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Shelley’s Stress Test, and Mine

July 26, 2011

Little did I know I should have tacked a “To be continued” on the end of last week’s post.

So Shelley rallies and we go to the big dinner party last Thursday night that her hospital puts on every year for employees reaching a milestone. (Shelley’s been with them now for 20 years, although she’s been a nurse for almost twice that long).

They run the party well, and when the DJ comes on, the next thing I know Shelley’s pulling me  up and we’re the first ones out on the dance floor. Her face is brimming with joy —  to be honored, to be alive, and she’s dancing like there’s no tomorrow. I feel a twinge of alarm, and flash on her having a major coronary on the spot, with the doctors and nurses around her pumping her chest back to life. I immediately dismiss this as my usual catastrophizing. But should I say anything to her? I mean, she did just receive her 5th stent not even a week before. How paternal should you be when your wife is a life-hugging free spirit who loves to celebrate?  

Finally I say, “Please take it easy, baby”. Soon, she has to sit down, complaining of some pressure on her chest. 

I need to learn that I dismiss my concerns and scary fantasies — which could be exaggerated hunches — at my own, or another’s peril.

Two days later on Saturday, in the middle of a triple-digit heat tsunami that has scalded most of the nation before boiling it’s way into the city, Shelley goes out to catch a ride to the island for her brother’s barbecue, reaches the street, walks 5 feet, and immediately makes her way back up the stairs, dizzy, weak, heart racing ferociously with chest pressure on top of that. From there it’s a hurried call and quick ride to her doctor, where his EKG sends him scurrying to call 911, within a few minutes a fireman walks in with a defibrillator (which he doesn’t need), then the EMT and a siren ride to NY Methodist and an 11 hour stay in ERgatory.

“I’m feeling like something’s not right,” she notes with alarm. “I never felt weak and dizzy like this before.” She recounted how, earlier on the street, she had that feeling of impending doom that as a nurse she knows comes for many when they’re starting to have a heart attack. 

It being a hot summer city Saturday, the ER decides to put on a show worthy of the name, complete with a dialog from the next bed over, from the other side of the curtain, that goes something like…

“This is going to feel a bit cold going in…


“ Now press! We gotta know if there’s any urine in there! Press down hard!! Try to pea!!”


Not to be outdone, the Screaming Alzheimic Lady (or SAL) a mainstay of any New York City ER worthy of the name, starts her love song, which is hard to recall in its entirety, but sounds something like…


          Help me!

               I can’t stand it! I can’t stand it!

Help Me —- PLEASE!”

Shelley is wondering if we are privy to a satanic rendition of an old Beatles song. And I start wondering if maybe in another bed there’s a psychopath with a 2 X 4 who can help her.

Five hours, and several more EKGs and blood tests later, Shelley finally gets seen by a doctor. He won’t commit to anything, however. “Don’t know.” “Can’t say”. And I can’t get anything out of him. But Shelley is a natural shmoozer. Looking up from her cell phone, she says to him, “You’ll never guess who just died! Amy Winehouse!”

“Really?!” he says. “Well I’m not in the least surprised!” And the two of them start yapping like 2 teenage girls at Starbucks.

Soon she’s talking to him, and the nurses, about her new sewing machine; the fabric for pillows she wants to get; the colors she wants to paint the living room; and someday soon returning to EPCOT. And, oh yes, maybe switching to part time until she retires in 20 months.

Then there’s Dr. Haq, Shelley’s new Cardiologist, who’d put in her new stent the week before. For days, I’d been trying to reach him for his take on Thursday’s incident at the party. “Try texting him. He prefers that,” Shelley tells me. So I do. Does he have any thoughts?

“The stent hasn’t closed,”  he replied defensively. “If it did she’d have had a heart attack.”  Who said anything about the stent?

“Please help us understand what’s going on. Maybe she just needs to rest more?”

“I’ll call you in the morning,” he said, which in modern text-ese means leave me alone. No call came.

But now he was telling the ER staff by phone that Shelley has to be admitted, into the Telemetry (heart monitoring) Unit upstairs. After waiting for this for two hours, it’s  11:00 pm and the nurse looks up from her computer screen. “There are no beds in Tele, so, unless there’s a miracle, she’ll be spending the night here!”  Here, on a bed a dead person couldn’t rest on in peace. There’ll be no sleep for either of us all night.

So I pray.

Ten minutes later, the nurse walks into our cubicle. “Guess what? A bed opened up!’  Shelley stays the weekend.

Early yesterday they give her a stress test to find out what in hell has been going on.

She lasts 9 minutes on the treadmill – which is good, I believe – before getting any real chest pressure. She then returns to her room to wait for Dr. Haq to come by and interpret the results. He does so, prescribes another drug for her (the 9th she’ll be on daily) and tells her to her elation that she can go home.

Great! But what did they find?

Haq is long gone (doctors in hospitals are like celebrities or billionaires — if they make an appearance at all, it’s only for a moment, for they have so many other places to go) so I do the only thing I can do. I text him.   

“Any clue as to what happened last Saturday when she experienced severe light headedness, racing heart, weakness, etc.?”

Within a minute I get a reply. “Not an ischemic or arrhythmic event for sure.”  Understandably, part of a doctor’s job in a case like this is to rule things out.

“But what was it? Do you know?”

Silence. So we’re both in the dark. He apparently doesn’t want to admit it; and I, apparently, can’t stand being in it. Faith is like a carrot I eat to help with my night vision.

Or maybe, Haq knows and doesn’t want to say? 

Finally, later, comes his reply.

“Not quite sure”.

And there it is. Another hair-raising episode, and a not quite sure Cardiologist. But Shelley feels much better, and she’s thrilled to be home. She did not have a heart attack – that we know for certain. And she’ll be home from work the next two weeks at least.  

A few days before all this, lying in bed last week, Shelley says to me, “We have a beautiful life, Charley. Because of our love. But also because of all the other love in our lives, like from your brother; my kids; our friends.”

Friends like Ellen Schecter, who’s been grappling with her own health issues for years, and who, commenting on last week’s (Mi Corazon) post, wrote…

“…The terror [we just went through our own ER middle-of-the-night visit] gives way to such gratitude for just being together, still in love and in life. It’s old news, but — To life! L’Chaim! I hope you continue to enjoy every second.”

Still in love and in life. This says it all.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. July 26, 2011 1:17 pm

    Jees Charley and Shelley…what a nightmare. So glad Shelley is okay, and made it home without the hospital doing her in, Our hospitals and health care system were created by Kafka to torture ordinary people. When I worked as a chaplain I saw incompetence that would make you think I was making it up to exaggerate a point. Same when I had to have my mother in a psych ward for 10 days. I had to stay there all day every day to make sure they didn’t accidentally kill her. May you both be healthy and happy and if there’s any possible way, I vote for early retirement for Shelley…starting TODAY!
    love, Eliezer

  2. Jeff Kelton permalink
    July 27, 2011 5:44 pm

    Let me add another vote for Shelly to retire NOW. What is the point? With her skill sets she can always figure out some kind of part time work, if desired, that can provide a more sane life style. Working in institutions like hospitals are hazardous to your health. Your health is more important than the money. Hugs to both of you and I look forward to seeing you both when I get back to NYC in August.
    Love, Jeff

  3. murray permalink
    July 27, 2011 9:16 pm

    Charlie, I am so glad that you are right there for Shelley. I’m also glad she feels so positive and physically better. Please mention to her that she is not allowed to do this again. Just have to force her to embrace that Singer.

  4. Henrietta Weiner permalink
    July 30, 2011 9:42 pm

    Dear Charley and Shelley,

    God bless you both for being strong and lovers of life! I do wish the very best for both of you in facing Shelley’s major health challenge and scare. Shelley, I am sure you will decide to do what is the very best for you and Charley, and that may mean taking it a lot e-a-s-i-e-r, and moving onto doing what you like and are happiest with, pursuing your life of many dreams through your many talents. Surely, you will remain a super team and make the most of your blessings of togetherness. Hugs, Henree

  5. ernst permalink
    August 2, 2011 3:08 pm

    Hi my brother from another mother I just cheched my mail as i am in Israel at the moment I am so happy for both of you ,that this turned out well.Please dont do this again.Stay well see you when I get back .With love Ernst.

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