I haven’t fallen off a cliff and I do indeed feel badly about not updating my blog for nearly 4 months now. Truth is, I haven’t felt the same desire to write frequent blogs and post pictures of what we’ve been up to — after doing it steadily for 10 years it began to feel more like a chore instead of an interesting way to update our friends and family with what was going on in our lives. Hopefully with some new and exciting things coming up in the near future I will again be inspired to update regularly…
I still want to update the blog, if for nothing else it’ll be a diary of sorts that I hope my children will enjoy reading some day.
This entry goes back to the end of February, and even though the details aren’t as fresh now after 7 months as they were then, the events that took place around that time were so stressful that I surprisingly remember most of it quite well.
I last left off at the point where I was suffering from my second kidney stone in a relatively short period of time, and I had been in and out of the hospital multiple times over 24 hours. I had just returned to the hospital in Singapore after a painful period where I couldn’t urinate, but felt like my bladder was about to explode. In a state of pain that I’d never felt before, coupled with exhaustion and fear, I agreed to allow the ER doctor to put a catheter in me to get some relief from what felt like a full bladder that everyone believed was due to a kidney stone blocking flow in my bladder. Sadly, after the catheter was inserted there was no success – nothing came out.
In closing my previous post, I said this horrible moment would get worse. It did… After the extremely painful procedure where a doctor and a nurse snaked a catheter into my bladder and nothing came out, providing absolutely no relief from the painful “I have to pee SO badly feeling!”, the doctor and nurse left me alone in my room – crying and completely defeated. A moment later the door opened and in came Carolyn with the kids; they had been asleep in our van out in the car park for the past several hours and now came to join me since I had been admitted into my own hospital room.
The kids either went back to sleep or started playing on iPads, and Carolyn came over to check on me. I told her I was exhausted for not really sleeping in two days, and I had pain radiating throughout my entire body from the kidney stone, feeling of an extremely full bladder and the catheter that had just been inserted.
I won’t get into the dirty details of what happened next, but things did get worse because that catheter failed (yes, failed), I called the nurse urgently, and as I was writhing in pain the doctor and nurse removed the tube they had inserted into me only minutes earlier as Carolyn rushed the kids out of the room as the girls started crying and yelling “what’s wrong with daddy?!”. It was awful…
After the thing was moved and my bed and I were cleaned up, I passed out from sheer exhaustion and woke up a few hours later to a urologist standing over me. Carol and the kids were back in the room too. The urologist turned out to be a fantastic doctor and just a super guy. Unfortunately I had to go through all sorts of tests (ultrasounds, x-rays, blood & urine testing, etc) over the course of the next two and a half days, but luckily the stone passed without having to do surgery. My left kidney was significantly swollen, so I was put on antibiotics and finally released.
I eventually made it back to work after the kidney stone battles seemed to be over. When I got back to work we had a serious problem, and during all of that I had an episode in my office where I could literally feel my chest tightening like I’d never felt before and I was short of breath and started sweating. I was seriously afraid I was about to have a heart attack or a stroke, so I excused myself from the people in my office and got a cold glass of water and took it easy for about 20 minutes before returning to the discussion.
That next weekend I went weekend I went to see my general practitioner, the one who had started helping me control my blood pressure, and we spoke about the symptoms I had been having for the past few months – chest tightness, neck and jaw pain, left shoulder pain, and so on. She asked me to see a cardiologist to confirm whether or not I had some heart condition that needed to be identified and resolved.
I visited the cardiologist almost immediately, and while I met with him I explained that I have always tried to stay away from doctors and that the past two months, and really 4 years, had been terrible because of all the hospital and doctor visits related to my deteriorating health — many due to allergies I’ve developed since arriving in Malaysia that led to numerous lung infections and ear infections, but most recently the high blood pressure and two kidney stones. I explained the other symptoms I was having (tight chest, etc) and he said I needed to do an EKG and a stress test. I asked what was involved in each and when he said the stress test involved pumping fluid into my body through an IV so they could see contrast in my heart to check for blockages, I asked about the timeline to get these done and he said “immediately, right now”.
I almost fell out of my chair. I told him I had been through enough recently and asked if it would be possible to do the EKG today and to come back the following weekend for the stress test. He said “no, the symptoms you’ve described sound like there is a possibility of an imminent threat of cardiac arrest, so it really needs to be done now so we know what exactly the condition of your heart is”.
Well, no I was scared that I was going to have a heart attack…
I went through the entire thing – EKG with a bunch of electrodes hooked up all over me, then to another room for even more electrodes, getting on a treadmill and then onto a bed for them to look at my heart with an ultrasound, and yes, I got another IV. It was not fun, but once it was done I was hoping to get good news and be sent home, but I met again with the cardiologist after all the testing and he said “well, unfortunately the testing was not conclusive so we will need to do a cardio angiogram to be 100% sure”. I asked what that was and he described a procedure where they stick a tube through your thigh or wrist and snake it inside your artery all the way back to your heart and then pump fluids into your heart and check the fluid flow with a camera.
I can’t describe the fear going through me at this time. He explained how it is a safe procedure, but if they find blockages in my heart they may have to put in a stint or worse case scenario do open heart surgery if the blockages are too many, and he mentioned that like all surgeries that there is a risk of cardiac arrest during the procedure.
Hell no! I did not want any part of this. I asked again what kind of timeline he was talking about (this was a Saturday) and he said “I could get you in here for the procedure on Monday or Tuesday.” WHAT?! I had hoped he would say we would schedule it for the following month or so, and when I told him I wasn’t ready for it he said I could have a heart attack immediately and they needed to find out what was going on. I felt like I was going to throw up — I went and talked to Carolyn about it and she looked as shocked as I was. I eventually made an appointment for last the next week and we left. Shell shocked.
That night we spoke about it and decided that it would be best to return to the US for this surgery. Children aren’t allowed in most ER areas, so Carolyn wouldn’t be with me and I didn’t want to be alone through this if possible, and if something did go wrong we thought it would be better to be in the US that Asia for pure logistics — how would Carolyn get my body shipped back if the worst happened?
I spent the next several days making hundreds of calls — insurance, different heart surgeons at Duke, Vanderbilt and Emory, airlines for flight arrangements, etc. It was even more disheartening that out of maybe our top 20 heart surgeon choices none of them were available or taking new patients. Eventually we found a surgeon at Vanderbilt in Nashville who had done thousands of these cardio angiograms for decades and would see me. My Singaporean cardiologist was very understanding, but asked that I not return to work until this procedure was done because any added stress could maybe cause serious problems.
I took it easy at home for several days and then we finally boarded our flight to return to the US on March 11th. I would be at Vanderbilt Hospital on March 15th.