Hello everyone! I know I have somewhat abandoned this blog in the last couple years. There are good reasons for that. Partially because life got very crazy with how involved I became volunteering at school and all the girls’ activities. Also partially, as it turns out, teen and pre-teen girls aren’t so keen about you writing funny cute stories about them to share on the internet. So as their mom I had to respect that. Why am I back, you ask? Well this story is less about them and more about just me. About the fact that I am still alive because I listened to my body. Some of you might be learning about this for the first time, but a lot of you already know what happened. However, not everyone knows the whole story, so I thought I’d come on here to tell it so I don’t have to relay it over and over again. I’m getting sick of hearing myself tell it to be honest. Here it is in black and white. Settle in everyone-this one is a doozy, and a tad long.
Around the middle of August, I started to notice my anxiety acting up at odd times. I get anxiety from time to time, but it’s usually hormonal, like right before my period or circumstantial, like whenever I’m traveling. This anxiety was coming from nowhere, for seemingly no reason, and happening often. I thought perhaps it was the girls going back to school, or me trying to get everything done so I could do some substitute teaching. I didn’t know, but I tried to ignore it for the most part. Then around the beginning of September, I was working out at the gym one morning when this weird burning sensation came up either side of my neck. I thought it was odd, but I had to finish my workout dammit! So I did. It got better after about 15 minutes so I thought nothing of it, until the next day when it happened again. Around this time I also started feeling very fatigued all day. This symptom is tricky for moms, however, because show me a mom who isn’t fatigued and I will show you a mom who has three nannies. Moms are tired no matter what. However, this fatigue was different. I would wake up in the morning and feel like I hadn’t slept at all. I would do my workout and then an hour later, feel like I needed a nap. It was weird. For those of you who have been pregnant, it was like the fatigue you felt during the first trimester. I decided after the workout neck pain that I should see a doctor. Something definitely was not right.
For those who are super close to me they know I have a tendency to be a bit of a hypochondriac. Not in a, “I’m in the ER every week” kind of way. More of a, “I have a pain in my head -what if it’s a tumor -oh no the pain is gone now”, kind of way. So when I started to worry that maybe it was my heart, nobody else around me thought it was. With very good reason. I’ve never had high cholesterol or blood pressure, I’m not overweight, I work out six times a week and I eat a mostly healthy diet. Ok fine I like my wine and perhaps I’ve been a social smoker a time or two, but nothing that should land me in the unhealthy category in anyone’s mind. Still, I didn’t feel right.
I googled Cardiologists around me, found one with good reviews and made an appointment for that week. When I went in, they did an EKG, which was normal and a quick check up, took blood, and he had me make an appointment for a stress test for two weeks later. He clearly wasn’t overly concerned, so fine. I wouldn’t be either. Except, I started feeling worse.
I started to have shortness of breath and sometimes chest pains, but mostly pain in my upper back, and was it going to my left arm? I really felt like it was, but maybe it was in my head. Whenever I would exert myself I would feel worse, like my heart was beating too fast for just standing up and walking down my hallway. Then one Saturday night after we had gone out to dinner I was just feeling terrible. I decided to go to Urgent Care. Let me just tell everyone now-if you think it’s your heart do NOT go to Urgent Care. I will spare you the details of that visit, but let’s just say the asshat of a doctor I saw just about patted me on the head with a, “there there crazy woman-you’re fine”, comment. It’s not exactly what he did, but it was damn close.
Now I had seen two doctors who didn’t seem overly concerned, yet here I was feeling shittier than I ever had in my life. I kept thinking maybe I was getting a cold or a flu. Then I started to having lower jaw pain. Then I did the thing everyone tells you not to do. I looked it up on Web MD. EVERY symptom I was having pointed to heart failure in some way. Either I was having a heart attack or I was about to. Then again, when I used Web MD in the past I’d had about 4 different kind of cancers according to them, so it probably wasn’t right. I mean how on earth could I, as a 45 year old fit woman, have a heart problem??
I held on for a couple more days, feeling kinda crappy. Then I’d feel better and think it as going away, but the next day would be worse. On Monday, September 9th, we had tickets to the Hollywood Bowl to see Heart and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts was opening for them. Just to throw a little irony into my story, we see not one but two bands with heart in their name. It was at the Hollywood Bowl, which is a very hilly walk. Even walking up the very slightly inclined hills was making me feel short of breath.
The following day I started having a weird pain in my calf. It was at this point that I texted Megan-my nurse practitioner sister-to ask her what I should do. Over the years she’s heard of my worries about this pain or that ache and mostly she has told me I’m fine. This time after hearing all of my symptoms she said-
“Go to the ER. Go now.”
Yeah. So I went. Despite the fact that all I kept thinking was missing taking Georgia to her improv class and the PTA meeting I was supposed to be going to that night. When my sister said go to the ER she meant it, so I guess everything else had to be put on hold. The fear was that I might have a blood clot-hence all my symptoms and the pain in my leg. That made sense. Kind of. I mean it made more sense than me having a heart problem, right?
Nope. No clot. I spent 5 hours at the ER where they did blood tests, EKGs, chest x-rays and a leg ultrasound. Everything came back normal and perfectly healthy. Nothing to see here! Move along. However the ER doctor was great. He told me that he was going to send me home because he was pretty sure I was ok. He said- “I’m 98% certain you are fine, but I never say 100% because you know I was 100% certain Hillary would win”, and I said “Yeah and look how that turned out.” He said-“Don’t even get me started!” Little did he know that I would end up being Hillary in this case.
Then he told me I definitely needed the stress test and to move it up. He also told me to not work out until the stress test, which in all honestly probably saved my life. Thank you ER doctor!
So I went home, kinda feeling silly because they didn’t find anything, but still feeling like they should have. Something was wrong. I couldn’t shake it. That weekend I felt on and off terrible again. Shortness of breath, back pain, some chest pain, left shoulder and arm pain, jaw pain, rapid heartbeat after meals, just bad all around. I mean I wasn’t even having wine at this point so you know it was bad!
Monday came and I went for my stress test. While the nurse was getting me set up, he asked about my symptoms and history. He stopped short when I told him about my maternal grandfather who had a heart attack at 49, also with no history of high cholesterol or blood pressure and in good shape. Although, he did smoke a lot of cigarettes for a while, but that was the 50s and 60s. They all did.
For those of you who don’t know, a stress test isn’t about seeing how stressed you are, but about how much stress your heart can take. They hook you up to an EKG and have you walk/run on a treadmill until you get to your target heart rate to see what happens. This test I failed miserably. On the one hand I was thinking-oh crap. On the other hand I was thinking-SEE something IS wrong-but still- oh crap.
I met with the Cardiologist that afternoon and he scheduled me for an angiogram for Thursday morning. What is an angiogram? you might ask-because I did. I mean unless you’ve had a parent go through this, how many of us 40 something moms know about this procedure? They make a small incision in your groin and send a catheter through your arteries. Then they shoot dye in them to see if there are any blockages in the arteries. It’s an outpatient procedure and at most I would have to stay in the hospital one night depending on what they find. I’m fairly certain nobody thought they would find anything.
I went home and that night I had a lot of pain in my back radiating to my left shoulder and down my arm. I just had to make it to Thursday. I’d be fine. Tuesday morning I woke up feeling worse than ever. Besides all the symptoms I’d been having, I was feeling a little light headed and dizzy. I managed to make it to send the girls off to school. Andy came home from dropping off Sonya and saw me sitting on the couch.
“Are you ok?” He asked.
“Uuuummm….I’m not sure,” I said.
“Do you want to go to the ER?”
I answered, “Let me sit here a minute and see how I feel.”
He said ok and to let him know and headed to the bedroom to get ready for work. I sat there on the couch contemplating. I felt so very off. Something was very wrong, some would even say I felt a sense of doom, but it was Tuesday again and one of my biggest days of driving the girls around everywhere after school. Then this voice in my head said ‘and if you’re dead you will never be able to drive them anywhere again’. I listened to that voice and had Andy take me to the ER.
Fun fact about getting in quickly at the ER-tell them you’ve had a recent positive stress test and are currently having chest and back pains with shortness of breath. I had a bed in the ER in about 5 minutes. They gave me baby aspirin and nitro paste to open up my arteries in case of an impending heart attack. After doing a few tests and talking to my doctor they decided to admit me in hopes of moving up my angiogram. However, I once again seemed fine. EKG’s were good, bloodwork, x-rays- all of it. They weren’t able to do the angiogram that day so I had to stay in the hospital overnight and they were going to work on getting me in for one the next day. Just an FYI for all of you. Turns out that unless you are in the middle of or have recently had a heart attack, the EKG shows nothing. If you had a normal EKG, don’t assume all is fine. It will not tell you if you are about to have a heart attack. File this under: things I’ve learned in the last month.
Andy brought the girls to see me. Sonya doesn’t do well with hospitals to begin with and Georgia has always been very emotional, so they pretty much cried the whole visit with me. Upon seeing that I looked fine, Lana was unfazed and asked if they could go home soon, because she was tired and wanted to go to bed. Love you too Lana! Actually, no that’s just how she deals with things. She tends to push it down and let it all come out at a later date. I will say in that moment I was appreciative that she wasn’t upset since the other two were close to hysterical.
That night after they left I had a breakdown myself. What has going on with me? What if they did the angiogram and they found something? What if they found nothing? I wasn’t sure what would be worse in that moment. I needed to be here for my girls. I wasn’t ready to leave this planet and leave them without a mom. I was scared. Plain and simple.
The next day the nurse practitioner told me they were going to be able to do the procedure that afternoon. So if all went well I might be able to leave the next day. That was good, because I was chairing the family picnic at the middle school on Friday and who was gonna take care of everything? Yeah, luckily I have a huge group of fantastic friends who took that off my plate as soon as I went into the hospital, and they wouldn’t let me have anything to do with it. I still wanted to be there though.
Andy came into the hospital to see me after the girls had gone to school. My procedure wasn’t until 2 and since the day before he had spent most of the day at the hospital, I told him to go to work and take care of what he needed to and be back by 2. There wasn’t really anything for him to do until then. Plus my friend Elisa stopped by to keep me company for a couple hours.
They came a little before 2 to take me for the procedure. I was a bit on the scared side, but they do these things all the time so I was talking myself into everything being fine. This is a procedure they keep you awake for, very drugged, but awake. When they first went in with the catheter I felt some pain, but they assured me it was fine and continued. I was kind of in and out but at one point they made me take 2 pills while I was laying flat. I still have no clue how I managed to get those down without choking. When it was done the doctor said I was all fixed up. They had found a 99% blockage in my main artery. They put a stent in and I was good to go! Let me repeat that for those of you who didn’t read it right the first time. 99% BLOCKAGE IN MY MAIN ARTERY. Yeah, I was a bit surprised too. I was just a mere percent away from having a major, most likely fatal, heart attack. It was in the place that’s otherwise known as the, “widowmaker”.
I’d like to tell you that’s where this story ends and I was all good, but alas it is not. That pain I felt when they first went in, was not a normal pain from the procedure after all. They had to put pressure on my groin area to stop any bleeding from the procedure-totally normal-but I had an area that hurt more than I can even begin to describe. There was a lot of back and forth about whether it was fine or not, but eventually they decided not, and I went for CT scans to look for internal bleeding. There was. I was petrified. Internal bleeding is bad as far as I knew and the looks on the faces around me were also a bit worrisome. Not so, “You’ll be fine!” as they had been. There was talk of emergency surgery, but they weren’t sure if they needed to. I was taken to ICU to be monitored and given a blood transfusion-I can check those two things off my bucket list! They eventually decided they needed to give me an angiogram on my other groin to go in and look at the right side to see where the bleeding was and if surgery was necessary. So, back to the procedure room I went. The pain was awful, but they were giving me morphine, so that was a plus.
This angiogram went off without a hitch, this time, and good news! The bleeding had stopped so no surgery required. I was relieved about that. The last thing I wanted was to be opened up after being so close to death with a near heart attack. I was beginning to feel like a character in a Final Destination movie. What would happen next? Flesh eating bacteria?
That night was probably one of the most uncomfortable nights of my life. I had to lay flat on my back and not bend my legs. They had this device that they had on my groin that was keeping pressure on it to make sure I didn’t start bleeding again. I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink in 24 hours, but they had me on IV fluids. They wanted to make sure nothing else happened before I was allowed to have anything. Andy spent the night with me in the hospital and our amazing neighbor slept over at the house with the girls. I was in a lot of pain and didn’t sleep much. The good news is I was alive, so I was okay with the pain. Neither Andy or I got much sleep that night. I was just in so much pain and discomfort, even with my friend Morphine. Andy got to sleep in a recliner chair, so fun times for all!
The next day I was feeling much better after I was able to eat something, even if it was hospital food-the stories you’ve heard are all true about the food by the way.
I was able to move my legs, but they still wanted me to stay on bed rest for the day, so I got a fun compression gadget that periodically squeezed my calves to prevent blood clots. Andy brought the girls to see me that night, since the night before I was in no shape for them to see me. Georgia and Sonya cried again. I guess being in ICU did NOT help them feel better. Who knew? Lana just wanted to know if I would be at the middle school picnic the next day. I told her I probably wouldn’t be allowed to go home until Saturday.
“Can’t you just come for ten minutes?” She asked.
Sure-let me see if the hospital gives out afternoon passes for patients who had internal bleeding the day before to go to a middle school picnic.
“I don’t think so Lana,” I told her.
Well, I knew she wanted me there, so I guess there was no harm in her asking.
My parents decided to fly out to help after the internal bleeding incident. My mom was slightly freaked out to say the least. It was for the best, so that they could help out at home, if needed, and also they could see that I was indeed still alive. They got here Friday around noon and headed straight to see me. The good news was they could go to the middle school picnic in my place, so that helped Lana a bit.
I continued to feel better and was able to move around on Friday. They wanted to move me from the ICU, but that didn’t happen until Friday night because of the lack of space. On Saturday, they decided I was well enough to go home. I was thrilled because I was so very done with the hospital. The nurses were amazing, like I said, the food was not. I did have people visit me every day and I caught up on a lot of good Netflix and Hulu, but I just wanted to be home with my family. The girls would Facetime me several times a day and Georgia would cry every time. I needed to be home.
I finally got out late afternoon on Saturday. As it turns out, it takes forever to have three different doctors sign off on you getting out.
When I got home, the girls had made me a sign, my parents bought me balloons, Andy gave me a cad and there were flowers, food, and gift baskets from so many people. This is the part that totally threw me. The night I went into ICU I had all of my close friends show up to see me. My people that I’ve known since college, Melinda, Melissa, Sooz, Norb, Cecelia and Jon. Then my two best mom friends, Elisa and Libby came later. My besties, my village. I mean I know I have friends, I’m a social person and I try to treat everyone I know kindly and with respect. When others go through a hard time I do what I can to help them. I’ve made a meal or two and picked up friend’s kids and transported them, when someone needed help. However, I was not prepared for the fact that when you put out love into the world like that, it really does come back to you in spades. I had people calling, texting, messaging me on Facebook. There was a meal train started, and people offering to drive my girls to wherever they needed to be, if Andy needed to be with me. I had visitor after visitor at the hospital, flowers were sent and someone bought drinks and snacks from Costco and dropped them off to my house. I still don’t know who did that. When I got home I was completely overwhelmed by just how much people wanted to do for me. I guess they liked me. They really really liked me. I was extremely grateful and felt so fortunate that I have such a huge village of people who would step up to help out me and my family. It still overwhelms me when I think about it. Anyway- I digress.
I was home for a couple days, taking my new medication-four pills daily now! I didn’t have a lot of energy, but that was to be expected. All of this was because of the internal bleeding. As far as my heart was concerned I was all good there, but the hematoma was going to take some time to heal, about four to six weeks. Plus it was a lovely shade of purple! I was doing a lot of sitting around and resting, but at least it was at home and my mom was there to cook and clean every closet and cabinet in my house, so I decided to relax.
It would be nice if I could tell you that was the end, but yet again, no. Monday I started feeling very off again. I calmly told my parents I needed to go back to the ER and they obliged. It was crowded in there, but they took me back to check me out on the EKG and get an x-ray, all the greatest hits. The concern maybe something was wrong with the stent. I will cut to the chase here. There wasn’t. I actually started developing a fever in the ER and they admitted me. They thought I could have an infection of some sort, so I got to spend another two fun-filled days in the hospital again while they did ALL the tests on me. In the end they couldn’t find an infection and the only way they could explain the fever was that when the blood from the hematoma starts going back into the system, it can sometimes cause a fever. Lucky me.
I finally went home for good on Wednesday morning. Every day I felt a little better, but I would still get some pain in my back. I learned that can happen as your body is getting used to the stent. I guess it is a foreign object in there so it makes sense. However, the overall fact was I was freaked out. Every little pain or twinge made me nervous. I kept replaying things in my head from the week before I had the procedure. I was so close to having a heart attack that anything I could have done, could have pushed me to one. Even now I have thoughts, about it. Like what if I was working out when everyone had left for the day and it happened. It would have been the girls who would have found me. I man I try not to dwell on it too much, but damn those thoughts creep up on me. It’s so hard to try and work through. Not to mention the fact that this even happened to me at all. WHY? I’m relatively young in the heart world. The cardiac floor in the hospital had 89 year olds at death’s door. I was the youngest on that floor by far that week. I work out, I eat well. It just doesn’t make sense. I am seeing a new doctor now who is trying to make sense of it, so we will see what he comes up with.
There is another, kinda weird, sorta supernatural or maybe it was in my head piece to this. The time 11:11. For the month and a half that all of this was happening to me, I saw the time 11:11 every day, usually twice a day, on a digital clock. I looked on line and there are different thoughts about seeing the time. Some suggest it’s good luck, but there are many things that say that a deceased loved one is sending a message. I don’t know if I believe it, but my paternal grandfather did pass away last year, and I was close with him for the last 20 years. His birthday was the day before mine, so I always felt we had a special bond. Perhaps he was trying to tell me something was wrong. Or my sister, Megan suggested maybe it was the time I was supposed to die. Thanks for the morbid take, Meg! Either way, it’s kinda weird and since I’ve been better I see it much less than I did. Who knows? I just wanted to mention it because I will say every time I did see the time I felt like someone was trying to tell me something.
The bottom line to this entire story is, don’t ignore warning signs your body is giving you. Mine were very loud and clear. I’m glad I took them seriously and didn’t let all the doctors who thought nothing was wrong with me be what killed me. I took my life in my own hands and pushed until they did find the problem and fixed it. Without me being my own advocate, I would not be here today. If you have family history, get checked regularly and early. Even if you think it’s too early, it may not be. I would have never gone to a cardiologist if this hadn’t happened to me. Both of my sisters are now getting check out and guess what, because of what happened to me, they are being taken seriously.
I also have to take a moment here to thank my village. Without them this would have been much harder. All the teachers at the girls’ old elementary school, the teachers at the middle school and my neighbors, Kelly and Jon, Victor and Maritza, Kelby and Ryan. Kelby was especially helpful because she is a nurse in the hospital I stayed in, so she made sure I was getting top notch treatment. Thank you to all the fabulous nurses a St. Joe’s, and the doctors who saved my life. Thank you to Melinda who visited me every day in the hospital and brought me contraband food. Thank you to Norb, Cecelia, Jon and Sooz for coming to see me and always being great friends. Thank you Melissa for making the trek to come see me, the flowers and being my bestie for 25 years. This was NOT what, “we’re almost 45”, was supposed to mean. Thank you to Ann for the visits, the necklace and reminding me to take time to relax with meditation. Thanks to my family who lives in SoCal who came to the hospital-my cousins, Michelle, Lilly, and Lisa and my Uncle Stan and his new wife Grace. Thank you to my amazing mom friends, Elisa, who jumped in to help with anything, Libby, Lesli, Talia, Lisa and David, Dawn and Frankie, Michelle and Sean, Richard and all the PTA peeps who visited me, cooked for my family and helped pull off the picnic I was supposed to be in charge of. You are all amazing. Thank you to my sisters, Beth who called me constantly to check on me and talk to me, and Megan who kept everyone informed in laymen’s terms what was happening with me. Having a medical professional in the family is very fortunate. I highly suggest it. I love you both and am glad I’m still here so we can have our bitch sessions about what’s going on in our lives. Thank you to my parent in-laws who also offered to come out when this happened, also called me to check up on me, and for the Amazon gift card. Also to my brother and sister in law who called and texted. Thank you to my fantastic parents who flew all the way from Virginia, on very short notice, to help me and my family get through all of this. Not to mention the cleaning of my garage, my car, my kitchen and my hall cabinets. My mom cleans when she’s nervous if you couldn’t tell. I love you. Thank you to my girls, Sonya, Lana and Georgia, for trying not to fight the first few days I was home, and for helping out when I asked. You are also a big reason I am still here, because I will do anything I can to fight for my life and be here for you in yours. I love you three more than you will ever know. I’m so sorry that you had to go through all of this last month. Lastly, thank you to my husband and partner, Andy. I know at first you didn’t think there was anything wrong, but you listened to me that day I said I needed to go to the ER with no questions asked. Thank you for taking me and being there with me through all of this. Thank you for sleeping on the crappy chair and being there for our girls. I know this had to be just as scary for you, maybe even more. If something would have happened to me, you would have been the one left with the fallout and raising the girls alone. I’m sorry for what you had to go through too. I love you. I promise to try and not do it again.
For anyone I might have missed, please know I appreciate everything you all did and I can’t tell you how lucky I feel to be so loved.
I THINK that’s it. I guess I learned a lot from this little detour in my life. First and foremost-always always listen to your body, and don’t discount signs like 11:11. Just saying. Secondly-put love out in the world, it will come back to you in greater ways than you imagined and when you least expect it. Thirdly-and this is a big one-don’t take anything or anyone for granted. Just because you are here today doesn’t mean you will be tomorrow. Tell those people you love them, take that vacation, visit your family, make plans to go out with friends, spend time with your kids. Whatever you are on the fence about, do it. Whatever you haven’t made time for, make it. You might not get a second chance like I did.
****Just a side note-I am an open book about this, if you couldn’t tell. If you want to ask me a question about this, please feel free. If my story can help save another life, I’m all for it! You can email me at email@example.com