Until this morning, the term “anxiety attack” was etched into my consciousness. But it occurred to me moments ago that it’s called “panic attack.” Right? Whatever the term, until  yesterday, I had heard of them but, as far as I know, I had never experienced one. And that may still be true, but an experience yesterday morning convinced me I had one (and I’m pretty confident of it).

The morning was flowing along relatively smoothly, except for periodic flutters of worry about my wife; wishing I could talk to her to ask how she was feeling, but not wanting to call and wake her, if she was sleeping. Finally, around 9:30 I left the house  to visit her in the hospital. About a block from the house, waves of sensations sweep over me: heartburn, lightheadedness, heaviness in my arms, aching jaws, and a sense of fear or dread or…something. The sensations scared me; I thought for a moment I might be having a heart attack. But I doubted that aching jaws and lightheadedness and vague fears were symptomatic of a heart attack. I decided to ignore them and keep driving. But after driving another block or so, the symptoms continued and seemed to get stronger, so I made a circle and headed for home.

By the time I got the car into my garage, I felt like I might pass out. I thought about calling 911, but something prompted me to just sit in the car and rest. After two or three minutes, the symptoms had all but disappeared. I got out of the car, went into the house, and grabbed some Tums. Another couple of minutes and I was fine; no more sensations at all. I decided my experience was my first and only anxiety/panic attack. I am not sure what convinced me that’s what it was, but it seemed logical to me. I had been under stress, I had been worried, and I had allowed all sorts of issues to claw at me; it was anxiety, distilled into a powerful potion.

A while after I got to the hospital (where I found my wife sleeping), I decided to send a text to a retired nurse friend to ask whether such symptoms were likely symptoms of an anxiety attack. Fortunately, she did not see the text until a few hours later; otherwise, I might have taken her advice and gone downstairs to the ER (she texted back that they were indicative of a heart attack and, then, almost immediately called me). By the time I had written my text, though, I had already decided it was nothing. By the time she got back to me by phone, I was certain of it. But after speaking with her, I decided it was not especially bright to have made the decision I made. Even though it would have been a false alarm, it would have been far wiser to have let medical professionals make the determination, rather than making it myself. Lesson learned.


Most of my four and a half hours at the hospital yesterday were spent in my wife’s dark room while she slept. She woke briefly to eat some yoghurt, drink some cranberry juice, take some pills, and ask to be repositioned on the bed; most of the time she slept while the Food Network attempted to entertain me.

During one brief interlude, a social worker peeked in and asked me to come chat. about plans for my wife, post-hospitalization. The outcome of the conversation was for her to commit to arranging a meeting for me with members of a hospice team, who will explain to me the pros and cons of hospice care. The social worker has no idea how long my wife will be in the hospital; she said “the doctors wanted me to talk to you about your plans when your wife is released.” She suggested a nursing facility would be appropriate because “she will need 24/7 care.” I rejected that suggestion. My wife does not want to be in a nursing facility. She confirmed that to me a little later. And I have yet to speak to a doctor about my wife’s prognosis and whether she might regain enough strength to stand or move from a bed to a chair. Frankly, I do not think I will place my trust in doctors who have not, to date, taken the time to actually visit my wife (at least to my knowledge and hers), opting instead to make decisions on the basis of third-party reporting and machine-captured data.


I came home to find my “yard guy” working on relocating a fifty-thousand ton pile of approximately 200 trillion leaves from the lot next to my house. He hauled them down the mountainside, where he deposited them into the forest. I suspect deer will wade into those leaves, disappearing completely until Spring, when rain will wash away their crypts, leaving only perfectly preserved skeletons. The piles are very, very deep.


Finally, I finished the last couple of episodes of Deadwind. I mourn for the completion of the lengthy binge. I turned back to Bordertown, knowing that series, too, is nearing the end. I am forlorn. But my Mexican sister-in-law has recommended Hinterland, a British police drama, so I shall try that. She mentioned others: The Unforgotten, Vera, Shetland, Happy Valley, and DCI Banks. I’ve seen Happy Valley, but cannot find the others on Netflix. However, I found Forgotten, a Korean crime-drama involving a mysterious kidnapping, so I’ll add that to my list. And I’ll search Amazon Prime for the others; I rarely go to Amazon Prime, which is probably an unfortunate oversight. Apparently, I need escapist entertainment; things so remote from my life that they transport me to other countries to immerse myself in experiences unlike any I have ever had nor will ever have. It is not simply entertainment for me, I think. It is a means of retaining my sanity by erasing my worries, at least for a while.


Still no haircut. But today may be the day.  I told my wife yesterday I would delay my visit until a bit later, hoping to be in her presence when she is more likely to be awake. So, I will try to time my departure from the house and my arrival at the hospital to allow me ample time to visit Happy Clips or whatever it’s called. For some reason, I suspect the chain haircut place will be more likely to insist on masks that the down-home barber shop I used to frequent. But I could be wrong, in which case I will turn around. I could cut my own hair with pinking shears, perhaps triggering people in these parts to want that unique local hairstyle, “the one the Village geezer created.” Delusions of insignificance.


I am in the mood for a thick ribeye steak, grilled rare over mesquite embers and served with a side of slices of Beefsteak tomatoes and purple onions, alongside a generous helping of cold pickled asparagus, with a nice glass of cabernet sauvignon or malbec. I gladly would have that for breakfast. But I do not have the steak, the tomatoes, the onions, nor the asparagus. I don’t have adequate mesquite, either, so I may have to settle for cereal. I wonder whether malbec pairs well with bran flakes?


Aljazeera online is reporting that: Moroccan troops are launching operations in the Western Sahara border zone; Ethiopia has appointed a new leader for the Tigray region amid reports of civilian massacres; Algerians approved a new constitution; and French troops killed the commander of an al-Qaeda-linked group in Mali. These are headline stories on Aljazeera, but they get little or no mention in U.S. media.  Nor is the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war, an armed conflict between Azerbaijan and the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Until this morning, I knew virtually nothing of these very consequential events because I had not taken the time to take a break from the highly filtered reporting to which we are exposed in U.S. media and to look, instead, at some of the news other people around the world consume. It frustrates me that we think the media keeps us informed; the media keeps us aware of a narrow band of news the media judges of sufficient interest and importance to share with us. I applaud the media as far as it goes, generally; but I give U.S. media low marks on keeping us informed about the world outside our insulated bubble.


I will approach the remainder of this day with a positive attitude. That is the best I can do. I hope it pays dividends.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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5 Responses to Higgledy-Piggledy

  1. Thanks, Barbara, for your kind words. If you choose to watch my Netflix choices you find them as intriguing as I do!

  2. John, my deepest sympathies for the troubles that you and Janine are experiencing. I am thinking of you both and offering up my prayers and strength for the best outcome. Thank you for the heads up about Matleena Kuusniemi and your viewing recommendations. I still love your writing and every Autumn, I remember your essay about falling/dead leaves.

  3. Robin, thank you for checking in and for expressing your concerns. I finally saw a doctor, a leader of a palliative care team. He spoke to us about options and helped clarify what various paths might involve. A very nice guy who spent far more time than I expected. We also spoke to another person who, due to her demeanor, I thought was a patient support technician; I discovered she, too, is a doctor who was far more engaging and casual than most. I wish we had more experiences with doctors like them.

    David, the anxiety siege you mention sounds awful. I am sorry you had the experience with it and I hope I never do. My experience, as short-lived as it was, scared me quite enough.

  4. David Legan says:

    I have had an anxiety attack. And I have had an anxiety siege. The siege is far worse- it exhausts you, wears you down, eliminates your agency over your own life. It hurls boulders and cannon fire over your walls, depletes your supplies by denying access to the outside, and ultimately costs you your life or your wife.

  5. robin andrea says:

    I hope you get a chance to talk with Janine’s doctors. It would be incredibly helpful to know what the prognosis is. I’m surprised and a little alarmed that you haven’t seen any doctors with her.
    It does sound like you had a panic attack. I’m sure you’ve already googled around to see what you can do when you are experiencing them. Deep breaths is a good start. I hope that’s your one and only experience of such a thing.
    Just wanted to check in and see how things are going, John. Thinking of you and Janine and hoping for the best.

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