Sunday, February 15, 2009

Rediscovering Simple Pleasures

Three days before Christmas, I was sitting at my desk at work trying to remain calm as my heart decided to skip a beat every so often.

As you know, the days leading up to that point were pretty full. New house, new job... Christmas obligations looming on the horizon. I was still recovering from a nasty flu bug that would not go away; it had been over two weeks and I was still having symptoms. The first Christmas dinner with my family in my new home had gone without a hitch and there were three more days to go before Santa. Sure, there were presents to wrap, last minute shopping to do, but the big stuff was over with.

There I was though, quietly doing my charting as my patients rested, and my heart felt like it did a somersault in my chest. I barely had enough time to look down and go "what the....?" when it did it again. And again. And again.

The next while would prove interesting as my symptoms worsened. I was guaranteed a bout of PVC's every half hour or so, the sensations ranging from "ginger ale" to "baby roll over". You mothers out there who remember what it felt like for an almost full term baby to do a complete roll will have the best understanding, as that is exactly what it felt like. Only it was in my chest and accompanied by a sinking, disembodied feeling. It was creepy. Caffeine, alcohol, chocolate were all on the verboten list, which is a helluva thing to say to a person during the holidays. I made the mistake of sneaking a thimbleful of sherry on Christmas Eve only to lay awake most of the night as my heart freaked out. Up until a couple weeks ago, I would wake up and cough as the fluid collected in my lungs as I slept. My extremities were cold, I always seemed to be huffing and puffing, I was tired all the time and my fingernail beds were a lovely shade of mauve... I was a mess. The ER doc who saw me suggested that it was maybe a viral myocarditis brought on by my recent flu.

In the last two months I've had a slew of tests and I'm very thankful that they have not shown any permanent damage or structural problems of note with my heart. I wasn't too thrilled with the noncommittal attitude of my cardiologist, but I've been given medical clearance to go back to work. It's not a moment too soon either; I've started to get my energy back in the last few weeks and I've gotten a really bad case of cabin fever. I've also been missing all those shift premiums on my paycheques and at a couple hundred bucks a cheque, it's made a bit of a dent in our lifestyle, to say the least.

I'm still to eschew caffeine and if the other day is any example, alcohol and chocolate might as well still be on the no-no list. My stairs are still causing me to get a little out of breath, but that too is easing slowly. My biggest challenge (as always) will be stress, but I have a new approach that seems to be working.

One night in January, when we were out at Chapters picking up my copy of Square Foot Gardening for my upcoming garden project (and Pete and Pickles for Quinn), I wandered over to the sale table. There I found a cute little piece of fluff called Simple Pleasures: Soothing Suggestions and Small Comforts for Living Well Year Round. What the hell, I thought... it was marked down to $3.99.

The book offers inspirational quotes and quite the little collection of "favourite things". It's also divided into seasons, offering timely suggestions for when the weather gets you down. Its worth lies in the overall theme of slowing down to take in what is around you; to enjoy the little details that make it all worth it. It was a timely find on the discount table for me, that is for sure. Simple Pleasures came to me at the perfect point, just as the illness was receding but when I still didn't have the energy to do very much at all. It was a relaxing bit of fluff that allowed me to really enjoy planning my garden and to rediscover cooking and baking. My family has been treated to some wonderful meals in the last few weeks.

Have you ever made soup? I've made lots of soups and stews over the years, but it generally involves me quickly dumping a bunch of ingredients in a pot and hoping for the best. I make my own broth, so it was definitly a simple pleasures experience the other day as I emptied all the frozen broth containers from the freezer into "the big pot" and melted them down. Over the next hour I heated them all to a boil and then cooled them slightly to skim off the fat. I then worked my way through the ingredients, chopping and adding each to the pot individually and marvelling at the flavour that each added. I made a pleasurable experience out of making simple stick-to-your-ribs food, yet the care I took came across in the flavour. My family were very pleased with it and we look forward to the containers that we put in the freezer for the weeks to come.

I go back to work tomorrow. Luckily, it is a holiday and the following day only an eight hour shift (followed by two off), so I get a chance to ease back into it. They say that everything happens for a reason; I'm hoping that this episode has been to remind me once again of what is important. It has certainly given me some insight. To be honest, I'm not sure how or where I will incorporate these ideas into a busy day in the ER... but as I glance out my french doors into the sunshine and listen to the birds sing for a moment... I know I'll figure it out.

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