Monday, October 24, 2011

Trials & (Heart)Tribulations

This past Thursday, I was scheduled to have my gallbladder removed. It's an outpatient procedure, and the surgeon assured me I would probably be able to go home the same day. My parents arrived Wednesday night to watch Grace during the surgery while Mike drove me to the hospital. We arrived early and the nurses quickly prepared me for surgery. I only had to be poked once to get my IV in, it normally takes anywhere from 4-7 times to get a good stick on me so this was impressive! I spoke to the surgeon and we both agreed it was a good day and I would be recovered in no time. That's the last thing I remember before my day got very very bad. This is what I remember:

I woke up and heard the nurses seriously conversing. They sounded worried and I wondered if something had gone wrong for another patient. I remember thinking that I felt worse than I should have. After having my appendix removed in February, I was tired but felt pretty good when I woke up. This time was different, I was very weak and I was having a hard time breathing. Instead of talking about sending me home, I heard them call someone to do a chest xray and echo cardiogram (an ultrasound of the heart) on me. I know that my parents, Grace and Mike were around during all of this but I honestly don't remember talking to them. All I remember is being in pain and getting various tests run on me. I remember hearing the cardiologist complain that he couldn't find anywhere to read my chest x-ray (it's strange what you remember!) The next thing I knew, I was being moved to the ICU.

Over the next few hours, the nurses explained that my heart rate had gone crazy during the surgery, my blood pressure had dropped extremely low (my mom said she saw it drop to somewhere around 57/45) and they had filled me full of fluid to try to stabilize me. The fluid had built up in my lungs which was basically drowning me from the inside. So they needed to keep me in the ICU until they could get my lungs cleared and my blood pressure and oxygen levels stabilized. I spent that night doing breathing treatments, coughing all of the fluid out of my lungs. Of course, I also had 4 fresh gallbladder incisions that burned and ached every time I moved so the coughing was horrible. I had multiple x-rays and blood draws. I was woken up at least every 2 hours so that they could take my vital signs and make me do the breathing treatments.  I was on oxygen, but refused pain meds because they made me extremely nauseous. Overall, I was miserable. To top it off, they didn't let Mike stay overnight with me and so I was alone. Oh and I had to pump through all of this too so my milk supply didn't tank.

Bright and early the next morning, a cardio resident came in and started explaining what had happened and what the plan was. By this point, I hadn't slept, I hadn't eaten or drank anything since Wednesday night and I was by myself, so while I tried hard to focus, most of what she was saying went over my head. However, my world stopped when I heard the words "heart attack" come out of her mouth. I asked her to repeat herself, and sure enough she said that I had had a heart attack during surgery. Those are words you never expect to hear as a 27 year old. I have been sick before, but generally I'm a pretty healthy person and I never imagined that I had any heart problems. I was so freaked out by then that I pretty much zoned out everything else she was saying.

Luckily, shortly after this, my family arrived and the cardiologist came in to tell us what was going on. It turns out that about 10% of heart attacks are not caused by any of the traditonal heart attack symptoms such as clogged or torn arteries, instead they are either caused by a small blood clot or a spasm of an artery. I have no risk factors for heart trouble such as high cholestoral, family history, or diabetes and so the doctor was fairly sure that I was in that 10%. He wanted to do a heart catheterization to ensure that there was no other cause of the attack. This involved inserting a tube into the artery in my leg up into my heart to take pictures. It was a quick, painless procedure. It felt a bit strange as I could feel something poking around in my chest, but luckily they found nothing of concern. I have the heart of a healthy 27 year old.

 After the exam, I had to sit totally still for 6 hours. The catheterization involves sticking the tube into an artery directly to the heart, so if the wound does not clot properly, you can bleed out in a matter of seconds. Sitting for that long was painful, but I did it and at the time I was allowed to eat and drink (after 48 hours) That made me much happier!

The doctors gave us the official diagnosis. I had Takotsubo syndrome, also called Broken Heart syndrome, stress cardiomyopathy, stress-induced cardiomyopathy or apical ballooning syndrome.

Basically, stress, either emotional or physical, for some reason causes the heart to stop functioning properly. There are a lot of medical details that I won't explain here, but the theory is that the stress of the surgery temporarily "stunned" my heart causing it to stop pumping blood properly, leading to the erratic pulse and low pressure. This syndrome is just now being studied extensively in the US and there are still a lot of things that doctors still don't understand. They don't know what causes the attacks, but they do know that a full recovery is likely. These kind of heart attacks do not leave any permanant damage, and the heart fully recovers within 2-3 months. There is no evidence showing that it will ever happen to me again. I still have the same restrictions as anyone who had a heart attack has. I have to go to cardiac rehab to help strengthen my heart and I cannot drive or lift anything over 10 lbs for 2 weeks.

These restrictions are extremely difficult for me to follow as Grace now weighs 20 lbs and loves to crawl all over me. Thankfully my parents and Grandma Barb and Grandpa Doc were able to watch Grace the entire time I was in the hospital, but they couldn't stay forever. Mike was able to get some time off of work to help and I have some wonderful friends and family who have offered to come during the days to help take care of Grace. She does not understand why I can't lift her and why she can't crawl all over me. My incisions are still healing, so I'm having to be very careful about my movements. I can't get down on the floor to play with her and she can't lay on my lap to cuddle. It's been hard and I can't wait until these 2 weeks are over. It's very hard for me to ask for help like this, I can't stand not being able to be alone with my daughter.

I was able to come home on Saturday afternoon after 2 long exhausting nights in the ICU. I have been trying to rest as much as possible, but I'm already going a little stir crazy!

I have a very long road to recovery, but I am happy to say that I should fully recover. This has been the scariest week of my life. I didn't realize at the time how serious my condition really was, but it can be fatal if not properly cared for. Thank God for the wonderful doctors and nurses and for all my family and friends that have helped this past week.

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  1. What an incredible story. I am so sorry this happened to you. This hits so close to home as I am 26, and of course have a little one born right around when yours was. I could not even imagine the scare you went through and your family. I literally teared up at this post. I wish you well and hope you get to feeling better very soon!

  2. I am so glad to hear that you're all right! What a scary few days. I was actually in the hospital when I saw your fb update. You'll be released from restrictions before I will. I haven't driven a car since the 12th and won't be allowed to until at least the 11th of November!



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