Fourteen years ago today I had just returned from an awesome birthday trip to New York City. I was there for five days and four nights. I saw four Broadway plays and walked all over the city. I enjoyed awesome meals at places like Lindy’s and Carnegie Deli. Just fun, fun, fun! I had no idea that I was a walking time bomb.
March 25, 1999 was my first full day back home before I needed to return to work on Monday so I had set up the follow-up procedure that I needed to have done for that day. An angiogram. They send a catheter into the main artery through your groin (and in my case inserted dye so they could see what was going on.) and from there they can stent the artery open or just flush plaque build up.
The ultrasound I had a few weeks prior indicated a blockage so my doctor was figuring worst cast scenario they’d stent the artery open and I’d be good as new.
Mere minutes into the procedure the surgeon turned sheet white, walked away with his team following closely behind. They went into a small room with a glass window and closed the door. (I could see all this because they don’t knock you out for this procedure because you need to be awake to hold your breath for them) So there I lay on the table watching the surgeon putting his hands over his face and his team comforting him.
I wanted to scream, “HEY! WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?!? I’M OVER HERE, REMEMBER ME, THE PATIENT?!? But… I was drugged and scared.
He came back in what was probably minutes though it seemed like hours to me. His team following behind him. One woman took my hand as he began to explain.
He asked if I could see the screen. “Yes.” He showed me what looked like a lizard to me and said, “That is an aneurysm. I almost killed you, that’s why I walked away. I needed to collect myself. One centimeter more with the catheter and you wouldn’t be here right now. This test is over. We’re sending you to MRI.”
I had an HMO at the time, which was awesome and paid for everything, but this MRI had not been pre-authorized so I said, “I can’t go to MRI! My insurance didn’t pre-authorize that!”
To which the surgeon replied, “This is an emergency, it will be covered, don’t worry about that. This is a life threatening situation.”
“What?!?” All I could think was, I’m 32 years old, how in the world could I have a life threatening aneurysm?!!
As they put a fifty pound sand bag on my groin to stop the bleeding after they removed the catheter from the angiogram they rushed me to MRI. And I do mean rushed. They were running down the halls with me in the bed trying to comprehend what in the world was happening.
They put me in the MRI tube and asked if I wanted to listen to music. “Any requests?” “Garth Brooks?” I said. “Unanswered Prayers” began playing in my ears. Tears were rolling down the sides of my face and into my ears as I listened.
It was ironic that song was playing because my church had been praying the doctors would figure out why I was feeling so awful and why the five blood pressure pills I was taking every day weren’t lowering my blood pressure at all.
This was not the answer I expected!
After the MRI a woman came in to do an ultrasound to see if she could identify the aneurysm now that they knew I had one and where it was. The previous ultrasound that should have taken twenty minutes and took and hour and a half had shown a blockage, but they had no idea it was an aneurysm. And no the ultrasound gave no indication that it was an aneurysm.
A nurse came over and handed me an appointment card. Monday morning I was to be at a vascular surgeon’s office at 11:15. “I can’t do that, I have to go back to work that day.” I said. “Can I just call when I get home and schedule the appointment?”
A doctor came over and told me it was imperative that I go to that appointment on Monday. I have an abdominal aortic aneurysm and it’s ready to burst. If I didn’t go to the appointment on Monday I wouldn’t be able to get another appointment in time.
“In time for what?” I asked.
“You only have four weeks to live, if that. You need to see that doctor and get surgery scheduled immediately!”
Of course, as always, I was all alone to face this. No one stayed at the hospital while my test was being done. There was no one to call with this news. My friend, Linda, would be there to pick me up later, but she dropped me off and was out doing her thing.
Terrified and alone they put me in a room alone for my remaining five hours on my back with the fifty pound sand bag on my right hip. (after an angiogram you have to lay flat on your back for eight hours with a sand bag over the wound so you don’t bleed to death.) (silly me I thougt that test would be the worst I’d have to face.)
They brought a tray of food in but I wasn’t allowed to sit up to eat and I was starving. I laid there on my back crying quietly.
A volunteer came in to take my tray and saw I hadn’t eaten and saw me crying and asked if I was ok. I said, “No, I’m not ok. I’m starving, but I can’t sit up to feed myself because I have to stay flat on my back.” He asked if I liked pudding and what kind. I said, “Yes, chocolate.”
He came back and spoon fed me chocolate pudding and held a cup of water with a straw to my mouth so I could drink.
When I said thank you to that man I started crying again. He wiped my tears with a wet wash cloth handed me some tissues and told me he had to get back to work but he’d come back and check on me. Which he did a couple of times.
Unbeknownst to me this was just the beginning of the nightmares to follow in the year ahead.
Today I’m grateful for:
1. The ability to finally begin writing my story out.
2. That kind nurse who fed me and made me feel like someone cared.
3. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. (Kelly Clarkson’s song is now going through my head.)