A Lesson Accidentally Learned
The idea for this blog post came to me a couple of days ago and I've been thinking about it a lot, especially in the shower. That'll make sense soon, don't worry.
I recently saw an advertisement aimed at people with anxiety. It offered an online consultation and a medication touted to relieve the physical manifestations of nervousness—the sweaty and shaking hands, the whole-body vibrational jitters, etc. The ad gave hope that the treatment could curb the anxious energy and give people (me) confidence by masking the symptoms better, especially when public speaking or fighting performance anxiety of any kind.
The Magic Solution
The “magic “solution? It's a whole class of cardiac medications called beta blockers. You may have heard of them, as they're very common.
I actually did laugh out loud, and then made a funny post to my friends on Facebook about it.
What was so funny? Well, my normal blood pressure is about 90/50. I would have absolutely no anxiety at all if I took beta blockers…because I would be unconscious. LOL! I know this to be true, as it has happened before.
Fun fact—beta blockers end in the suffix, “-LOL”. Proprano-LOL. Labeta-LOL. Metopro-LOL. Ateno-LOL, What-have-you-LOL.
One of the many reasons I found myself teaching and advocating for people with invisible chronic diseases is because I have a couple of them myself. Nothing too serious, nothing that keeps me on edge all day, every day—I'm blessed in that regard—but one of my issues is autonomic dysfunction. It comes as a package deal with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, of which I have two (possibly more?) varieties. Feel free to Google my odd genetic disorder if you haven't heard of it—it's a neat one!
Autonomic dysfunction is an interesting thing to live with because my body often does wonky things for no reason at all—usually to my heart rate, blood-pressure, or ability to regulate my body temperature. For example, I am currently calmly sitting in my office typing. There is nothing happening around me that is stressful. I am not exercising—I don't even like exercising. My heart rate is 136, twice what's normal for me. Why? It doesn't matter. I'm fine, it's exhausting, but otherwise harmless. When my nervous system is behaving, my heart rate is regular and in the low-60s. I have to be careful to not make any sudden movements, and to stay hydrated. I have coping mechanisms, but my nervous system is very peculiar.
One of the medications given to people like me, with these types of issues are…you guessed it, beta blockers. LOL! I'm just going to keep up with that terrible joke this whole post, in case you were wondering.
Saved By My Patient
I tried medications once with a ton of warning from the cardiologist that my BP might get low-low—and to be careful. I was a couple of weeks in and thought it was starting to do a really good job calming my sporadically racing heart down—before an expected side-effect really hit me at a very dangerous moment. Thankfully, I was inadvertently saved by a patient while I was in the shower.
…Wait, what? Let me back-track.
A few years prior, while working in HHD-training (and on a cardiac monitor for this issue at the same time) a patient randomly told me this story about her experience trying out a new BP medication. She said that everything was going perfectly until she woke up one morning and decided to take a nice, hot, relaxing, shower. It must have been a really fantastic shower because she got so relaxed, she started to feel herself passing out.
Do you know what she did in that moment like a complete pro? She used every ounce of strength and willpower remaining in her to sit down, protect her head, kick off the water, and call for help. Then, she allowed herself to pass out completely.
I learned from that patient, that day, that we sometimes have a choice. I will never forget the lesson, and will go ahead and repeat it since it's such great advice: If you ever find yourself thinking, “Hey, I'm about to faint,”—it is sometimes possible to use every last bit of willpower left in you to sit down first and yell for help. It's way better to have something like that happen when you're already safe than to fall from however tall you are with the full force of your weight!
This is really useful information, and I bet you're still wondering what this has to do with how I got saved by this patient during my own shower. Hang on, I'm getting there…
We Learn from Each Other
Fast forward again. So, I was in the shower one Sunday morning when the black-out vision hit me. In the first split second I considered how I really didn't want to fall hard onto tile. Splitting my head open on the tub did not seem like the kind of excitement I had planned for the day, either and honestly, the thought of my kids finding me on the floor in a really awkward position was totally mortifying.
I then thought of my patient. No idea why that's where my brain went in that split second—but I instantly remembered the story. It's weird how memory works.
I absolutely did everything I could to listen to the fantastic advice I'd received years before. I willed myself to sit down and kicked the water off. I shouted for help and went out for a couple of (oddly pleasant, if I'm being completely honest) warm fuzzy seconds. Potentially catastrophic injury avoided.
That was the end of the beta-blocker thing for me. What works great for one person might turn another into a hot mess. (LOL!) It probably works awesome for the jitters too when you have some blood-pressure to play with, unlike me.
I'm telling this story because when I made that post to my friends on Facebook, with all of the LOLs about the beta blockers and passing out on stage, a lot of people came out of the woodwork with similar stories. Turns out, I know a whole league of people who know this trick and have used it.
I wonder how many of these kinds of insights get shared to medical professionals (especially nurses, since we get so much direct face time with patients) actually end up being relevant in our own lives? It's almost like, when you're open to it, everyone can learn something from everyone else. Does anyone have a similar story?
I am a nurse, and a patient taught me how to pass out correctly. I have a couple other little gems of advice like that, actually. We nurses spend a lot of time with our patients, especially in home-training. What do your patients teach you?