Matters of the Heart, Part 22

Sometimes our stories don’t unfold the way we think they should, the way we want them to. And with a cardiac patient, unfortunately sometimes that’s more than true.

After spending the weekend waiting for a call about what the doctors had decided to do, and no calls coming in, we could only hope that we’d hear something on Monday. And of course, each day Ben’s condition got slowly worse.

He had already called his boss Sunday afternoon and taken another week of sick time off. As tired and short of breath as he was, there was absolutely no way he could do his job on Monday which entailed driving to Williamsburg from Virginia Beach, making thirty stops at local businesses (in and out of the car twice each time)and then stopping at the Williamsburg bank branch to drop off what he had collected, and then drive back home.

Monday morning his heart rate was in the 130’s and his blood pressure was low, but still not quite low enough for concern. He stayed around the house all day, inside instead of out in the summer heat, and took a nap, but by the time I got home from work his heart rate was still high, his blood pressure was lower, and the shortness of breath was much more pronounced. Not a good combination.

He finally had gotten a call from the doctors’ office and was told that his doctors had scheduled a procedure for him on July 17, almost a month away. He would have another cardiac ablation, followed by upgrading his pacemaker to include a defibrillator, which would shock the heart back into regular rhythm when it went into Afib. This had been discussed before, but now obviously it needed to become a reality.

But waiting almost a month to have it done…that wasn’t what we wanted to hear. Unfortunately both doctors were scheduled for vacations, and the special operating room needed was booked solid.

He had asked why he couldn’t get in sooner since he was in such bad shape by now, but was repeatedly told he was not in an emergency, life threatening situation. So he would have to wait. A month. While he became worse every day. And the only other solution would be to go to the hospital if he started getting any worse.

Well, by the time we were ready for dinner that night his blood pressure was down to 90/72 and his heart rate was climbing. He could also feel his heart fluttering. So he called the after-hours number to his doctor, and it seemed to take forever to get a call back. In that shape, 45 minutes felt like forever!

And when he finally got the call, and explained his symptoms to the Physicians Assistant who called him back, we got ready to go to the hospital. As the PA said, “Ben, you’re a ticking time bomb right now. You need to go to the hospital now. Don’t wait.”

So I grabbed my keys, my ID badge, and off we went! He was walking so slow we were worried he might need to be carried, but he didn’t want an ambulance.

Fortunately we live 5 minutes from the hospital, and when I pulled up I put my emergency flashers on and ran inside to get someone with a wheelchair to bring him in. Amazing how quickly that works when you say breathing problems and cardiac patient! (And yes, if we weren’t so close, we would’ve called an ambulance!)

They took him back right away and by the time I had parked the car and run back inside, he was being wheeled into a triage room where he was hooked up to a heart monitor, IV lines started, EKG taken, blood drawn, put on oxygen, and meds given to calm his heart down. By that time it had reached 144, which was way too high, and his blood pressure was dropping.

All I could think about was the time we were there some five years ago when he’d coded in front of me. I couldn’t shake those feelings. And when you’ve been in that situation before, you tend to relive it in your mind more than once.

Fortunately that didn’t happen this time. They were able to quickly stabilize him with medication, and his heart rate went back down and actually stabilized. His blood pressure slowly came up to a normal reading.

And I breathed a sigh of relief.

I also knew he would probably be there for a few days, because we had no idea how long his symptoms would stay in the normal range without all the medications, and he still had a lot of fluid in him which was causing the shortness of breath. And when he tried to stand up, he was shaky and light headed.

Of course, in my opinion this certainly constituted an emergency situation. But I guess in the overall scheme of cardiology, since he was able to be stabilized with the medication, it still wasn’t.

And after three hours in the Emergency Room, around midnight he was transferred to a room in the new cardiac wing, a large corner room, with a view of the new garden area, and a “smart bed” that could talk to him. Three nurses were waiting for him when we got there. As nice as it was, and as wonderful as the medical staff was, this wasn’t how we wanted the week to start.

We knew he was in good hands, and he was where he needed to be, but still….

Here we were again….

More to follow in Matters of the Heart, Part 23….

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