The Rattling in My Chest: An Essay by Rod Picott
Photo by Stacie Huckeba
The rattling in my chest started at a show. Steve Poltz, Joe Pisapia, John Strohm, and I were playing “in the round” at The Basement East in Nashville. The show was great but at a point late in the set I started sweating and felt ill. I couldn’t pinpoint what was happening as I didn’t feel sick exactly, but I knew intuitively that something was wrong. The following day I called my doctor, who assured me it was probably some insignificant bug that was traveling through Nashville on its way to Dollywood. Still, my chest was pumping like a ’69 Camaro and I didn’t feel right. When I say pumping, I’m talking like a 50-year-old oil derrick in Post, Texas.
A few days later my doctor had me come in to run standard bloodwork and just get a bead on what might be going on. Back to the house I went, feeling embarrassed and wondering if I was becoming a hypochondriac. No, I could tell. Something wasn’t right. At one point I saw a friend, gave her a hug, and she said, “What the hell? I can feel your heart pounding through your coat.” It was a very strange sensation. I could lay in bed with a dinner plate on my chest and watch the plate jump around as though my dinner had become animated. I couldn’t sleep and was waking up feeling ill every night. A few days later I received a call in the evening (doctors don’t make night-time calls) from the on-call physician that went something like this:
“Am I speaking to Rod Picott?”
“We just got your bloodwork in.”
“I’ve called in a prescription. Your heart is playing dodgeball in your chest?”
“Yes, or rugby. I’m not sure.”
“You have a problem. You need to go to the pharmacy right now. You’re either going to have:
- a heart attack, or
- a heart attack.
Either way you don’t have enough paper towels for what’s about to happen. I’ve never seen someone’s potassium level so high. It’s interrupting your heartbeat and won’t pick a lane. You feel that pounding?”
“That’s not good. Go now. They’re waiting for you.”
So off I went to the pharmacy where indeed the pharmacist was waiting for me bug-eyed and nervous, which didn’t help my own state of mind any.
“Go take this now. I talked to the doctor who called it in. Don’t stop on the way back home.”
It took a few weeks of bloodwork, changing medications, experimenting, a 48-hour heart monitor, more tests, and a transmission fluid flush to uncover what was happening. The medications I had been on for chronic back pain (rode a ladder down the side of a house years ago and crushed a disc — with no insurance. Absolutely could not afford even a basic policy on folk-singer wages) had become toxic and I was basically poisoning myself into a heart attack. In the middle of all this I had a back surgery scheduled. I had waited months and gone through a maze of tests via the insurance company’s protocol before they would cough up for the surgery. This is understandable to me. Of course they don’t want to pay for a new engine if it’s just your O2 sensor making your engine light come on. So, in the middle of waiting to find out how much damage had been done to my heart, I also had the back surgery. My blood pressure was so high they had to take it five times before they could get a reading (still too high) that was at least low enough that I wouldn’t cause a fire when they went in with the barbaric implements. With an upcoming tour, rescheduling was not an option. With my sincere plea, they relented and plowed ahead. Within a few more weeks the bloodwork became acceptable as the medications left my body.
All these tests, procedures, monitors, medications, and surgery were covered (for the most part) by my insurance. I have an Obamacare policy — the only health insurance I’ve had in my 54 years on this rock. If not for the Affordable Care Act, I would most likely not be typing this right now. I’ve had informed and wise guidance from Music Health Alliance each year since the ACA became law. Music Health Alliance is an organization based in Nashville that helps those working in the music industry navigate the complex route to finding an insurance plan that suits our needs. They are a miracle. You bring in your tax return and sit for 10 minutes while they look up your options and without any pressure guide you to an available plan. The ACA is not perfect. Neither is the highway system, our voting regulations, or the tile work at the DMV. Perfect is not the point.
We peer around the world to see the efficacy of other countries’ health care systems and find flaws in every one of them. Then we point at the flaws and say, “Look at the cracks.” The profound health issues I experienced were caught by the safety net that was stretched out below me via the ACA. This is, of course, simply my own small story. I’m lucky. But I’m lucky because someone fought for my health before I needed help. I am in favor of national health care. It would not be perfect. The behemoth that is our health care industry would be forced to change profoundly, but we would get a few more Rod Picott albums. Not a fair trade, I realize. However, putting people before money is an easy decision for me.
The experience informed and played a profound role in the writing of my new album, Tell The Truth & Shame The Devil. It forced me to ask some questions that were on simmer in the back of my mind. It also forced the question: If this is your last album, your last piece of work, what do you want to say as you exit? Well? What do you have to say for yourself, tough guy? Are you going to get down and dig in the dirt or are you going to sit on a beach towel with this album? My fingernails are dirty and I’m grateful.
Rod Picott’s new album, Tell The Truth & Shame The Devil, will be released Friday (July 19) on Welding Rod Records. To comment on this or any No Depression story, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.