I HAVE IN MIND the ideal way I would like to give blood on Halloween. It involves a beautiful vampire and one of my veins, a glimpse of wicked eyes and the rustle of black velvet skirts across a room, ivory white skin, and even whiter fangs pricking my flesh, the whole of eternity mine from beyond the prison of twilight . . . not a dumpy phlebotomist and a length of rubber tied around the crotch of my elbow like William Burroughs harvesting an intact vessel. That's how I ended up after leaving work early while wondering if this fourth day of dizziness meant I was heading toward a heart attack or stroke.
Let's back up. On Thursday morning, when I woke up, I felt bed spins. Not as severe as when I've wrestled unwisely with tequila the night before — and fortunately with far fewer unexplained tattoos — but definitely present. This was before I actually got up out of bed, so it wasn't just getting-up-fast dizziness (to use the medical term). In walking around the apartment, I didn't need to hold onto the walls or anything, but it was just present enough to make me overcompensate on sharp turns. Curious. It persisted over the course of the morning, but eventually faded as the day wore on.
It was back when I awoke on Friday — late, as I stated in my last post — but instead of fading and leaving me asymptomatic, by the time I got to the guy's house for the poker tournament, my heart was beating hard. This is odd. I am not usually going to get this excited over a poker game, even when I am involved in a big hand. My pulse will be up, but in a calm way, if you can imagine this . . . there's an explanation for why my heart is racing, as there would be during planned physical exertion, like aerobics or beating a loud cellphone user to death. I felt dizzy and my heart was going at over 100 beats per minute over . . . what? Forty bucks? This wasn't the usual pregame cold spot I feel in my gut before the first card gets thrown and we're down to business.
This had no explanation.
And it was making me anxious.
I didn't win the tournament, though I did play well enough despite being distracted by the cardiac tapdance I seemed to be hosting. I exited into the refreshingly chilly air and drove home. My pulse did begin to decline after I had been motoring for a while. I was also sporting a headache from the tension of wondering if I was gonna collapse on the table. But my chest and arms were free of pain and I was fully functional, which at least ruled out a preemptive drive to the hospital to get the heart attack or stroke treated.
Now, if you're feeling some vertigo, and getting anxious because your ticker isn't following orders, what do you need on the road to make your night perfect?
That's right, a DUI stop. My first since 1986. As I neared the edge of the host's town, I saw several cars, most of them police vehicles, clustered around the road like arterial plaque. Cops thronged one car as an officer with a Maglite held in high-interrogation stance spoke to the driver. I edged up and waited, catching a sweat in the process.
The strongest thing I had imbibed that night was Diet Coke. I don't like to drink while I'm playing poker, which is tough enough with a clear head. Still, you never know who's going to be asked to go heel-to-toe along the center line, or do the one-legged hop, or whatever balance-reliant maneuvers they direct potential drunks to enact. I had no real faith in my ability to achieve these feats in a way that accurately represented my booze-free status.
The cop waved me up. "Good evening. Have you been drinking tonight?" His colleague began looking around in the back seat with his own flashlight, illuminating a Whole Foods paper bag filled with library books and several other loose tomes scattered over my back seat.
"Nope." Hands on the steering wheel, awaiting orders, feeling sweat crawl coldly down my back.
The lead cop asked the searcher, "Anything?"
"No. We have a backup anyway." He indicated a number of drivers doing the Budweiser ballet next to their idling vehicles.
The cop next to my window passed me a AAA pamphlet on drunk driving. "Go ahead. Be careful, sir."
"Thanks." I slowly departed, rounded the turn at the T-intersection that terminated this road, and exhaled in relief. I did pull over after a few minutes to call the host and tell him to warn the sots at the party to get their heads straight if they were going to drive that night, as some of them had been swilling beer even before sitting to play (and these drunks I couldn't have gotten at my table so I could take their chips? No justice.).
I stayed up 'til 3:00 in the morning, afraid to go to sleep, even after my heart rate wound down to the 70s per minute and the seat from which I browsed the Web was fully free of spins. I was afraid because I had no idea why my heart pulled the trick it had earlier that evening, and I was not sure if I would wake up again.
Saturday and Sunday featured a return of the dizziness, but not of the rapid heartbeat. I went to the gym both days with no problem, no weakness after deliberately working my heart muscle to the levels it had achieved on its own Friday night. I began feeling very tired early on Sunday night, while at my parents' house for dinner, but that could also be put down to the eccentric sleep schedule I had endured the previous three nights, between poker, panicking over my ticker, and a Halloween party Saturday night.
This morning was different. I was still dizzy, which sent me back to sleep for 90 more minutes rather than going to the gym. When I finally got my ass out of bed, it was too late for a decent breakfast, so I showered, dressed, grabbed a bagel and Diet Coke near the train station, and munched while traveling to Hoboken. I felt tired, but again, I ascribed that to the late nights, one proper night of sleep not being enough to reset my schedule.
I still felt quite dizzy when I got to the office, and now it began to scare me. It was a warmer day than the past few, so I was a bit sweaty as I settled in at my desk. I could feel my heart going, not too fast, but it added into the whole sense of not feeling right, and over the course of the first hour, I began to panic. I couldn't focus on work, email (which chose that lovely time to tell me I need a new password and the sysadmin's help to reset it), or even the screen. All I could think of was whether I was gonna have to be taken out of the office like that other gent a couple of weeks ago.
I also thought of my parents. Today is their wedding anniversary (yes, they were married on Halloween). I am their only child. Aside from each other, I am the center of their lives. I was afraid that calling home to inform them of the situation, without their being able to do anything about it, would put one of them in the hospital, to say nothing of myself.
Because that's where I was afraid I might have to go. Call it a runaway mind in the face of medical ignorance, but that's what I thought. Rush home via bus, as the trains would not run north until midafternoon. Pack a bag. Call my doctor and tell him I was driving myself to the emergency room. Sway the nurse with my firm conviction that, despite having none of the symptoms, I felt like I was going to die of some horrible cardiac event, at the tender age of 36, and could I kindly have the Travel Channel on in my room, so I could watch the World Poker Tour while I merged with the infinite?
And amid all of that, somehow tell my parents I was somewhere between vertigo and infarction. That my mind was surely playing tricks on me, that the dizziness keeping my head from being clear was only some sort of inner-ear cock-up, not the beginning of the end . . . just an overactive imagination and a thinly experienced stretch of years filling me with panic and regret and the desire not to die on my parents' anniversary.
I decided I needed to know what was wrong with me, and if I was going into the hospital, it would be the one five minutes from home, not a state line and a tunnel.
I kicked on my cellphone and got the doctor's office. Miraculously, they had a 4:30 slot open. I was going to leave work anyway, doctor or no, so this was a bonus. I returned to my work area, told my immediate boss where I was going and why, and then told the same story to our department head. Not strictly needed, as my boss would handle any workflow but . . . oh, this is embarrassing . . . but she has beautiful green eyes, and when I get sick I get sentimental and vulnerable like an overgrown child and I needed to see something gorgeous and comforting before I headed home.
This comprised a quick subway trip to the Port Authority Bus Terminal, and about a 15-minute wait for the next bus back into my area of Bergen County. I have to admit that I began feeling less panicked as I completed each part of the trip. Sitting on the bus, watching the unparalleled West Side roll by across the Hudson under achingly blue skies, cool air blowing up from the vents. I was conscious of my pulse in my lips, but my heart wasn't pounding as it was last Friday. I wasn't having any side effects of being in a jouncing bus while dizzy. I don't get motion sickness (aside from nearly puking when I saw The Blair Witch Project in the theater), but I was a little concerned when I boarded the bus if this would bring out an unforeseen reaction. It did not.
I didn't call my parents until I had an initial diagnosis in hand. The doctor asked me a variety of questions, then checked my pulse and blood pressure and set me up with a medical aide who administered an EKG, my first. I found it poetically just to be wired to an electrical device on Halloween, like Frankenstein's monster. The reads on everything came up normal. The doc didn't even chastise me for being overweight. He did request a blood sample, which brought me to the in-house phlebotomist, and another danger: I have fainted when I have had blood drawn. I informed the specialist about this, and, indicating the ammonia capsules someone had taped to the wall next to the blood station for easy access, said, "You knew I was coming."
Fortunately, I didn't watch the blood actually being drawn, which is what triggered my faint the first time, so after sitting for a few moments, I walked confidently (if a little dizzily) to billing. I got a prescription for anti-vertigo medication (related to Dramamine) and an initial diagnosis, barring anything in the blood test, of benign positional vertigo. My parents took the news better than I had hoped, justifying my decision not to tell them until I, like them, had had my anxiety level dampened with some sort of answer, even a temporary one.
So that's where we stand. I have one of the pills in me, so we'll see how I feel tomorrow morning when I awaken. I don't intend to make a long night of it, though one of the side effects of the drug is drowsiness, which means I should have no trouble dropping off soon. If this turns out to be something temporary, I will have the pills to ride it out. If not, then I can think of about 10 conditions right off the bat that I would like very much not to have to live with.
For now, I need to depart from this truncated Halloween, and dream of sweet green eyes and reanimated behemoths and toothy kisses fluttering along my neck like thirsty moths.