Thursday, September 02, 2010

In the hospital

Monday morning, I woke up in the hospital with an IV-drip in one arm and a nurse taking my blood pressure on the other arm.

What happened?

Sunday, I was about to fly back to Stockholm. I hadn’t been feeling too great, but then I generally haven’t been feeling great lately. My blood pressure has been at the lower end of healthy since I was a teenager. It runs in the family. People like to tell me low blood pressure is good. I usually ask them to try to go to work when you can hardly stand upright, let alone speak.

I would have classically fainted and dropped to the floor, except that the moment my circulatory system decided to shut down all non-essential functions I was on board of an airbus, seatbelt fastened, tray table securely stored. In fact, we were headed for the runway already. So there was no dropping. When I could see again through the black clouds, I was lying on several seats. Somebody was pushing an oxygen mask on my face, somebody else was taking blood pressure. They later told me it read 70 to 30. 150 people had to wait while I was carried back out of the plane. An ambulance brought me to the airport hospital.

Several people poked holes into my arms before they found a vein to put me on an IV drip. They measured blood sugar; it came out to be low but still normal. Blood pressure went up some twenty points or so. I was told they’d keep me there for some hours and pump half a liter isotonic fluid into my blood stream, confident I’d be labeled “fit to fly” after this and be able to take the next flight to Stockholm. What happened instead was that my blood pressure hit bottom again. They put me on a glucose drip, back into the ambulance and brought me to the next hospital, suspecting inner bleeding or pulmonary embolism. I had hold onto my hand baggage, but my checked-in bag was meanwhile on the way to Stockholm.

In the hospital, I was handed over to a doctor who took me off the glucose drip and did a few exams. She found nothing of concern, then poked more holes into my arms trying to take blood. Eventually she used a butterfly-needle (a tiny needle commonly used for children) and managed to extract some drops. Having done that, she went to get some forms to note down my medical history. The second she left the room, I got sick and my blood pressure plummeted again. They hastily put me back onto the drip, blood pressure down to 62 to 35, body temperature plummeted to 34C (93 F). “Centralized,” somebody mumbled, schemes in white coats around my bed. An internist pushed electrodes on my chest to take an EKG. They gave me some injection which remarkably enough raised the blood pressure within a matter of a minute back to 100 to 70. The EKG turned out to be normal.

I had to stay for the night with blood pressure being monitored, not even allowed to go to the restroom without a nurse because they were afraid I might faint. Blood pressure finally stabilized around 90 to 50something. The blood picture came out with some minor aberrations; I was prescribed a stack of mineral pills. They asked me a lot of questions: Has this happened before? Did I not drink enough during the day? Maybe eaten something funny? Ever had problems with the thyroid glands? Afraid of flying? No to all of the above.

I am still in the hospital. The last days, they’ve done numerous tests and collected a seemingly endless amount of numbers, notes and graphs in a large folder with my name on it. They checked my heart and lungs and found nothing of concern. I am sharing the room with a women who is here for hypertension – her blood pressure is more than twice as high as mine.

After 3 days, I asked the nurse if there’s any internet connection available in the building. She stared at me in disbelieve. “Internet?” she asked, as if nobody had ever dared before to have such an outlandish question. Luckily I have my BlackBerry with me. Stefan, who came to bring me clothes and sweets, told me the main entrance is cluttered with signs prohibiting cell phone use. Well, I said, I didn’t come in through the main entrance and nobody told me. After 4 days I sneaked out of the hospital with an IV needle on my arm and a device on my chest recording the heart rate, and bought an USB internet stick. (Thanks to Phil for the suggestion!) So here I am again, hitting “mark all as read” on my Google reader which announced 1000+ unread items.

Reason I’m telling you this is that last night, listening to my roommate snoring, I decided I’ll put this blog on a break. I feel like I need some time to find equilibrium. As you probably know, I live alone in Stockholm and of course I’m wondering what might have happened had I not been around people. While it’s a relieve the docs didn’t find a serious problem, not knowing why it happened means to me it can happen again. Comments on this blog will remain open, and I encourage you to have a look at our archives, but you might not hear much from me for a while. I hope you understand. I’ll be back.

If the result of yesterday’s test comes out okay the docs say I can go this afternoon. I hope I’ll be able to make it back to Stockholm and find my bag. And that the health insurance will cover…


  1. Get well soon and enjoy the break.

  2. I am sorry to hear about your health problems. I hope you will get better soon. This is certainly more important than this blog.

  3. Wow, sounds like a really bad trip.

    I would guess what they have given you was adrenaline (also called epinephrine) as it rises blood pressure instantly. Wiki mentions that autoinjectors are even available so maybe they could be of use to you as an emergency backup together with a blood pressure monitoring watch (google) or something similar. I am not a doctor though so of course you should consult one on this.

    Get well soon.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. I have also had low blood pressure all my life, even when I smoked*, so I can relate to your tiredness. When I was your age about 20 years ago, I was also on the run quite a bit as you seem to be, Bee, and cursed there was only 24 hours in a day which was not nearly enough time to accomplish all that I wished to accomplish, and that was before the age of blogging!

    You're at the perfect age to have a medical problem therefore, given your self-imposed BusyBee-ness. Kudos to Stefan for being there for you. Nothing trumps love, and health is the base upon which all else is built. Get well soon, our Lady. Also a prayer (it never hurts to hedge your bets) or at least crossed-fingers that Socialized medicine doesn't screw up the works and you make a full recovery, which it seems like you will since they're testing you out the wazoo. When a diagnosis comes in, don't be afraid to get a second, third, or even 4th opinion, whatever the cost. And don't worry about money. You have too many friends that THAT should not be a problem.

    Bed-rest is probably the best medicine. After laughter of course, so you can be sure a joke is forthcoming.

    *- Smoking. Einstein and Bohr did it. And no, I'm no Einstein or Bohr. That's not the joke. This is:

    HE (after the loving, reaching for a pack of ciggies): Do you smoke after sex?
    HER: Hm. I don't know, I never looked.

    Rest now.

  6. Hi Bee,

    I’m glad to hear your hospital visit appears to be coming to an end as I know such places are the worst ones for someone who requires some good rest and I can’t think of anyone who needs it more than you do as of now. Actually the symptoms you describe all point to this and perhaps when you get back to Stockholm you can spend a little time tracking this all down, with perhaps starting with getting a family doctor which I would bet is something you haven’t managed to get around to yet. I also feel bad for Stefan as I can only imagine that if there is anyone who has been made as anxious as you with all this it would be him. So as much as many of us so enjoy what you blogging brings, it’s who you are that we’ve become most fond of, so please do yourself and us a kindness and have a good rest and get well.

    Kind Regards,


  7. I'm also sorry to hear about this, but am glad you were able to get medical attention in time. Get well soon.

  8. Hi Bee,

    I hope you come away from this with some diagnosis so it can be treated?

    The concern you have is one my wife has a well, as she gets light headed from it on occasions. She takes her blood pressure as she has tried to pin it down as well. Blood tests and the like. Still no answers.

    Yes, I hope you will find out the reason for that genetic trait you inherited and of course get well soon...I check in very often to see what you and Stefan are doing.

    All the Best,

    Stephen D.

  9. The sun is poking up over the Rockies here and your malaise seems to be my malaise. I have come to value your spunky spirit of isotropic inquisitiveness. For purely selfish reasons, may your cup again be so full that it must find outlet in BackReaction.
    But, first things first.
    Warm Regards.

    P.S. One possible therapy might be reading more news on U.S. politics.

  10. Hallo Bee,
    bessere dich! :=)

  11. Hi Bee,

    poor girl. I've had in my youth the same problem with blood pressure. Now, I'm normal with 120 to 80. Yes, it is definitely right to work not so hard for a while.

    All the best, Kay

  12. "I feel like I need some time to find equilibrium."

    I was tempted to hope that you reach equilibrium soon, but then I recalled that the only organisms that are in equilibrium are dead ones.

    So here's wishing you health and happiness. Looking forward to your resumption of blogginess.

  13. Never be "interesting" to a doctor.

    The Valsalva maneuver is a quick self-fix for transient hypotension (ask your medical doctor before expermenting!). Take a deep breath then tense your chest and diaphragm against a closed glottis. Jet fighter pilots use it against gee-forces pulling blood from their brains during hard turns.

    Don't abuse it - Valsalva retinopathy.

    (Ask your medical doctor before expermenting!) Unless there is pathology, a chronic fix may be lifting and pushing weights at the gym. More muscle mass acts as a dash pot for cardiovacular pressure excursions. Cycling blood pressure during lifting and straining reduces system sensitivity.

    Weight belts when lifting are not vanity. If you go to a gym, go to a competent gym. If pharma is the answer, take care that your physician knows the real world question.

    Avoid psychologists. You are not damp clay in need of remolding to the fashion of the week.

  14. Dear Sabine,

    Do have a good rest and a good "think" about what you want to figure out. Denis.

  15. Get well soon, Bee.

  16. As you can see Bee, your current situation has drawn the get-well responses of long-time readers who rarely post, and there's the proof how loved and appreciated you are.

    Bee, I have taken the liberty of adding you as person #55 at my People Who Aren't Dead Yet ... post on my weblog, and I hope you don't mind. I suspect people will suspect the worst of your current condition when they hear of it in the next few days. They should come here first and actually read first, and we all know how common that is.

    I also request you check it for accuracy, if if inaccurate, correct me. And if you don't like it, I shall remove it. And then give you your own post, heh. Also, I think it's high time you had a Wikipedia entry of your own. There's something for Stefan to do whilst wiling the time away at your bedside waiting for the next darn test, or until you come back from same. What say you, Stefan?

    It sure sounds like "exhaustion" to me, but I'm no medical doctor. However you HAVE had one incredible summer, both professionally and emotionally with your workshop and "battles" re Lee and Giovanni. If I were you, a good long fortnight in the Aegean with Stefan is looking like a mighty good idea. My 2 cents.

    But, ladies and mostly gents, have ye no senses of humour? Are we Physicists, or ... Mathematicians!!? Physicists DO laugh, don't they? Time to time ... maybe? Yeah, they do. You taught me that, Bee, via this website.

    Where are the jokes to cheer Bee up? Being in a hospital bed sucks bigtime, and all the there-there's don't compare to a good joke, or even a lame attempt at same. Here are 3 such attempts of mine:

    Bob Newhart is an Irish-German/American comedian, proud of his heritages, who once performed in Germany and reported the experience on Johnny Carson's couch like so:

    "I thought I bombed. Nobody laughed at my jokes, but they were all polite and respectful and listened. They even applauded after I finished! Afterwards, a German fellow walked up to me and asked: "Excuse me, but vee don't understand something about you Americans. Vy do you call a man "Curly" ven he hash no hair? Vy do you call a man "Tiny" ven he is so large?" "

    Two Phenomenology jokes:

    1) Do you remember "The Name Game?" It was a hit song in the 1960's. It followed a formula best explained by example. Just insert a name, like:

    Frank, Frank, bo bank,
    Banana fanna fo fank,
    Fee fie, mo mank. Frannnnn...ank.
    Annie, Annie bo Bannie,
    Banana fanna fo fannie,
    Fee fie mo mannie,
    Chuck, Chuck bo buck,
    Banana fanna fo .... well, you get the picture.

    Now, ... imagine the name was "Phenomenological" Try it. Just not out loud in public. :-)


    2) A ship sinks, and 3 survivors stuck in a raft together are a Doctor, a Lawyer, and a Phenomenologist. Bored one day, the Doctor asks: "Is it better to have a wife or a girlfriend? I say a wife, because I work hard all day, and it's nice to come home each night to someone who takes care of all my needs right around the clock." The Lawyer says: "It's better to have a girlfriend. As a divorce lawyer, I've seen too many good marriages gone bad, and I want no part of that." The Phenomonologist says: "It's better to have both." Huh, say the other two. Why? "Because," says the Phenomenologist, "I can tell my wife I'm working late at the office, and tell my girlfriend I have to spend more time with my wife, which leaves me all the time in the world to work on and fret about Phenomenology!"

  17. Hello Bee,

    I hope you get well soon and take benefit from the rest!


  18. Hope everything turns out alright. Take care.

  19. Hey Bee - just wanted to pass on some virtual (((hugs))). I also have low blood pressure that has caused some issues (though nothing like yours). I hope you're able to get home soon and figure this whole thing out!

  20. Get well soon Bee. It is only natural not hear from you a while. Nevertheless I do hope that Backreaction will be as active in the future as it was in the past. Not in the last place because it would mean that you feel well again

  21. Please get well soon. Fortunately this happened with people around and immediate attention was possible.

    I hope you can find a doctor who will examine different possibilities of what may be happening instead of doctors who are just trying to shuffle you out of their offices looking for the next patient.

    I certainly empathize with the need to take a break from the blog. It will be missed by many, but your health is far more important.

    Take care,

  22. I've been following your blog for months, and it's been always great.
    Take it easy and get well ASAP.

  23. Hi Sabine!

    I also had had episodes of low pressure (1 or 2 per year in the last 5 years or so), not as strong as your episode, I have never fainted, but for me the sensation is quite bad, I have to lie on the floor with legs up, it may last about 10min or more. I do recover by that procedure + a bit of salt under my tongue. The problem is that I get terrified with the sensation, I usually panic and feel like I am going to die. My vision blurs and the "outside world" seems to get far and far away. Then my body trembles without control. Nevertheless, I eventually get better and nothing else happens, so all that fear is inconsequential. So I have been learning lately to cope with the situation.

    I periodically have my heart checked (one time per year, several exams made), but nothing seems wrong, I have a good health, eat healthy and practice exercises.

    I know how it feels like not knowing the reason for the episodes, so I hope you find an answer to your problem, do investigate it as far as you can, and most importantly, do take a good, good rest and er... avoid the internet like... the plague. I mean it! So it is a good decision not to blog for a while. Do come back, but in a different rithm. Your health is all that matters.

    All the best, and let me know if you need something that I could be of any possible help.

    Take care,


  24. Gute Besserung und alles Gute!

  25. Try this game:

    Find Bee

    This is from SUSY '06 (where I met Bee), use "shift" to zoom-in & "control" to zoom-out

  26. Dear Bee,

    While I hope you recover soon, I hope nothing happens to raise your blood pressure (in the colloquial sense :) )

    This Toronto based company, IDEAL is trialing remote BP monitoring. Perhaps something already exists in Sweden like this? This may take out some of the worry of being alone.

    With the very best of wishes,

  27. Bee,

    I was very sorry to hear of your illness, and wish you a speedy recovery. I hope you can get a good diagnosis.

    By all means take it easy, and don't worry about the blog - but we will miss you.

  28. Don't know if it would help but I actually know a good meditation/breathing program co-owned by a physicist (it's free!). For now though just enjoying a break sounds like a good idea.

  29. Get better soon Bee!

    I was talking with Robb Mann about blogging and physics and he wonders where you have the time to run a blog in addition to doing research.

    Hope to see you around PI soon!

  30. Hi Bee,

    Wow. Hope you are feeling better now, and gaining confidence in your ability to recover from and avoid the recurrence of such low-blood-pressure events.

    Is it possible to sue Stefan for medical and mental damages based on his snoring having caused you chronic loss of adequate sleep, resulting in the fainting, low blood pressure and hospital stay? ;)

    Is it true that you might change the name of the blog to

    On a more serious note, did you explain to the doctors that it might possibly be caused by inadvertently swallowing an energy-draining micro=black-hole? Or maybe a stranglet particle. They should have that in their notes.

    What about the possibility of your energy being continually drained by all the energy needed in creating those amazing slinky spirals in your hair? (As you described in a blog from a couple years ago.) Those are obviously very high energy spirals! And it would be good to write up an analysis of how hair spirals can drain normal body energy ... and submit it to FQXi and the arXives. You are living proof! It's a scientific fact! Also, you would be ideal for getting a government grant to do that research.

    I'm being like Steven Colyer and employing the anti-Higgs-mechanism ... levity. :) (or trying)

    My 88 yo neighbor has bad legs (from bad diet I tell her) and if she falls over, she can't get up. She has a service like this one: LifeLineSys, so if she falls over, an emergency medical company is immediately notified and comes to the rescue. I'd expect Sweden would have such a service also, since it is such an very advanced and socially conscious country.

    About 1992 I got a call from a hospital saying my 24 yo friend was in the emergency treatment center. She had fainted at work and was rushed to the hospital. I was listed as the one to call in case of an emergency. (I didn't even know that; sheesh, it was just platonic and she had a bf.) So I dropped everything and rushed down to the hospital, very worried about her. Turns out she was constipated, and that was it. lol

    I have high blood pressure, but I know my veins, arteries and heart are in immaculate condition, because I have a super-optimum diet: a very low-fat, starch-based, low-cal vegan diet with optimal nutrition. My total cholesterol level is 127 - 135. So the high blood pressure is just where I am on the bell curve for a healthy person. Although doctors never understand that or believe that, since they are rather poor thinkers and don't understand shit about statistics or dietary issues. And, like you, many people have low blood pressure but are perfectly healthy. So, if you hone your diet towards being vegan, low-fat and starch-based, with optimal nutrition, then you too can have confidence in your circulatory system. If the fainting is still an issue, then, yes, something else needs to be corrected.

    I especially like the advice of "Nulport", up above. Very wise.

    So that's my thoughts. Wishing you the best!


  31. Sorry to hear that you're ill. It certainly sounds like you've "been through the mill". I wish you a full and speedy recovery Bee.

    All the best,

  32. This sort of thing happened to me when I was in high school and undergrad college. But not as severe. No explanation.

    Best wishes to you, and I hope you feel better now!

  33. Stefan, if it's not too much to ask, could you give us an update on Bee's condition? There are a lot of us very worried about her, or should we take up Alfred E. Newman's motto?

  34. Well, OK. I don't tweet, but Bee does, so after extensive research (reading the COMPLETE front page of BackReAction), I answer my own question by reading Bee's tweets, thus:

    # is out of the hospital. 1 day ago

    # successfully managed to convince Lufthansa of rebooking instead of new booking. 1 day ago

    # ready for the 2nd attempt to fly to Stockholm. about 6 hours ago


  35. Get well soon, Bee.

    First time ever I found Twitter to be "useful." I didn't see any blog update in the last two days so I was concerned. But then I checked your Tweets and found that you are flying again and are in good spirits. That's a relief!

  36. Bee, I hope you are better very soon. Take it easy and put yourself first.

    When you are up to it, I hope that you will be able to write here again. Maybe on a bit less taxing schedule. You have a real talent and no one else can replace your voice.

  37. What some of the readers are talking about is vasovagal syncope. The surroundings trigger the vagus nerve, the blood sugar plummets, your visual field blurs, you feel sweaty and abit sick, and if you don't lie down quickly, you faint. I have even seen people have a seizure because the sugar is so low.
    Some people are prone to attacks, particularly those with low bp.
    This happens with healthy people.
    I hope this is the case. Best regards.

  38. What some of the readers are talking about is vasovagal syncope.

    Interesting, thanks for the info.

  39. Bee - terribly sad to hear about your hospitalization. I'm the type that checks google news when I've not heard from regular friends but had figured in your case it was just late summer holidays. Perhaps time for Stephan to post a bit again?

    In any event I'm sure this all turns out to be nothing more than thoughts of winter in Stockholm and fear of the unknown frost heave! Get well soon.

  40. Do get well soon! Thanks for your blog! I look forward to following it again if and when you decide to take it up again!

  41. I really hope you are better now.


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