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My Horrific Seven Months

By ScotCharles

June 13, 2012

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I haven't written for quite a while. My excuse is that I have been careening from one health issue to another and haven't had the strength to write. I have learned quite a lot from these illnesses. I am still struggling to reckon the past seven months.

In November I had a mild heart attack. I was at UCLA for an appointment with my neurologist, Dr. Elyse Singer. The trip to UCLA is always grueling for me. I can no longer drive so I have to rely on a disabled transit service. Since I am prone to profound weakness when stressed, I use a power wheel chair for the trip.

As is always done before seeing Dr. Singer, her nurse took my vitals -- temperature, pulse rate, oxygenation, and blood pressure. This time my blood pressure was 195 over 180, which is a dangerous level. Dr. Singer examined me and determined that I was having a heart attack. I was rushed to the Emergency Room where further tests were done that confirmed I was having a heart attack. I was given aspirin to treat the heart attack as well as some other drugs in an intravenous drip. The doctors told me after some imaging tests were done that I had calcium in my heart tissue and plaque in my cardiac arteries. The protease inhibitors I take for my HIV, the doctors told me, had likely caused my condition. I remember being pissed off that the AIDS meds had put me in this situation.

Over the next several hours with medication my blood pressure came down and the enzyme the heart produces during a heart attack disappeared from my blood.


I spent the night at UCLA in the observation unit attached to a monitor by probes pasted on my torso. The pain in my chest was bad so I asked a nurse for something to stop the pain and was told that because of the heart attack she could not give me anything for the pain; toward morning the pain subsided.

I could not sleep and channel surfed the time away. I became bored and started to play with the controls on my bed. Something I pushed caused the bed to start sounding "ping-pong-pang." Nothing I did stopped the noise. Finally, I buzzed the nurse to tell her my bed was making noise. She couldn't stop the noise and called maintenance. The maintenance man arrived a few hours later by which time I was going mad with the continuous "ping-pong-pang." The maintenance man couldn't fix it so after a conference between the nurse, the maintenance man, and the resident, it was determined my bed should be switched with one that wasn't making noise. The trouble was that all beds at UCLA were occupied so I would have to wait until a bed became available. Meanwhile, the bed continued to "ping-pong-pang." After several more hours, an orderly came to switch beds. He said, "Why hasn't anyone pushed the 'Call' button on the bed to stop the noise?" and then pushed said button whereupon the noise stopped, after six hours of "ping-pong-pang."

The cardiac specialist came soon after the noise fracas, and told me that my vitals had returned to normal, my heart attack had been caught in time and there was minimal damage to the heart tissue. She released me to go home with some prescriptions. I was a very lucky boy to have a heart attack while at UCLA. Anywhere else and the attack would have been more serious.

Just as I got home, the worst windstorm in 100 years hit the San Gabriel Valley, where I live. The winds rushed down from the mountains in swirling eddies that toppled trees, snapped electric lines and stripped all leaves from every tree and shrub. Oddly, not one of the leaves stripped from the trees and shrubs ended up in my yard. I think all those leaves piled up against the hills at the south end of the Valley. I never did hear who had to rake up all of them.

Of course, the power went out and the weather turned icy. I couldn't get my prescriptions filled as no pharmacy in the Valley had electricity. Luckily, my partner and I had learned our lessons from being in the Loma Prieta Earthquake in San Francisco in 1989 and had a portable generator at the ready. At least for a few hours each day, we could have heat and watch television. We have a gas fireplace in the lounge where we spent our daylight hours wrapped in blankets. We have a gas cooker so we could make meals for ourselves, even as the food in the fridge spoiled. We had just had groceries delivered and the fridge was full.

We lived this way for a week. We got out a few times to see the damage in the neighborhood and get burritos at a Mexican restaurant that stayed open during the crisis. The electricity finally came back on and life returned to normal.

I was once snowed in when we owned our hotel in Blue Ridge, Georgia. My partner, Jim, couldn't get to the hotel because of the snow and I spent my time with two elderly women who lived close by. We had one bottle of Scotch and several cords of wood to keep us warm. However, one of the women finished off the Scotch the first night, so the three of us spent the next four days huddled around a wood stove seething with resentment at the woman who drank all the Scotch. At least the restaurant where we were camped had a gas stove and the walk-in freezer was stocked. As bad as that was, I think the wind storm of 2011 topped it.

As it always does, life returned to normal. I began seeing a kindly cardiologist. My infectious disease specialist went on a five month trip to her clinic in Tanzania so I couldn't see her as I usually did. In February, I began to have severe headaches whose pain only responded to some Vicodins I had left over from a previous lumbar puncture. I told my cardiologist about the headaches and he gave me more Vicodin.

In early March while a nurse and social worker from AIDS Project Los Angeles were making their monthly visit, my partner, Jim, had a stroke. The nurse was wonderful and explained to the 911 operator my partner's symptoms. We had registered with Los Angeles County Emergency Services and the EMTs had our medical histories at the ready. Jim was rushed to the hospital. I got to ride in the front seat of the ambulance with the siren blasting.

At the hospital, Jim was put into a shared room. The other tenant was throwing up in a waste paper basket. After nearly an hour, he was taken to another part of the hospital, while Jim and I waited for the doctors to tell us what had happened. A neurologist gave Jim a bedside neurology test. I have taken enough of these tests to know what an abnormal test result is and could tell that Jim had damage to the right side of his brain. A CT scan was done which showed the damage was minimal. The brain is an amazing organ that can heal itself if given a chance and the doctors said Jim would be back to his old self in a few days.

I went home to rest. I woke up the next morning with a fever and the worst headache of my life. I have never been one to let a little illness stop me and I went on with my day. Jim came home the day after his stroke. We both spent the next few days in bed, Jim weak from his stroke and me with a fever of a 102, despite my usual bravado in the face of illness.

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Life Is a River



ScotCharles was born in Mineral Wells, Texas. He has been HIV positive since September 1984, and received an AIDS diagnosis in April 2004. He graduated cum laude from Georgia State University in Atlanta, and got his MBA with honors at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He's also a certified public accountant and a member of the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels. He's been married to his partner, Jim, for 30 years. ScotCharles' hobbies are gardening and water color painting. He and Jim have a sable tabby cat named Pickles who runs the house. ScotCharles is a retiree and regular poster to's Bulletin Boards.

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