Over several years I had been to the doctor's numerous times with complaints of something not being right, and not feeling well, tired, short of breath, swollen ankles and the like. Every time they said I was fine and sent me on my way, so I thought maybe it was for the most part in my head. During the summer I had pains in my shoulder and arm, but put the blame on the bike seat not being set right or the handlebars needing adjusted, etc...
In February my trip to the ER resulted in an overnight stay at the hospital and a nuclear stress test, which showed a blockage when my heart was stressed. A follow up with my doctor and my demanding it resulted in a referral to a cardiologist. During this time I had to delay a trip to visit my father. I set up the cardiology appointment and left town to visit my father. On March 4th I returned home to see the doctor on the 5th. He ordered further tests, a coronary catheterization and I thought, okay I have CAD like my mother. CAD is coronary artery disease and means that you have a blockage in your arteries due to a build up of plaque. After seeing the cardiologist and scheduling my cath. appointment I though I had a few days to relax. Life loves to kick you when you are down and it was during this time that my father passed away and I had to get back on a plane and fly to Kansas again. On the flight I was hit with another bout of severe chest pain and had to use the nitroglycerin tablets the doctor had given me. Talk about scary, trying having chest pains a few thousand miles in the air, when you have no idea where you are in relation to an airport. The pills did their job and the pain subsided, but I was certainly a little scared at that point.
After burying my father and dealing with all the emotional upheaval of a funeral, his sisters and brother, my stepsisters and their families, and then the long flight back home I returned to work for a few days.
I was ready the next week for my coronary cath. and the possibility of having a stent put in, but that was not the case.
If you have never had a coronary catheterization or an angioplasty, it is an experience that you learn from, literally. I got to watch on the monitor, after they cut into my leg, as they threaded a wire and tubing up through an artery in my leg to my heart. It was a little uncomfortable, more from the idea than from any real pain. I was relaxed from some good drugs that they injected me with to keep my calm. It was also very interesting to watch them thread the wire through.
After it was over and I was back in the outer patient area, resting on my back in bed, the doctor came out to chat with Tom and I. He said that my arteries were clear, but I had an unusual condition and he wanted to do more tests to confirm it. Of course, since I was a little out of it Tom asked the doctor to explain. My cardiologist told us that I have two arteries on the right and one on the left, where as most people have two on the left and one on the right. The problem was that the one on the left that should be on the right appeared to be being pinched by the aorta and the pulmonary artery. He wanted to do further tests to confirm this and to see what the options might be for fixing things.
I set up an appointment for two weeks down the road before we left for home. Once we were home I went to bed, doctor's orders. I was to rest for 3 days and then take it easy until Monday. Resting was easy, I was tired. I took it easy and made sure I stayed off my feet, as ordered. I mean they had put a wire up the artery into my heart and there were risks like bleeding or infection to consider.
I was feeling better on Saturday and was up for a while. On Sunday I took a nap and woke up with chest pain. I took my nitroglycerin and lay quiet for a while, then came up to eat Easter Dinner. When I came up stairs both Tom and Bryce were asking me if I was okay, and at first I said yes and wondered what why. Then I started to feel intense pain. If you have ever heard the expression about an elephant sitting on your chest, which is the best I can say. I felt as if something was pushing my chest wall in and crushing me, crushing all the air out of my lungs. It was horrifying and I was scared I was dying. I tried to say I was okay as I could see the intense fear in my son's eyes, but I could not lie. I thought I was going to die right there and then, and I am not exaggerating. I took another dose of nitro and Tom raced me to the ER, which is just 5 minutes away, and they immediately took me in and hooked me up to machines, drew blood, and started other tests. They gave me more nitro and kept a close watch over me. The pain eventually subsided and they determined that I had not had a heart attack, but they did not know what it was. I was monitored for a couple of hours and then sent home with instructions to come back if it reoccurred and to call my cardiologist in the morning. I went home to bed, with a very nervous husband, who must have asked me 200 times if I was feeling okay.
The next morning I called my cardiologist who moved up my CT scan to the next day. I spent that day resting at home and not doing anything that might set off another round of chest pain, though I had not been doing anything the day before either.
That Tuesday Tom took me to get my CT scan. The doctor said that I had an artery getting pinched and they wanted to do another test, an MRI, which I scheduled for the next week.
During all this time I was looking more and more energy, getting shorter of breath and feeling worse every day. I was working two days, resting a day, working two days, just to make it through the school week. I was scared and barely making it through it school day. I was not the best teacher for my students.
After all the tests were in the cardiologist talked to other cardiologists and a pediatric cardiovascular surgeon, as he had never seen my defect before, or at least not since med school thirty years ago. His recommendation was that I get a second opinion on what do from someone who specialized in adult congenital heart defects, outside of Alaska since there was no specialist up here.
I called and talked to someone at the University of Washington and had my records sent down, and waited to hear from them.