My first hospital visit and hundreds of dollars later

You may recall, a few weeks ago, when I posted about having a week from hell due to almost passing out at work and burning my hand on a pan. I had no idea the following weeks were going to pivot into something terrible.

A few days after writing that post, on Monday (8/5), I went back to the gym early morning and felt great. Well, sort of. I was pretty worried that maybe I shouldn’t be working out yet  after almost passing out the week before at work and felt a little hesitant when I was at the gym. But I made it through and thought, “Okay, maybe this isn’t so bad. Things are okay again.” So I got ready for the day, and decided to head to Target before going to work to get my boss a present (she’s pregnant and just found out the sex). On my way to Target, I felt extremely anxious. My Apple Watch told me my heart rate was at 130 as I was driving, but I chose to ignore it and I powered through whatever the hell was going on.

As soon as I got into Target, I decided to get breakfast at Starbucks as I thought maybe I just needed some food. While waiting for my order, I suddenly felt very dizzy. My vision was getting limited, as if there was a black vignette around the picture I was seeing, and I could tell my heart rate was elevated without even looking at my watch because it felt like it was beating out of my chest. My chest hurt, I was sweating like crazy, and I was so scared something either was really wrong with me or that I was going to pass out. Honestly, I thought I was going to die in the middle of the Target at 8am, surrounded by no one I knew.

I tried going to work because the feelings slightly went away, but I was still terrified and my heart rate was steady at 110. I could barely concentrate, and went home and worked from my couch instead. In hindsight, I probably should have got help right away but I was hoping it would just clear up soon like it did last time. When lunch time came around, Lenny came home and the dizziness and increased heart rate started happening again.  I cried on his shoulder, called my mom, and she told me to call my doctor.

I should mention that I’ve been feeling slightly hesitant about my doctor in Vegas after my last few visits with her. During my last visit I told her about how I was getting a really itchy face after eating and was trying to determine if I needed to see an allergist, or if it was as simple as her ordering a blood test. I’ve never had an allergy so I wasn’t sure how to approach what was happening. Instead, she surprised me and told me that I needed to immediately get both an ultrasound of my thyroid along with an MRI of my head because I probably had paralysis caused by my brain.

Oh, okay. No big deal. I was freaking out after this appointment, and started questioning what was happening with me. Did I ignore warning signs of a tumor when all this time I thought I had a simple allergy? When I called to schedule my appointment for these tests, it was going to be a little over three weeks before I could get in. I was extremely on edge and really thought I was in danger.

Fast forward a few days, and I figured out that maybe the cause of my itchy face was actually a reaction to diet soda. I’ve been drinking quite a bit of Coke Zero (a weakness, lol) and it seemed to be the only constant when this reaction was happening. I stopped touching anything with aspartame and next thing I know… no itchy face!

But the voice was still in the back of my head: what if something is really wrong with me?

Anyway, this brings me back to the almost-passing-out-at-Target day: I call my doctor, despite feeling like a billing agent, and they tell me to come in later that day. I leave the house around 4pm after giving a big goodbye to Lenny (who was also leaving to head out to Salt Lake City for a work trip), and drove to my appointment, trying not to lose my vision and to keep my heart rate down.

My doctor sees me and immediately sends me to the hospital, afraid that I have a blood clot or that something might be wrong with my heart.

I felt oddly calm despite being sent to the ER. I was under the impression I was about to receive some answers, and I couldn’t wait to talk to a doctor that wasn’t my own and get some opinions around what was happening to me.

This is where my friend Alex stepped in – he drove across town, picked me up at the doctor’s office, and straight to Summerlin Hospital. He then waited at the hospital with me to make sure I was okay. Alex, you are an angel. I really do owe you and Katelyn a lovely night out.

So, the ER sends me in immediately for an EKG: they determine my heart is fine. They have a lot of things attached to me to monitor my heart and blood pressure. Not too long after being there, my beautiful friend Skylar shows up. She unfortunately has to witness me go through an “episode”: dizziness is back, and apparently not only did my heart rate go up to 150 but my face turned white and my lips blue. After that, the doctor decides I’m being admitted.

Still no answers. A random doctor came in and told me I could never take birth control again, with no explanation. I kept telling the doctors that I have really bad anxiety and asked if that could be a part of the problem (or if they had a way I could calm down), and it was pretty brushed off. All I wanted to do was sleep and for my heart rate to go down below 100.

Skylar and Alex went to get my car from the doctor’s office and drop it off at my house, and they even fed my dogs, grabbed my phone charger, and any clothes I needed. When they came back, Alex left and Skylar’s boyfriend Kyle joined us: with dinner! I cried when I was alone not just because I was extremely overwhelmed but also because I couldn’t believe how thankful I was to have that support, especially with Lenny being on a plane to Salt Lake City, unaware that I was being admitted to the hospital. Skylar and Kyle stayed with me until I was rolled into my new room where I’d be staying for an indefinite amount of time.

Don’t worry, they captured me on the way up:

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Skylar and Kyle, the angels, left the hospital to go pick up my dogs to stay with them. Skylar came back to the hospital to not only give me my keys but to deliver some pajama pants.

Meanwhile, I was watching Forensic Files on repeat, enjoying the company of my amazing nurse, and trying to get my heart rate down. Eventually they gave me a Xanax to help, but I didn’t sleep until about 3am and woke up close to 5:30am.

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In summary, I did an echo test (basically a heart ultrasound), had my heart rate monitored all night, lots of blood work done, got a CT scan of my head in the morning (it was freezing cold), blood work sent out for my thyroid (which was fine, btw), and an ultrasound of my throat. I was eventually discharged at around 8:30pm after the cardiologist determined that I was okay but that I would need to do a follow-up with him immediately.

Still, no answers.

I saw my primary doctor in Vegas the next day. She told me absolutely no more caffeine, not even tea, and no more working out aside from a brisk walk.

I did a follow-up with the cardiologist on Tuesday, a week after my hospital visit. I was feeling pretty off until then, having random episodes of feeling dizzy and withdrawing to stay inside as much as possible. I was so relieved when Lenny got back from his work trip because I was too scared to drive or even venture out to the grocery store.

The cardiologist didn’t have any answers for me, but recommended that I do something called a tilt table test and that it would help to see what’s going on with my heart rate and blood pressure when I feel dizzy. I got it scheduled for a week later at Sunrise Hospital.

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This was the aftermath of the test. Let me start off by saying that this was the absolute, most uncomfortable experience I’ve been through. They strapped me to a table, and then elevated me to about 75 degrees in hopes that I would faint. Apparently, if I faint, the test is over and I “pass”. If I don’t faint, I get to be elevated for 30 minutes.

I was so anxious. After a few minutes, I started to feel very dizzy. The guys who were monitoring me said my heart rate was at 160, and I started to feel sweaty everywhere even though the room was freezing cold. My fingers felt like they were tingling, and my vision was going out. I felt nauseous. All I wanted to do was break out of those straps and sit down, but I couldn’t. I wanted it to end. So I told myself to just let go and pass out so that the test could be over. My body would not let me. Instead, I was able to somehow bring my heart rate down to 55 and all the crazy symptoms went away. I chatted with the guys casually until the end of the thirty minutes and felt great.

I still had no idea what the hell was happening to me.

In a nutshell, this has been a very, very expensive process despite my insurance being pretty great. I finally have a high-paying job where I’m able to make a real dent in my student loans, credit, etc, and I ended up racking up so much money on my credit card to cover the costs of all my doctor visits, follow-ups, the hospital visit, extra tests, etc.

The cherry on top? My primary doctor tried billing the wrong insurance and sent me a fat bill for not being insured. I’ve called every day to get a hold of the billing department and haven’t heard back from anyone.

So unfortunately, my big dent no longer exists and I’m working my ass off to get some extra commission to pay off all the medical bills. It was pretty enlightening to see why so many people can’t afford health care (even with insurance!)  – I just assumed that a lot of this stuff would be 100% covered by insurance and didn’t realize much copays would add up.

So, what’s my theory about what’s happening to me?

I’m almost positive now that these are panic attacks. I had no idea what panic attacks were until I started googling the shit out of my symptoms. Apparently panic attacks mimic a heart attack: sweaty, dizziness, chest pain, elevated heart rate, etc. And they happen randomly, multiple websites even giving examples of being in the middle of a meeting or while being relaxed. Essentially it tells your body that you’re in danger and puts you into fight or flight mode.

My mom sat next to a friend of my sister’s at a softball game and found out she went through the same exact thing as me, and after multiple hospital visits and additional tests, the only logical conclusion was panic attacks. After hearing this, I did even more research and discovered that I should find a therapist to attack my anxiety and see if that would help. I even bought a book on how to manage panic attacks and come down from them.

I was on a plane the other day to San Francisco and felt it happening. Deciding this was actually a panic attack, I followed the advice given to me in a book and was able to bring myself down to “normal”. I felt oddly great after because this maybe meant that I found my answer to what has been causing this all to happen.

I had my first therapy appointment last week and found out something interesting (that I wasn’t aware of): you can’t actually faint during a panic attack. I’ve been so scared of passing out in public and it really contributed to my anxiety. I had no idea that when your heart rate is elevated that it can’t happen. So that’s been helpful.

I am really excited about my therapist. She made me feel like I wasn’t insane and that this was something I am going to get through. There are a lot of things we’re going to focus on: self image, past relationship trauma, and managing my panic attacks. She gave me some great advice to ground myself when having one (relax my body and try to point out things in my mind that are around me), and to remind myself throughout the day to unclench any parts of my body: I didn’t realize how often my whole body is tense.

So why did this all start happening? My therapist thinks it was a huge combo of Lenny coming back from deployment (big change), getting a new job (big change, despite the job being less stressful), planning a big event (my 10 year reunion), trying desperately to lose weight and not making much progress, and the news from my doctor that my food allergy might actually be a tumor (although, it wasn’t).

I’m making some big changes going forward. I’m still focusing on weight lifting, but I’m going lighter on the weights. I’m also balancing out my routine by adding in yoga, meditation, pilates, and swimming. I downloaded a meditation app on my phone to do before work each day. I’m not pushing myself at work. I’m reading more (about to start my sixth book in two weeks). I’ve been spending less time on social media. I’m starting to say yes to things more that I want to do, and saying no to the things that are spreading me too thin. Another fun thing I’m doing is actually making eye contact with people who walk by me in the hallways at the building I’m in at work and saying “Good morning” or “hello”. I am getting coffee in the mornings, and redirecting my diet to not be restrictive and to just be cognizant of what I’m eating – focusing a lot more on mediterranean style foods and to not feel guilty for indulging in a treat or two.

Also, I’m sleeping more, and enjoying any cuddle time I can get with the dogs:

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This has been a beyond stressful experience for me, both mentally and financially. There were a lot of times I thought I was going to actually die (apparently also a side effect of panic attacks). A few times before going to bed I kept telling my family how much I love them. I felt like this feeling would never go aware and that I would forever have trouble sleeping, feel weak all hours of the day, and be terrified of going out in public. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.

The most frustrating part of this whole ordeal is that not one doctor has brought up that this could be anxiety-related. That all of it has been, “Come back and see me.” and not “Here’s what I’m thinking this could be, so we’re going to do this test to rule out this diagnosis.” I’ve felt very in the dark about why tests are being done and I’m still very upset that my doctor ordered a MRI because I was having an allergic reaction.

There is definitely a stigma around anxiety. I’m hoping that by being open about what’s happening to me that someone can read my story and not feel as scared as I did. I’ll try to keep everyone updated on my progress as much as possible.

Thank you to everyone that’s been so supportive. Once I have emerged from my medical debt I will pay you in food and gifts.

Love,

Andie

This week, I made the front page of Reddit

It’s a little thing, but it was kind of neat: I’ve been on Reddit for about three years now. The other day I discovered the Parks and Rec sub – basically a page dedicated to fans of the TV show – and I posted a photo of me with my graduation cap! My grad cap was Parks and Rec/accounting themed, and not a lot of people understood it, so I was pretty excited that maybe a few people might understand it online. I was wrong. A LOT of people did:

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For those that don’t watch Parks and Rec, Ben (who is pictured on my cap) is an accountant in the show. He has a lot of cheesy accounting puns. Here’s a video of the different jokes he makes:

I put the calculator joke on my cap to say “goodbye”, and also glued the calculator we had to use in *literally* all my accounting courses in college! (hint: the literally quote is also from Parks & Rec hehe).

Anyway, I posted this at night, right before bed. No one had commented or liked it at that point. I woke up in the morning to my notifications going off like crazy – not just from Reddit but friends from high school/college all sending me screenshots of my post! I thought it was pretty cool, but also a little surreal seeing my actual face on the front of one of my favorite websites.

There were some downsides, however: I got some disturbing messages, this one being the most uncomfortable one:

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I guess I should have expected some vulgar messages since I was online, but I didn’t expect to hear something so evil from someone I don’t know. He saw my post history on Reddit, which is why he knew I have a significant other on deployment (I asked the Marine sub some ideas on how to support Lenny while he’s away). There were some other weird comments on my post: asking what is wrong with my face, or just some really cheesy accounting puns that didn’t make a whole lot of sense, and even some comments about how people just were “upvoting” my photo because a girl is in it, not because I had good content.

Despite some of the negativity, I thought it was a really cool experience and it got me talking to some people from high school that I haven’t heard from in ages. I tried to not take any of it too seriously – it’s sometimes hard not to though when people are making remarks about what you look like.

The big takeaway: my graduation cap was actually pretty awesome.

Love,

Andie

Remembering Pulse.

Today it’s been four months since 49 beautiful people were taken away too quickly in Orlando. Which also means it’s been four months since I’ve had the strength to write on my blog. I think I’ve been struggling to find the right words to say and I’ve come to realize that I might never find those words.

Four months ago I woke up in London: it was my first morning there, and I was about to get ready for the day before going to my orientation for my study abroad program. Being five hours ahead of Orlando, the news of the Pulse shooting was still brand new. I saw something about it on Facebook, but the only information was that there was a “Shooting at a nightclub in Orlando”. My first thought was it was a fight outside in the parking lot, so I didn’t pay much attention.

After taking a shower, I was back on my phone and the headlines had changed: at least 20 injured in shooting at a nightclub called Pulse. That’s when my heart stopped.

I lived in Orlando for four years. After only being there for a few weeks, I already knew what Pulse was. I always thought of it as the most popular club in Orlando. The more friends I made in Orlando, the more I realized how many people I knew frequented this place – and sometimes it was every week! It was known as a place to go dance, have fun, and most of all… be yourself without any judgement.

So when I sat in my dorm bed on Sunday morning, it turned into a day of trying to get a hold of every single person I knew. And although I was in London, I had friends in Orlando trying to get a hold of me to see if I’ve heard from “so-n-so”. I had texts coming in, “Have you heard from —-? They’re looking for him on Facebook.” Or, “I’ve been calling —– but they aren’t answering. Have you talked to them today?”

I used to think Facebook having the “mark safe” feature was a waste of time. But suddenly my phone was going off every second with, “2 friends checked in safe in Orlando,” “20 friends checked in safe…”, “200 friends checked in safe…”. I was going through that list like a mad woman.

Two of my friends weren’t responding on this list. As I sat in orientation for my London experience, there were posts on Facebook begging people to share information if they had it about these two people. But then there were my other friends who were missing four, five, six friends or family members…

You never think these kinds of experiences can happen to you. Some of my friends make fun of me for being on edge when I’m in public places or on campus, because I usually try to have an exit plan in case something happens. I’m sure my friends at Pulse thought the same thing… This can’t happen to me… This is my safe place. 

My friend Matt finally got news that one of our friends was okay. It was a relief in the chaos of it all. But our other friend, Xavier, was still missing.

The next day I found out the news: Xavier didn’t make it. Xavier.

I worked with Xavier at the Gaylord Palms Hotel in the Dreamworks department. I didn’t hang out with him outside of work, but the people I worked with at Dreamworks became another family of mine. We were all close. We spent so much time together at work goofing off on set, gossiping in the break rooms, and eating as much food as possible at our work buffet. What I loved about Xavier was how passionate he was, especially when he was paired up with his best friend Wilma.

The way Wilma and Xavier worked together on set was contagious. When I got to work with them I knew it was going to be a good day. I felt even more lucky because I also got to work with them at Disney, and they were amazing there, too.

When I became a character performer for Dreamworks I had a few people to look up to, and Xavier was one of them. He was just so good at his job and made me want to be better. He was also this amazing dancer: it was one of his favorite things to do. I was a terrible dancer so I always wished I could be just half as good as he was.

I know it’s cliche, but try to live without regrets. This experience has humbled me into the kind of person that wants my friends to know how much I care about them, how much I love them, and how important they are to me. I don’t want to miss out on any moment with the people I love because you really, really never know when it can be taken away. Don’t stress over the small things. Spread love. Be excellent to each other.

Wilma, I am so sorry you have to go through everything that’s happened in the last four months. I know Xavier’s spirit will live on not just through you but the beautiful son you had together. And whenever you feel alone in this pain, remember that there are countless people who love the three of you that will be there for anything you need.

I really want to give a huge thank you to Universal Studios. Thank you so much for honoring these people not just on your social media, but by putting them in the park forever with the window display, and for the small touch of, “Be Excellent to Each Other” at the end of the Bill & Ted show.

To my friends, I know you’re all still hurting from this. You aren’t alone.

There are days when I think about what happened and I just break down. I try to not be scared when I go places, because I know I should be enjoying my time regardless, but it’s hard not to be sometimes. I went to a concert a few weeks ago and just seeing a rainbow flag made me lose it because I immediately thought of my old home and what all my friends have to go through. It’s not easy to deal with. I don’t really know how to still.

Thank you to the people of Orlando for coming together in a way I never imagined a city being able to do. I’ve never felt more proud to have lived somewhere.

I know I’m at the point of rambling now… so maybe I should cut this short.

I miss you, Xavier.

I love you all.

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Dear Orlando,

It’s times like these you can never find the correct words to say. Each sentence doesn’t feel like it’s enough. There’s a sense of hopelessness because all you can do is sit there and hope for the best even though you already know it’s unlikely.

I never really knew what it meant to be in love with a city. Who could ever love Orlando? It’s humid, crowded with tourism, and I-4 traffic. But then you meet the people. They are full of life, passion, and love. People that are barely making enough money to survive yet continue on because they are so passionate about the work they are doing. A few years ago I asked people to send me their stories about how they ended up in Orlando and almost every person had a similar response: that they were looking for a place of acceptance. Here’s a quote from a dear friend of mine that states it beautifully:

I moved to Florida because it always seemed to be a beacon of hope for me that the world was bigger than my small town. Florida would be the place where it would be ok to be myself, away from family bonds. Florida was freedom and sunshine wrapped in optimism for me.

When I woke up to the news this morning, I was devastated. I felt as if I was inside of a nightmare – some kind of cruel joke. I was desperate to get a hold of everyone I knew, and I couldn’t stop shaking each time I touched my phone. I was nervous to refresh my social media for fear of seeing the name of someone I knew.

Orlando is a part of me. I see these terrible things happen all over the world and never imagined that something so close to me could be a part of something so tragic. Two of my friends are missing that were last seen at Pulse – and I can’t do anything but wait. But it’s not just me, it’s hundreds of people are sitting at their computers, at hospitals, or on their phone just searching for signs, updates, hope, or confirmations. People who are looking for their family. Their friends.

If I learned one thing from living in Orlando it’s to spread love. The people in Orlando aren’t okay today, and it’ll take time before they can be. But they are still out there doing what they do best by helping those in need, comforting those who are in pain, and making sure that everyone else is okay. It’s okay to be speechless today. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to try and remain positive through this mess. Don’t let the hatred that started this tragedy win.

I love you, Orlando. Thank you for being a city that has given so many people hopes and dreams to be who they want to be.

 

Happy Mother’s Day, Momma DeBrino

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Hi Mom. I wanted to make a special video for you today, but I couldn’t hold myself together long enough.

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When you came to FL and we went to EPCOT on my day off

I wanted to take today to say thank you for being my best friend and biggest supporter. Without you and Dad, I’d be completely lost. The guidance you have given me has shaped me to be the person I am, and hope to be.

 

Being away from home this long has been the hardest thing for me. I miss you every single day, which is why I call you every chance I get. It’s the reason I make my goodbyes short when I leave from Seattle back to Vegas — or where ever I happen to be living — because I know I’ll turn into a sobbing mess when it hits that I don’t get to hang out at home with you, Dad, and the animals once I get on the plane.

When I got accepted into the Disney College Program, you could sense that I was scared to go. I remember you saying, “If you get accepted, you can’t back out. You have to go.” I guess you have always known me better than I’ve known myself – you know I get scared of taking chances on doing things for myself, and if it wasn’t for you, working for Disney would have never been a thing in my life. And going to Florida with you is one of my favorite memories, ever. I still can’t believe we spent an entire week in a car, with no

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When we left for FL and we both couldn’t stop crying despite getting to spend the next two weeks together

breaks from each other, and we never once got in an argument! (ha) It was the most perfect road trip.

 

Before I moved to Vegas, I was so stuck on what to do next with my life. Where to go to school, what to major in, where to live… and you told me to just open up my own business instead. You have always had faith in me that I could succeed, no matter what path I decided to travel down.

You inspire me every day to be who I want to be, and not who everyone tells me I should be. You’ve been there for me during every moment in my life, good or bad: you’re more than my mom, you’re my best friend.

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On our way to Oregon during my Spring Break

I can’t wait to be in the same state as you again (which hopefully will be soon), because when I think about home it doesn’t feel the same without you around. Thanks for being the most loving, quirky, and fun mom. I love that I grew up in a house that encourages being silly while also encouraging me to try my best in everything I do- and to also not worry about the people that try and hold me back from doing so.

So thank you, mom. Thank you for being there for me even when you’re busy. Thank you for answering the phone even though you’re eating dinner. Thank you for encouraging me to live where I want to live, and to follow my passion instead of money. Thank you for supporting me to go to London this summer, and for helping me plan each moment of the trip. Thank you for being you, because it’s the best.

I’m sorry I can’t be there in person to celebrate Mother’s Day with you, but I am counting down the days until I get to see you next: only FIVE to go!

I love you, mom. See you soon!

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Mom at the Riverwalk in Texas