Matters of the Heart, Part 8

There’s an old song that says “Only love can break a heart. Only love can mend it again.”

Not necessarily.

While the lyrics are good, and the tune is one you remember, the truth of the matter is a bit more complicated. While love can certainly break your emotional heart, the damage by rheumatic fever, congestive heart failure, and other heart diseases can do far more and much longer lasting damage than love could ever think about.

The physical damage to your heart is much harder, much more painful, and longer lasting than any emotional damage.

You may not believe it, but trust me, it’s very true.

If you’ve been following the stories in Parts 1 through 7, you know what we have been through so far, and can only imagine the emotional stress we’ve been through, especially over the last few years. And it’s still going on.

When the six month period after the ablation surgery was over, we really thought his problems had been solved, and started to breathe a sigh of relief.

Until one day in the middle of January when he woke up absolutely exhausted. He said he felt like someone had drained all the energy out of him, and he was having shortness of breath. He looked tired, and I was very concerned about him. He was able to get an appointment with his primary doctor the next day, where he found out he’d gained 16 pounds in three months, which is totally unlike him.

Knowing his history of fluid retention and congestive heart failure, his fluid pills were immediately increased, and he was told to see his cardiologist as soon as possible, just to rule out any heart problems.

Why didn’t he catch it before it got to this point? Because he’d been doing so well, he’d stopped the routine of checking his weight every day. And it was the holiday season where everyone seems to add on a few pounds. But not 16 in three months!!!

And yes, when he told me all this, I immediately knew what was wrong. Call it intuition, instinct, or thinking the worst because of all we’d been though, but I just knew what I knew that I knew.

We were able to get an appointment with his regular cardiologist within a week due to a cancellation. By that time he was feeling worse. He’d already dropped 3-4 pounds from the fluid pills, but he had to take a nap every afternoon when he got home from work or else he couldn’t function that evening. He was getting increasingly short of breath as well as lighthearted and sometimes dizzy when he bent over and then stood up.

Obviously something was quite wrong. Again. And I was pretty sure I knew what it was. I think he did, too, but he didn’t want to think about it.

When we got to his appointment the nurse did an EKG as part of the check in process, but of course we had no idea what it revealed.

His doctor came in and as Ben described his symptoms I couldn’t help but notice the slight change in Dr. S’s demeanor. I knew he was worried. I could tell as he listened to Ben’s heart and lungs. He told him he heard a heart murmur, and wanted him to have a chest x-ray and an echocardiogram as soon as we could get it scheduled to determine what was going on.

Now imagine how we felt when, as we were checking out and trying to get the appointments made, Dr. S came out and told us he wanted the X-ray immediately, and the echocardiogram within 48 hours! And told the scheduler to find an open appointment at one of two locations. He told us after reviewing his history again, and considering how pronounced the murmur was, which had NOT been there at his last checkup 3 months previously, he didn’t want to wait.

So we went across the street to the imaging center and had the x-ray done and the appointment for the echo two days later.

The chest X-ray was good, all things considered. There was fluid, but no worse than what the doctor had heard through his stethoscope. And yes, that was good news!

Then came the echo. I was actually able to watch this one being done, as I had several other times. I’m certainly not a medical technician, or doctor, but I could see some of the leakage as the technician did the test.

Of course, we had to wait for the doctor’s office to call with the results, which took longer than we thought because the office hadn’t notified Dr. S that they were there to read! And all the time Ben just kept getting more and more tired and more short of breath. And I was more and more concerned.

Then we got the call. A personal call from Dr. S himself. I’d just gotten home and we put the call on speaker so we could both talk and ask questions. The news was what I expected. The valve was leaking. Just like 15-16 years ago. Which would mean surgery….again.

The question now was how it would have to be done because of his two previous open heart surgeries. We’d always joked around that when his valve had to be replaced again, the way medical technology was advancing, it would probably be done as an outpatient!

It’s a great idea, but medical science isn’t quite there yet. If only that were true…

So more testing was called for. Of course. Starting with a TEE, or trans esophageal echocardiogram, in which a scope with a camera is inserted down the esophagus (while the patient is in a twilight sleep) to enable the doctor to better see inside the heart and determine exactly how bad the valve is leaking, and if there are other problems that will need correction.

And the wait for answers continued, but this time we were especially antsy, because we wanted to just get it done and over with. And he continued to become increasingly tired, short of breath, and lightheaded….

More to come in Matters of the Heart, Part 9, to be published March 28.

Don’t miss the previous stories in this series:
Matters of the Heart, Part 1
Matters of the Heart, Part 2
Matters of the Heart, Part 3
Matters of the Heart, Part 4
Matters of the Heart, Part 5
Matters of the Heart, Part 6
Matters of the Heart, Part 7

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