Broken Hearted

Thursday, July 28, 2022

 The reality of what has happened still catches me off guard. My habit of minimizing my trauma, my health, my life  is being broken...slowly.  Even then there are times when the enormity of what my body has been through in nine months can pull me up short. 

When my cardiologist took my hands in March and said "You've been through a lot Dawn. This is a really big deal and you are doing everything you need to - but this was a big deal". 

I burst into tears.  Of course, I was also having symptoms of heart failure again and was terrified that my heart was saying "fuck it" and counting down. 

When I got the bed in the hospital I was there for six days? seven days? It was a long time.  I had lots of blood taken, and lots of things pushed into my IV. The ward I was in was next to the ICU - so there was a lot of monitoring.  I am an easy patient. Compliant. I stretch out arms for blood pressure and blood draws. I helpfully point out where you are most likely to get a vein. I coach folks through the fact that my veins seem to push down and disappear when you are looking for them.  (as an aside, I never thought I'd be SO familiar with my veins and how to access them). I take the meds, all the meds. 

Mostly I sat in the quiet and just waited. Terrance would arrive and sit with me for hours, then go out and make it back for a couple more hours before visiting hours were over.  I listened to things and watched out the window. Mainly though, I just lay there.  

I was so tired. Tired from the illness but tired from everything. Like every educator during Covid, I was fucking exhausted. My students were falling apart and I was trying to patch them together and teach AND do all the other pointless bullshit that comes with the professor gig.  I was keeping an admin at arms length as they failed to listen AND piled on more bullshit. I was trying to be the program director for our major and protect the faculty from some of those ridiculous asks from admin.   

Where did I find myself? Laying in a hospital bed. Again. Third year in a row! Increasing severity with every visit!  Terrance did not mince words. "This job is killing you. We have to do something about this."

I didn't have the strength to argue, and what was there to argue about? It was true. The evidence was *literally*  laying here in a hospital bed.  He began to handle HR and the FMLA debacle mainly because I was just so sick and couldn't bear to deal with the University bullshit.

On a Monday, after my echocardiogram, I woke  from a little nap to see my nurse standing over me.  She was waiting for me to wake up.  She had a diagram in her hand.

Now, nurses are the ultimate poker faces. They do not ruffle, they do not have big reactions. While this nurse was not overtly panicking, she absolutely had an air of purpose.  In truth I was not surprised to see her. My nosy ass watched the echo intently and even my amateur eyes could see that it wasn't good.  The tech can't tell you anything and mine was excellent but I mean you'd have to be blind to see that my heart was just not really pumping blood. Anywhere.  The colors that indicate direction of the blood were just kind of hanging around. My heart looked weak. Tired. 

In that, we were both aligned. 

My nurse had a diagram in a booklet and I rolled over to give her my attention. It seemed that my heart was really, really not pumping.  Not the right ventricle, and the left ventricle was particularly stubbornly refusing to participate.  My ejection fraction was so low that she suspected I might get taken into surgery right now to have a defibrillator installed.  Like Right now. 

I did not have a surgery. Surgery is always decided on in terms of cost/benefit and there was a good chance that with time and medication and diet and exercise we could avoid a surgery. However, and this is the fucking annoying thing, it would take time. A lot of time.  I was young. There was no discernible reason that my heart should have decided to take a vacation.  Maybe it would correct itself.

My low ejection fractions seem to have set off a bit of a kerfuffle in my cardiology team ( yeah, I now have a team) about whether to release me or watch me for a few more days. They compromised and kept me an extra day and then released me. 

I'd been warned about post hospital recovery and I was sure I would be fine. I mean, come on. How hard can it be? No surgery or anything - just pills and diet changes. I had been released.

Broken Heart

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

 Even I can take the hint. Me, the person who never takes ANY fucking hint to let go, to subside, to be still, can take this hint. 

In October I felt really worn down. My office is on the third floor and by the time I got there I had to rest, panting. I assumed my cardio fitness was shit and I was probably getting fat. I am, after all 51, and my body continues to change as I morph into the bad ass crone I was meant to be. 

I was teaching face to face, as I had done all through the pandemic, and was ( and still am) scrupulous about masking. I still, for the record, mask in public spaces. I don't trust any of those motherfuckers. 

I planned on my COVID booster in early October because - well - I am around 18-25 year olds and they are invincible. I, however, am clearly NOT invincible. (See previous posts)

So there I am, panting up three flights of stairs.  The tightness around my torso began.  "hmmmm", Dawn thinks , "probably a bronchial infection which I should not have because I mask all the time and I better not have fucking Covid."

I go to my doctor. He says "pneumonia" and I agree. It does feel like pneumonia. I now cough and cough and the pressure is getting worse. I do the first round of antibiotics and nothing gets better. I go to the ER and they say "Yep, still pneumonia, take these other antibiotics". Week 2 of antibiotics commence.

"OK", I say. By now my breathing is bad. I use the inhaler. I drink the water. I call in to class because I can't breathe and I certainly won't be able to do my lecture performance for 2 hours at a time. I do some meetings via zoom and black out the screen when I cough so hard that I nearly fall off my chair.  My continual coughing keeps me awake all night.

We go back to the ER after week two.. It's a long night and a million tests are run on me.  Some tests are a little wobbly but nothing really indicative.  I must be fighting off the infection. More antibiotics are prescribed. Week 3 of antibiotics.

I've now been on a month of antibiotics. Nothing seems to be helping. I can no longer stand in the shower so I sit in steamy showers trying to break up whatever is in my lungs.  The inhalers do nothing.  I don't sleep because of the coughing.  My ability to walk has been curtailed from my bed to my bathroom and back. Even then, I have to rest leaning over the bed before I can climb back up because I am too tired to hoist myself back into bed. Terrance finds me in this position frequently because it helps my breathing. 

There is no working my job for me. I can't even care because I can't breathe.  I later find out that the students think I have Covid - really bad covid - and that no one is telling them. 

The night before Thanksgiving I wake up panting. My stomach and gut hurt all the time and I think it is because of the mammoth amount of antibiotics that are killing my gut flora. I try eating yogurt.

Emily is home because of the Thanksgiving holiday and she stares at me while I am propped up in bed.  I tell her that I woke up panting and she rats me out to her father immediately. He declares we are going back to the ER right now. "No", I plead, "They will tell me it is pneumonia again. There is nothing to be done."

He threatens to carry me down the stairs. I barter to eat a little Thanksgiving dinner before I go, knowing that there is no food to be had in the ER. I eat. I am so tired. I need to be helped into clothes and my family maneuvers me down the stairs and into the waiting car.

We arrive and I am ushered into a bed. Around us people with Covid are yelling at the nurses - denying, demanding. 

What feels like 2 gallons of blood is extracted. My veins are bruised from all the other visits so new sites must be  found. I can barely care, but I am compliant and kind to the nurses and techs.  Terrance hovers, fiercely.  I am hooked to an IV antibiotic to which I have a horrifying reaction. I feel like I am burning to death. I vomit, I cry, I keep asking how much longer till the bag is empty. I consider ripping the IV out to stop this horror. 

Terrance is frantic, putting cold cloths on my neck as I plead with him to make this stop.  "I can't do this, I can't do this", I cry.  When the medicine ends, the pain stops.  I can open my eyes and speak again. "That was bad", I say. He is shaken and quiet.  "I've never seen you like that. Even in labor", he says.

I lay on my side.  Laying on my side helped  the pressure in my torso, but makes me cough. Every decision is weighed with the discomfort. We sit, waiting. 

I am taken for more procedures - MRI's with contrast. The dye always feels funny - the hot tingle before it subsides. I return to the room. I wait.  Emily has arrived and sits next to me. 

My doctor eventually arrives. "This is congestive heart failure", he announces. Emily bursts into tears. Terrance shushes her - he is intently listening.  "You are going to be in the hospital for while", the doctor says. 

New medications are pushed into the IV. Saline is immediately discontinued and diuretics are pushed.  The  swelling that I'd thought was dead gut bacteria is, in fact, fluid. LOTS of fluid. The pressure and fluid in my lungs? Not pneumonia , it seems, but fluid building up. I go back in for another MRI. The tech says "This is the last one you can have for 24 hours. Remind them if they try to send you for another one."

The squeezey things are put on my legs to try to move the fluid. I pee constantly.  

There are no beds free in the hospital due to the Covid patients.  Terrance goes home to get me my favorite pillow and some other things.  I sleep in the ER until a bed is freed 28 hours later. 



I turned 50 in April. We'd planned a month long sojourn through Italy, starting in Rome and then winding down the Amalfi coast.  We planned that trip for over a year.

Then Covid.  Which, you know. Closed Italy, then closed everywhere. 

But this post isn't about Covid. That is an eternal nightmare that makes me incredibly filled with rage at stupidity and toxic individualism.  It's not about the 3.5 months that I literally did not leave my house because my never ending pancreatitis, recent past kidney failure and diabetes painted a giant "Easy to kill" sign on my back.  It's not even about the depression that hit me like a wholly unexpected wave and pulled my feet out from under me, forming a rip tide that I had trouble shaking.

In May I had a surgery to remove my gall bladder which was determined to have caused ten months of pancreatitis. It was a weird thing having a surgery during a pandemic - especially one that was scheduled two days after my visit with the surgeon. (It was a very bad gall bladder.  Quite.) Of course by that time I'd had three Covid tests since pancreatitis mimics Covid. The surgery seemed less daunting than having my brain swabbed again. 

 No one was allowed to go in with me. I woke up to very kind nurses who ( apparently) were keeping Terrance up to date via phone calls.  I lingered in recovery until about 4:30 that afternoon when Terrance was called to meet me at the front door. I walked out to get in the car, blessing the nurses who had managed the hell out of my pain and kept the ice cold cranberry juice flowing.  (Big props to the nurses at Mayo Health)

I slowly recovered - which took longer than I expected. Then again the stone was 5 FREAKING CENTIMETERS. Having your surgeon in front of you super excited as you emerge from the fog of general anesthesia to exclaim about the size of your gall stone is a special experience. My mom later said "Yeah, surgeons rarely get excited. It must have been a really large stone - larger than he's seen."

At the beginning of June, just as I was feeling better and didn't have to clutch a pillow to my mid section every time I inhaled too deeply,  I was walking back to the car from dropping off some library books when I stumbled. And fell. And heard a deeply worrisome POP! My first thought was "Please Jesus, don't let my still not fully healed incisions to have ripped." They did not.  My next thought was "My ankle is not in the place it should be on my body." It was, in fact, not. I reached down and with grit I did not know I possessed, I popped my ankle back into it's joint.  I continued to lay on the gravel for some time, causing the librarians to run out of the building and try to convince me to have someone get me.

No. I insisted, I would drive home. It was only about a quarter of a mile and I could do it. 

I did glance down at my ankle on that short drive home and began to mentally prepare for the news that it was broken. It looked - well - like nothing I'd ever seen before.  Terrance took one look and said "That's broken." Once at the ER, a very kind doctor unwrapped my ankle and said "Oh! well, I suppose you could have sprained it - but something that looks like that is usually broken."

It was not broken was badly dislocated and incredibly swollen. The ER called in more painkillers which made the pharmacist intently question Terrance as to my obvious budding opioid addiction. Two times in a MONTH. Was he sure I didn't hurt myself on purpose to get more drugs?

About 4 weeks after the surgery, I got a call from my GI doctor. Now, friends, at this point I have SO many doctors who've been pulled into my case(s) that I can forget who does what. I thought they were calling to see if the pancreatitis symptoms were better.  Nope. I was 50. I had some long term GI issues. It was time for my colonoscopy.  I actually said "You've got to be fucking kidding me. "

Nope, they were not fucking kidding me. They wanted me in ASAP. I was on the radar.  Fine. Whatever. Why not?  They were going to sedate me, right? Ok. Sure.  

I went in for that little exercise in willpower after drinking that low key semen flavored gallon. Lucky for me, I ALWAYS have diarrhea so there was less to clear out of my intestinal tract.  Oh, and if you mix margarita mix into the solution it will mask the taste, at least a little.  And if you are diabetic you are free to suck on real sugar candy to keep your blood glucose from diving off of a cliff during your day of fasting. 

The procedure itself was nothing. I was given meds, I woke up and left the hospital. I was warned that I had some polyps and they were going to be tested. If they saw anything untoward, I would be back to do this in 5 years instead of 10.  I

Last week, I got tagged for my overdue mammogram.


This is where I seem to have stopped writing. Who knows why - Cat? Child? Spouse? All are feasible explanations.  But now I hit publish on this saga of fiascos. For I will be publishing the NEXT saga of the  fiasco

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