In my last blog post, I asked the question, How much loss can our spirits take? As it turns out, last week I guess my spirit had reached it’s limit.
Friday, January 30th. Ethan, Daisy and I were piled in our bed daydreaming of warm, beautiful places we could go visit over winter break. We needed to get away. To feel the sun. To be together as a family and find our smiles.
It was just before dinnertime and I began to feel awful. Ethan opened a window for me to cool my suddenly burning body. I asked Daisy to go play in her room. I made my way to the bathroom, unsure if I was going to be sick. I then felt a crushing sensation in my chest and my arm went numb. I told Ethan to call 9-1-1.
Our next call was to one of our very amazing friends who swept in and picked up Daisy so she wouldn’t be there when the ambulance arrived. It took the ambulance 20 minutes to arrive at our home and when the EMTs came upstairs, I remember begging them to help me. That nothing could happen to me. One of the men curtly told me to “calm down, Ma’am… just take a deep breath, Ma’am… I can almost promise you, you aren’t having a heart attack, Ma’am”.
Because of the snow, they couldn’t get the ambulance up our driveway and I had to walk down to the truck. I finally laid down on the stretcher, they hooked me up to a machine and the EMT promptly apologized. “Remember how I said you weren’t having a heart attack? I was wrong.”
A HEART ATTACK? I am 39 years old. I eat a very healthy diet. I used to teach yoga. I have never smoked a cigarette in my life.
They brought me to the closest hospital and a team of doctors were waiting. More machines were attached to my chest, more medicine was administered to stabilize me. I told everyone within ear shot that I had a 5 year old daughter who had been through enough loss and needs her mom. The cardiologist came up to me with a grandfatherly, loving smile, looked right into my eyes and said “you will be fine. I know I will see you again.”
I was then quickly transferred back to the ambulance for a very snowy drive down to Maine Medical Center in Portland. The plan was to go right into their Catheterization Lab so the cardiologist there could take a look at my heart and see what was going on. Because I had responded so well to the meds, they decided to hold off on the Cath Lab until the next day, so my heart would have a chance to rest.
On Saturday morning, the visit to the Cath lab provided a lot of information. Ethan did a good job of keeping our friends and family informed by sending out informational emails…
This morning Emily was taken into the Catheterization lab and the procedure was done in about 30 minutes. She has what they are calling a Coronary Artery Dissection AND a Stress Cardio Myopathy. The good news is that they didn’t have to put in a stent or a balloon and she didn’t need a bypass. They found the area in the artery where the dissection was and it appeared that it had healed itself. They did see that the artery was constricted and she was put on Heparin (a blood thinner). It’s unclear exactly what caused the dissection, but we are told pregnancy and birth can sometimes cause it with the introduction of hormones that can affect the walls of the arteries. In any event, the dissection was causing a constriction and the catheterization showed that it had healed itself and would improve. The more tricky news is that in addition to the dissection they found that her heart was not performing at full strength. Where a normal heart might operate at 60% efficiency, hers was operating at 30%. So, they went in to deal with the arteries and potential blockages, and found her heart not doing well. The ECG shows what looks to be a Stress Cardio Myopathy, also called Takotsubo, also known as Broken Heart Syndrome: http://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/takotsubo-cardiomyopathy-broken-heart-syndrome . As the name implies, when someone (almost always a woman) experiences tremendous stress or trauma, the heart might not be able to take it. It could be a sudden death in the family or traumatic news… given recent events and what Emily has been through over the past few years it seems to be a fitting description.
So, it appeared I had 2 conditions affecting my heart- an artery dissection and also something called Broken Heart Syndrome. Seriously. I cannot make this stuff up. The doctors called me “a mystery” and an “enigma”. They said they have only seen a few cases like this- especially in such a young person. The good news was that it seemed my body was healing itself. I felt comforted to be under such wonderful care and hoped to be heading home soon.
On Sunday, a good friend came to see me, and a few minutes into our visit I started feeling pressure in my chest. I called a nurse over and they wanted to immediately move me back down to the Cath Lab.
Another update from Ethan:
This afternoon, Emily was moved back to the catheterization lab after having some symptoms in her chest and they found the artery was 90% constricted. The head of the Cath lab called in a heart surgeon, and the decision was made that Emily needed bypass surgery. She was taken in yesterday around 3PM and at 7PM the surgeon reported that everything had gone well and they had in fact done 2 bypasses. By 8PM I could go see her and by 9PM they were able to extubate her (take the breathing tube out). When I left last night, she was able to communicate a little bit and was in a great deal of pain. Last night was very hard for her and I’m sure very uncomfortable. For those of you familiar with the procedure, either from a medical standpoint or from personal experience, it’s a fairly standard operation and one that people much, much older and sicker than Emily recover from fully. For the rest of us, the thought of stopping the heart and going in through the chest to do what they need to do is terrifying. Emily is receiving excellent care and all of my questions are being answered as best they can.
Double bypass, open heart surgery. Holy Crap. The week in ICU passed in a blur of blood draws, beeping machines, kind and loving nurses, compassionate doctors, pain, tears, gratefulness and fear.
At the end of this, I am left with a few different things. The least of my worries is my new, crazy big scar running down the center of my chest. Much more importantly, I now have a great deal of fear that my heart is just going to stop someday. That I won’t get to see Daisy grow up. That our family will face more loss. But, most importantly, I am left with an immense amount of gratitude. I am grateful we did not hesitate to call 9-1-1. I am grateful the doctors at our local hospital knew to transfer us to Portland. I am thankful the head of the Cath Lab was on call all weekend and we had the best of the best care. I am beyond grateful for Ethan’s love and his positivity, his questions and his advocacy. I am thankful for Ethan’s parents’ unconditional caring for Daisy, and for my siblings flying in to share their love and support. Every message, email, phone call… At the risk of sounding dramatic, I am just so very thankful to be here to witness it all.
The end of the week, which came just one week after facing the unfathomable loss of our full term baby son (https://ezradavid.wordpress.com/2015/01/29/my-secret-pregnancy/), found Ethan and I grasping to understand what had happened. And with an arsenal of medications and a new understanding of cardiac terminology, I picked up my broken heart and headed home.