What The Panic Attack!?
To give you all a bit of a heads up, I’ve been struggling with heart palpitations/panic attacks for the past year & a half. It was much later that we learned the causes & haven’t had flare ups since.
Myself & my husband, Scott McGee (Forest2SeaAdventurePhoto), a professional nature photographer, planned another visit to the pacific northwest. This would be our 4th time, but we chose to fly for this trip.
What A Scene!
While reading & enjoying a modest cheese & fruit platter, (was a vegetarian at this time), it was no wonder that I was surprised to feel my heart palpitate. Before I could assess what was going on, I started to feel shortness of breath, got sick to my stomach & had more, consistent palpitations. It was like a scene off of the movie Airplane, but I didn’t have the chicken or the fish. It was a panic attack.
The last hour of this flight was most challenging trying to maintain the attacks. Thankfully, there was a doctor on board who helped me bring my pulse down by calming my breathing with a technique I never heard of, the “valsalva maneuver”. I felt I was high after a couple of those. It was a nice break, but unfortunately, the palpitations kept coming back. So they hooked me up to an oxygen tank, all the while practicing that breathing technique until my body calmed down.
Change Of Plans
The rest of that trip went a little smoother. Unfortunately, I had to cancel the flight home, we rented a car & drove for 2 days instead, shortening our trip a bit. I had a few more episodes on the way back while driving through Redding, Sacramento, & all those hot cities. The heat & I never got along. I know, I know, how the heck have I survived summer weather in Southern Cali for so many years!? Lots of moments of sticking my head in the freezer. The warm temperatures in these cities also seemed to have triggered my palpitations. Sigh! At the time, we weren’t quite sure why I was getting these triggers & panic attacks.
The Memory Lives On
Fast forward to April 1st, 2017. We’re boarding the plane that will take us back to Seattle, WA. We have plans to check out Port Townsend for a possible place to call home one day & planned hikes, in between home searching, at Olympic National Park. I have the memory of our last flight in my mind so I’m a little nervous, but I really thought I was prepared. Only 10 min. in, shortly after they closed the doors, I had an episode. This strong trigger didn’t want to stop & showed its new faces I haven’t dealt with before, like blurred vision.
My wonderful, patient husband & I tried out our usual mental & breathing exercises, but my body wouldn’t have it. I so badly wanted to overcome this nasty feeling & fly away, but I knew if this was happening so quickly upon entering the plane then it will only get worse the next 3 hours.
We made the decision to get off the plane, to play it safe & avoid a possible emergency landing had we stayed on, which would only piss off the other passengers. I have to add, the crew & customer service for Alaska Airlines was top notch. They were so thoughtful. They went above & beyond in taking care of us. We got basically everything refunded, including the cost for our suitcases that were still on that flight. Once again, we decided to make this a road trip & meet our luggage in SeaTac, WA. Oh how the memory lives on.
The “Uh-Oh” begins. Scott & I came down with some kind of sinus infection a couple of days after we arrived. We’re pretty sure we caught this at the airport. We then decided to take a mellow day & explore Port Townsend & nearby towns. We stopped by a drive-thru mom & pop coffee place for some hot chocolate. It is a very rare treat for us since we usually drink caffeine free teas instead. We had an interesting conversation with a very sweet & young girl who never met vegans before.
Soon after finishing only half of our drinks we stopped by a Mexican restaurant for lunch. The challenge of eating vegan in these very small towns was quite difficult, but we managed to customize our order. I told the waitress we were vegans. Not a word came out of her mouth. Instead, her eyes popped out & she stared at me like I was speaking in tongues. I explained that we will be customizing our burritos to only veggie style. She snapped out of it & seemed to understand the order…so I thought.
When she arrived, the burrito was sitting on a creamy tomato based sauce accompanied by a big dollop of sour cream on the side. Oy vey. I just thanked her & pushed aside the sour cream. Although, the burrito itself tasted fine, I was only able to finish half of it since it took up the width of the whole plate. Only minutes later, things got ugly yet again.
Feeling Crappy & Still Going
Simply put, it seems the food, including the hot chocolate, didn’t agree with my stomach. I didn’t have palpitations or panic attacks, but my energy quickly disappeared. So we took it mellow that day, plus we were both already feeling crappy due to our sinus issues. So we continued on this not so glamorous vacation.
Later, we were playing around with a couple of plans for the next day. Will we hike or kayak? I’ve been wanting to kayak each time we visit WA, but hiking its forests is just so magical! Oh what to choose!?!? So, Scott suggested we go kayaking, but to check out the Staircase area of Olympic National Park for photos that evening.
On the first mile of the pothole-filled road, Scott was considering turning around because it really took a toll on my already sensitive tummy. The sites we have seen so far made me suck it up & tell my man to plow thru the next 3 miles. Something in me was saying, “There’s usually something beautiful hidden at the end of a storm”. That’s something my father taught me. Our family has literally driven thru some crazy storms or taken a rough trek just to see what’s on the other side. The journeys & its rewards were memorable. We never regretted it.
I was right. Not only did Scott & I find such fantastical beauty, but we found our next backpacking venture! For a moment my pain & discomfort disappeared. I was in such bliss & awe for the short time we spent there.
We noticed it was getting late, but dreaded the 4 mile drive back. I chose to drive this time, which made it a little less uncomfortable for me, but when we arrived at the cabin we were in for a surprise later that night, er morning.
Weird Feeling About This
I woke up around 2:30 am & had to use the restroom. When I sat back on the bed I felt something unfamiliar & weird. Instead of it being something physical it was more like an intuition. I couldn’t lie back down, but I stayed frozen sitting up, afraid to move.
Scott asked if I was ok & I responded, “I don’t think so”. I told him I was going downstairs because I thought maybe I was freaking out at how quiet & suddenly small the room felt. I asked if he would mind joining me to sleep on the couch instead. Like the amazing trooper he is, he joined me.
I sat on the floor with my back up against the couch, while Scott tried to fall asleep. I just couldn’t lie down yet. Suddenly my entire digestive system felt like it exploded into pieces. It brought on strong palpitations, shortness of breath & dizziness. Was this another panic attack?
I was already having trouble breathing because of my clogged sinuses so that added to the equation for major discomfort. We both got very little sleep the rest of the morning. I got sick for almost 2 hours, while Scott, sneezing, coughing & congested played nurse the entire time.
We finally fell asleep for maybe 2 hours. When daylight showed thru the windows, we both knew this cabin was our final destination. We cut our vacation time short & prepared to go home. I was bummed, but too weak to care that much really. I just kept thinking of the comforts of home & how badly I wanted to be there.
We drove 6 hours to Portland & stopped for the night. That night was also rough. I had to sleep sitting up against the headboard. The next morning, Scott stopped at Jamba Juice since he’d been craving it all night. As we were walking to the entrance we noticed a Zoom Care (urgent care) across the way. I suggested we stop by there first to get something to kill our sinus issues.
As we waited, I noticed I was getting weaker, palpitations picked up & I felt suddenly cold. I’ve never felt my body get that cold ever. It felt like my blood drained out of my body. I knew something was seriously wrong because I was feeling like I was going to pass out. I muttered, “911”. Scott quickly turned to me & asked me to repeat what I said. My eyes were now closing, “911”. He rushed me to a doctor. By this point I was a rag doll, almost passing out. I also started to shake really bad. They called for an ambulance.
A Sense Of Humor
You would think I was too weak to notice anything, but I remember the 3 female paramedics that assisted me. They were hot & bad ass! I remember thinking how awesome it was to have such pretty, bad ass women take care of me. Yeh, I had a bit of a crush on these girls. I still had my sense of humor.
While I was smiling in my head, my poor hubby, was so concerned. He told me that waiting in the car, behind the ambulance, were the longest moments of his life. My heart sank. I can’t imagine how he felt waiting & not knowing how I was doing.
While in the ambulance, Sara took great care of me. She made sure I was comfortable & helped my shakes stop. I started to feel warmer too. My vitals were all normal, but away we went to the hospital. I was able to speak a little better & unloaded all the info she needed for the hospital.
With Scott by my side, they wheeled me in a room. I was diagnosed with dehydration. So they filled me up with 2 bags of fluids. I was still very weak & they advised I go home asap to my GI to get an ultrasound, etc.
The Drive Home
After many more “triggers”, similar to aftershocks after an earthquake, & some full blown palpitations with stomach upsets, we barely made it home in time. Poor Scott was feeling real crappy & he had to do most of the driving. I managed to gain some strength to drive only a couple of hours from LA while he caught up on some sleep. In total, we, er he, drove approx. 13 hours that day/night.
Home At Last
I was so glad to be back home! Currently, I’m still undergoing tests. Doctors can’t figure out what is causing my digestive issues that may or may not be triggering palpitations. By now, it’s a combination of physical triggers, but also mental. After so many palpitations, panic attacks & difficulty breathing which, literally feels like you’re dying each time, I’m also now dealing with what they’re calling “situational anxiety”.
In my mind, I know I’m not dying, but it’s like breathing through a straw while your heart tries to break through your chest like a parasitoid Alien chestburster! The mental challenge just got real. I also lost 7 lbs. in less than a week. Hey, on the bright side, I have less abs to tone. Boom!
Light At The End Of The Tunnel
Not all vacations are glamorous. This one really kicked my behind to the curb, but Scott & I are very excited & grateful we found the town we want to call home in Washington!!
We did get to hike Sol Duc earlier in our trip. Scott was in toyland photographing waterfalls. We also hiked another mile toward Deer Lake, but turned around at a snow covered landslide. We thought it wasn’t worth the risk to cross it. Even though that was our only hike, we did find a magical place we hope to backpack soon by putting up with a moment of bumps & pain. Thank you pothole road!