Adventures in Congestive Heart Failure
The thing they don’t really tell you about these tests is that if you have a chance to read the actual findings of an echocardiogram, even if your heart is totally healthy, you will have to google two dozen terms to make sure you’re reading it right.
And even then, you’ll still be in over your head.
Getting test results back late on a Friday is AWFUL.
Hearing your primary care doctors voice waiver with uncertainty?
Also not great.
Immediately calling to make a cardiology appointment only to find they are closed until the following Monday even though you’re pretty sure your heart must be ready to explode, you still can’t breathe, your test results say things like “severe global hypokinesis” and “severely increased left ventricular size” and you’re trying to hold it all together so your kids don’t know just how scared they’re supposed to be?
The literal worst.
But let me back up a bit…
The day after my first ER visit, our 23 year old came home to help for a week. She was a godsend! It was perfect timing because that night we also had a holiday cookie party with the 9 year old and her favorite friends. And before you think my kids friends moms’ are assholes, I should explain that these three moms are my tribe and while they offered to cancel, I begged them to come. We needed something normal and happy. And I had help. They arrived with love and filled our buckets in a major way!
The next day I had an echocardiogram which is basically an ultrasound of the heart. The tech couldn’t share the issues she was finding but it was clear she was concerned. Again, the Kaiser app on my phone came in clutch, sharing all of the report with me before my doctor called and I freaked out.
Severe, diminished, enlarged…
Mitral regurgitation and myopathy…
All words and terms I didn’t totally understand in context
Even AFTER I took Google for a spin.
And then that awful doctor call at 5pm.
On a Friday. And she sounded nervous.
Ultimately someone in Cardiology called me back and set me up with an appointment right away. The doctor seemed not all that concerned, asked a few questions and prescribed another test. He also had his nurse give me some IV Lasix to help rid my body of some of the extra fluid accumulating and that seemed to help but the last thing he said was “If you’re not breathing any better tomorrow, go straight to the emergency room.”
That was Monday.
Tuesday morning I was back in the ER.
More nurses, a new doctor,
EKG’s and blood tests…and finally…
Relief and an explanation from the head of Cardio.
Oh and did I tell you I got a room and a hospital gown this time?
I totally looked hot.
This time I wasn’t in a hurry. My husband was home to handle our gaggle of kids including taking one to the orthodontist to get his braces off, because life doesn’t stop in a big family when mom is sick. When the doctor said “Congestive Heart Failure” I was relieved to know but then had a million questions and asked every one I could think of. I was still tired and struggling to breathe but it was getting better with every dose of lasix in my IV. I left with information about what kinds of foods to avoid (anything high in sodium), how much fluid I should be consuming each day (ONLY 50 OUNCES!!) and a phone number for Kaisers heart rehab program coordinator who would help oversee my medications.
What I am officially dealing with is a valve in my heart that is pumping significantly weaker than a healthy heart and my heart is enlarged. Congestive Heart Failure is an umbrella term that covers a few scenarios but this is what’s happening with mine and it is largely reversible. Where a normal heart has an ejection fraction of 60-80% (means the heart is pumping at 60-80% of it’s capacity) mine was at 10% when the echocardiogram was performed. But like I tell my kids about literally everything…it’s all figuroutable.
Two weeks prior, I thought I was just worn down and had a chest cold. I had no idea that unusual shortness of breath could be a sign of a heart issue. I just assumed I was tired and out of shape when it was hard to catch my breath after going up the stairs. I thought heart issues would be super obvious, not that they might feel like heartburn. I thought my distended belly was just a wine belly…never occurred to me that it wasn’t normal, I just thought it was my lack of self control and my sometimes overindulging during pandemic life. But know that I know better, I want you to, as well.
We don’t talk about this kind of stuff enough. Mom’s are superheroes and we just keep going like the Energizer Bunny but the thing is, eventually, we wear down too and if we’re not careful, we do more damage by ignoring health signs and symptoms and just pushing through to take care of others.
I’m happy to report that just over a month from the diagnosis, a month of medication, moving my body and changing some of the food and fluid I consume, my numbers are already heading in the right direction and I’m feeling better daily! Thank you for sticking through this story so far. I will keep sharing because even when I went to google “what can I expect during a nuclear stress test” I still only got straight medical details without any voice to what it would be like. So I’ll be that voice.
But if you’re new here, you should know I also talk about life and how to not be an asshole and still get by in this world. It’s kind of my thing. Stick around, I’m glad you’re here!
Next up…you wouldn’t believe what the universe had in store for me next…momlife in the trenches. Until then…Be real. Be honest. Be you. Because you are awesome!