Tuesday, March 13, 2018
From this very funny, absolutely not fake- and I’m not even being sarcastic- New York Times article from 2001, I know that Singapore’s population is aging disproportionately because its citizens are too busy to get busy.
I also know this because I just spent three nights in the hospital with what feels like most of them. Three nights, I should add, of noises that I did not know the human body could produce. On the first night, I lay for hours in one of the bumper-to-bumper stretchers in an overcrowded room that was meant for 12 of us but instead held 30+. The noises were continuous, a muted thunderous, and heartbreaking.
(Relatively amusing aside, though: this is the room to whom I flashed my boobs when they didn’t close the curtains all the way for one of my electrocardiograms. Everyone was too sick or injured to throw beads at me or even make excited noises. I was too numb to react at the time, but now it annoys me a little. C’mon, people! That was a rare and special moment for you! Boobs!)
Anyway, I also spent two nights sharing a room with five other women who I can’t really talk about because thinking about them isn’t fun. Sometimes you just know when people are waiting out their time. You can hear it.
It all started when I couldn’t sleep for a few nights because I kept shooting terrified out of bed after I’d stopped breathing. I’ve been going hard on the fruits and vegetables here but was losing energy, so I doubled down in Malaysia and tried to avoid all the rice and noodles, too. The breathing issues got worse, however, and I started to get winded just walking from my chair to the beach. I know, I know… trouble in paradise.
Back in Singapore, I started gasping all the time. No sleep, couldn’t exercise, constantly fighting for a breath. It was pretty scary, but kind of reminded me of the trip over here which was easily fixed. Cool, I figured, one night around 11. I’m not going to sleep- I’ll just find a 24 hour clinic and get some antibiotics and knock this out. It is clearly time for something more than garlic pita, papaya, and mango therapy.
I hit the doc. He sent me to the hospital. BP exceptionally low, heart rate exceptionally low, slightly wonky ecg- they kept me for observation until 4 in the morning. They let me go with a referral to a specialist and a warning to come back if it got worse.
It got worse.
On the way back to the hospital, I was convinced that it was my thyroid because I’d spent way too much time on the Internet googling symptoms. I truly thought they would do a quick blood test and then he’d give me some hormones and I’d be on my merry way.
Nope. The blood test thing happened (three times) plus a few more ecgs, a CT scan and some pulmonary thing that came out a blur because they kept grabbing my wrists to “settle” me- haha! remember how much fun I think my wrists are?- which gave me outright panic attacks and left me shaking and crying uncontrollably while some sort of liquid highlighter pumped through my lungs.
Doctor (still in braces, not reassuring): I need you to calm down and take a deep breath.
Me: I (gasp) CAN’T! That’s why I’m (gasp) HERE!
Doctor: (grabs wrist to hold me still to inject things into one of my symmetrical inner elbow IVs)
Me: (complete panic attack, inability to speak, instinctive physical battle against perceived lethal wrist touches, tears and hyperventilation)
It wasn’t pretty.
In my calmer moments, I had a heart ultrasound and a 30 minute cardiac scan. My resting heart rate kept coming in at around 52 and often, they’d take my blood pressure multiple times and even move my bed around so my feet were above my head until they were satisfied. I guess 86 over 54 is pretty low.
Regardless, they couldn’t find anything scarily wrong. After the second night, they sat me down. (Metaphorically, of course. I did a lot of sitting there.)
Psychiatrist: We think you have anxiety.
Me: I don’t.
Psychiatrist: Well, when you can’t breathe, are you worried?
Me: Yes. Because I can’t breathe.
Psychiatrist: Well, we think you’re stressed.
Me: I’m a teacher. I know stress. I know anxiety. I’M A TEACHER. I haven’t had to teach in two months. My job now is to read and write and think about interesting stuff in this great new place I get to explore, plus I’m warm all the time. I just got back from vacation on a tropical beach. THIS IS NOT ANXIETY. My life is really, really good except I CAN’T. BREATHE. DURING IT.
Psychiatrist: You need to take this pill which will ease your anxiety.
Me: (thoughts only, still trying to be an ambassador) I hate you- I hate you- why won’t you LISTEN?!?
I took the pill in the interest of making her go away. I had the most miserable afternoon. Breathing got worse, plus my mind was racing and my knees wanted to jump all around. After multiple nights of sleeplessness, I felt like I was going crazy.
There’s a reason I don’t do drugs.
All night, I googled my symptoms and read websites and journals (did you know you can get actual science answers- journal articles- by using Google Scholar? It’s a priceless research tool) when I could lift my groggy head from between my knees. I tried to sneak downstairs to buy vitamins but I got caught and sent back to my bed.
Because you know what? That’s actually what this whole thing was, I think. Turns out there’s no dairy in Singapore foods, and I tend to stay away from meat. All my efforts to eat more fruits and vegetables to make myself feel better actually meant I had dropped my b12 intake to approximately none per day. I had accidentally gone mostly vegan, and you can’t get b12- an extremely vital nutrient and OH how I know that now- without meat products or a supplement.
Whoops. Holy cow, have I had a lot of cheeseburgers in the past couple of days. Eat the cheese or hurt yourself, it turns out.
So I’m out of the hospital now, and I’m feeling better. Got a supplement and some Mos Burger on my way home, and was finally in the frame of mind to appreciate what a great situation I’m in here. The Fulbright team in Singapore and back home reached out multiple times per day, and the US Embassy in Singapore did as well. My buddy teacher from the Ministry of Education was phenomenal, visiting me on the weekend, talking to doctors, and bringing me things like a toothbrush and charger, which I don’t know what I would’ve done without. They offered a ton of support at a time it felt good to have it.
Better yet, I’m writing this from my little porch in Bali. It’s school vacation week, and after I checked myself out I was able to salvage most of the vacation I booked a few weeks ago. My anxiety level is zero (normal) and this temple is right down the street (not). I’m not 100% yet, but I’m 100% happy that I’m here.
And that aging population thing? Well kids, eat your vitamins. If we have that long a road ahead of us, might as well do what we can to make it smoother.