By March 2013, the episodes of dizzy spells were increasing. I had stopped all exercise activities. But just normal life activities brought on numerous episodes where I felt lightheaded or like something odd was happening inside my body: walks to and from the subway, walking around my apartment, walking around my office building. I remember one day mentioning to a friend who worked in an office building near mine that I had experienced a dizzy spell that morning. She told me to let her know if it happened again. Just a few hours later, I became dizzy just sitting at my desk. I called my friend and she immediately took me home.
When you are subject to black-outs and lightheadedness, a communication device to keep in contact with your family, friends, and emergency authorities becomes a priority. Unfortunately, in the midst of my extended medical mystery my cell phone (an old flip phone) died on a Saturday morning. I still was restricted from driving, but I could at least take a slow walk to the Verizon store in my area. So I headed off to the shopping mall, walking as slowly and calmly as possible.
I arrived at the store and saw a sign that said there was a wait of potentially thirty minutes or more. At the same time, I started to get lightheaded. I found a place to sit and prayed that the wait would be shorter than advertised, and that I would stay upright. (When I told a colleague about this adventure, he looked at me like I was a hopeless Type A. He said something like: “And you wouldn’t think of going home and shopping for a phone on another day?" But how responsible was that? I had to get home safely, and I had to get a new phone so I could keep in touch if I had an emergency, I had to face facts: without a phone the black-out queen could really get herself into trouble.)
Fortunately, the wait ended before the thirty minutes had passed. I explained to the saleswoman that I had been experiencing some black-outs, and was feeling a little lightheaded. She determined what my needs were, and let me continue to sit and relax while she addressed my phone needs. I was out of there in record time. Because I rested while the saleswoman was getting my phone ready, I was able to gather the energy to make it back home. And if I could not make it all the way home, at least I now had a working cell phone I could use to alert a friend to come help me.
The neurologist decided that it might be a good idea to look at the heart again, to see if my problems were heart related. So he gave me a prescription for a test called a Holter Monitor and suggested that I contact a cardiologist’s office. So you're probably wondering why this test was necessary. Wouldn't a routine electrocardiogram indicate whether something was wrong with the heart? Well, according to what I can find on heart websites, sometimes an electrocardiogram doesn't detect any irregularities in your heart rhythm because you're only hooked up to the machine for a short time. So if the symptoms you are experiencing suggest that an occasionally irregular heart rhythm may be causing your condition, your doctor may recommend that you wear a Holter monitor for a day or so. Over that time, the Holter monitor may be able to detect irregularities in your heart rhythm that an electrocardiogram couldn't detect.
I contacted an office in my area that had both cardiologists and electrophysiologists and scheduled an appointment. The test took 48 hours. It consisted of having all these electrode type things on me which were attached to the portable monitor. Throughout the 48 hour period, I was to write in a diary anytime I felt unusual (dizzy, weak, etc.). I wore the monitor on Friday afternoon until Sunday afternoon and turned it in on Monday morning. I also turned in a diary overflowing with written incidents like these: "I was returning home from the subway and I got dizzy walking up an incline." "I was walking for just a few minutes and I became very fatigued." "I became lightheaded while sitting on my sofa watching television."
I didn’t hear anything back by the end of Wednesday. I thought “great, just another test with no answer and I’m feeling weaker by the minute.” I was beginning to run out of tests to take. I remember that one blood test may have showed a slight abnormality with my thyroid and I fixated on whether that could cause all of my problems.
On Wednesday of the week I turned in the monitor, I had an appointment with my primary care physician. I made the appointment because I just seemed to be getting weaker by the minute with no reason identified so far. I wanted to discuss what the other options might be to diagnose my medical issues. Because I had experienced a series of black-outs with no definitive cause, I was unable to drive. I asked a lovely young mother in my church if she could possibly take me to the doctor if I met her at a subway station. She picked me up at the station on a Wednesday morning with her two engaging young children sitting in the back seat. I watched them in action as they played in the car and in the waiting room, and I had what was probably the most rewarding moments of my last few months. It was nice to be around happy and playful children, and to experience normal life for at least a short time.
I thought I was very composed when I first met with the doctor to discuss what the next step might be. But as I described the journey I had been through for four months, I dissolved into tears. After listening to me, the doctor concluded that I was depressed and he wrote me a prescription for an anti-depressant. I could tell that he felt very sorry for me, and I really think he thought an anti-depressant would help me. I could not seem to get across that the emotion that was at play here was frustration, not depression. But after two months of watching energy gradually evaporate from me I did not have any fight left within me. I took the prescription he handed to me without protest. This was such a different Melanie from the Melanie of just one year ago. She would have energetically questioned the need for this prescription.
My church friend could tell that I was very disturbed and she was very concerned about me. I let her know that I had concluded in the doctor’s office I would just fill the prescription even though I doubted that I was depressed. I had failed to show the doctor that my frustration was just that, and maybe it was worth a try. Because of my history of blackouts and dizziness, my church friend insisted on taking me to the drugstore rather than letting me we walk there on my own. The jury was still out on whether I was frustrated, or depressed, or just incredibly unhealthy. But I knew that I was gifted in friends who cared about me.
I nervously took the first anti-depressant. I summarized in my mind my medication tally. I was taking anti-seizure medications even though the neurologist said that he did not think I was having seizures. I was going to start taking anti-depressants even though after 56 years I was pretty sure what I was experiencing was frustration and not depression. When was someone going to figure out what my actual medical issue was and begin to treat that?
God had given me a message recently. I hoped the communication line was two-way. So I prayed for a miracle, and someone to stop me from hitting the bottom of the cliff with a big, noisy thud.
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. Since that time, she has been learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth.