As my first post, I’ve decided to share the journey I underwent in December 2011. Some things may not be in chronological order, but I’ve tried to keep everything that way as much as possible.
For years, I’ve suffered from daily exhaustion, anxiety, and other issues. I would always attribute my chest pain to GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease) or my anxiety. I would easily get short of breath going up and down stairs. This was attributed to my asthma and weight. I’ve also had Costochondritis (inflammation of the cartilage that connects a rib to the breastbone), caused by stress, crying often, and severe coughing. The exhaustion, I thought was due to depression. It’s possible that these symptoms were due to these factors on occasion.
However, on December Eighth, 2011, around 8-9pm I began to experience chest pain. I tried every remedy I knew. Steadily, over the next few hours, it progressively turned into the worst chest pain of my life. Around 4:40am I finally called 911, since my roommate refused to take me to the E.R. The E.M.Ts were rather rude, asking what I had to be so anxious about at my age, since at that point I was thinking it was my anxiety still. I later reported this to my nurses in the E.R. and was given a card for who to contact to make a formal complaint. However, I never followed through on this.
I was in admitted to a room immediately, around 5am. Soon I was seen by Dr. Klosowski, the resident on call that day. He’s also one of the resident doctors working at the Family and Child Health Clinic on Center Road in Essexville. He took my concerns seriously, and didn’t automatically attribute my chest pain to any of the above reasons. As he performed his initial exam, he detected an arrhythmia (abnormal heartbeat) and ordered further testing. I had an EKG (electrocardiogram) followed by an ECG (echocardiogram, also know as an ultrasound of the heart). At this point, I had called my mom to let her know where I was. I had also posted on Facebook that I was in the ER. My friend Laurie came to sit with me, so I was not alone. Soon after, Dr. Klosowski came in with the news. I believe this was around 9am. I still thought I was just having anxiety issues, and possibly another bought of costochondritis. He informed me a tumor was found in my heart, and I was being admitted to the hospital. He informed me that I would have to have surgery to remove the tumor.
My next step was to call my mom. I told her the news, and started crying over the phone. I had never been so scared in my entire life. I think my mom must have sped the entire way from her workplace in Saginaw back to Bay City. Laurie left shortly after, as to give me time with my mom.
My mom called my Dad to let him know what was going on, but he waited until I was placed in a room. I waited until my sister and brother were informed about my needing surgery before posting anything to Facebook.
Once I was admitted, I was placed on a 5-lead portable heart monitor that was placed in a pouch that I wore around my neck. This made it easier for me to move around. I was placed on a fall alert, so I was asked not to get up without assistance. They also started giving me 2 mg morphine through my i.v. for the pain. They alternated the morphine with Motrin 600 and Ultram, since I have an adverse reaction to Vicodin. Surprisingly, the Morphine neither made me loopy, or tired. I did have an upset stomach for a few minutes after taking it, to the point where I would have to lay back until the nausea passed.
The first day I was admitted, I had visits by my Aunt Pat, and my best friend Stephanie. I’m not sure who else came by. I emailed my community group through my church, and I did have a few people come by during my stay, before my surgery.
On Saturday, December 10th, something called a PIC line was placed in my arm, instead of a regular I.V. An ultrasound had to be used to locate the best vein to use. It was placed in my right arm. It was a bit painful, and I did end up crying while it was being placed. I could feel the tube traveling through my vein. It was one of the strangest sensations I have felt, other than the breathing and stomach tubes that were placed in my throat during and after surgery. Just as the nurse was finishing placing my line, the surgeon, Dr. Cherukuri, visited me briefly and scheduled my surgery for Tuesday, December 14th. I broke down at this point, and cried for a little while with my mom, exclaiming over and over how I just wanted to go home. He was then going to sign papers for my release until my cardiologist, Dr. Reed, showed him the echocardiogram. The tumor, called an Atrial Myxoma, was taking up 80% of my left atrium. As my heart beat, a small portion entered my left ventricle through my mitral valve. This was a very dangerous situation, as it could get stuck in the valve, completely blocking my blood supply.
I’m not sure when this was explained to me. We knew by that point that my situation was very serious. The tumor must have been in heart for years, for the size that it was. After surgery, it measured about 8 centimeters long, by 2 centimeters long.
I was a medical oddity among the staff at Bay Regional. They had never seen such a large Atrial Myxoma. This could have affected my quality of care. I was well taken care of in the hospital, the entire time. I had many students come to see me, as well as others in the cardiology department. One cardiologist, Dr. Lee, offered to show my mom, Aunt Pat and I the Echocardiogram. It was scary yet fascinating. I wish I would have asked for a picture of it. He explained what we were seeing on the echo as it played, and I could see how large it was compared to my left atrium. I could also see the small section that was dipping down into my left ventricle with every pump.
Dr. Lee was the first one that really explained the gravity of the situation. The tumor was at the point it could have killed me, either by a piece breaking off, or by blocking my bloody supply. I could have fainted suddenly, or died in my sleep. Talk about a scary thought!
My parents brought my sister to see me on Sunday. I was so happy to see her. She was in her wheelchair next to my bed, and I was able to hold her hand for quite a while. Normally, she pulls her hands away often as a reflex, but this didn’t happen as often that day. She knew I needed that contact I think.
The night before my surgery, my close friend Mike, stayed the entire night. I have to thank his girlfriend and close friend Cammy for being comfortable with the arrangement. Mike didn’t want me to be alone that night, and I was very grateful he was there. My mom and dad couldn’t stay, nor did I expect them too. They have my sister to take care of after all. Cardiac patients automatically get private rooms, and there is a really nice reclining chair in the room.
December 14th was the day of surgery. That morning, I had quite a few visitors. A pastor from Hopevale visited that morning and prayed with me. He wasn’t the first visitor from the church I had though, one of the community group hosts, Karrie, came within the first couple of days. Mark, our community group leader, visited the day before surgery.
There is one thing I want to say, that I haven’t told many people before now. That morning, I felt an amazing sense of calm and peace. I was ready for surgery, and knew that if God decided to call me home, I was ready. I wasn’t scared of dying during surgery. I guess to some that may sound morbid. To me, it just made sense. God was with me, I truly felt his presence that day. I also had this feeling, that because of the recent deaths in the family, including my paternal grandmother and maternal grandfather, that I was going to come out of surgery just fine. Mom and I had already discussed what I wanted done with my belongings if something should happen to me. I had my family and friends around me. My mom, dad, Aunt Pat, Mike and best friend Stephanie were there to see me off to surgery. On the way to the elevator, Stephanie made a comment to me, about a joke we have with one another. I was cracking up. I was almost in tears from laughing with her. How many people can say they were laughing on their way to a major surgery? That was God working in my life. In the pre-operating room, my mom and dad sat with me, and the nurses began to get me ready to go down to the operating room. Towards the end, as they were getting ready to wheel me out, I had to shoo my parents out of the room. My mom was starting to cry, and I saw that my dad was on the verge of tears as well. I told her if she stayed any longer she would make me cry too. I told her it would be okay.
After the tumor was removed, while they were closing me up, my family got to see the tumor. They were surprised at just how large it was. I was only able to see a picture, but it measured about 8 centimeters long, once it was sort of flattened out.
I’ve decided that this entry is quite long, and have decided to continue the rest of my hospital stay, and subsequent recovery in another entry.