About a month ago, I went to visit my sister in Oregon, and we spent a fabulous couple of days driving and walking and visiting beaches on the coast. It’s one of my favorite places, and it would have been a perfect trip had I not spent a couple of hours in an emergency room in a tiny hospital in Lincoln City. (Good to know: Lincoln City has a hospital!)
That was the beginning of what was a scary couple of weeks when I thought I might need to start labeling all my belongings for dispersal upon my demise and write out a will. But for the last couple of weeks, I have been more and more convinced that what I’m dealing with is “just” perimenopause. I say “just”, because perimenopause is not a small thing. Anyone who has gone through it, or is going through it, will tell you it can bring on sudden and, at times, terrifying symptoms. Hormones are CRAZY, y’all!!! I woke up in the middle of the night in Oregon with my heart thumping out of my chest, sweating, nauseous… all classic signs of a heart attack. When my fitbit read 150, then could no longer register my heart rate, I woke my sister.
The folks at the hospital there diagnosed me with low potassium, and other symptoms seemed to fit that, so I was relieved, if shaken, and we went back to Portland the next day and enjoyed another day in town and a nice meal out before I headed home. Then, the night after I got home, I had another nighttime episode.
Since I’d already seen a cardiologist earlier in the summer about some arm pain, it was hard not to assume that this was all related, and when I was supposed to go to DC with my husband the next weekend, I chickened out and stayed home. I was terrified of having a heart attack in DC away from my kids.
That Sunday afternoon, I had another small episode, then that evening it started again when I was home alone with my son, and I decided I needed to go to the ER again. After a full night and day of being monitored, there was no reason to think the arm pain was related to my heart rate increases, and my sinus rythym was normal, so they sent me home with an order for a portable EKG that I am wearing for 30 days. But I also insisted they write a prescription for some xanax. By this time, after hearing from female friends who had similar experiences during perimenopause, and reading that anxiety attacks can make potassium levels drop, I was starting to think I was dealing with hormonal fluctuations, so I wanted something to help tamp down my anxiety.
I’m still in the process of getting an official diagnosis. After blood tests came back normal for hormones, my next step is to have my IUD removed and get a saliva hormone test done to see if it’s any different. In the meantime, I’ve had a few episodes in the last couple of weeks but I have been a LOT less freaked out by them, knowing that it’s most likely not a heart issue, but a hormone issue. Hormones (or a lack thereof) won’t kill me.
So, today I am turning 52, and I decided to treat myself to a bouquet of flowers and a visit to my favorite local coffee roaster to do some work. My doctor told me to lay off caffeine while I’m being monitored, so my morning ritual of making a cup of coffee before getting to work has been missed. But guess what, they have decaf coffee too! (I know, duh.) I bought a bag to take home.
I have realized how disconnected and unfocused I am without my rituals. I also haven’t been walking in the morning since getting the monitor. It’s an iPod-looking thing that is worn in a little pouch buckled around my waist, and I have been too vain to let it be visible. My blood test did show my cholesterol has gone down ten points because of my walking and eating low-fat, and of course, no one even cares about the pouch but me. So tomorrow, I walk.
Happy birthday to me – I made it around the sun one more time. Now, just one more week of this heart monitor, and I’ll be back to “normal”. At least, as normal as a woman in her 50s entering menopause can be.
Also published on Medium.