My husband and I got concerned about “unknown cardiac risks” after a friend had a nuclear stress test and ended up needing a quadruple by-pass. Add that to my own family history (mother and both her parents died of heart issues, brother has congestive heart failure, and aunt had “twisted/gnarly” arteries) and my new Cardiologist, Dr. R, was glad to see me being proactive about my heart health. My schedule is more fluid than M’s, so I went first by having fasting blood work, wearing a Holter heart monitor for 24-hours, getting an echocardiogram, and finally having a nuclear stress test using a drug called Lexiscan that would work my heart instead of having me run on a treadmill, since I’m not able to run.
After last Tuesday’s nuclear stress test showed an abnormality in my front artery, he “highly encouraged” me to have a heart catheterization done, to make sure there wasn’t anything more serious going on to cause concern. I was told that, if plaque or a narrowing was found, they could easily insert a stent, which would help my arteries function better. M and I discussed the procedure and told my doctor on Friday that we agreed with his suggestion.
Three days later (three days ago), early Monday afternoon, I got a call from the Cardiovascular office to set up my cardiac cath (I’m going to use this term since it’s shorter… you understand that it’s a cardiac catheterization). The scheduler said that Dr. R wanted the procedure done within the week and offered Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday… eek! We opted for Wednesday and she began to give me details… this was getting REAL and it was all I could do to stay calm and not panic. She asked me to come into their office asap to get paperwork and pick up an order for some time-sensitive blood work.
I got to the doctor’s office (which was the same place where I’d done my nuclear stress test) within 15 minutes and actually got to meet Dr. N, the doctor who would be performing my cardiac cath. He was personable and kind but also very focused and willing to take the time to answer my inane questions (what *is* this procedure, what will determine whether you use the groin or the arm for “entry”, and how long will I be in the hospital… poor guy!). He did a quick check with my wrist and decided they would first try to use my radial artery for my cardiac cath. I’m not sure why that decision seemed *better* to me, but I felt a little less panicked about the procedure after our conversation.
Tuesday flew by in a bit of a blur… packing a small overnight bag, reading information about the procedure, and asking my family/friends for prayers. The doctor warned us that I would need to stay in the hospital for 24-hours if he needed to do a stent so we tried to be ready for any situation. I was so blessed to have people reach out to share their experiences, offer support, and pray for my safety. I was anxious, but felt as prepared as possible for the unknown.
Wednesday started incredibly early. My procedure was being done at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, which is approximately 45 minutes from our home. In order to arrive by the 6:45AM check-in time, we left at 5:30AM and were walking into the hospital by 6:30AM. After going over paperwork and consent forms, they called me back to my room by 7:30AM to get gowned, prepped, and ready for the doctor. M came back to join me at 8:30AM and we sat together for the next three hours, waiting as patiently as possible.
My nurse, J, was really wonderful. She was informative, calming, proactive, and personable… I honestly couldn’t have picked a better person as my nurse for the day. She watched over me like a mom, performed her tasks like a pro, and was a wonderful advocate in keeping me “next-in-line” during the morning’s events. I get a “wonky” stomach from some medications and was getting more and more anxious as time ticked on, so meds arrived to help me remain calm and focused. When they finally wheeled me into the sterile surgical room, I was as ready as possible.
Coming into the surgical room was a bit surreal. Nurses helped me as I stood up, turned, and sat down on the table in the center of the room. There were huge pieces of equipment, a number of TV screens, and gowned people scurrying around getting things ready and asking me to repeat my name and birthdate. Dr. N came in, held my hand, and calmly chatted about the upcoming procedure. We discussed (again) why, how, and what he would be doing. He affirmed his original decision to use my radial artery (at my wrist) instead of entering through the groin and then left to finish his own preparations. Now I started to get scared…
Things moved quickly from here. My wrist was propped up and taped down to allow Dr. N to most stable and secure access to my right radial artery. My wrist and both sides of my groin were swathed in a very cold antiseptic solution. My nerves were beginning to get the better of me, so retreated to repeating The Lord’s Prayer and my father’s blessing as I felt my body tense and begin to shiver. When Dr. N returned to the room, the surgical orderly announced that “the cocktail isn’t on board yet” (they hadn’t yet given me any sedatives other than the Valium I’d received earlier) so he waited as the nurse administered the medicine into my IV. After a moment or two, he used a shot of Lidocaine (which hurt like a bee sting) to numb my wrist and then began the procedure.
To explain what happened next, I’ll use the information provided by the doctor’s office as reference… a catheter (small hollow plastic tube) was inserted into my right radial artery. Using special x-ray unit (fluoroscopy), the catheter was directed tp the heart and moved through the blood vessels and heat chambers. I felt a varying bit of pressure in my chest during the procedure, almost like flutters just under my rib cage. Pressures within the heart chambers were measured and (I think) dye was used to check each of my coronary arteries for blockages. Once Dr. N was satisfied with all that he’d seen, the catheter was removed.
I was absolutely awake throughout the procedure but the “twilight sedation” was enough to allow me to try and relax. I like to try and recite a wine tasting in my head, using ones I’ve done from either James River Cellars or Boordy Vineyard, since they make me concentrate on something totally unrelated to the current situation. I was able to respond to the Dr. N’s questions and was surprised when I heard someone use the words “coming out”, regarding the catheter. They removed the tape that stabilized my wrist and he put a compression bandage on the spot where the catheter had been removed. The temperature of my fingers concerned him and he asked me to make a fist to check blood flow. I have Raynaud’s syndrome, which complicated the return of immediate adequate blood flow to my fingers, so he adjusted the air pressure in the bandage (normal use is 10cc’s of air and he used 5cc’s with me) and was comfortable with that decision. Before he left, he told me that he was happy to see that I have “the arteries of a fourteen year old” and no stent was needed… hallelujah and praise be to God!
The nurses quickly removed all the surgical paraphernalia and helped me shuffle over to the bed that would roll me back to my room. They covered me with heavy, warm blankets (it’s amazing how cold one can get in such a short amount of time!) and were wheeling me into my room just minutes after M had come back from getting lunch… I had only been gone for 45 minutes.
The afternoon was spent recovering… from the anesthesia, from the trauma, and from the stress. I got to sit up and have a cup of coffee… I got to eat some food… and I eventually got the chance to use my phone to start responding to the wonderful messages and comments made on Facebook, through IM or through texts. The doctor came in to explain his findings to us and give us the good news. The nurse slowly decreased the air in my compression bandage and eventually was able to apply a simple bandage (seen in the photo) after a few hours. It was after 3PM before we finally headed home, but we left the hospital tired and grateful.
Today, I’m following doctor’s orders. I will not shower or remove the bandage on my wrist until after 1:30 this afternoon and have been given a 5lb lift-limit until Saturday morning. Writing and resting are the only things on my to-do list, so thank you for letting me share this experience. What a gift to know that my grateful heart is also a healthy heart!