We made our way back to the US in the middle of March so that I could go to Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville to see a cardiologist who would perform a cardio angiogram on me to check for any blockages causing poor blood flow to my heart. This came on the tail end of months of medical issues, from kidney stones and another myringotomy to high blood pressure and symptoms of pending heart failure.
We arrived in Atlanta and spent one night there. Carolyn was almost involved in a shootout as she stood in line at the slowest Popeye’s on the planet. The next morning we jumped through a few hoops to buy a Nintendo Switch, which had recently been released in the US and bought out complete from all stores. We found someone willing to sell us a brand new one with a reasonable markup (like 15%, not 50-75% like many wanted), and after many calls to our bank (who had canceled our debit card because we hadn’t regularly used it in Malaysia for the past year), we had our Switch and drove north to my mother’s home in the North Georgia Mountains.
We stayed with my mother for a couple of nights and the kiddos got to see snow. While we were there I started to develop some gastrointestinal issue that would worsen over the next two weeks.
We eventually left and checked into a hotel in Nashville the day before my visit to the cardiologist. I was obviously nervous as hell because not only was this my first real surgery, but it was heart surgery and I had no idea whether my condition was bad or not at that point. The evening before my appointment my father came to Nashville and we all had dinner at the hotel room where we were staying. I told my mother and father what time to be at the hospital and gave them the full information for where to meet. I went to bed early but struggled to sleep because I was so nervous.
I had asked my mother and father to meet me at the heart center at 9am because my appointment was at 9:30am. At 6:30am my father called and yelled at me because he “asked several people and none of them were aware of my appointment” and he demanded that I tell him where the correct location was. I gave him the exact same information I’d given him the night before, the only information I had for the place and the exact same information my mother used to successfully arrive on time, and I informed him that he was 2.5 hours early and I was still getting myself and my family ready.
When we arrived at the heart center at 9am the receptionist said a man had been asking about me but was very upset and had stormed off hours earlier. I explained to her that it was my father and he failed to follow simple directions to be there at 9am on the scariest and most nerve-wracking day of my life and decided to yell at me at 6:30am because I couldn’t give him whatever answer he was looking for, even though he was in the correct place just much too early.
I didn’t have the strength or energy to worry about my father not being there for me, so when my name was called a few minutes later I left the kids with my mom in the lobby and Carolyn joined me as I went back to see a cardiologist. The drew blood and we met with the doctor, who spoke to us for a little bit and agreed with my Singaporean cardiologist, that a cardio angiogram was necessary and they would perform the procedure the following morning. I did a couple of other tests and was sent home with some instructions, like don’t eat or drink after a certain time, etc.
We left the hospital and I was a ball of nerves until the following morning when we arrived and I was admitted for surgery. Carolyn and my mom took turns joining me in the room where a funny nurse prepped me for surgery. I had told them I absolutely did not want the catheter being fed into my heart from my thigh and that if they found my wrist wasn’t suitable then to cancel the procedure because I did not wish to continue. They did not listen to me and went ahead and shaved my thighs and both wrists.
The nurse was a funny guy, constantly joking and it made me relax some, but I was scared. Scared of what they would find, scared I would have complications during the procedure. Scared I wouldn’t live long to see my children grow up. It was horrible waiting for the surgery to start.
Basically the cardio angiogram is where they make an incision into your wrist or thigh and thread a catheter (tube) through an artery all the way up to your heart, then squirt contrast dye into a series of locations in your heart and x-ray it to see if there is any blockages and whether or not your valves are operating normally. If they find blockages they will immediately put in stints unless the blockages are too severe, in which case open heart surgery is likely required. Through this procedure you are sedated but not out cold, so you’re awake but out of it.
I was eventually wheeled into the operating room and moved to another bed and given the anesthesia, which instantly calmed me down. I watched the nurses buzzing around and saw a doctor and someone else pull up stools beside me, then they asked me a couple of questions and I responded, but I don’t remember exactly what they were asking. I believe the entire procedure took about 45 minutes, but to me it felt like 5 minutes.
The next thing I know I was back in my room to recover. They came and told me that they found no signs of blockage at all, which was absolutely fantastic. Carolyn and my mom were excited about this good news too. My heart and my wrist, where they put the catheter in, felt strange for several days afterwards.
I took maybe 2 hours to recover and eventually they removed my IV, cleaned me up, I got dressed and they released me with some medications and information on how to follow up. They suggested that all the pains in my should, neck and jaw perhaps could be from a torn rotator cuff but that it was not due to a pending heart attack from blocked arteries.
We went back to the hotel and I relaxed while my mom, Carolyn and the kids went to some famous chicken place down the road to pickup dinner. I slept off and on but continued to battle the worsening gastrointestinal issue. My mom departed the following day and we stayed in Nashville for another night to be close to Vanderbilt Hospital in case I needed to return for any reason.
Eventually we checked out of our hotel and had planned to go spend a few days of vacation at the beach or somewhere fun now that we had good news, but the GI issues were so bad at this point (lots of blood in my stool) that I tried to see an urgent care doctor in Nashville and was turned away so we drove down to Birmingham and asked Carolyn’s family to keep an eye on the kids while we went to UAB Hospital (some offshoot ER near Bessemer) to have me checked. They gave me yet another IV and put fluids in me because they were worried I would dehydrate, and they took several samples to run lab tests on but said it would be a couple of days before they had the results back.
We left, picked up the kids and went down to Tuscaloosa, where we stayed for a number of days hoping my condition would improve. It didn’t, and we ended up going to see a gastroenterologist in Birmingham who instantly said the best way to find out what was going on was to perform a colonoscopy. I finally drew the line in the sand. NO! I’ve had kidney stones, many IV’s, heart surgery and several other medical procedures and problems over the previous 3-4 months but I was absolutely not about to have a camera stuck up my ass. No way.
They argued with me for a minute but in the end decided to take additional samples like the ER a few days prior, and they said they’d follow up on both sets of tests and for me to stay in touch with them. To their credit, the staff were very kind and both Carolyn and I did speak to them several times over the following days.
After it was clear that nobody had any idea what was going on (the ER or the GI specialist), I decided that my condition was stable enough at this point to move to a location where Carol and the kids could have fun. We drove down to New Orleans and checked into a hotel in the French Quarter, where we stayed for several days, including for Zobug’s 6th birthday.
Carol went all around the French Quarter and took the girls with her on most trips. They loved the beignets and enjoyed seeing all the oddities on Bourbon Street. I really wish I’d felt up to walking around with them because New Orleans is one of my Top 5 favorite cities on the planet. I mostly stayed in the room, but did manage to take the family to a movie and to get birthday cupcakes for Zoe, which were fantastic.
In the final day in New Orleans I actually started to feel a little bit better and the frequency of my trips to the toilet had lessened noticeably. We decided to move on, so we packed up and headed to Pensacola Beach.
We stayed in Pensacola for several days until my GI issues finally went away. Through several phone calls to our GI specialist, Vanderbilt Hospital and others it was decided that the bleeding was likely due to the large quantities of antibiotics I had taken for the past couple of months, which would have assuredly destroyed the natural (and good!) flora and fauna in my intestines and this disruption caused the GI pains and problems I experienced for nearly 2 weeks. Luckily it went away on its own, but this problem caused us to have to extend our stay in the US beyond what we had originally planned, which means we will be restricted on any other trips to the US later in the year because we can only be in the US for 35 days a year to take advantage of certain tax breaks given to overseas income. Unfortunately we had to because there was absolutely no way I could have flown back to Malaysia and traveled non-stop for 30+ hours after that heart surgery in the condition I was in for many days following the surgery.
After Pensacola we went through Birmingham to say goodbye, hit The Ark in Pell City for late night fried catfish, and flew out of Atlanta to return to Malaysia. We had a stopover in Tokyo and stayed in a room without a proper Western bed, but instead slept on a futon in a tatami mat traditional Japanese room. It was fun for the kids…
The morning we checked out of the Tokyo hotel there was some sort of Lamborghini club get together or something because there were dozens in the parking lot. Amazing cars!
We finally made it back to JB and were very thankful that my heart appeared to be ok and that my GI troubles were behind us. I felt great for the first time in many months!
Here are some of the photos from our trip to the US in March: