Tachycardia! Such a pleasant-sounding word. If I didn’t know its meaning I might conjecture it’s an Italian port with picturesque ruins, or a type of poetic rhyme only esoteric literati know, or it’s a type of fast-paced Latin rumba, or maybe…a card game? Like “Brain Candy” that bounces into my inbox each day, where I guess half the answers, I’d be wrong had I selected the above a, b, c, or d because tachycardia is none of the above.
I learned its meaning the old-fashioned way. No, not by a dictionary look-up! I lived it. Here’s my tale.
I climbed a hill. We were in Virginia in late June 2018 during a heat spell with temps edging 100, staying at a farm house without air-conditioning. When I descended from the climatized Suburban to stroll down the rocky slope to the river, I felt fine. As I climbed back up the stony embankment to the vehicle, I felt woozy. We’d been touring my son-in-law’s recently purchased farmlands, and I didn’t want to interrupt the tour in progress, so I sat quietly in the back seat next to my granddaughter and son while my husband in the front passenger seat and my son’s father-in-law in the driver’s seat conversed, laughed, and carried on, unaware of untoward developments in the back seat. I assuaged myself by figuring that when the air flow kicks in, I’ll feel better.
“Ama, you ok?” asked my two-year old granddaughter Georgia as she peered over at me.
“Henry, I feel awfully hot,” I whispered to my son.
“Oops, Georgia must have turned on the seat warmer.”
Surely. That’s why I’m not cooling off, I silently surmised.
As the bumpy ride continued, I became weaker, woozier, and scared. Tom suggested another detour just when I thought we were headed home. I thrust my arm between the seats.
“Feel my pulse,” I whispered huskily to my husband.
All got quiet. Then, after a minute, he said, “We need to get to the farmhouse.”
Tom pulled up near the door. My husband and son each took an arm and hoisted me unsteadily the few steps. I collapsed on the sofa.
“I have Toprol in my suitcase,” I barely murmured. It had become difficult to speak.
My husband retrieved a pill and a glass of water. He took my pulse. It wasn’t slowing down. “You have tachycardia,” he said and then turned to my son, “We need to call an ambulance.”
“Dad, the hospital is twenty-five minutes away. It’ll take them that long to get here and then another twenty-five to take Mom back there.”
“Get the car, Henry,” my husband said.
My life was ebbing. I’d had an “A fib” (atrial fibrillation) attack a year earlier. But, after a while with no more problems, I stopped taking the medication. Fortunately, I carried it with me.
My husband grabbed me by the armpits, and I felt immense pain. “Let Henry pick me up. You take my feet,” I instructed him. The two of them hauled me like a gargantuan gunny sack, sagging in the middle, into the car. I can imagine the optics of their carrying me. I must have looked like a garbage bag of askew camping gear being toted out to the 4 Runner.
I hoped my granddaughter wasn’t watching. I hoped my daughter-in-law wasn’t watching. Heck, worst of all, I prayed her stylish parents weren’t watching!
I was about dead, anyway, so I figured I’d be spared the embarrassment of facing them again or at least not in this life.
My husband handed me another pill and told me to place it under my tongue. “It’ll get absorbed faster that way.”
Henry wound his way around the bumpy, mountainous paths. My husband kept my prone, lifeless body on the seat with one hand and with the other he gauged my pulse. I closed my eyes. So, this is how it will happen, I thought. And, in Virginia, huh?
I lay still, not hearing their conversation, the motor, nothing.
After about 15 minutes, I felt better. “Feel my pulse,” I choked out.
My husband counted. “It’s slower.”
After a few more minutes, I could sit up. Henry pulled into the ER entrance of the hospital at Hot Springs, near the Homestead Hotel.
“How are you feeling?” my husband asked.
“A lot better.”
“Do you want to check in?”
“How’s my pulse?”
“If I check in, what will happen?”
“They don’t know your history. So, they’ll run a lot of tests. They’ll keep you overnight.”
“Overnight? Tomorrow is Mo’s graduation in DC!”
(We were in route to our son-in-law’s graduation and stopped in Virginia at Henry’s request for one night to see the newly purchased farm of his in-laws.)
“I can’t miss Mo’s graduation.”
“Up to you.”
“Will my A Fib be ok now that I’m taking Toprol?’
So, I asked our son to turn back. We hurried to the farmhouse, packed, said our farewells, thanking our hosts, and hastened off as the sky changed colors and the wind kicked up.
“There’ll be hospitals between here and DC if I get in trouble,” I said. “Crisis averted.”
We started down those hilly, curving roads when a torrential storm let loose, and the two lanes immediately flooded making half the highway impassable for normal cars. Our SUV plodded on.
Eyeing the rising, rushing water in the culverts on both sides, I announced, “The Grim Reaper is stalking me. Virginia may be for lovers, but I’m not leaving my heart here in Virginia— or any other part of me!”
Obviously, we escaped. (I am alive writing this.) I felt as if I were in the Mission Impossible Freefall movie because one calamity had swiftly followed another. Like, Tom Cruise, I managed to elude certain doom and made it to Mo’s graduation from his oral surgery residency. Mission Accomplished. Lesson learned. Thank the Lord! And for my readers, the take-away message: always keep prescription drugs you might need handy!