March 25, 2009

Australia, Heart, Panic

Crush, Kill, Destroy, Stress!!!

So I’m on the second leg of a return trip from Australia. The 13-hour flight from Sydney to Los Angeles. Pharoahe Monch and I are just returning from a triumphant week of hanging recording and general connecting with Australian premier hip hop group The Hilltop Hoods in Adelaide. We also had the pleasure of connecting with one of our new favorite producers, M-Phazes (Good Gracious) and it was an all around successful trip capped off with a trip to a wildlife reserve where Pharoahe held a Koala bear named Tommy and I fed real life Kangaroos.

Our entry into Adelaide was slightly marred by the overzealous nature of the customs agents who found it implausible the 2 black guys from the US would travel 20 some odd hours on three flights to only stay for one week in Australia (Australian’s get one full month for vacation) and why did we have so many pairs of sneakers? My agent remarked that I was worse than a woman. When Monch mentioned that we were meeting with the Hoods and another agent confirmed they were waiting for us, things got easier. “No autograph for you”, I told my snippy agent and we were on our way to a fun week of drinking, and late nights as we were in the land down under where the time difference is a day not just hours.

So when it was time to come home, boy was I ready. I really wanted to get back on New York time and I missed my family. Also we are readying for a European tour, which kicks off in only 10 days so I wanted some quality time in my bed before hopping around another continent for 3 weeks. We have a 7 am flight from Adelaide to Sydney and a 13-hour flight from Sydney to LA and then a 5-hour from LA to NY. And this is not the sexy private jet Jay-Z travels on or even 1st class for that matter. For the second flight I’m in row 70. Thank God I have an aisle. One the flight over Monch had a window and I had an aisle and the guy in between us had a cold and was sneezing into the same nasty bandanna the whole trip while insisting on talking to me about the impending apocalypse while insinuating that Obama was the anti-Christ. “You’d better get some land in the hills and be ready to run when they shut down the cities and leave you all to kill yourselves over the few scraps of food and water left”. Ughhhh. At least on the flight back there was no center seat, so all is well, right? Uh, maybe not.

1st of all this was the most consistently turbulent flight I’d ever been on. Not the worst turbulence I’d ever been through, just the most, 10 or 11 hours worth. I was incredibly tired, exhausted is probably a better description, due to all the hanging and partying and working we did in Adelaide. But I couldn’t sleep with all the shaking. It’s pitch black out the window, over the Pacific Ocean and I don’t think I have Sully flying this thing, so I’m nervous in a way that I never get while flying. Those that know me, know that I’m on a plane every other week, and flying is no thing to me. But this felt different. About an hour from landing I felt a sudden tightness in my left arm, which quickly spread to my chest. I then felt my legs start shaking uncontrollably. Just about everyone on the plane is sleeping including Pharoahe. I am really thinking I’m having a heart attack at 39,000 feet. The worst place I could have one. But I’m young, and I don’t smoke, I eat ok, work out occasionally, this can’t be happening to me! I ring for the flight attendant and when she comes she immediately see’s the terror in my face and with the concern of a pro, says “are you okay?” No I reply, I think I’m dying! I describe to her what is happening and she says, “take a deep breath” I do and she says, “you’re not dying, you wouldn’t be able to breathe so deeply”. She gives me some aspirin, in case my heart attack was real and then goes into her purse and pulls out peppermint oil and rubs some into my temple (I’m sure this isn’t on the Qantas manual) and a couple of drops under my nose. This helps. Pharoahe wakes up and in understated fashion says “just relax, and if you need to lay down in the aisle. Long story short, we land, they give me oxygen and call the paramedics at LAX. They get me a wheelchair and bring me through customs and I see the paramedics who proceed to give me an EKG and check my blood pressure. Everything checks out ok and I’m feeling much better on the ground so I proceed. Get my bags, and go to re-check them for the next flight, only now US customs wants to go through our bags. The agent asks why are we so late getting off the flight and what were we doing in Australia. I tell him I had what may have been a panic attack on the plane. He asks, “Were you nervous because you were bringing something in the country you shouldn’t have been, like drugs?” (As good as I am, I can’t make this shit up). So now we’re in danger of missing our next flight, but big up to the Qantas agent who stayed with us the whole way and got our bags checked and escorted us to the gate for the LA to NY leg of trip.

The flight was relatively empty and I got an entire row to myself, and other than a few false alarms, I was pretty cool on this trip. Plane lands, gather luggage, Sis picks me up, go out to dinner and head to the crib to my tempurpedic mattress (shameless stunt). I get up the stairs drop my bags and I start to feel the tightening of my left arm again. Then rapidly my heart starts to race and my chest gets tight. I begin to really believe that I’m going to die. I try breathing deeply, but this time it doesn’t seem to work. I call sis, tell her I’m going to the hospital, she jumps in a cab and comes to drive me there. I am waiting outside with the engine running. We stop by the corner bodega and get some aspirin, cause a friend told her to do that. Then we are headed toward Staten Island Hospital (the same place I was born). I am feeling worse the closer we get, but I’m trying my best not to worry sis anymore than she already is. I ask her ever so politely to speed up. We roll up to emergency, I jump out, tell her to leave the car and come with me, get checked in, tell them I’m dying and the security guy really calms me down. Something about his voice was really soothing. In record time they get a nurse to give me an EKG and check blood pressure. Everything seems fine. They set me up in the emergency holding area on a bed, basically in the hallway next to various other sick folks. Most old and folks coming in and out in various states of being, some bloody from the Saturday night bar brawl, folks just not feeling well, some hooked up to machines and some sitting upright in their party clothes. There was a lack of urgency amongst the staff, nothing like ER or Grey’s Anatomy. No “doctor so and so to ER Stat”. Just stuff like, “we’ll get to you soon honey, does anyone want coffee, I’m going to dunkin dounuts” I’m thinking, Heeeyyyy I’m dying over here!!! Finally about 12:30 am a nurse comes and sets up needles in arm, takes about 4 vile’s of blood and sets up my arm for quick IV access. Then a doctor comes and asks the questions about what’s going on, I tell him and sets a protocol for my treatment. And X-ray, CAT scan, blood work and we’ll go from there. Just hold tight. My sister is nodding off, her psychic ass probably already knows I’m not dying, but I aint hearing it at this point, I’m on some “Elizabeth, I’m coming to join you honey” type shit. I keep thinking about all the shit I didn’t get to do and how even if I survive, life wont be same. Death is just around the corner and life is so fragile. I was being very dramatic. I had a tough month. I had a break-up with my girlfriend that was very hard to deal with. I love this woman and I couldn’t understand why that wasn’t enough to be happy. Was I destined to never experience a healthy, happy relationship and now with me dying I would never even know what it felt like. A dear friend from childhood is very ill and confided in me and I was carrying that around with me for a couple of weeks, along with a host of other stress inducing things that were heavy on my mind. Not much more than usual I thought but heavy nonetheless. There’s an old woman screaming that she doesn’t want to be put in this area because there are too many men, and when she is informed that she will be in a room by herself, she yells no, you’re going to sexually abuse me!!! EMS guys are in and out bringing in patients while joking with the hospital staff. None of them seem particularly healthy. Everyone seems grossly overweight. I’m thinking, these folks see death everyday and they aren’t trying to avoid it at all. Wow. I get my test and the doc says I need to stay for further test, I send sis home and I am waiting for a room. This was about 3:30 or 4am. Sis leaves, EMS brings a patient in and for the 1st time I see people scrambling, and working like the TV shows. They pull a curtain and are obviously trying to revive someone. It doesn’t work, the person dies, not like TV at all. Reality is much stranger.

I finally get into a room at 7:30 am, which means I haven’t slept in about 23 hours or more. I still can’t. They hook up a heart monitor, get me some breakfast and tell me that someone will come talk to me eventually. No roommate. I just chill. I get my phone and TV turned on. The first ESPN I’ve seen in a week. I spend the day watching March Madness. The first person to come see me is a financial person to see how I’m paying for all this. Of course like 40 million other Americans, I have no health insurance. They promise to hook me up with Medicaid, if I qualify. I see the financial lady almost as many times as I see a doctor (these cats is about their paper, in contrast to when Monch was sick in Denmark and they never asked for a dime for a 5 day stay and great health care, don’t tell me universal health care doesn’t work). Finally a doctor comes in and tells me what’s up. He says all the tests were negative and he wants to run a couple more but he sees nothing wrong. He takes more blood, checks the monitor, blood pressure, EKG, all good. Call mom and sis, they plan to come up. They come up, bring my friend Jonelle and we hang. They all have theories on how I’m not taking care of myself and everyone seems to be a bit annoyed with me. You need to stop worrying about everyone else and take care of yourself. I know it’s all coming from love, but it feels like I’m being lectured about not doing homework. As they’re leaving, I’m noticing my chest tightening again, so I walk out and tell the nurse as to not alarm my family. They leave and they do another EKG and check the blood pressure, etc… all good. Now I’m thoroughly jet lagged and can’t sleep. I can’t eat or drink past 12 because of the test I have to take the next morning. I stay up most of the night and just as I was about to really sleep, I get a roommate. Not just any roommate, but a cop. The Po Po was in my room. He had a heart condition that he just found out about too. One thing I’ll say about cops, they are not quiet. The uniformed officers came in and wanted to know who the doctors on call were and were could they set up round the clock watch etc. I thought he was a wanted criminal at first. I finally get to sleep about 5 am and I have to get up 7:30 for my test. Of course they don’t come get me for the test till10. So I make nice with the fuzz, make some calls, watch Sportscenter for the 9th time, and twiddle my thumbs. I have no computer or cell phone and I haven’t yet learned how to just chill. I call some folks, Pharoahe, Kervin, etc to keep them informed of my progress.

They finally get me for the test. One is a sonogram and the other is called a nuclear stress test. I just though they called it that but when I arrived at a room with the hazardous materials symbol, I know shit was real. The night before I did a cat scan where they injected iodine in my and I had to sign a waiver in case I had an adverse reaction. This was nuclear material and they were planning on injecting me. Fuck it at this point, I’m just trying to live, so they hit me with the uranium (I really don’t know what it is) and I have to get in this cat-scan like X-ray machine on my back with my arms over my head for 20 mins. Ok, that’s done. I have to go up to get the sonogram. This was the most amazing and probably life-changing thing I’ve seen. I saw my heart beating real-time. I was terrified and honored at the same time. This was the source of my life at work in front of my eyes. I’d never had so much respect for the body and the way it functions until this moment. The doctor tells me I have a weak valve, which sound worse than it is. It’s something 30 percent of people are born with and the only true side effect is that if you are exhausted or truly stressed it can cause the heart to flutter, hmmmm.
I go outside to wait for the stress test. Of course this being Staten Island, I was bound to run into someone I knew. In this case it was Mercedes who is a tech at the hospital and the little sister of one of my dearest friends, Wiggs. We have a laugh and she will be the one transporting me after my test. Good to see a friendly face. Staten Island hospital is all backed up so getting to take this test takes over an hour. I get invited into the room to take the test by an overly made up beautiful Russian woman, who looked like she was ready for a 5 star restaurant dinner on New Years Eve rather than the person administering this test. I’ve watched way too many porno’s, so imagine the image when she says, take off your shirt and lie down. She hooks up a bunch of wires to me, and puts me on the treadmill (like 50 in the “In The Club Video” except I have a gut) and I have to walk and then run, when I get up to my target heart rate, she injects me with more nuclear stuff that she assures me has no side effects, yeah right. I finish and I have to go back to the cat-scan room for 20 more mins with my arms above my head. Then back to my room to wait for doctor’s orders. 5 hours later the doctor comes in to tell me there’s nothing wrong with my heart at all and I should go home.

So now I know for a fact, I wasn’t having a heart attack and that my heart was functioning fine the whole time. So I’m guessing I was on some Tony Soprano panic attack shit and I need to see Dr. Melfi. Since I’ve been out of the hospital, I’ve had the tightening feeling twice, and I talked myself down. I’m not dying so I can meditate my way out. Being around all of that death has had an effect on me. I was watching Oprah today and Dr. Oz was on talking about longer living. I’m excited to live to 120. Must start working on that plan right away. Need to lose weight, eat much better, and stop taking on the world’s problems like they’re all mine to fix. This was a tough lesson, but I believe I got it. If you see me slipping, holla.