Adventures in Congestive Heart Failure.
In case you missed it,
I am in Congestive Heart Failure.
And in an effort to put more accessible information out into the world wide web, I’m sharing my journey from “What in the fresh f*ckery does this mean?” (current mood) to healthy heart thriving this year.
It’s such a bizarre space in time where every little sneeze or cough raises red flags for Covid-19 so in late November when I had a gnarly sinus stuffed, cough filled week, I went to see the doctor. She suspected a sinus infection and a pack of antibiotics later…I was still feeling pretty out of sorts but the worst part was feeling like I was struggling to breathe.
I assumed it was just chest congestion so I sent my husband out of town the Sunday after Thanksgiving on his preplanned trip and just kept going. By Tuesday night that week, I was worried. But here’s the thing about being a mom, especially when you’re the only adult home…I had stuff to do. If I went to the emergency room who would pick up the kid who was at school until 6pm that night? And how would the working kid get home? What the heck would I tell the littlest? So I did what many moms do and I just sucked it up and stuck it out, sent my doctor a message and did my best to get some sleep.
Wednesday morning I was on a group call with my coach, Sarah Goodson, when I got a call from the doctors office. When I shared that I was experiencing difficulty breathing and felt like I had developed heartburn overnight because my chest hurt I got a solid chastising and orders to go to the emergency room right away. Still mommed it, pushed it off, debated what I could do about kids in school and how everyone would get home and figured with it being a short day at the elementary school, I might as well just pick up the high schoolers early and head in, just to be safe. In the back of my head I couldn’t shake a thought of my favorite movie director, Kevin Smith, had a heart attack a couple years back right after coming off stage. He was just feeling really sick…and then he was in an ambulance. This couldn’t be happening to me, surely…but just in case…I mean I met the guy years ago…maybe this was fate telling me to pull my head out. It’s just how my brain works.
Here’s the part where I now recognize how absurd this sounds and how in denial I was that I should have just stopped everything I was doing to go. I get it. But this is why I’m sharing. As mom’s we take our own needs with a grain of salt and often ignore our bodies because other people need us. Spoiler alert: My kids did just fine and they made it through that one night where dad was out of town and mom was in the hospital for the evening.
I headed to the ER.
I waited for awhile.
They did an EKG and determined I could wait longer.
And I waited for hours more.
Apparently I wasn’t dying but I was also tired and stressed and still struggling to breath. Like I had run from a bear for a mile and just stopped, like gasping for a deep breath that wouldn’t come and could only speak a few words without stopping kind of struggling. When my name was called…I went back and…wait for it…got a gurney in the hallway. Like they literally started referring to me between nurses as “Hallway” and I sat there reading my book in my street clothes, waiting. Long story short, blood tests, a chest xray, more blood tests and they sent me home with a note to check in with my primary care doctor. All the while, I was watching my blood test results on the Kaiser app producing numbers that said things like failure level. When I asked about it, the doctor explained that the numbers had improved over the time I was there, they ruled out a blood clot in my lungs and there wasn’t anything emergent to treat, I just had fluid in my lungs which is making my heart just not “squeeze right” resulting in failure level results.
I was alone in the ER.
I was scared and frustrated.
I was fucking exhausted.
I was in contact with my husband and my mom with both on the way to their prospective airports to head here if the worst case scenario was in play.
And yet I wasn’t sure how to navigate this so I took the nurses and doctors words,
And ignored my gut that something worse was happening.
I called off my husband and my mom and went home to my kids.
*Side note, the ER was backed up and understaffed and that didn’t help. I think health care workers deserve freaking purple heart medals, massive pay bumps, all expense paid trips to recover and free therapy for life after at this point in the Covid-19 pandemic. The particular ER I was in was being staffed by contract nurses, not even working directly for Kaiser. There are not enough of them to go around and those who are around have clearly been through their version of war that has lasted two years and still counting.
All this to say, an accurate diagnosis wasn’t arrived at that night, I was so out of my comfort zone, I couldn’t figure out how to KEEP asking the questions I had or demand a second look, so I just paid my $250 copay and let them release me.
Still struggling to breathe.
Still panicked and exhausted.
I followed up with my doctor who ordered an echocardiogram where the tech was clearly seeing something problematic and assured me that while she couldn’t share findings, she would get the report immediately to my doctor and to call and bother them if I didn’t hear back right away. I got the findings late on a Friday afternoon. This was way more than congestion, there were major concerns about my heart and she was referring me to cardiology. Immediately.
Stick around for part two…The (first) Cardiologist, Another Spin in the ER and The Diagnosis.