bout a month ago, I felt a tingling in my left hand. Do you know that tingling sensation when your foot starts to get some feeling back after it has fallen asleep? That’s what my hand felt like even though it had not fallen asleep in the first place. I slapped it with my right hand a couple of times, but it wouldn’t go away. I shook it and tried to ignore it, and after about 10 minutes, it disappeared. An aberration, I thought. But it happened again a few more times the same day.
The next day, it reoccurred. And the next day and the next. It seemed to occur mostly after I had been sedentary for a period of time, like when I woke up in the morning, or getting up after watching a DVD. I had heard that heart problems were often associated with a sense of numbness in the extremities. Well, the numbness wasn’t in every extremity, only left hand, but it was enough to worry me. If this continues for a week, maybe I should see a doctor. But it disappeared as quickly as it appeared after 5 days.
Maybe I’ve been working too hard. Maybe I should cut back some and say “no” to students sometimes, I reflected. When a student wanted to have a party at the sensei pad, I relented. I mean, I do enjoy students coming over, and it’s so hard to say “no” to them. When they ask me for letters of recommendations, I always oblige, but I do tell them to give me three weeks notice, which is my policy. This way I can pace myself and not be burdened with too much work at once. But occasionally, a student will demand a recommendation immediately, and disregard my standing policy because he decided to apply for something at the last minute, even deflecting accountability by claiming he would not go home for Thanksgiving just to wait for my recommendation. As if it were my fault? But I put up with it. So even when I try to pace my work, I can’t. Teaching is a calling, someone once told me, and he wasn’t kidding. You gotta love it to do it.
So, what stress? I just allowed the tingling left hand fade away into the recesses of my memory and returned to operation normal… well, normal for me, that is.
But this past weekend, I’d been feeling out of sorts and on Monday, I got a rude awakening. Around 7:30 AM, I jolted up from bed with a sharp pain in my chest. It felt like someone was stabbing a screwdriver into me from inside. I thought I perhaps slept in a strange position, so I stretched my hand over my head and tried to go back to sleep again. An hour later, I felt the same pain again. Just as intense. I felt kinda nervous but I tried to sleep again, but the pain did not subside completely. There was a slight pinching pain, with the periodic stabbing around the left side. I nervously tried to get back to sleep and got in a few restless winks until I got up at 10 AM. I got up and rubbed my chest–actually, it was more like probing it, trying to figure out what the heck was wrong. I did some work, got ready for school and left around 2 PM. The intense stabbing sensation had subsided, but the pinching sensation persisted. As you can imagine, I was rather beside myself.
At school, I held office hours and took care of business with a few students, prepared for class and lectured and discussed for 75 minutes the theme of transience in the Hojoki by Kamo no Chomei. Throughout, I felt the pinching pressure along with the slightly subdued stabbing sensation within my chest, but I tried to put it out of my mind. I’m not so sure how effective I am as an instructor under these conditions, but I guess you’d basically have to drag me out on a stretcher to keep me from my duties.
After class, I usually putt around the office grading or preparing for class the next day, and I stayed until about 8:45 PM before heading home. After dinner, I finally decided to tell Musubi-chan what was going on. She gave me that look I am so accustomed to now–at once frustrated and worried. Why don’t you tell me these things? Well, I’m more Japanese than I want to believe. My dad was like this. No matter what was happening with him, he would never tell anyone: ulcers, back pain, hernia. We always found out after the fact. Sometimes after he had been treated. Well, I wouldn’t go as far as him, but I do have a tendency to hold back information unless until I’m sure I know what’s going on… as if I were a doctor! Hahahahah!
She told me to go to bed early and relax, which I did after I did some writing on a Bruin Forum–it is, after all, rivalry week! And I didn’t get to sleep until, oh, 4 AM? M had long gone to sleep, and I was still dealing with that pressure against my chest and the occasional piercing pain. I went to sleep hoping that maybe a good nights sleep would get rid of the pain.
But I was wrong, of course. At 7 AM, I woke up with the same intense stabbing sensation from the previous day. I seemed to have figured out that the stabbing sensation was more severe when I slept on my left side, so I tried sleeping on my right. The stabbing sensation seemed slightly less intense, but nonetheless painful enough to wake me up periodically. I decided that the best position was face up, but even then there was still that nagging pinching sensation. Finally, M insisted I call the doctors, and I reluctantly agreed. I called the clinic I usually go to–Vienna Family Clinic–and told a triage nurse over the phone my symptoms. She told me to come to the clinic and they ran some tests on me including an Electrocardiogram–EKG. Well, I talked to the nurse practitioner–are there no more doctors?–about my symptoms, told her about the tingling fingers of the previous month, that I’m turning 50 pretty soon–Shit! That’s right!–and that my mother had a heart attack at 59 which is young for a female. She had a very serious look on her face as I talked to her, but then she looked at the EKG readings and said they looked normal. In fact, most of the symptoms I mentioned deviated from the typical symptoms of heart trouble. Pain is usually centered in the middle of the chest, not to the side. The pain is not a stabbing pain, but heavy pressure, as if someone was sitting on your chest. And the most intense pain occurred when I was at rest, and not while I was active.
Whew, thanks Doc. Glad to know I have a few more years left. But what is this pain, then.
The nurse practitioner looked at me and said, “It’s like this.” And proceeded to puff out her cheeks. Huh? “What you probably have is gastro-intestinal. Basically, you have gas trapped in the upper left fold of your large intestines. It bloats out, forcing the intestines to expand, and you get that stabbing sensation.” Oooooh, I have GAS! I didn’t know whether to be relieved or embarrassed. “You should be happy that it was nothing. Had it been a cardiac issue, that would have been worse.” You think?!?
M expressed the same attitude as I told her the news in the waiting room. Better to have gas than heart disease. Can’t argue with that… I think. But I forgot to tell her the treatment, which might have altered her opinion. I had to go to the drug store and get an over-the-counter remedy–for me? GasX. Apparently this will breakdown the gas in my intestines and allow it to move on down its normal path until it hits daylight… or something like that.
All’s well that ends well…
UPDATE: In case you were wondering, that’s Musubichan I’m talking to in the comic strip…