Wedding day, July 28, 1984. Thanks to some terrific people, me and the miracle girl can look forward to another anniversary. (Photo by Rick Amodt.)
Hello everyone. It’s still me filling in for Beth. She’s home — from Vermont, anyway — but a funny thing happened on her way back to the blog. Many of you already know the story — for those who are reading it for the first time, apologies for the scare. But Beth and I pieced together the following account because we thought you’d want to know. We’re still sorting some things out, so don’t be surprised if we don’t respond right away. Thank you for reading—Mike
Beth had emergency open-heart surgery Thursday morning, and she is OK. More than OK. She’s recovering remarkably well, crazy remarkably well, at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. I just left her room. She is walking the hallways, with a guide, and still attached to surgical drains.
The docs and staff who got her to this point have been streaming through over the past couple days and they all come through Beth’s hospital room door saying, in a tone of amazement, “I just wanted to lay eyes on the miracle girl.”
For the past two weeks, starting when Beth was still in Vermont, she had been experiencing infrequent burning sensations, followed by pain in her chest. Our friend Debbie Wood had a heart attack in her 40s. Debbie works at Northwestern University and by chance was involved in the design project Beth worked on there last month. During that time, Debbie reminded Beth to see a doctor if she ever had any chest pain. “Women tend to ignore them,” she warned. “It could be serious.”
Friends from New Hampshire drove to Vermont and brought Beth to the Burlington airport and she flew home, earlier than planned, to me. At home, her pains seemed to increase in frequency. But they didn’t fit the description of angina – no swelling in the ankles, no lightheadedness, and the pain didn’t spread into her arms or back. Rather than go to the ER, we had our endocrinologist get Beth in for an appointment for a stress test/echocardiogram last Wednesday afternoon at a downtown cardiologist’s office.
That’s when the sh-t hit the fan. Beth had what was technically a heart attack while she was on the treadmill. A Chicago EMS crew rushed Beth to the Northwestern Emergency Room in an ambulance. Followed by me in a cab.
Her angiogram the next morning showed, against all reasonable expectations for someone who’d been diabetic 47 years, that Beth’s arteries were clear. When the cardiologist came from the cardiac catheterization lab to brief me, she said, “Dude, I hope my arteries are that clean when I’m 54.” Which sounded like good news. Except it still left them not knowing what the problem was. And that’s when Beth’s heart went into fibrillation. They had to shock it back into rhythm. No time to spare now. No decision , either. Open heart surgery.
A dozen staff frantically prepped her for surgery, like a scene out of House. When the anesthesiologist came with release papers for me to sign, and just before they wheeled her away, he said, “ She’s unstable. We’re going to do the best we can do.”
It was only on the operating table that they solved the puzzle — why she had been experiencing chest pains over the past couple weeks. We worried that it had something to do with that staph infection she’d gotten back in Vermont. Or coronary artery disease, which diabetics are more susceptible to than the general population. But no. They’d found — and removed — three benign tumors on Beth’s aortic valve. Such tumors are uncommon. But Beth was, as is her wont, one-of-a-kind. In the surgeon’s words, “I’ve done 10,000 operations and I’ll tell you — one of these tumors was the biggest I’ve ever seen. It’s more than a centimeter.”
He explained that the tumors flapped when Beth’s valve opened and closed. And one of them, the big SOB tumor, intermittently cut off blood flow to Beth’s heart. Leaving her with a burning sensation followed by pain in her chest.
And so, through the combination of some good decisions, some absolutely terrific, wonderful, heroic medical staff at Northwestern Hospital, the good wishes and support of our wonderful friends and family, and, some simple good luck, Beth will be coming home to me again early this week.
Beth will be coming home to the blog eventually, too, and I probably will do a post or two on the subject. There are people to thank, wonderful friends, family members, and complete strangers. And probably a lot of thoughts to be sorted out via writing.
Until then, please, take care of yourselves, and each other.