Matters of the Heart, Part 16

Facing heart surgery is never an easy thing. The first time we were scared to death. The second time we sort of knew what to expect, but we were still nervous. This time was different. Not only were we possibly and hopefully having a whole new procedure, but we weren’t sure if he’d even be approved for it. And then what? Traditional open heart surgery was risky in his case, so this HAD to work…

Waiting the weekend for the consultation to find out about Ben’s surgery was not easy. Even though we had things scheduled both days to keep us busy, we couldn’t help but wonder what the verdict would be and how it would affect our lives over the next few months.

After all the roadblocks we’d gone through to get to this point, waiting a few more days shouldn’t make that much of a difference. But it was on both of our minds as we kept thinking, “what if?” And if you or a loved one has ever been facing a serious surgery, you know what I mean. And how we felt.

We got to the hospital on Monday right on time. And then found out why they said to allow up to three hours for the consult. Because they scheduled 3-4 appointments at the same time, and the doctors rotated between patients in between their surgeries. We’d had no idea. We certainly hadn’t planned on that, and neither had Ashley! Needless to say it was a long wait.

When they finally called us back and checked us in, they told us it would be probably another half hour at least. Ben and our pregnant Ashley were starving so they told us to go to the cafeteria and get our lunch, and they’d call us. We should have plenty of time.

And of course, no sooner did we pick out our food and get to the register to pay for it, I got a phone call that the doctor was in the office and seeing the patients…

So yes, we ate in the doctors’ office while waiting for the doctors to come in. In fact, we hadn’t quite finished when the team came in, which was fine. We just wanted to get answers!

And we did. Ben was a candidate for the TAVR procedure fortunately, but as I heard the doctor say that, I heard a silent “but….”

The testing had shown his lungs were functioning at 30% less capacity than they should be. Why, no one could really tell us, but with all of the shortness of breath he’d been experiencing I really wasn’t surprised. Fortunately there was an additional procedure that could be done right before the valve replacement was done to minimize the risk of problems from this latest situation.

This procedure is called Basilica, which stands for Bioprosthetic Aortic Scallop Intentional Laceration and is done to reduce the risk of coronary artery obstruction during the procedure.

That was another one we’d never heard of. And what it has to do with lung problems I don’t really know.

But it involves another catheter being inserted into the heart through the arteries to split the valve leaflets to prevent them from closing and blocking the arteries during the valve insertion. Do we understand what it is? Actually no, but the doctors do, and after researching it online, I’m glad they do, because it’s more than I could understand!! Or wanted to understand at that point.

We just wanted a surgery date. And they told us it was set for May 1. Of course. Which was the date our daughter was scheduled for her C-section for delivering our second granddaughter. Somehow, I’d expected that!

But before we could say a word, Ashley chimed in with a “that date’s not happening!” When the surgeon looked at her and asked why, she promptly replied, “I’m having this baby that day! You have to pick a different day!”

Like a really good doctor, he just looked at her and said, “Well, we can do that on one condition. I have to see baby pictures!”

That certainly wouldn’t be a problem!

So we now had a date and time. May 15. All we had to do is wait and hope Ben wouldn’t get any worse between now and surgery time. That should be simple, right?

The story continues in Matters of the Heart, Part 17, to be published May 6.

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
Matters of the Heart, Part 8
Matters of the Heart, Part 9
Matters of the Heart, Part 10
Matters of the Heart, Part 11
Matters of the Heart, Part 12
Matters of the Heart, Part 13
Matters of the Heart, Part 14
Matters of the Heart, Part 15

Celebrating Birthdays

Birthdays are a funny thing. We each have one. Every year. Even those people who are born on February 29 still have a birthday every year; they just celebrate them either on February 28 or March 1. It’s a celebration of our entering into this world, but it’s also a way to keep track of how old (or young) we actually are. Because that’s important information, since it’s used to determine a lot of things which go on in our daily lives, and in the decisions we make.

When we’re kids we can’t wait for each birthday, because it usually means presents and cake and ice cream. As we get older we can’t wait to hit the magical age of thirteen because then we’ll be a teenager. And that’s really a big deal. At least we thought it was. (Not so sure about our parents!)

And then there’s 16. For us girls it’s better known as “Sweet 16”. It’s a rite of passage, a special day for us to get together with girlfriends and celebrate a special age. What’s so special? Looking back now I have no real idea. It just was. For many of us of that certain age it meant we were allowed to date, and get our drivers licenses. Many of us had Sweet 16 birthday parties and actually invited…boys!!! (Yes, that was years ago!)

Then we looked forward to turning 18. That was really important. We were becoming adults. Sort of. We thought we were so special! Invincible, really. Our life was just beginning and our futures were bright. There was nothing we couldn’t do. We were going to change the world! We graduated from high school. We went to college, or trade school, joined the military, or went right into the working world.

Then we finally turned 21. We could legally buy alcohol, and we thought that really made us adults! But the morning after our 21st birthdays we were still the same person we were the day before. Just a year older. And for some of us, a bit hung over!

And we learned that real life sometimes interrupts and changes our plans. College life wasn’t always what we thought. Jobs were tough and didn’t always pay a lot. The military sent many of us or our friends to Viet Nam. There were marriages. And children. And divorces.

Suddenly we knew the meaning of being adults. It wasn’t all the fun we thought it would be. When we were kids, it seemed we waited forever for each birthday to get here. And then as we got older the birthdays seemed to come quicker. And we wanted them to slow down. Because as we got older we realized our lives weren’t going quite the way we’d planned.

And suddenly we were wishing for time to slow down rather than hurry along. Twenty-one became 25, and then 30. And many of us weren’t where we’d thought we’d be, and started trying to make a lot of things happen when we should’ve been patient. Thirty-five was looming over us as a reminder of what we’d said in our teenage years: “Never trust anyone over thirty!”

Surely that really didn’t apply to us now!? We were in our best years, weren’t we? But those years were going by quickly.

Turning 30 hadn’t bothered me that much, but turning 40 sure did! I remember my husband taking me to the beach for that weekend to celebrate, and him having a huge bouquet of balloons waiting for me in the room. Yep! Forty of them! That just sounded old to me, even though he’d turned 40 the month before! Suddenly I realized I wasn’t that young girl of 20 anymore; life was hurrying on a little faster than I wanted it to!

It’s these so-called “milestone” birthdays that really get us. No sooner did we turn 40, but then here came 50!

That was the biggie!

My husband had been saying for months before his fiftieth birthday that he was dreading it because he was going to be half a century old! According to him, his life was quickly going downhill towards the end! Really? So what did I do? Woke him up at one minute after midnight to tell him “happy birthday“ and remind him he was officially half a century old! And he was still with us!

Of course with it being his 50th, that called for an invasion of 50 black crows and cows (he was into cows back then rather than flamingos!) in front of his office, which had also been artfully decorated inside with all sorts of “old geezer” signs. Not to mention the surprise party the following week complete with a roast featuring a book I’d put together called, “This is Your Life, Ben!”

It’s funny how as we get older we start to have a special kind of fun with those milestone birthdays. It’s sort of like bringing out our long-forgotten inner child who enjoyed those birthdays so very much!

Turning 60 was more of a challenge. We were certainly getting older, and we were starting to realize it. Although we didn’t feel any different, at least in our minds, there were a lot of reminders that we weren’t 40, or even 50, any more.

But the 60th birthday deserves a special celebration as well. Mind you, planning something big is difficult when your husband is home every night, which means all your work and plans need to be done after he’s asleep. Not an easy task, but on the morning of his 60th birthday, Ben was greeted with a fly-in of 60 flamingos on our front lawn, and a bunch of decorations in his office, including an inflatable walker and other “fun” toys.

And there was a pile of 60 gifts when he came home, each of them numbered to be opened in order! And each of them containing 60 items. Like 60 safety pins to use when he lost a shirt button; a 60 watt light bulb for when he had a good idea; 60 pennies for good luck, etc. it took him two hours to open them all!

And then there was the 60th birthday (adult) diaper cake, complete with a black crow on top and decorated with yellow caution tape and miniature false teeth. He still has it!

Turning 65 sort of started to feel

old, because it was always known as the retirement age. Retirement? Uh, no. Not in this household!

But in the last 30 days, Ben and I each turned 69. That in itself doesn’t sound bad, but next year we’ll both turn 70. And to me, well that actually sounds old. I remember so many years thinking how old it sounded, and how everyone in that age group just seemed to look old to me.

How times have changed. How our thought processes have changed. I don’t think I look my age, and in my mind I don’t think I’m that old. But then again, what should someone my age look like? Or feel like?

Birthdays come very year. We celebrate, and we enjoy with family and friends. And yes, we do get older every year, and no matter how we joke around and say “I’m counting backwards now,” or “I’m not having a birthday this year,” or we take a few (or several) years off our age when people ask us, being around to celebrate our birthdays is certainly better than the alternative, as a lot of us are now saying.

So when it’s your birthday, celebrate it. Flaunt it! Enjoy your friends and yes, any restaurant personnel who decide to serenade you or bring out a lighted birthday cake. Wear the funny hats and play along with whatever is planned for your special day.

Birthdays are special, whether you want to be reminded of them or not! So party on!

And if any of you have some great ideas for that 70th milestone birthday, let’s hear them!

Matters of the Heart, Part 15

Waiting is never easy. Especially when you’re waiting for a decision on something as important and serious as heart surgery. And especially since your symptoms are getting worse on a daily basis.

Fortunately during the week and a half wait Ben actually ran into a couple of people who’d had the same procedure that he’d hopefully be having. Both of them told him it was the easiest operation they’d ever had, and that the recovery time was really short. One person actually was back at work a week later, and the other ten days later.

Well that sounded good!

Then it was announced a few days before our consultation that Mick Jagger from The Rolling Stones was having that same procedure! How coincidental was that! At age 75, he had it done on a Thursday and was released from the hospital the next day and would be back on tour in a few months. Actually he could have been back sooner, but because of his animated concert appearances, doctors advised a bit longer recovery time for him.

But waiting for the consultation to verify the type of surgery that was going to be done for Ben still wasn’t easy. His shortness of breath continued to worsen which made him more and more tired by each afternoon. And then there were other obstacles which came into play. Again.

While the hospital department had all of the written test results, along with most of the actual CD’s of the procedures, the CD of the first echocardiogram hadn’t been sent to them, and being able to take the readings from the actual test was a vital link in determining what would be done. Getting that CD should be simple, right, especially in this digital age? One doctors’ group or hospital department requests it, and the other group sends it to them. Right?

That’s how it’s supposed to work, anyway.

However, after three phone calls to the doctors’ group where the test was done, the hospital still didn’t have what they needed. And we were all getting extremely frustrated, to say the least. After all, it shouldn’t be that tough!

Thursday before the consultation on the following Monday I called the doctors’ office again, and once again got the run around. Finally I told them to give me the number for the office where the test had been performed and I’d handle it myself.

So I called, but the office was closed, so I had to leave a message.

Frustrating was not the word by now.

So I called the office again that next morning. Friday. And the consult was Monday. And was told, “We got your message, and we’re just finishing up putting the CD together. It’ll be at our front desk.” Needless to say, I drove to the office and picked it up for Ben to pick up from my office and take to the hospital for them to read.

As luck would have it, as he was pulling up to the hospital to drop off the CD, he got a call from a number he didn’t recognize so he let it go to voicemail. And when he listened to it, it was the hospital asking him to call them about the consultation. So he decided to just talk them in person when he got upstairs to the office.

When he got there he introduced himself to the receptionist and in typical Ben fashion, told her he was returning her call. She explained to him she’d called to tell him they hadn’t received the CD of the test they needed and were calling to reschedule the consult until they had what they needed. He just smiled and pulled the disk out of his pocket and said, “Here it is!”

Once again, as I’ve said, you just can’t make this stuff up…

Let this be a lesson to each and every one of us. We have to be in constant touch with our health care providers. If we are supposed to get a call back from our doctor’s office, and it doesn’t come in a timely manner, don’t keep waiting. Make the call again. And again until you get results. If you need to have a test scheduled, and you’ve waited more than a couple of days, call the doctors’ office until you get the date. When you’re told your information will be forwarded to a specialist, follow up to be sure it’s been done, and if it hasn’t, keep calling until you get results.

You have to be your own healthcare advocate, or an advocate for your loved one. It oftentimes becomes a team effort, but many times that’s the only way you get things done. Don’t be afraid to make a pest of yourself; sometimes it’s the only way to make it happen! And it can make a huge difference in your or your loved one’s care.

And now, it was finally on to the big consult!

And the story continues in Matters of the Heart, Part 16, to be published April 29.

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
Matters of the Heart, Part 8
Matters of the Heart, Part 9
Matters of the Heart, Part 10
Matters of the Heart, Part 11
Matters of the Heart, Part 12
Matters of the Heart, Part 13
Matters of the Heart, Part 14

 

It’s Not About the Bunnies

For the last several weeks, all I’ve seen on Pinterest and other sites are cute little bunnies. Sometimes with brightly colored eggs, sometimes with pastel Easter baskets, and sometimes, well, they’re just there looking cute and adorable. All my favorite craft stores are full of bunnies and baby chicks and all kinds of colored plastic eggs. Then there are the grocery stores and candy stores with all the chocolate bunnies and chocolate eggs and marshmallow peeps, you know, the colorful straight out sugar concoction that’s been around since we were kids!

All I seem to see on social media are cute Easter ideas, cute Easter outfits for babies and toddlers, ideas for Easter brunch, Easter Egg hunts, etc.

Did you know you can even buy Easter ornaments and decorate your own Easter tree, sort of like a Christmas tree? Just what I need to start doing….me with the six Christmas trees! I can’t afford to start that.

And the Easter Bunny? Well, not only have we had our granddaughter’s picture taken with the Bunny, we also had our dogs’ photo taken with him. Of course, she’s still sort of scared of the Bunny so her dad had to have his picture with her as well, That made it all better.

And then there are the Easter baskets for the kids. Of course we’ve put one together for our granddaughter Rachel, and our daughter has also put one together for her. But the grandparents don’t get one, and neither do the parents. I guess it’s just the way things work these days.

Obviously it’s almost Easter. And EVERYONE associates bunnies with Easter, right? Along with the colored Easter eggs, of course. And those previously mentioned marshmallow peeps, in all the colors of the rainbow. And the Easter egg hunts with the kids getting all kinds of prizes for the most eggs found, or the special “golden eggs” that some places have.

But…it’s not about the bunnies. Or the Easter baskets. Or the Easter egg hunts.

It’s about something far more important.

From what I’ve been able to determine, the legend of the Easter Bunny bringing eggs seems to have been brought to our country by settlers from southwestern Germany in the 1800’s. Since that time the Easter Bunny has gradually become the commercially recognized symbol of Easter.

Folklore tells us the Easter Bunny brings baskets filled with colored eggs, candy, and sometimes toys to children the night before Easter. Sometimes the baskets might be hidden, and the children have to go and find them. Most likely, that’s how the tradition of the Easter egg hunt began.

But it’s still not about the bunnies.

To those of us who are believers, Easter is about one thing. The resurrection of Jesus Christ. The very name of the holiday may have come from an ancient holiday depicting the rites of spring, or rebirth from the bleakness of winter, but to us, it represents much more than a rebirth of the world. Easter is a celebration of the eternal life we have when we accept Jesus as our Lord and savior. In fact, our belief in the resurrection is the very foundation of our faith.

John 11:25-26 “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
While Jesus was conducting his ministry on earth, He told His disciples what would happen to Him in order to fulfill the ancient scriptures, but of course, they really didn’t believe Him, and even tried to prevent it. Until they saw the truth for themselves.

We have read about the agony of the crucifixion. We have seen it depicted in countless movies and plays, sometimes in such a gruesome manner we have to look away. But the real crucifixion was much more gruesome than can be portrayed in a movie or a play. And our Lord suffered the most horrific pain, so those of us who choose to love Him and call Him Lord will be eternally with Him in heaven, along with all of the others who believed the same.

What a wonderful, unselfish, beautiful story. As wonderful as the Christmas story is, the Easter message is so much better. Because in this story, death is defeated for all time. The baby that was born at Christmas has grown up, became a man who is the son of God himself, and gave His very life to save ours, and has now defeated death itself.

Multitudes saw Him die that day. They saw the lightning and heard the booming thunder when our Lord drew His last earthly breath. They saw his lifeless body taken down from the cross, and many followed the procession to where His body was laid to rest in a tomb, the entrance sealed by a heavy stone and guarded by fierce Roman soldiers.

And on the third day after the crucifixion, just as the ancient prophecies had declared, when the women went to the tomb to anoint His body with spices, “…they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.” (Luke 24:2-3)

And an angel was there as well, to remind them, “He is not here, for He has risen, as He said.” (Matthew 28:6).

No, it’s not about the bunnies. They’re cute and cuddly. But the true Easter story isn’t cute and cuddly. It’s real, and it’s brutal. But it’s also the greatest love story that ever took place.

Now, I was brought up believing in the Easter Bunny as well as Santa Claus, and I think I turned out OK. But there are still a lot of parents who don’t think they should let their children believe in such “fairy tales” because they won’t be able to distinguish what’s true and what isn’t as they get older. And they are entitled to their own opinions. But as far as I’m concerned, as long as you also teach your kids the true story behind these holidays, let them enjoy these children’s traditions while they can, because being a child doesn’t last that long! We took our daughter to see the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus every year, until she was old enough to not believe anymore, and we’re doing the same with our granddaughter. It’s fun, and to me, it’s part of our childhood traditions.

But we also celebrate and appreciate the true meaning of Easter, so to all of you, from me and my family, have a blessed Easter!

Matters of the Heart, Part 14

You’d think by now we’d all be used to the waiting, and have a little bit more patience when dealing with the endless rounds of hurry up and wait.

Not. It’s not that simple. Because the longer we had to wait for the testing, the more his shortness of breath slowly worsened, the more tired he got each day, and despite an afternoon nap after work to be able to function for a while during the evening, the harder and more frustrating his situation became. Walking up the stairs to get ready for bed even became an effort.

The morning he went out to get the newspaper and was out of breath from walking up the four steps back to our front door…well, we knew something had to happen, and soon!

After the cath and the other two tests, we were able to schedule the X-rays of his mouth and jaw for the following week. That was simple. And the nuclear CT scan was set for the following Wednesday.

Could we possibly get his surgery done before our granddaughter was born? It was starting to look like it just could happen!

But as I’ve said before, you just can’t make this stuff up…

Because the Friday before the scheduled Wednesday procedure, the hospital called him and said they were canceling it!

Why? Because his insurance company hadn’t approved it yet! When he called me to let me know, he was so upset and so angry I was afraid he was going to have a stroke!

Calls to his insurance company and back and forth to the hospital were only somewhat successful. The hospital agreed to not cancel his slot until the morning of the procedure in case it was approved at the last minute. And the representative from the insurance company, after Ben had explained the reason for the CT scan as well as its importance for approval of the TAVR procedure for his heart valve replacement, agreed to do everything she could to speed up the approval process.

And once again we were in a holding pattern, waiting for answers. And wondering how long this delay would set us back.

The hospital told him to go ahead and do his preparation for the test on Wednesday morning, just in case they got the approval at the last minute. (Fortunately the prep was only taking a couple of antibiotics and not eating after 8 am.)

But, not unexpectedly, at 11:00 that morning he got the call that he was being rescheduled for the following week because the approval hadn’t come through. Again we had to wait!

And it was a long wait. We wondered if the insurance company would come through or not.

Now for just a moment, imagine how it feels to know that your health, your very future, depends on people you don’t know, will never meet, and who know nothing about you at all except what they see on paper and compare your situation to their handbook of whether or not your case qualifies per their standards of payment approval. And you can’t help but wonder if they’ll try to find a loophole to deny testing. Yes, it does come down many times to the insurance company, but that’s why we have health insurance. We cannot afford all of this on our own; very few people could. We imagined a group of people sitting around in a room trying to find a way they could say no to avoid paying for the procedure. Yes, your mind goes there. And in this case, so would yours.

But finally, the beginning of the next week, we got a call that the test was approved! Now we could hopefully get this resolved and move on to setting a surgery date.

So Thursday afternoon he headed to the hospital for the CT scan, which would hopefully lead to his valve being replaced and both of us getting our lives back together.

This CT scan was the easiest test he had in the process. It was done quickly, was non-invasive, and with no side effects whatsoever. After the test we met with a Physician’s Assistant who briefly went over the test results to date, which she said appeared to indicate the TAVR procedure would work in his case, however, that couldn’t be absolutely determined until all of the testing was evaluated together, including the CT scan he’d just had.

 

We did, however, get to take a look at the models of the two types of heart valves that would be considered if this type of surgery was used. I was a bit surprised at how big they were, but the PA explained that they were crimped smaller when placed on the end of the catheter, and then expanded when they were properly placed in the heart. That would also be explained in detail when we met with all the doctors involved to discuss the surgical plan.

So we were hopeful. Things were finally moving along. Next step…the big consultation, which was scheduled for 10 days later, possibly lasting up to three hours! Not much longer to wait. And then we’d finally have the surgery date.

The story continues in Matters of the Heart, Part 15, to be published April 22.

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
Matters of the Heart, Part 8
Matters of the Heart, Part 9
Matters of the Heart, Part 10
Matters of the Heart, Part 11
Matters of the Heart, Part 12
Matters of the Heart, Part 13

Matters of the Heart, Part 13

At the end of our last installment we were arriving at the hospital at an early hour to check Ben in for his heart catheterization procedure. It wasn’t his first one, or second, or even third. I think I’ve lost count by now.

But each time I’m nervous. Something about this particular test just makes me a bit antsy. The idea of running a tiny catheter into an artery up into the heart unnerves me, to say the least. I know it’s done all the time, and the doctor doing this one is an expert with it, but still, it’s one of the procedures that just scares me if I think about it.

(After all, I’m the one who almost fainted when I watched our four year old daughter have blood drawn before her tonsillectomy. Didn’t bother her, but it sure did me! And I still can’t watch the nurses start an IV or draw blood! And if it’s on me…..you don’t want to know!)

But I did get to stay back in the prep area with him, and yes, I looked away when the needles appeared. He was calm, and hungry, since he couldn’t eat before the procedure, and just wanted it done and over with!

We hadn’t yet met the doctor who would be doing the cath, and eventually the valve replacement itself, but when he came in to talk to us before the procedure, he instantly gave us a lot of peace, and certainly put my mind at ease, or as much as possible. Dr. T had a wonderful bedside manner, a great personality, and explained everything they were going to do, and why, and the next steps that were involved in getting the valve taken care of.

As long as this procedure showed no blockages of the arteries or other problems, they would need an ultrasound of the carotid arteries, a pulmonary function test to check his lung capacity, a CT scan of his chest and abdomen, and a specialized set of dental X-rays to be sure there was no infection in the mouth or teeth. Fortunately two of those next tests could possibly be done that day, and as long as the cath results were good, he would try to have them scheduled to be done before we left the hospital, which was encouraging. The other two would have to be scheduled probably the following week or so.

After he had reviewed all the results, there would then be a consultation with all of the surgical team that would be involved at the Heart Hospital where the operation would take place. There would be 3-4 surgeons from two different cardiology practices involved, as well as the anesthesiologists, the pulmonologists, nurses, etc. It was enough to make our heads spin… And we would be there as well listening to all this and asking questions as they decided how to best operate on my husband!

Questions?

Yes, a lot of them. But where to start. The biggest one, however, was when this could be done and why we had to go through all of this when everyone knew the valve had to be replaced?!

Quite simply, they have to make sure to determine the best and safest way to do this, especially since he’s had two open heart surgeries before. And you can’t just take him in, open him up, and say “ok, how are we going to do this?”

That makes sense, except when your husband is the one going through it all.

The cath procedure was actually quicker than I anticipated. In fact, we were called back to talk with the doctor probably about 45 minutes after they took him to have it done. Which sort of worried me, especially when we waited in the consultation room for about 15 minutes before the doctor came in. Of course that had something to do with having to wait so long for news from the ablation surgery when we later discovered they’d had trouble stopping the bleeding….

Fortunately that wasn’t the case this time. In fact, as Dr. T told us, the procedure went very well, and from what he saw, Ben was a candidate for the valve replacement by going through the arteries in the groin! Good news!

Because our daughter had arrived after the doctor had talked to us before the procedure, he went through the same basic scenario he’d told Ben and me earlier, except that he was now putting in orders for two of the tests to be done that day if possible, while we were still at the hospital, since Ben would have to be there until at least 1:00. (Catheterization patients are required to stay flat on their backs for 4 hours after the procedure so that the collagen plug used to close the point of entry will stay secure and no bleeding will start.)

Of course he asked if there were any questions, and Ashley being Ashley, she had one very important point to make. “We know he needs the surgery, so you need to get it scheduled as soon as possible. I’m having this baby May 1, so his operation needs to be done now, and he needs to be able to be there that day so he can hold Ryleigh!”

Dr. T just smiled and assured her they’d do what they could to make that happen. but they all wanted the best for her dad, so they’d see what they could do….

And by the way, she wasn’t kidding! Not at all!

Fortunately they were able to do the carotid artery ultrasound shortly thereafter. Since our pregnant daughter was still there they were joking around about checking to see if there was a baby in there, and if it was twins! At least he was still maintaining his sense of humor.

Which continued when he had his pulmonary function test, as he and the technician discussed which wines they liked and what Italian food they wanted for dinner. That test, however, wore him out because of the effort it took for him to take deep breaths and then blow them out quickly. I couldn’t help but wonder how bad those test results were going to be.

Finally, after spending over ten hours at the hospital, we were on our way home. Ben was exhausted, and I was tired as well as stressed. Although we had some hopeful news, we still had to wait for the other two tests, as well as for the doctors to get together and decide what to do and when to do it.

We were still in a holding pattern, and Ben continued to get more exhausted every day, and his shortness of breath slowly increased.

I was anxious and worried, and could only imagine how he felt….

The story continues in Matters of the Heart, Part 14, to be published April 14.

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
Matters of the Heart, Part 8
Matters of the Heart, Part 9
Matters of the Heart, Part 10
Matters of the Heart, Part 11
Matters of the Heart, Part 12

Matters of the Heart, Part 12

If you’ve been a regular follower of this series, you already know how much cardiac problems can affect not only the individual going through them, but their family and friends.

Symptoms of heart disease or other heart issues are lived with on a daily basis by the individual experiencing it. Their symptoms can sometimes be controlled by medication, but not always. And their family lives with it as well, on an emotional basis.

It’s not easy for anyone involved.

Particularly the individual waiting for test results, for the correct medication to start making a difference, waiting for decisions on surgery or similar procedures. Figuring out how they can afford the medication their doctor has prescribed when their health insurance doesn’t pay very much for certain lifesaving drugs that are terribly expensive!

And waiting to have tests that will help determine the next step in treatment can seem like forever.
However, I must also confess that having to put the cath off because of risk of infection really did a number on my emotions. I’d been so anticipating getting answers that day, and having to wait really started to depress me!

And unfortunately that’s a normal reaction when the stress has piled up so much, and you had a certain date when it should end, and then it suddenly changed. And we had another almost three weeks to wait. When Ben called his dentist about his aching tooth on Monday morning, they couldn’t get him in until the next day. Meanwhile, his catheterization was rescheduled for two and a half weeks later. Plenty of time to get everything under control, right?

So we thought. When he saw our dentist, Dr. K informed him that yes, the tooth was abscessed, and he needed a root canal and a crown. Plus the one beside it was also starting to get infected from that one beside it….

Two and a half hours later he was on his way back home with antibiotics, a numb mouth from the root canal, and a headache. Because his mouth was so swollen from the infection he had to wait and go back again the end of the week to get the impression made for the permanent crown, but we should still be fine timewise, since we had almost three weeks. And the doctor couldn’t do the catheterization unless he had the permanent crown in place because of the risk of infection.

Of course the best laid plans often go haywire. The permanent crown was supposed to be back on the following Friday. And guess what…on Friday Ben got a personal call from our dentist, very upset, because the crown wasn’t there. The person who was supposed to be following up on it didn’t. And Dr. K was going out of town that weekend and not scheduled to be back until the following Wednesday night. Which meant the cath would have to be rescheduled again….

But we have a phenomenal dentist, who we’ve been going to for 22+ years, so he changed his travel plans to fly back home Tuesday morning before the cath on Thursday and put the permanent crown on.

Then…guess what…another phone call Tuesday around noon. His plane was delayed because of all the storms throughout the country. He wouldn’t be back in town until at least 7:00-8:00 that night.

So now we had to switch to Plan C, or maybe even Plan D. His dentist appointment was rescheduled to Wednesday at 6:15. Ok, we can do that. The cath wasn’t until Thursday morning.

Until another call on Wednesday around 4:00, this time personally from Dr. K apologizing profusely because his earlier patient had some serious issues and their appointment would take longer than planned….
So at 8:00 that night we finally met our favorite dentist at his office and 15 minutes later Ben had his permanent crown! In time for the next day’s procedure!

You just can’t make this stuff up!

But thankfully, Ben would now be able to have the cath, so the next morning we arrived at the hospital at 7:00 am and checked him in to the Heart Center at the hospital.

Finally we’d start getting some answers! It was about time!

And the saga continues in Matters of the Heart, Part 13, to be published April 11.

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
Matters of the Heart, Part 8
Matters of the Heart, Part 9
Matters of the Heart, Part 10
Matters of the Heart, Part 11

Matters of the Heart, Part 11

This is as good a time as any to talk about the emotional toll the last 12 months have taken on us. Or should I say on me. I know it has on Ben as well, but I cannot write from his perspective.

As I said before, these heart issues affect the patient physically, but also all of our emotions, our daily lives. It’s stressful, not only on the person actually experiencing the problems, but on family and friends. It can change the course of your entire lives. It certainly has ours.

And it’s continuing to do so, and most likely will continue for some time, as our story continues.

I cannot speak for Ben, because all I know is what he tells me, which is not a lot, or often, unless I ask, and keep asking. I know he’s worried, and I’m sure he’s scared, but I also know he’s trying to protect me from those fears.

After all, he has all of the physical symptoms to contend with, and the actual surgery, as well as the emotional stress. That has to be even worse.

Of course, I don’t tell him a lot either about how I’m feeling, because I don’t want to worry him. Or upset him. However, with all we’ve been through recently, and all we’re getting ready to go through, I think it’s time to talk about it.

Because all of this takes more of a toll on you than you realize. A lot more.

There are times that your mind starts racing, imaging all kinds of things that could happen. “What if’s” are hard to stop, once you start thinking about them all.

What if he’s not able to have the surgery the least invasive way? What if he has to have his chest cut open a third time? How dangerous is that, really?

How long will it take him to recover? What will be involved in his recovery this time? How am I going to take care of him as well as help our daughter who’ll most likely be having her second baby by C-section about that same time? Her husband can’t do it all and work at the same time.

Will Ben be able to continue doing the things he enjoys? Will he be able to continue to work, even though it’s only part time, and how long will it be until he can go back? What happens if he can’t?

We have a two story home. Should we start planning to sell it? Where would we move? What could we afford if he can’t work? And how in the world could we physically accomplish that actual moving without a ton of help?

And the really tough ones I don’t want to think about…should we update our wills before the surgery? Our medical directives?

What if he ends up eventually needing a heart transplant? How would we be able to handle that? I can’t even fathom it, but yes, your mind goes there as well. Several people have even innocently asked me that question without knowing all of the story.

And then there’s that thought that worms its way into my mind in the early hours of the morning when I just can’t sleep…what if he doesn’t make it?

It’s natural to have those thoughts, those fears, especially with all we’re going through. He’s my husband. I love him. And I’m worried.

There are a lot of nights I wake up and listen to be sure he’s breathing. I remember a good friend of my mother’s whose husband had severe heart problems saying the same thing. Now I know what she meant.

There are those who’ve told me that I don’t have enough faith; that I’m not trusting the Lord enough. That if I really believed I wouldn’t be worrying because I’d know my husband was going to be all right. That I need to pray more. That if we prayed more the Lord might heal him without surgery.

I’m sorry. Please don’t tell me these things. Or anyone else going through something like this. Don’t insult me or try to tell me I don’t have the faith you do, because that’s what you’re actually saying. You are actually judging without even realizing it. Unless someone is actually experiencing it, they really have no idea.

They aren’t in my place. They haven’t been in my place. And I hope they never are. Because if they were, or they had been, they’d most likely see things differently.

I trust my Lord. I believe in the power of prayer, and I’ve seen it work. Many times. And I do pray for him. But there are times that our humanness comes out and we get scared. We go through the “what if’s” and we find our minds going in places we don’t want to be. We cry. Sometimes we cry til there are no more tears. Many, like me, are careful to not let anyone see us cry, because we don’t want our weakness and fears to show to other people. We want to appear strong, when on the inside we’re crumbling.

But those feelings are there, and they don’t go away.

That’s reality. That’s how it is. And when you really aren’t sure what you’re facing; when you know there are risks; and that those risks may have to be taken, it puts you in a place you don’t want to be.

And getting out of that place is hard. Very hard. It doesn’t make me less of a person, or less of a believer. It reminds me that I’m human.

We will get through this with the love and support of family and close friends. With very good, excellent, dedicated medical teams at one of the top heart hospitals on the East Coast. And because of our faith we will look back on this and say, “We survived another one!”

Thank you all for your support so far. It means more than you know.

And the saga continues in Matters of the Heart, Part 12, to be published April 8.

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
Matters of the Heart, Part 8
Matters of the Heart, Part 9
Matters of the Heart, Part 10

Matters of the Heart, Part 10

If you’ve been following my stories in this series, by now you’re probably wondering when this saga is going to end.

Well, so are we. And I can’t answer that yet. I wish I could.

When you’re dealing with a hurting heart, a damaged heart, you just never know. And when the damage is caused by rheumatic fever at an early age, it just seems the older we get, the more problems which seem to occur.

It’s not easy by any means. It’s very difficult for the patient because they’re the ones going through the physical part, the exhaustion, the procedures, the pain, as well as the emotional stress of wondering when they’ll ever feel normal again.

For the family, it’s a different kind of stress. We worry. We’re anxious. We feel the stress in different ways. These feelings are normal. And as much as we try to hide them from our loved ones, because we don’t want to worry them any more, well, it makes things even harder. We try not to show our stress, but sometimes we just can’t help it.

Waiting to have the cath was like that for us. Surely we could wait the two and a half weeks. It’s not a long time, right? Well in this case, yes it was. We just wanted answers. And for Ben to feel better.

Then we found out those answers weren’t going to be as quick as we’d like.

Because of his history with two previous open heart surgeries, he has what is termed a “hostile chest,” because of the scar tissue and two sets of wires holding his rib cage together. This condition makes a third open heart surgery more troublesome and complicated. More risky.

Therefore, they need to go in through the femoral artery in the groin if at all possible to do the valve replacement to avoid complications, and make it easier on the doctors as well as the patient. But in Ben’s case….nothing is ever simple!

Meeting with his primary cardiologist a week before the cath was scheduled confirmed that. The procedure they were hoping to do is called TAVR, or transcatheter aortic valve replacement. Never heard of it? Neither had we.

Simply put, it involves inserting a catheter with the new valve thru the femoral artery in the groin and replacing the valve that way, without having to open up the chest cavity. In Ben’s case this would be the best way to do the surgery, but he has to be a good candidate for it. And that can only be determined by a series of tests, starting with the heart cath, which looks at not only the valve but the arteries to be sure there is only minimal plaque buildup. If there was too much blockage that would prevent him from being a candidate for the procedure unless the blockage was handled first.

If the cath results were good, he would then need four other tests to be done, all of which would be analyzed in conjunction with the cath results by a team of surgeons to determine if the TAVR would be acceptable in his case.

Four other tests??? How long would that take?

Fortunately those tests are relatively quick and non invasive, but still, there is time involved. There is a pulmonary function (breathing) test, carotid artery ultrasound, a CT scan of the chest and abdomen, and X-rays of the mouth to be sure there are no bacterial infections in his teeth which could lead to that infection going directly to the heart.

Why didn’t we know all of this before? Good question. But nothing is ever simple when dealing with cardiac issues. It seems we learn something new with every doctor visit, every procedure.

The catheterization was scheduled for President’s Day, Monday, February 18. We were so looking forward to that day, getting the results and being able to move forward quickly with the other tests, and hopefully schedule the replacement. Everything was on track. We thought.

Until Ben woke up with a horrible throbbing toothache Saturday morning before the procedure. Of course… And the dentist’s office was closed, of course, and we couldn’t find our dentist’s cell phone number, which we had somewhere. Which meant he was in pain all weekend. I made him call the cardiologist’s office to tell them, and, you guessed it! The cath was cancelled due to the risk of the infection from his abscessed tooth going to his heart. Now he was not only short of breath, and exhausted, but his tooth was throbbing, making it difficult to eat, and giving him a pounding headache.

What next? How much longer would all of this take?

You just can’t make this up, as you will read in Matters of the Heart, Part 11, to be published April 4.

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
Matters of the Heart, Part 8
Matters of the Heart, Part 9