Aortic dissection, aortic aneurysm - The aorta - Life after an aortic dissection
We had moved into our beautiful five bedroom, three bath home on a golf course on March 29th, my husbands 56th birthday. I had turned sixty on March 19th and was due to fly to Washington and then to California in mid June to visit family. This was a busy spring and I was really frustrated to find myself being rushed to the emergency room. I didn't have time to be sick. I was convinced I would be told it was my old back injury acting up and I would be sent home with pain pills and told to take it easy for awhile.
I was sent to get Xrays and then back to the ER area to wait for results. Nothing was moving quickly as this was Memorial Day week-end and it was now close to 11:00 p.m. shift change. Great! More prolonged waiting and endless people asking me the same questions over and over. My poor husband absolutely hates hospitals more than anything and I was feeling somewhat guilty for the cause of his being stuck in an ER so late at night. Finally, the ER doctor came in and informed us that I was going to need surgery. My hubby commented that he assumed it would be first thing in the morning. The doctor stated, "No, I mean right now, as soon as the surgical team arrives.We have calls out and are just waiting on the surgeon." One lone tear escaped and ran down my cheek at the news and realization that I obviously would not be making the trip to Washington to see my grandson graduate from high school. Then things began to get very hectic in the ER.
Neither my husband or I thought to ask any questions.I barely got time for a quick kiss from my husband, then was rushed to the operating room. I remember thinking how small the OR seemed and how bright it was and sliding off the gurney onto the ridiculously narrow operating table. It was now 1:00 a.m. June 1st, 2009.
I came out of the fog two days later to the sound of a nurses voice telling me 'what a lucky lady' I was. At that moment I didn't feel so lucky. I felt panicky. My wrists were strapped to the bed rail and I had a tube stuck down my throat. Please! Somebody untie my hands and get this thing out of my mouth! Of course, no one could read my mind and I was only shouting in my head. Thankfully, they knocked me out again.
At last the restraints were removed and a kind nurse realized I was breathing on my own and removed that awful tube from my throat. Finally free. Then siblings whom I hadn't seen for many years were coming into the CICU to my bedside. How strange, I thought. Why are they here. Nothing made sense. My younger sister asked me if I had 'seen the light'. What did that mean? Had I died and come back? I felt fine. What was going on? People were asking me questions I had no answers to. The most obvious one was 'what happened'. I didn't know. No one had told me anything and I wasn't aware that I had lost an entire day and two nights of my life from a medically induced coma.
My sis, Bertie, had flown in from New England expecting to attend my funeral. My only brother, an ordained pastor, drove in from another state expecting to prepare a funeral sermon. My only son was notified by the Red Cross and had to make the difficult decision to remain in the field on maneuvers with the Marine Corps as he was in the early stages of pre deployment ops to Afghanistan. My oldest grandson was deployed with the Marine's to Afghanistan and the family decided it was best not to notify him of my situation. The youngest grandson was leaving for Marine Corps boot camp after his HS graduation. My oldest grandson's wife and infant son were in the process of relocating and couldn't come either. My youngest sister and my mother were not physically able to make the long drive from Houston, TX to Wichita, KS. I still did not understand all that was being shared with me about family not being present. Why in the world would they 'call in my Marines' (so to speak). What was all this fuss about anyway?
My sister, Bertie, told me that she peaked at my medical chart and I had suffered an Ascending Aortic Dissection. I finally had a diagnosis and didn't have a clue what it meant. Strangely enough over the next few days I didn't ask a single person on the medical staff what had happened to me or what a dissection entailed. Honestly, it never crossed my mind. To this day, I cannot explain why I never thought to ask questions about my condition, how or why it happened or what the prognosis was. But I quickly learned that I was being referred to as the 'miracle lady of Wesley Hospital'. My critical care nursed asked me if I had noticed the two young ladies peak in on me earlier one day. I had not. She explained that they just had to come see the lady whom they had taken Xrays of in the ER who had the severe aortic dissection. They had heard through the hospital grapevine that I had survived. Hmmmm. Interesting, I thought. A young intern walked into my room one afternoon and asked if he could visit me. Yes, of course I said. He stated that he had never seen a survivor of an aortic dissection. He wanted to know if I knew who the comedic actor John Ritter was. I said yes. He said, "well, you have what killed him". He is the doctor who told me that the ER doctor had said my dissection was the worst he had seen in seventeen years of practicing medicine. That is why you are being called the 'miracle lady'. So strange I thought. I feel fine. On another day a very good looking young man stood in the doorway to my room and asked, "do you remember me"? No, I said. (I would certainly remember a good looking guy like you, I thought.) He told me he had been the admitting RN in the emergency room the night I had been brought in by ambulance. It was time for his shift to end, but he had remained at the hospital and monitored my case through the entire night. He explained that so few people even live to make it to the hospital that the medical staff rarely have the first hand opportunity to view cases like mine. He just wanted to come by and meet 'the miracle lady'. Wow! I'm beginning to hear a pattern in these conversations.
Having requested a private room and non being available, I was placed in a room with a woman in her fifties who had been diagnosed with lung cancer. There was nothing but a curtain between our beds when a group of medical personnel came to deliver the devastating news to her that she was terminal and her time was short. Let the head games begin. Lord, why her and not me? If a dissection is so life threatening, why didn't I die? Some told me I lived because God still has a job for me to do here on earth. What is that job, Lord? I don't know. I don't understand. Will I live long enough to carry out God's will for my life? Will I ever understand what this is all about? How can I comfort the lady in the room with me. My last night as an inpatient a private room had become available and as I prepared to move to that room she told me she was glad my prognosis wasn't like hers. I wanted to bawl. My father had passed from lung cancer at the young age of 57.
Home at last and it was wonderful to be in my own bed again. My incredible husband was the best caregiver a woman could ask for. I had no idea I would be so weak and need his help with even mundane activities of daily living. I couldn't even make a pot of coffee for myself. I was just feeling settled in at home when the hospital called and ordered me back for admittance due to renal failure. How could this be happening! Another four days in that uncomfortable hospital bed. Please God, let this nightmare be over soon. I had to have CAT Scans and MRIs before I could go back home. I am very claustrophobic and had a terse conversation with a nurse who refused to remove me from the MRI machine when I had another panic attack. Whatever happened to patient's rights, I wondered.
It has now been three years and three months since I became the 'miracle lady'. There have been several more trips to the emergency room since that fateful night in 2009. Many more Xrays, Cat Scans and MRIs. Many sleepless nights when the nightmares and my loud screaming wake me and my husband. I applied for and was approved for medical disability due to the depression and the fear of dieing. Although I do not dwell on the thought, it remains in the recesses of my mind, especially late at night. I long for the days when I could do whatever I wanted without tiring or climb the stairs in my home without stopping to rest and catch my breath. I miss cleaning my house and cooking for my my husband and friends. I really want to do the grocery shopping instead of relying on my husband to do it.
I am only 63 years of age and retired now. Life should be good. But sometimes just being alive doesn't always equate to being good. I had so many dreams about this time in my life. So many plans about travel and being with my great grandson. Yes, I realize that God granted me a healing and I truly am a miracle woman. For that I am grateful beyond words. I now realize that my normal is a 'new' normal and different than before. I rarely get up and start my day before noon. If I get up earlier, I must lie down and rest in the afternoon. I can't play golf with my husband, climb long flights of stairs at stadiums and sit for extended periods of time in small stadium seats. I can't carry bags of groceries, bend, lift, stoop or strain. My dissection was literally from stem to stern as they say. During the operation my pulse was lost. There was unexplained blood in my silver white hair. And one specialist told me that 'cardio exercise would be counter productive' for me. Oh well, I hate exercise anyway. I live one day at a time, look for ways to pay forward my blessings and thank God he isn't through with me yet.
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