In last week’s blog post, I explained that I now have an accessory known as a PICC line inserted into my arm. With the help of the Mayo clinic, I explained that a PICC line is also known as a peripherally inserted catheter (also known as a long thin tube). It is inserted through a vein in my right arm and passed through the larger vein into my heart. The PICC line infuses the drug Milrinone to my heart.
I have to admit that over the years when I was searching for just that right accessory to complement my outfits, a PICC line was never high on the list – or even on the list. I reluctantly added it to the list of acceptable adornments because without it, I would probably be chained to a hospital bed until a new heart was available. This is because the Milrinone, while not a long-term cure, is keeping me up and about and in an exercise mode so I can be at peak strength when a heart becomes available. So maybe I should think of it as fitness equipment and not a fashion accessory?
When I went in for my cardiac catheterization on July 22, I knew that there was a good possibility I could be admitted to the hospital. I knew that an admission would mean that my heart had really tanked, and that the doctors needed to evaluate me for some aggressive interventions – like a heart transplant and/or a left ventricle assistive device (LVAD). I also knew that the doctor would want to experiment with a drug called milrinone.
This had not come as a complete surprise. I had known for a number of years that a heart transplant might be in my future and I had read about transplants and LVADs for quite a while. Accordingly, I was not freaking out when the doctor mentioned on July 22 that a possible outcome of the cardiac cath would be to evaluate me for a transplant. But reading up on transplants does not begin to do justice to what will have to happen to get a person on the waiting list. The process of everything I went through in that five days really brought home how serious this intervention would be – plus what a miracle it would be. It is a good thing that I did not realize the full ramifications on the night before the cardiac cath because sleep would probably have been impossible. Lord knows I needed my rest for the process that was about to unfold and the decisions I would have to make.
Did you wonder what happened to last Thursday’s blog post? Well, it was suspended after five days of hospital gowns, blood tests, alarmed chairs, ultrasounds, doctor rounds and countless interviews. I think I reached to many of you in the last two weeks to let you know that I had been admitted to the hospital for tests to determine if I was a candidate for a heart transplant, a left ventricle assistive device (LVAD), both or neither.
It was an odd time in the hospital. I would go hours without doing much of anything and then all of a sudden, have technicians wheel an ultrasound machine into my room at 11:00 p.m. to conduct a test. You would think that I missed out on a lot of sleep, especially with nocturnal blood draws. But the last few nights I was in the hospital I did get some restful sleep – although not 8 hours worth. Maybe the rest was due to some medication they gave me, but I think it was also due to the fact that I knew my medical health was in good hands. The end result was that last Thursday I was advised that the board at this hospital decided that I have been approved for both a heart transplant and the LVAD. The goal is to go straight to transplant if possible, but the LVAD is out there if we need it.
My theory is that in tough times like we are currently experiencing, you have to keep your humor activated. Otherwise, the Covid chaos will just eat you up.
It isn’t just my theory. I found an article on the Mayo Clinic website entitled “Stress relief from laughter? It's no joke.” The article details short term effects of laughter/humor. One of the short term effects is that it stimulates many organs. Specifically, laughter: “enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.” Hey, my enlarged, under-pumping heart can use all the stimulation it can get, especially in this stressful time!
In the age of Covid, we have all become weary of hearing or reading depressing stories in the news. It’s hard to remain positive and to find joy in life when you are confronted each day with the case and death count. The headlines are so disheartening that I don’t even want to read the details of the stories.
Please don’t misunderstand me. We need to face the fact that this virus is not going away anytime soon and is a real health threat and even a threat to life. We do not need to have this reality sugar-coated for us, nor do we need people to minimize the risks we are facing. But I also think humans are have more motivation to move forward and live in harmony if there is hope in life. Sometimes, but not enough times, I see glimmers of hope in stories in the media. Hope that scientists are discovering therapeutic drugs; hope that there is progress on a vaccine; hope that people are recognizing the need to act selflessly and make sacrifices for the greater good and health of all.
When the Covid shutdown began in March, I did not know if I would ever see a heart doctor or technician in real life again. Other than my brief drive-throughs to pick up my heart study medication, my communications with my heart medical providers were on-line or in e-mails.
But that changed this week when I went in for an echocardiogram. I don’t know how much you know about an echocardiogram, but it’s impossible to do this test on-line. Fortunately for me, the hospital where I go to have this procedure was all set up for visitors and things ran very smoothly.
When you have heart failure, sometimes it feels like you are just running in circles. You find a new heart wrinkle and you adapt your diets and your exercise habits and your coping mechanisms. You think all is working well. Then another heart wrinkle develops and your back to feeling like a dog chasing her tail. Well, once we descended into Covid chaos it seemed like this dog’s tail was winning. I wondered if I would ever gain the lead again.
There was a glimmer of light when the State of Virginia began the process of reopening. At that time, medical and dental offices and other businesses reopened but with lots of precautions in place. I realized that as scary as it was to start going out into public again, I needed to start to catch up on all the necessary appointments and tasks that I had put on hold for four months.
In my post last week on my Covid colonoscopy adventure, I mentioned that I learned something new in the procedure room. The nurse anesthetist and the other nurses were trying to find a magnet for the procedure room. Apparently the one in their room had gone missing in action. I never realized that a magnet was a standard, even sought-after supply in a hospital.
What the nurses told me was that the magnet can disable the defibrillator while they are doing the procedure. If I understand what they were saying, if my heart rhythms started to go a bit off because I was under anesthesia, it might cause my defibrillator to “fire”. Not a good thing – I have been praying for six years that this would never happen. I guess the magnet temporarily disables the defibrillator from firing (medical types – I’m sorry I know I am probably oversimplifying what happens). Someone later asked me if the nurses remembered to check and make sure the device was fully operational after the procedure was over. You know, this is probably the wrong question to ask someone with obsessive compulsive tendencies. I am just going to trust that the nurses restored everything was restored to normal when they were finished with the procedure.
Blog Post Number : Committing to a Covid colonoscopy.
Living in the time of a pandemic has its challenges. But I don’t know – maybe it is the Type A in me, but I apparently did not think it was challenging enough. I decided to enhance the degree of difficulty by going through with a colonoscopy scheduled for the middle of June.
This procedure was scheduled four to five months ago. Then the pandemic happened, and the state shutdown initially included the cessation of outpatient procedures. When the state of Virginia allowed for the resumption of outpatient medical procedures, I wondered if I should go through with the colonoscopy.
When the pandemic came to town, life as we knew it came to a screeching halt. The middle of the month of March 2020 bore some resemblance to the old school yard chant – “No more teachers; no more books; no more teacher’s dirty looks.” Except that instead of saying goodbye to things we desperately sought a vacation from – we were saying goodbye to things we needed to exist or that we craved: No more school camaraderie for children; grocery shopping turned into an extreme sport; no more fitness center or yoga classes; no more haircuts; no more mani-pedis; no more mall shopping spree; no more in-person worship services; and most important for those of us with chronic illness, no more in-person support group meetings.
It was a challenge to do without things we took for granted. People had to become nimble in learning how to adapt and come up with alternative solutions. Parents had to find on-line play dates and other outlets for their children; boxes of hair dye flooded the delivery chain; exercise classes of every description were streaming everywhere; on-line shopping became even more popular; and the use of Zoom for on-line conferences and medical appointments skyrocketed. I think the long-term result will be two things: People will become forever grateful to professionals that heretofore had been taken for granted like schoolteachers, grocery store employees, and health care workers. Telework may become a more acceptable office solution, and on-line conference providers are in demand.
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. She spent the next 7 years learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth. Then in October 2020, she received a heart transplant. This blog is about her journey of the heart.