Aortic dissection, aortic aneurysm - The aorta - Life after an aortic dissection
I woke up on March 2nd 2011, got out of bed and felt something tear at the level of my diaphragm, which was followed by a pain which didn't feel quite like a heart attack, but was clearly serious. So I called my partner, who sleeps in another room, and we drove to the nearest Urgencias in the Spanish town where I live. I just about made it through the door.
And then it was luck. I was quickly transferred to one of the two teaching hospitals in Las Palmas, which by chance has a team who seem to be world-class when it comes to Aortic Dissection. I spent about 9 hours in surgery, where the whole ascending aorta was rebuilt with Dacron. The x-rays make my insides look embroidered from throat to groin.
Fortunately, although I apparently have a delicate vascular system (advice on strenghening it welcome) I had no other arterial or coronary problems, so the team are very pleased with the results.
Waking up in Intensive Care was confusing and disorienting. I was there for about 10 days, and at one point a lung collapsed with fluid build-up. I needed a lot of support for my breathing. I should also point out that Spanish is not my mother tongue, and though I can speak it to do things I need to do, suddenly I was having to use it all the time, which was an interesting challenge, given all the other stuff which was going on.
When I was transferred to a ward, I was so weak I just couldn't get out of bed, and my legs, arms, belly and more were full of fluid. The indignities of nappies etc. were just horrible. Anaemia meant I was given a blood transfusion.
About five days later, I was taken back to the operating theatre for some minor surgery to remove some trapped fluid, this time under local anaesthesia. One by one, members of the team stepped forward and shook my hand, saying "I operated the heart bypass machine on the day", "I was the anaesthetist". It was an incredibly emotional moment. I cried a lot later.
And then things began to get better. I did get out of bed. I did get to the bathroom. I did start to walk. All the follow-up tests - including ECGs, ultrasounds etc.- seemed to be "estupendo". And they let me go home after three weeks. Bliss.
At 6.00 am the following morning I awoke choking on blood. It was pouring from my nose and mouth, so once again partner and I drove to a nearby private clinic, where I was admitted. Incidentally, stopping a nosebleed on that scale involves shoving something which is a cross between a tampon and a ballpoint pen so far up your nose you worry about brain damage once you get over the pain of it and your eyes stop watering.
The bleed was caused by the damage to my nasal passages from the length of time I was on oxygen and the rest. So another week in hospital, while they restored blood levels, made sure I wasn't bleeding any more and so on. Nearly everyone was wowed by my surgery, and by the amazingly discreet scars, which have now nearly healed.
And I returned home again yesterday. I'm incredibly lucky, and am told provided I take time to recover and really keep my blood pressure under control, I should have no real worries for the future.
I'm still very weak, obviously, and moving slowly. I have night-time panic attacks, and wake choking or gasping for breath (sleep with the TV on - sound off - was a suggestion I'm using). And there'll be good days and bad days.
I'm not dwelling on why it is I was lucky enough to survive when others haven't, though I can understand why some may do so. It's an overwhelming experience.
So that's me. Still sore,a bit short of breath, and moving like a tortoise, although the worst symptom I have today is phlebitis in my wrist where they had the IV for an iron infusion a few days ago. It hurts more than my sternum...and I never want to see a diced carrot ever again, as this seems to have been the main ingredient in food in both hospitals.
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