I rang in 2010 with Krystal burgers (that's White Castle for you damn yankees). Not a drop of anything stronger than coca-cola. An unfortunate circumstance which I had vowed never to repeat after having my tubes tied.
I watched my mother-in-law breathe. She has apnea so the breathing-while-sleeping thing is alarming under good circumstances but after the open heart surgery the day before and all the subsequent respiratory depressing painkillers it really freaked me out. But she's doing great and should be out of the hospital tomorrow.
I can't help but feel we dodged multiple bullets here at the end of 2009. The mother-in-law had planned to take our five year old to the beach (where she lives) for New Year's. The two year old princess was slated to go to the other grandparents. That boy I married and I were going to meet friends at their north Georgia mountain cabin.
We've been worried about the mother-in-law's cardio health for a while. She neglected to tell us how bad her symptoms were but the day after Christmas she just could not catch her breath after climbing the stairs. It felt like an elephant was sitting on her chest, she said. But it was nothing to worry about because she "feels like that all the time." My mom took her pulse, could not even find a radial and the carotid was weak and erratic. Mom told her she needed an EKG immediately. She still insisted she was fine. My mom is a nurse with a very strong cardiac background.
My sister duplicated this assessment procedure. My sister told her she needed an EKG immediately. She still insisted she was fine. My sister is a nurse with a very strong cardiac background.
My husband told her she needed an EKG immediately. Repeat refrain. He is a P.A.
My dad told her she needed an EKG immediately. He is an M.D. See the pattern developing here?
I'm not anything but a girl who has absorbed crazy quantities of medical knowledge through exposure, jobs, and patient status. (Patient as in I am one, not I possess it.) But I told her she was crazier than a three headed cat if she thought she was driving across the state of Georgia with my son in her car and then spending a week alone with him as long as she had symptoms like that. She agreed to get an EKG.
The EKG got her sent to the ER. The ER admitted her into the cardiac unit. The cardiac cath demonstrated critical aortic valve stenosis (for the uninitiated that is the valve that separates the heart from the aorta, which is the vessel that feeds the entire circulatory system). She was in heart failure and her heart is enlarged because it's been working so friggin hard to push blood through an opening that was one-sixth the size it should have been. Without a valve replacement, she would have died this year.
So I'm glad she's alive, glad the crisis happened in my hometown where we know who's good with hearts, glad my family is knowledgeable enough to recognize the warning signs, and glad that we are all savvy enough to go to bat for a family member who got admitted on a holiday weekend. (She spent the night in the hospital and still had not been assigned a cardiologist by noon the next day. Unacceptable. UNACCEPTABLE. About an hour and a half after I confirmed that no one had been assigned to her the best damn cardio in the city was in her room. And yes, I was a little bit bitchy. Not to the cardiologist...he was really nice. To the nurse who lied to me and said yes when I asked if a cardiologist had been assigned and then pretended like she misplaced the information when I asked her who it was. Once a physician is assigned to a patient's case their name appears on the spine and cover of the chart.)
I am also angry. I'm angry at my mother-in-law for not taking this seriously. My children adore her. Their lives are richer for her presence.
My husband would be devastated to lose his mother. He's a medical type fellow and still had a tough time being around her post-op because she is his mother. So I did it, since I love her, too, and I'm way more confrontational than that boy I married and just knowledgeable enough to be a decent patient advocate.
But I'm really angry at me. I let her brush off our questions about her health. I let her. In private I have been telling my husband for TWO YEARS that I thought she might be in early heart failure but I let her say the cough was allergies, the huffing and puffing was extra weight, the edema was just too much salt the day before, and her internist wasn't worried. (Side note: If you are concerned, do NOT take the GP, FP, or Internist's word for it. Get a second opinion. Ask questions. Be the squeaky wheel, people.)
I would have let her take my child this week if my mom hadn't caught this. He knows about 911 but I'm not sure if he would think of it if his Gaga collapsed. And I shudder to think about a major event happening at 70 mph.
So. In 2010, my one and only resolution (since I typically eschew them altogether) is to be as aggressive with my loved ones before they need medical intervention as I am with the medical professionals afterwards. Watch out for your family. If you're worried about someone, don't tolerate the blow-off. Call B.S. If the doctor says they are fine and you don't believe it, check with another doctor. Because lots of doctors suck. I can say that since I'm related to four or five just in my generation of the paternal branch of my family. Add in the nurses and we could staff a hospital. The point is, we know better and this still reached crisis stage.
So pay attention. Make a resolution to ring in next year with the same family roster as this year if you have anything to say about it.