Janet Sheridan: Stitched, stressed and restricted
March 17, 2011
On an afternoon of lung-tingling March weather, feeling as strong and vigorous as the day, I crossed Sixth Street by the museum and stepped to the opposite curb. I felt light-headed, thought, "Whoa," and caught a close-up glimpse of my scuffed shoe next to dirty snow.
I regained consciousness in the Breeze Street Park: my heart thumping, my vision crystallized, my walking fast. I looked around, wondering where I'd been and what had happened.
Unable to remember, I continued striding across the snow-riffled grass of the park, puzzling over my wet, muddy jeans and my blood-stained jacket, thinking, "Good grief, Janet, what have you done now?"
I saw my reflection in the window of a car parked along Seventh Street — a bleeding gash traced my eyebrow. I quickened my pace.
Once home, I looked in the mirror at the ugly havoc on my forehead and felt relief: at 5 in the afternoon near the busy intersection of Yampa and Sixth in a town full of helpful people, I fell on my head, thrashed about in a muddy gutter like an upside-down turtle, scrabbled to my feet, and walked home billowing blood — with no witnesses, no need to explain my clumsiness, censor my language, or pretend pluck. Whew!
Joel came home, took one look at my head, and we went to the hospital.
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From the moment I entered the emergency room, holding a soggy paper towel to my forehead and babbling, I received skillful, compassionate care — except from Joel.
As the doctor stitched my forehead back together, my comedian husband asked if I would be too traumatized to cook dinner.
The next morning I looked like I had walked on the wild side: a blood-encrusted, cross-stitched wound, shades of purple, black, and green like the aurora borealis, and a squiggle of red eye peering through massive swelling.
Joel, ever happy to celebrate my life events, e-mailed a close-up photograph to family and friends. They all called, forcing repeated confessions of my inability to walk and think at the same time.
When I had the stitches removed, an intern gave me good news: "Wow! Cool! Looks like the stitches stretched out a couple of wrinkles."
Perhaps he could team with my husband as the new Abbot and Costello.
Eventually, I stopped dwelling on my plummet to earth and my inability to remember. I thought I misjudged my step, turned my foot, or tripped. Still, when I walked by myself, I exercised caution: shuffling along, clutching my cell phone, and alert to every bump in the road.
I felt disbelief when my family doctor told me she feared an underlying cause for my scarred forehead — one potentially more serious than lack of grace. She recommended a series of tests and an appointment with a cardiologist. I trusted her, so I complied.
As I waited for the tests, I experienced strange symptoms: pressure in my nose, twinges in my chest, lightening striking my brain. Was that a hiccup or heart failure? Could a faulty aorta be causing the pain in my big toe?
When the tests began, I was monitored, scanned, X-rayed, and stressed. Electrodes and wires became my fashion accessories and please-hold-still-and-don't-cough my new pastime.
But a telephone conversation with my doctor proved to be more disconcerting than any of the tests. She called after she talked with my cardiologist: "Janet," she said, "you should stop driving until the tests are complete. You could blackout again and harm yourself or others."
I was grounded for five weeks, sucking my thumb and feeling sorry for myself. But, I feared passing out and driving through Walmart, so I obeyed.
Finally, only one procedure remained before I could receive a clean bill of health and a set of car keys: a test of the current in my heart. If problems were found, I would awaken with a pacemaker.
A pacemaker? Me? Ridiculous.
How quickly self-perceptions can change.
But that's another column.