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Turkey Induced Syncope

    It was early on a Saturday morning when I got a call from the Upstate NY police. “Your Mom asked us to call you and get her groceries out of her car, because she didn’t want them to go bad.  Her car is located in the Shop-More supermarket parking lot. She’s very anxious that you come and get her groceries right away. She’s afraid the turkey is going to thaw.  As an afterthought he added, “Oh and by the way, the ambulance brought your Mom to the Good Shepherd hospital ER” 

    I called the Good Shepherd ER and spoke to the head nurse, Donna. My elderly parents had many visits to the ER over the past few years, and Donna had gotten to know them well. She had become a friend of the family. She told me that my mom had a brief syncopal episode, but now seemed fine. She had no seizures, bruises, or injuries. She told me that the cardiologist had been called and that and an EKG, CXR, and cardiac enzymes had all been ordered. She had already been seen by the ER doctor who was concerned about a syncopal episode in an 83 year old woman who had an aortic valve replacement six months ago. The cardiologist was on his way. 

    My mom’s main concern however was unselfishly not for herself, but for the wellbeing of her free turkey. Every thanksgiving, the local Shop-More supermarket had a promotion for a free turkey.  If you spent over $300, you got a free turkey up to 21 pounds in size.  My mom went there early in the morning to make sure she got the biggest free turkey she could possibly get.  There was fierce competition amongst the retirement crowd to get the largest free turkey. My mom had gotten a 20 pounder. She was so proud of her accomplishment.  It was her biggest turkey yet! It was as if she had hit the jackpot at Atlantic City. Unfortunately the turkey was too big for her to handle. She had passed out when straining to lift it into her car. A passerby called the police, who called the ambulance.

    Good Shepherd hospital was located an hour away. My daughter and I rushed over to the ER to see my mom.  She was happy to see us but disappointed that we hadn’t rescued her turkey yet.  The cardiologist had seen her and was in the ER.  He said that there were minor EKG changes, and the cardiac enzymes were normal. He thought it was most likely a vasovagal reaction, but there was an increased risk of arrhythmias in a patient who recently had a valve replacement. He wanted to keep her 24 hours for observation.  The cardiologist was puzzled why my mom wanted such a big turkey. It was a joke that had gotten old I explained. My mom used to complain about my petite wife’s lack of an appetite. I joked that my wife could eat a whole turkey by herself. So every year my mom felt obligated to get a progressively larger turkey and present it to my petite wife. The cardiologist laughed. “Once a mother always a mother,” he said. 

    We left the hospital and drove to the Shop-More to rescue her groceries. In the trunk of her car was an enormous turkey. It was still frozen solid. A layer of ice had formed around it from condensate, so it weighed even more than 20 pounds. The virtually indestructible plastic Shop-More bag tore when I lifted the turkey. It was huge, a regular turkey-zilla. We brought it to my mom’s house, only to find that she already had a 14 pound turkey in the freezer. It was left over from the Shop-More Easter free turkey promotion. There was no room for another turkey, and I was afraid of my mom passing out if she tried to lift the 20 pounder again. I called my mom and told her that her turkey was fine, and that we would store it in a freezer in my house. On the trip home I had to brake abruptly on the Parkway. There was a loud thud, and I thought I had been rear ended. But no, it was just the 20 pound ball of solid frozen turkey colliding with the inside of my trunk. When I got home, I found a Turkey shaped dent in my trunk. But the turkey was unscathed.  I placed it in our spare freezer.

     The next day the cardiologist told my mom that everything checked out fine, and she could go home.  He went over her diet, her list of medications, and her activities. “No more 20 pound turkeys,” he said.  My mom was disappointed. Despite the inconvenience of passing out and staying overnight in the hospital, despite the expense of a hospital stay, despite all she had been through, she still regarded the 20 pound turkey as a prize trophy. It was a badge of honor amongst her fellow shoppers. As a mother, it showed that she could still nourish her family.  It was worth it to her.

      I asked the cardiologist if this was his first case of Turkey induced syncope.  “No” he said. “I see it every year when the supermarkets have their free turkey promotion.”

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