12/11/11; 12:07am; Austin, TX
“I think I’m dying. I need to go to the Emergency Room. Can you pick me up?”
“Yeah, as long as you don’t mind that I’m wearing pajamas.”
“Nah, nevermind, I wouldn’t want to die while you were wearing pajamas.”
And so began my first of two visits to Austin-area Emergency Rooms (and one urgent care walk-in clinic) within the span of 12 hours.
But let’s backtrack a bit.
Anemia, A Death Sentence?
On Thursday, 2 days prior to my ER visits, I found out I was anemic via a random blood test I decided to take independently. I know what you’re thinking. “It’s because you’re vegan. Eat a steak.”
But you’d be wrong. And all I can think when writing this in public is, “God dammit, now people who were on the fence are going to think veganism is unhealthy and they won’t do their own research into it.”
My Mom has had anemia since she was a kid and she has eaten meat her whole life. Of the handful of people I’ve known who were anemic only one was vegan (and that was due to internal bleeding, which is diet agnostic). Anybody can develop an iron deficiency (or any other nutritional deficiency, for that matter) and a well balanced veg*n diet shouldn’t cause any issues.
I’ve been pretty meticulous about making sure I’m getting the recommended amount of iron per day. (Remember when DailyBurn.com was called Gyminee.com? That’s how long ago I started tracking intake.)
Spinach + Oxalic Acid = Bullshit
Non-heme iron (the iron found in plants) doesn’t absorb as well as heme iron (the iron only available in animal tissue). Add to that the fact that I consume a lot of iron absorption inhibitors (like tea) every day and you have the makings of a slowly progressing iron deficiency.
I also ate a lot of spinach. I would eat bags of spinach like they were potato chips.
The truth about spinach: Everybody knows spinach contains a significant amount of iron. What most people don’t know is that it also contains an iron inhibitor called oxalic acid. (I didn’t know this until last week.) How is that for some bullshit? Eating spinach might not do anything for us as far as iron content is concerned. (This depends on your own biology and also what else you eat with the spinach. Test your own blood, don’t take my results for anything.)
What I’m getting at is, as meticulous as I was with food intake, it’s my fault that I didn’t do regular blood testing to see if what I was consuming was also being absorbed.
“I saw few die of hunger; of eating, a hundred thousand.” - Benjamin Franklin
But I felt good so this news was still news to me. I’d been doing the Insanity work out program for about 3 months. If you’ve done Insanity you know how incredibly intense it is. Someone who’s anemic should not be able to complete the full 63 day course and then start it back up again. But I did. Because I felt good.
Who Gets Random Blood Tests Anyway?
You might be wondering, “Why would you be getting random blood tests? You had to think something was wrong.”
Nope. I wrote about this before. I just didn’t swallow my own pill as quickly as I originally planned.
I wanted these blood tests (and others), because our health system is not set up for preventive care. The only way to prevent is to be pro-active. Additionally, as precise as I may be with my food intake, science = truth. The blood tests aren’t going to lie to me, whereas the labels on a bag of spinach or a can of beans might.
I went to DirectLabs.com and ordered their Comprehensive Wellness Profile which tests for a lot of general stuff (CBC, kidney function, iron, cholesterol, and more). This was the first of many tests I planned to take. One at a time though so as not to get overwhelmed.
It was a really easy process. A few days after placing my order I went in for the blood work (Wednesday), about 24 hours later my results were in, and then the fun began.
Tangent: I had to fast for 12 hours before getting my blood drawn. So I fasted for 12 hours, walked just over 2 miles to the lab to get my blood drawn, and then walked 3 miles to get my first meal of the day. I never felt faint or woozy. To be considerably anemic and to not feel it at all still fascinates me.
After I got the news I researched more about iron deficiency, bought some supplements, decided to completely stop drinking tea, stopped doing Insanity, and planned on getting the blood tests again in a couple of weeks.
Like I stated, I felt fine. This simply didn’t make sense.
How Not To See A Concert You’ve Been Waiting 10 Years To See
Saturday I was speaking to my Mom and she freaked me out about anemia for 30 minutes, telling me all of the bad things I already knew (since I spent hours researching it). As much as I tried to fight it I couldn’t. I let all the negative thoughts get to me and I began slowly getting anxious.
I tried to focus on the show I’d be going to a few hours later. I’d been wanting to see Brian Setzer perform live for about 10 years and I always missed him on tour. Finally, I had tickets to the Brian Setzer Rockabilly Riot tour in Austin. Stray Cat Strut live and in person!
I walked the 1.5 miles to the show. No worries.
But the anxiety started bubbling.
When I walked into La Zona Rosa (concert venue) the opening band was finishing their last song. Perfect timing. I walked around a bit and 20 minutes later Brian Setzer and his band came on stage. They immediately started rocking with songs about 39 Fords and girls and fun times.
After 15 minutes I started sweating. There’s no smoking allowed inside La Zona Rosa, but I was beginning to feel faint. Hard to breathe. What is going on?
So I went to the restroom and splashed water on my face. Still felt like I was going to pass out. Then I went to the bar and drank a glass of water. Didn’t help. Finally, I went outside and sat down in the cold, crisp, Austin night.
“Breathe,” I demanded. “This is all mental,” I reasoned. “Stop being a baby,” I pleaded.
I tried to distract myself with Words With Friends.
Brian Setzer was on stage and I was outside playing Words With Friends.
I thought this was ridiculous so I went back inside and leaned up against a beam towards the back of the venue. “Maybe if I pass out it won’t be so bad since I’m leaning against this beam,” I thought. By this time I had resigned myself to the fact that I’d be passing out. It was just a matter of making it as painless as possible.
A few minutes went by and there was a short intermission while a new backing band came on stage. It was time for Stray Cats songs! While I’m a little bit of a fan of Brian Setzer’s solo work, I’m a much bigger fan of his work with the Stray Cats.
They launched into songs I barely remember. Death was imminent and I couldn’t focus. I thought about leaving. Did you really spend $40 to watch Brian Setzer play for 45 minutes? You’re an idiot.
I decided I’d hold off until they played Stray Cat Strut, my favorite song (and my favorite song to do at karaoke). Maybe that song would distract me enough to where I’d feel better.
They played it. I clapped, walked outside, sat down for a minute, got up, and walked towards Nueces St to hail a cab. I couldn’t handle it anymore. It was only 11pm, the band would probably be on stage for another hour, but I needed to go home.
An hour later, after trying not to die at home, I felt worse than ever. By now it was just after Midnight.
I Decide I’m Dying and Head To The ER
I called my friend. Her and her boyfriend came to pick me up and we went to the ER.
Where we waited.
A nurse took my blood pressure, asked a few questions (“Miss, I’m surely dying, can’t you see?”), and …
Two guys walked into the ER covered in blood like it was the most normal thing in the world. (One dude made the unfortunate mistake of wearing an all white ensemble this evening. It looked like someone pissed blood all over him and his white pants. His friend’s head was literally pouring blood out of multiple gashes. These guys were unreal.)
And we waited.
I started to feel better after seeing all these people looking a mess.
“Death is nothing. But to live defeated and inglorious is to die daily." – Napoleon
I walked around a bit. Got a drink of water.
I Decide I’m Not Dying, Which Only Costs Me $313.75
“You know what? I think maybe we should go,” I told my friend.
I went up to the nurse and asked if I’d be charged for my visit. I said I didn’t feel like I was going to pass out and die anymore. It was nearly 3am by this time. I was exhausted and just wanted sleep.
“Wait just a minute, we’ll admit you right now.”
The nurse said this would probably take a couple hours. I figured there was no sense in them staying so my friends left.
Just before getting to the point of being admitted I decided against it. “You know what? This is going to unnecessarily cost thousands of dollars and I don’t feel like I’m dying. I’m just going to go. How much will it cost?”
Called my friend: “Hey, swing back around, I’m leaving.”
Got home, still felt OK, and laid down to sleep. You’re dying. Don’t fall asleep or you won’t wake up. I tossed, turned, struggled, felt nauseous, propped up my head, watched something I don’t remember on Hulu, and finally fell asleep around 5am.
When I woke at a much-too-early-time of 9am it was in a cold, shaky, sweat.
I Decide I’m Dying (Again) and Go To A Walk-in Clinic
Shit, I’m dying again. I thought we went through this already.
This time I figured I’d just go to a walk-in clinic because what better place to die than a walk-in clinic not nearly adequately prepared for any kind of deathly emergency? I’d be leery of going there for a cold, much less death. But I guess I like to take chances.
I took my time, trying to get out of my head about the situation. I took a shower. Did laundry. Ate breakfast. Then took the bus 5 miles to a south Austin walk-in clinic.
The walk-in clinic was an ordeal in and of itself, but I’ll cut to the chase. I saw a doctor at 12:30pm. This is what he told me: “You need to go to the ER. I’m not going to charge you here, but I can’t help you.”
“Oh great. This is wonderful news.”
By the way, the doctor didn’t perform any tests at all. His assistant looked at the blood work I had done at DirectLabs and they must’ve agreed with my diagnosis of death. (I heard them talking about diseases which I will mention shortly.)
Who else is surprised that a doctor in the United States of America did not charge me for my visit? He must’ve felt pity for my impending death.
Now I was sure of it. Well, you lived a solid life. It’s time.
“I shall not die of a cold. I shall die of having lived.” - Willa Cather
I’m Absolutely Convinced I’m Dying, So I Take My Time Going Back To The ER
I guess I could’ve taken a cab or even an ambulance, but I decided if I’m going to find out I’m dying I might as well not rush it. I bussed it 7 miles north to a different hospital than the first.
(Much nicer and much cleaner. The first one was a not quite a hell hole, but also not quite where I’d ever want to spend any length of time.)
The bus ride was 25 minutes, but it felt like 25 seconds. I don’t remember a thing.
I arrived at the hospital at approximately 1:15pm and within 15 minutes of checking into the ER a Doctor was already discussing things with me. It was nothing like the ER I’d heard about from most people, and not even close to the ER from 12 hours prior.
“Your symptoms? What you call death? They’re not real. You are having an anxiety attack.”
“Sir, I beg to differ. I don’t have anxiety. I’m dying. If you would just evaluate the situation a little closer surely you’ll agree.”
“Sure. Let’s just run some blood work and see what’s going on.”
“OK. I’ll just be here reading Mindfulness In Plain English 20th Anniversary Edition and trying to distract myself from my impending death. Take your time, because if I’m dying I want to finish this book first.”
Karol Meet Caroline. Or Carol Meet Caroline. Or Karolina Meet Caroline?
A nurse came in and introduced herself as Caroline. “Hey Carol, I’m Caroline.”
“Hi Caroline, it’s Karl. Although my Parents wanted a girl and called me Karolina growing up.”
“Oh, I was kind of excited for a Carol. Caroline and Carol.”
“You get excited about weird things Caroline. What has this hospital done to you?” ;)
Caroline “1, 2, 3″ stuck me with the IV needle like I was a 7 year old, drew enough blood to feed Team Edward, and it was waiting time.
An Unnatural Fear Of Charts, Drawings, and Photos
I don’t mind needles, getting my blood drawn, or getting injections, but I don’t like hospitals or doctor offices. Or photos of medical things. Or biohazard waste containers. Or charts. Or drawings. I was a sweaty mess every day after 1st period Health in Freshman year of High School.
I tried to distract myself from the beeps and charts and photos and images in my head, but this Mindfulness reading was not to be. Back to Words With Friends. If I’m going to die I should probably beat someone in Words With Friends soon. I should also get morphine.
“Caroline, why isn’t my IV hooked up to something cool like morphine? If I’m going to die I don’t want to feel pain.”
“Are you in pain?”
“No, but this IV tube is just hanging here doing nothing except hindering my Kindle holding capabilities.”
Finally, My Doctor Tells Me The Bad News
40 minutes later the Doctor came back to tell me the news.
I thought I had everything from Hepatitis C to HIV to Leukemia to lots of other things the doctors at the walk-in clinic were talking about.
I don’t know if they were talking about me, of course. I assumed they were, because even though there were a dozen other people being treated, I was the only one being treated.
I probably heard something about the Black Plague as well. I prepared for the worst and secretly hoped I had a combination of everything and then some.
If I’m going to go out it should be extraordinary.
I don’t want a “10% chance to live,” diagnosis. If I get a death wish I want a, “you are a medical mystery, you are going to die very soon, and there is no chance we can do anything for you,” diagnosis.
This isn’t some macho thing. I’m probably the least macho guy you’ll ever meet.
It’s two things:
- A 10% chance wouldn’t let me relax about the situation. At least if there was no chance I could just continue doing what I was doing and let things happen as they would.
- I want my body used for science. (Anywhere except the Wayne State University medical school is OK with me.) How fun would it be to be the reason scientists cured an illness? If nothing else, hopefully they’d learn something.
“No one can confidently say that he will still be living tomorrow.” - Euripides
But it was not to be.
“You’re anemic. That’s all. I’m going to write you a prescription for iron and you need to stop giving yourself panic attacks.”
“What about my BUN/Creatinine Ratio? It was a bit low in the other blood test. That probably means I’m dying.” [Sometimes I think I'm a person who knows stuff when I'm talking to people who know stuff.]
“I checked that out. It’s fine. But you need to get blood tests again in a few weeks to make sure you’re absorbing this iron.”
I don’t actually know what blood tests they performed. Caroline took three or four vials of blood (vials make me queasy – I didn’t take a close look) so hopefully they tested for every horrible possibility.
They surely missed something. Fucking doctors.
My head’s starting to hurt. Why am I sweating? I’m pretty sure I’m gonna pass out.
“Can you pick me up and take me to the ER? I think I’m dying … sure, wear your pajamas.”