Observations from the observation ward

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Talk about a "wake up call." What I experienced on 9/11 this year was something I didn't see coming and was totally unexpected, yet completely worthwhile.

I didn't necessarily know that at the time, a little after 2 a.m. on September 11th.  Following some wonderful family time the night before, I awakened to all sorts of stomach and chest palpitations. At first I figured it was something I ate. But this was different than "routine" discomfort. As pains seemed to increase, my left arm started to feel numb, with anxiety mounting.

But first, a bit of a back-story: A couple weeks earlier, I had been told my blood pressure was a little high, so I began taking a low dose medication. Just having to think about this sort of thing automatically made me more sensitive to the issue. However, I could never see myself contemplating a run to the hospital in the dead-of-night.

Not wanting to wake my wife, I did what most Christians do in a crisis: Pray. I then did what most Americans do: Tried to figure it all out via the internet, looking for self-administered solutions. 

While the online information is helpful, it can make even the healthiest people feel like they're sick. The reports I read said things like, If you're feeling like you are now, this may be the "Golden Hour" … before a big heart attack hits.

Questions came to mind, fast and furiously. Was time of the essence? Was this the real deal? Lord, WHAT is going on here? More importantly, is God really finished with me?

I could feel the discomfort increasing, to the point where I had to wake my wife. Like all good spouses, the first (normal) reaction is, "Go back to sleep, you'll be fine."

As I detailed the last few minutes, she decided to whip out the blood pressure cuff and check me. My blood pressure was well over 200. We agreed it was time to race to the emergency room.

You need to know that I have felt healthy, never had to go to the hospital for anything, except to visit someone else or be on hand for the birth of family babies. I'm the first to talk about ER horror stories… chaos and crowds of people, using the facilities and "primary healthcare," having us taxpayers pay the bill. 

Then there's the debate over nationally administered health programs, political spin, overcharges, you name it. Just the thought of having to go to the hospital irritated … and scared me.


Accessing the cause
As we walked through the door at Sharp-Grossmont Hospital (where all of our children had been born) I felt a sense of ease as I was whisked into the ER and some terrific professionals began wiring and poking and prodding, getting me connected to the gadgets.

I was joking as much as possible, trying to ease things. At the same time I was watching the emergency room parade of patients. So much was unlike what I imagined. 

A thought came to mind: This is why people come to America from around the world, to get the best healthcare available. I had a realization that, if next month's election doesn't go the right way, today's healthcare may be the best it will ever get. 

Another thought: I had watched President Obama's press conference the day before, and it riled me up. Hey, maybe I can blame THAT on my problems now.

No time to nurture that concept as doctors, nurses and other personnel peppered me with questions, trying to analyze what was up with me. What they asked most was, "Are you under any STRESS?"

I laughed increasingly heartily with each version of that, responding with, "Really? These days?  Have you seen the news? Been around the last three years?!?!"


Dawning of calm
When the first doctor said, "We're going to have to admit you, for at least 24 to 36 hours," my wife tells me she could see my blood pressure go up about 30 to 40 points.

Immediately my thoughts raced to insurance and co-pays and deductibles. Then this truth came into my head: Be still, and know I am God. A miraculous calm came over me.

From that moment on, I started to find the process fascinating, and loved getting to know some excellent medical professionals. Not that it was the best way to meet new people. Every one of them busted my stereotypes and fears.

Test after test was done, results trickled in, friends and family members called or came by and more information was indicating that I would be fine.

After six hours in the ER (on the world's most uncomfortable gurney that felt like concrete), I was moved to the Observation Level.  Sounds like a happy place on a cruise ship, and in a way it was. God sent Nurse Penny to tend to me. What a tremendous blessing. She was an angel, like so many of the staff. I am amazed at the people the Lord puts into our paths at just the right times.


Salt and light
Bottom line: I needed more blood pressure medication, have to watch cholesterol and exercise more. My heart was fine. It was everything boiling up all at once, to get my attention. They didn't buy my theory that having a wall-to-wall schedule and being on the "all GOOD stress diet plan" would work. So at age 55, it's time to shift gears and take charge of my health and life.

Oh, and I apparently had taken the words "Be SALT and light" and "You are the SALT of the earth" a little too seriously, at least in the salt department.

Suddenly, after 12 hours, it was time to be freed! I was ready to savor the day, enjoy family and life with a fresh sense of anticipation … and relief. Quite an expensive lesson, but one that proved extremely worthwhile.

It was a lesson I pray I won't have to repeat.


Larson is a veteran Southern California radio/television personality and media consultant. He can be heard daily in San Diego on KCBQ 1170AM from 7 to 9 a.m., and on KPRZ 1210AM from 2 to 4 p.m. E-mail: mark@marklarson.com.


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Published, October 2010