructions to see my cardiologist within a few days.
The squeezing sensation has not returned, but has now been replaced by the funny little irregular bumps and thumps that have become a regular part of my day. I haven’t had a sip of coffee since my cardiac episode. With cold and flu season around the corner, it looks like my own personal mix of “mother’s little helper” is definitely out of the question. That would have been real Sudafed washed down with a Diet Coke. No matter how sick I was, the buzz always guaranteed a clean house and new manuscript by the end of the day. Damn.
I’m not known for my medical follow-up. I should probably mention I was born with a couple of heart defects. I had a hole in my heart that eventually closed. I also had open-heart surgery at age four to enlarge my pulmonary valve. At the time of the… shall we call it… “cardiac emergency room incident”… I hadn’t seen my cardiologist in over twenty years. I told you I’m not known for my medical follow-up.
I did drag my sorry self to see the cardiologist a couple of weeks later. He walked into the room carrying a Starbucks cup and looking a little too cheerful. I have an echocardiogram and a stress test scheduled for the day before Thanksgiving.
And now I’m forced to exercise or be humiliated. You see, the stress test involves exercising on a treadmill while they monitor my heart. I’m in training for it – I’m actually working out regularly on my treadmill at home - since I don’t want a big lecture on how out of shape I am.
And while I wait for my diagnosis, the little canary continues to flutter and pound at the walls of my chest pushing eagerly to get out. It is ignoring my mental pleading to just calm down, to go back to the steady rhythm I’ve known my whole life, to be at peace.