When I was little, maybe between the ages of five and seven, I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. I loved my teachers at school, and because of them (or maybe just because of me) I loved school. Also, my mother was a teacher, and I thought she was pretty great, so I would become a teacher, too.
Later, when I was a little older, I wanted to be a veterinarian. We always had lots of animals, mostly cats and a dog or two. The cats lived outside and were called the Outside Cats. I was partial to the cats, and I still am. I used to name them very clever names, like Blackey and Whitey and Pumpkin, based on the color of their coats. There was also Mama Cat, and you can guess why she was named that. The first cat that I considered my own was called Mindy, named after a character on my then-favorite television show, Mork and Mindy.
For the better part of five days, I was without internet service or cell phone coverage. I couldn’t check my work email. I could not read my latest patient updates in our electronic medical record (something I’m apt to do on weekends or holidays, even when I’m off). I was not able to read status updates on Facebook or browse the beautiful images on Instagram. I was not able to tweet or read tweets. Or retweet, for that matter. I was not able to read the New York Times or the Washington Post or watch funny cat videos online.
Instead, I was able to do the following:
1. Read most of a book. I’ve become hooked on Tania French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, and I’m almost done with the third one, Faithful Place.
2. Share in a nightly toast with my husband and children during cocktail hour, before each evening’s dinner. We toasted with our glasses of beer (for him) and wine (for me) and Shirley Temples (for the little ones) to each other and to a wonderful vacation.
3. Knit several rows of stitches in the shawl I’m working on, one of two projects on my needles right now. I’ve learned that I can’t have just one project at a time. Turns out that I’m not a monogamous knitter.
4. Have soft serve ice cream twice a day. Or more.
There is a memory that sneaks up on me at unexpected times, usually in the quiet moments, while waiting alone for an elevator or on my walk in to work in the mornings. Or, just before I fall asleep at night, the memory jerking me to full awareness and heart-piercing pain. It shoves its way into my mind, and I’m helpless to stop it.
* * *
I am back in the hospital’s emergency room, standing at the foot of my father’s bed as the ER physician tells me he may need to shock my father’s heart to bring it out of the rapid and unstable rhythm it has adopted. The heart monitor alarms over my father’s head. The heart rhythm itself might not be worrisome, but his blood pressure is dropping as the heart races, and this has everyone nervous and hovering nearby. The nurses have wheeled the crash cart to just outside my father’s room. I notice it – a hulking, red box on wheels, filled with everything needed to revive and resuscitate a crashing patient – and I feel nauseous.
First, though, the doctor will try adenosine to break the rhythm. “His heart may stop temporarily,” he tells me. “There could be a period of asystole, and he could have chest pain.”
I know this, as I have used this medication before, when I was an internal medicine resident treating a patient with supraventricular tachycardia (called SVT for ease). The hope is that the adenosine will break the rapid heart rhythm, setting it back into its normal beat. But the ER doctor isn’t sure if Dad’s heart rate is due to SVT or to atrial fibrillation. He thinks this will help him figure it out.