After so many months visiting Bruce in the hospital and having to make trips back and forth, the shoe was on the other foot this week.
Monday morning I went to the ER after telling a co-worker, “I feel kinda funny.” After having a couple of weird little symptoms over the weekend (that I hadn’t told Bruce about) and the co-worker telling me I looked “really flushed,” I decided to get checked out.
After a few tests I was diagnosed with mitral valve prolapse with mitral valve regurgitation. They did some tests Monday and kept me overnight for observation, and today was the TEE (transesophogeal echocardiogram). That test was done after the cardiologist heard a heart murmur during the regular echocardiogram but decided to get a better view by making me swallow an ultrasound transducer. Let me tell you, that was not fun.
I didn’t tell the second doc (the one who explained the TEE yesterday and performed it today) until right before the procedure that I have a strong gag reflex (I can’t even clean wet hair out of the shower drain without gagging – it’s not pretty). He had mentioned that some people have trouble swallowing the transducer. You have to gargle this viscous numbing solution for a few minutes, then swallow the solution, and if that doesn’t quite do it, they spray more numbing stuff down your throat. After the third spray I threw up the viscous gel stuff (I’ll spare you the details – let’s just say there’s a reason they don’t let you eat for several hours before a procedure like that). The doc said he had had patients who had trouble with the stuff but the throwing up was a first for him.
So he had to put me under – or at least he tried, I was told later. (One thing I did forget to tell him is that not only did I inherit the gagging thing from my dad, I also inherited the need for stronger drugs than most people require – Dad once woke up on the operating table during back surgery.) They give you an amnesia-inducing sedative, so I don’t remember, but apparently I was alert throughout the rest of today’s procedure. Let me just say that I’m really glad I don’t remember, although my sore throat is a constant reminder albeit a really good excuse for frozen yogurt when we got home this afternoon.
The bottom line is that many people live with mitral valve prolapse with no problems. The TEE showed more damage to my valve than they were expecting, but after one doctor (the one who did the TEE) brought up the real possibility of surgery (the scary, crack-open-your-sternum kind of surgery), the original doc said he just wants to monitor it closely. I have another echocardiogram scheduled for December, then he’ll see me every six months. I intend to seek a third opinion, however, just to be sure.
One of the lessons here is that early detection is extremely important. I had ignored a couple of things going on with me over the weekend, but when I got to work Monday and had the strange lightheaded feeling, I decided not to ignore it any longer. Ironically, those symptoms don’t seem to be related to the heart valve problem. I don’t believe in coincidences, so the other symptoms, however minor, may have saved my life – maybe not this week but down the road. (The link I provided above says mitral valve prolapse isn’t dangerous, but I also have the “regurgitation” part, in which blood leaks back into the chamber and can cause other problems.)
Bruce was telling the doctors that with his Crohn’s disease we’ve learned a big lesson about ignoring symptoms. In 1998, he nearly died before I could get him to see a doctor. When I finally told him I was taking him to the hospital, they discovered the disease that has taken so much out of him these past 10 years, and especially the past 20 months.
But I told him it’s because I read too many magazine articles about people who ignore little things until it’s too late. Monday morning I just finally decided to stop ignoring the little signs, even though they turned out to be “merely” stress related. Bruce and I joked yesterday that my job, which has caused me an extreme amount of stress in the past 11 months, may have saved my life. Who knows? It may be true.
But as I often say, I think it was “my guardian angel working overtime.”
Thanks to all of you who have been praying for us.