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  • Paula Tiberius

Dehydration Blues

I checked into the hospital emergency room last night with heart palpitations. I’ve had them my whole life, but usually they only last a few seconds and come very infrequently, maybe once a month. This weekend they just wouldn’t stop. Every twenty minutes or so my heart would do a double beat and my chest and head would feel flooded with blood. Gross! And scary.

And in between, my heartbeat was unusually ‘loud’ and heavy. It was very disconcerting. By Sunday afternoon I had convinced myself I was having the longest, drawn-out heart attack ever, so I asked Richard to drive me to the emergency room.

Apparently heart problems equal royal treatment at the emergency room! I was admitted, wrist-banded, triaged and half naked in a gown getting an EKG within about eight minutes. That and the brand new, very shiny emergency department made me almost feel okay about the $1,046 we send to Kaiser Permanente every month to insure our little family, not including the dog.

The EKG got handed off to Dr. Yoo, a very pleasant, smart and relaxed doctor who asked me a million questions about my health history, my current symptoms and whether I’d had the flu or not. I told him everything, as one does when one thinks one is dying of the longest heart attack ever. The horrible flu with four days of shivering and the worst body ache since childbirth, the crazy drinking last weekend in Palm Springs, everything. He laughed at all my jokes which I really appreciated (humorless strangers with power over you are the worst!), and asked me if I experienced the palpitations during the EKG. We were both glad that I did, and glad that it looked normal.

Then he explained that he wouldn’t be explaining all the things that could be wrong until he’d looked at chest X-rays and a whole battery of blood tests which would be happening right away. Then he left me in the hands of this angel:

Can you hear the choir singing? This is Penelope, the nurse who took care of me for the rest of the visit. She got me a room (I was on a guerney in the hallway for a while), took all the blood samples expertly, hooked me up to the IV and the blood oxygen reader, all the while entertaining me with stories about growing up in a Greek orthodox family who didn’t let her “date or do anything, really.” No wonder she married at 21 to get out of the house. Now she’s happier with her second husband, but still she wonders whether she needs a man at all.

Penelope was about to go make a call to Richard for me since there was no cell service in that zone, when he suddenly showed up with Violet. They hadn’t come in with me because Violet fell asleep in the car. He drove her around for a while rather than have her in the waiting room touching all the germ-laden seats in the lobby. Violet was instantly mesmerized by all the blood flowing out of a needle in my vein and into glass tube after glass tube. I tried to normalize the situation by letting her come up on the guerney, and amazing her with a real live ‘Penelope,’ heretofore only alive in the imagination of Violet, who has two imaginary princess friends, Penelope and Priscilla. Needless to say, Penelope got a hug.

Violet and Richard then went home for a few hours while I had fluids pumped into me and waited for Dr. Yoo to analyze the blood work. I read the New York Times Magazine cover to cover which was fucking awesome. Is it possible the only peace a not-so-young mom can get is in the emergency room? Hmm.

Dr. Yoo came back with good news. I was dehydrated and stressed out! Wait, that wasn’t the good news. The good news was that I wasn’t having the longest heart attack ever, and actually I wasn’t having any heart problem at all. The reason my heart was working so hard is that my fluid levels were dangerously low. Drink gatorade and eat soup, was his prescription.

Gatorade tastes like melted popsicles, people. Why do athletes like this stuff?

Once discharged, I realized that my phone had died completely. There were payphones in the lobby, but I didn’t have any cash. Also, the drinking fountains were broken, so I couldn’t access the bottled water in the vending machine. It reminded me of simpler times when people carried cash, and I didn’t have stress dehydration. I called Richard from the reception desk and sat down to wait. I thought about a lot of things while I waited.

I thought about the dixie cups they used to give me in movie theaters when I was little, to be used for the water fountain, since the only beverages for sale were Coke and Fanta, and I never liked soda. People didn’t worry about body dehydration as much in the 70’s I guess. That got me thinking about the bottled water craze, which to me seems so stupid. First of all, you’re PAYING FOR WATER. How foolish is that? Secondly, why are we all in such imminent danger of dehydrating? A few years ago I saw this article that validated my opinion that the ‘water crisis’ was manufactured by bottled water companies. But after yesterday, I’m forced to admit that there is something to this whole hydration thing. Sigh.

I also thought about other ironies in my life. I run an on-line magazine that publishes myriad articles about avoiding stress and making time to be good to yourself as a busy mom, yet I ran myself into the ground like a crazy work-a-holic and ended up in the hospital! Is this a variation on my nervous breakthrough? Perhaps.

In any case, the funniest moments of the evening by far were in the car on the way home. First, Richard feigned surprise that the doctor didn’t diagnose me with “Assholers Disease.” Ha ha ha. Then there was Violet’s deep concern about what happened to all the blood they took from my body.

“How come you didn’t take your blood home?”

Richard and I explained that it doesn’t work that way. They keep it to run tests and then they throw it out.

“But don’t you have to put it back?”

“It’s like pooping honey, it goes out, it doesn’t come back in.” That was Richard. Good one!

“But you could put it back in.”

“Where would I put it?” I asked.

“You could put it in your ear.”

And…resume normal life.

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