Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Today sucked.

Yesterday, my grandma was having chest pains so she called 911 and went to the hospital. They ran multiple tests and found no problems with her heart. But she was adamant that something wasn't right and she was in a lot of pain. They thought maybe it was her stomach and they kept her overnight.

The next morning, another test revealed that she had, in fact, had a heart attack. My older sister was at the hospital with her and called me to update me on the situation. They were going to do a catheter to check for any blockages in her heart. I finished up my work and drove to the hospital to meet my sister and my two aunts. 

We waited a couple hours and the doctor finally called us back to talk to us about the procedure. If you're unfamiliar with a heart catheterization, here is my highly unqualified and probably inaccurate explanation of it: the make an incision in your thigh and feed a long thing tube through one of your main arteries in your leg and feed it all the way through your heart. A tiny camera captures images. They found one 99% blockage in one of her arteries and two 80% blockages in another artery. Obviously, the 99% one is what caused her heart attack. The placed a stent in where the blockage was to open up the artery. In one month she will have to come back to have the other two done. 

She's fine. 

The scary part is that she had a stress test less than six months ago and it should have caught any problems. The reason that the stress tests and the preliminary tests in the emergency room didn't catch her blockage or heart attack has something to do with her pacemaker throwing off the results (I won't even pretend to understand this one). She had also been experiencing back pain directly behind her heart for almost a year. They had done all kind of therapy to try to make her back better including some kind of spinal injection that did nothing. This whole thing may have been because of her heart. 

So here's the moral of the story: you have to be your own healthcare advocate because no one else is going to do it for you. I don't want to think about what could have happened if they had sent her home when she went to the emergency room. But she persisted that she didn't feel right and that there was something wrong. She also requested to be moved to a different hospital, the one where her (very trusted) cardiologist worked. Her request was denied because she wasn't stable enough. However, they tried to assign a doctor to her that she had had before, one with a terrible reputation who had botched a procedure on her before. Instead, she consulted her consumer reports book about doctors to check them all out. The doctor that operated on her was rated as the best cardio surgeon in that healthcare group. And that's the doctor that fixed her heart.

If you think something isn't right and you want a second opinion, ask for it. If you have strong feelings about your care, ask someone to change it. Don't worry about looking bossy, bitchy, or paranoid, it's your life and it's the only one you have. Thank God my grandma was smart and persistent enough to ask for the care that she needed. And if you're not well enough, have someone else advocate for you, that you trust. My older sister is extremely close with my grandma and has worked in the healthcare system for a long time. One thing is for sure, she does not shut her mouth (in a good way!) when my grandma is in the hospital. She asks a lot of questions, demands answers, and makes clear instructions about how she wants the care handled. My grandma is really lucky to have her.

So that's the end of the story: be your own healthcare advocate. 

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