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By Barbara Moch, Times Staff Writer
Published December 18, 2007
"If you don't have your health, you have nothing." I don't know who coined the phrase but I remember hearing it or some variation of it from time to time.
Yes, you can have success and power and money, but if your health fails, it's all meaningless. These dark thoughts were swirling in my head (as were images of the room) as I lay in a darkened hospital room having an ultrasound taken of my carotid artery.
I'm a fairly healthy woman . . . no, a very healthy woman. I eat sensibly, exercise regularly, don't smoke and generally take good care of myself. But recently things started happening.
I wasn't feeling quite right - sort of light-headed, on the verge of dizziness - not enough to affect my everyday activities but persistently "there."
Of course, I could have attributed it to an unhappy report from my periodontist that I had a couple of "areas of concern." One of them turned out to be a tooth in need of a root canal; a few days later another tooth that already had a root canal became infected.
A world goes spinning
Then one morning, as I got up from bed, the room started spinning. It lasted only a few seconds, but it was enough to frighten the daylights out of me.
I had had one instance of vertigo about three years ago that sent me to the emergency room. I was diagnosed with "situational vertigo," which can stem from a virus, an inner-ear imbalance, any number of things. I took medication for a few days and it didn't recur.
Now, I found myself anxious, fearful of another incident. Days passed, and I still wasn't feeling quite right. So instead of our going to dinner one Saturday evening, my friend Irwin took me to the emergency room, where I hoped to get a prescription for the medication that had helped me before.
The triage nurse asked me all the usual questions and then took my blood pressure. The cuff tightened, then loosened, then tightened again. I saw Irwin's eyes widen.
Two hundred and something over I-don't-remember-what . . . I think I stopped listening at 200. Astronomical numbers, a stroke ready to happen!
The nurse took me back to a cubicle while the ER physician phoned the on-call doctor, who ordered an EKG, CT scan and ultrasound of my neck, since the doctor had heard a bruit when she put her stethoscope to my neck. (Not to get too technical, but a bruit is an abnormal sound indicating possible blockage of blood flow to the brain.)
So here I was, lying on the table in the darkened exam room while the technician moved the sensor up and down the left and right sides of my neck, peering at the computer screen.
Occasionally he turned on the sound, and I heard the blood rushing up to my head - whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, an occasional squeal, then more whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.
Listening to the workings of your heart is very disconcerting.
And what was going through my mind (besides "If you don't have your health . . ." )? I was thinking:
I have to pay my bills the first of the month. I left the air-conditioning on at home. My clothes hamper is almost full and there's a load of ironing to do. Thanksgiving is coming. I just got a new car. What if I can't drive anymore? What if I can't work anymore?
When you feel good and can do everything (which has been my experience for most of my life), the feeling of not being in control of your physical well-being is a shocker.
Silly me, I thought about a movie I've seen so many times - The Little Foxes - in which Bette Davis' evil character won't bring her husband's medication to him, and he is so weak he can't make it upstairs to get it himself.
Even though I wasn't nearly that impaired, I felt weakened, frail, not in complete charge of my senses, my movements. I found myself thinking about the many more years behind me than ahead of me.
These are depressing thoughts that I don't often give in to, but I found myself unable to keep them out of my head.
The rush of relief
Well, the good news is my ultrasound was completely normal - no blockage, no plaque in my arteries; my EKG was "wonderful," the attending nurse said; the CT scan was completely normal.
My blood pressure had started coming down once I was given medication, and 3 1/2 hours after walking through the ER doors, we were able to leave - with a couple of prescriptions and an order to contact my personal physician on Monday.
There is no bad news, except that I might lose that infected tooth, but that seems minor now in the scheme of things.
I've had time now to reflect on the experience when I honestly thought my life might never be the same. I'm now on blood-pressure medication, as are many about my age, 71, and it has apparently whisked away the vertigo, the light-headedness, the dizziness, the slight fog in which I had found myself.
I know how lucky I am to have had symptoms - many people don't - that sent me to get medical help.
Is every day a gift, as another old adage goes? Yes, it is.
Barbara Moch is a Times editorial assistant.
[Last modified December 17, 2007, 03:37:46]