Monday, April 10, 2017

This Is What Happened: Part 3

(If you haven't read Part 1 and Part 2 of this Story That Never Ends, I encourage you to go back and do that first. There is a through-line that will help you make sense of the following flogged-beyond-recognition analogy.)

I certainly didn't set out to confuse and frighten you, my lovely peeps, especially the ones who made me cry with your hugs at church yesterday. But as I look back on the past two entries, I can see why some of you were waiting for the next installment to be picked up by Boy#1, who is my designated blog poster if I am ever too feeble to talk about my personal medical history on the internet. (Oops, One! Did I forget to tell you that?)

But I probably should have added a spoiler alert when I ended the last post by being pushed into the ambulance. The spoiler is this: Hi, everyone! Waving from over here! At home!

The truth is that an initial diagnosis of a heart attack that is changed to a diagnosis of pulmonary embolisms is a tire-screeching veer into a treatment path that is quite different from the original treatment path. Heart attacks require tremendous activity; blood clots in the lung require the exact opposite.

When they closed the doors on the ambulance I was expecting to arrive at Big City Hospital and be rushed to the heart cath lab, maybe to be followed up by a visit from a surgeon who would explain surgical options and lifestyle changes. Instead, I was met by a team of nurses who let me do my own antiseptic wipe-down then hooked me up to monitors. I already had been jabbed in the stomach with a dose of blood thinner before we left Small Town, and there was nothing more to be done.

Let me see if I can explain this using a tortured analogy, which is my favorite way to explain things:

Either a heart attack or a pulmonary embolism has the potential to kill a person. The typical heart attack, though, is like a bomb exploding. It hurts, it knocks you off your feet, it damages things that may or may not be able to be fixed later.

A pulmonary embolism, on the other hand, is like one of those unexploded World War II landmines you read about being found under beds in London. (And a side note: I'm a terrible housekeeper, but how terrible a housekeeper must the owner of that flat be? VE Day was in 1945--you haven't cleaned under the bed in SEVENTY-TWO YEARS? Seriously?)

Anyway, that unexploded mine might never explode. It might stay there undetected for decades more. But something--deterioration, humidity, the knowledge that we're living in Trump's America--might cause that bomb to re-activate, and when that happens it's best to scurry off to the air raid shelters, because a PE can take. you. down. It stretches, yawns, then enters the blood stream to cut off circulation to the brain (a stroke) or the heart (a heart attack).

I don't know how long blood clots had been forming in my lungs. I'm guessing they'd been there for a while. Looking back on the spring Husband and I realize how many times I said "Man, I am so tired," and I found I no longer could walk up the 77 steps of Small College without panting, but I thought those were just normal signs of aging. It wasn't until the strain of breathing overtaxed my heart and sent me to the emergency room that I realized I had a landmine under the bed.

So what does one do to defuse a landmine that is still dangerous? Very little, as it turns out. One checks for collateral damage (and a 2D echocardiogram showed that in spite of the heart attack symptoms, my ticker is strong and undamaged, thank You, God). The shots of blood thinner in the stomach transition to a lifelong regimen of oral medicine, and a referral is made to a hematologist. A night in the cardiac ICU and another night in a ward bed end with discharge orders to "take it easy."

And now we wait. We wait for the wonderful, astounding creation that is the human body to absorb the clots, or to isolate them up scars that are stable and cannot enter the blood stream. That waiting could take several months.

The cliffhanger stages of this story are over. I have a couple more chapters to write about things that happened along the way, and I'll be meeting my new best friend (the hematologist) tomorrow to see if we can flesh out the orders to "take it easy."

In the meantime, though, it's been kind of nice to have permission to take a nap any old time I feel like it.

"Gosh, I'd love to vacuum, but I really need to take it easy."

The landmine is still there, but I'm a terrible housekeeper--the odds are excellent it's going to stay undisturbed for another 72 years.

(Wait! Don't leave! I have a few more things to say, so please come back tomorrow.)


  1. FYI: Husbands are very capable of giving you the shots in the stomach if you can't bear to stab yourself and push the stuff in. (((hugs)))

  2. Oh, thank goodness. I mean, not "thank goodness this whole thing happened to you," but "thank goodness you're all right." I've been praying, and will continue to pray!
    - Worried in Iowa

  3. I am so glad you are doing well and maintaining your sense of humor. I like the idea of your body just reabsorbing that clot. Prayers for that. And a very calm and peaceful end to tax season for you and your favorite CPA.