After meeting with my family doctor, he sent me down the hall to Ohio Heart Health - these are the awesome folks who work in conjunction with Christ Hospital - the best hospital in Cincinnati, in my humble opinion. Going through a battery of tests in January (yes, we met our family deductible very early this year....) it was determined that I did, indeed, have a somewhat serious problem. Seems I have what is called "dilated cardiomyopathy". This is the third most common cause of heart failure. The symptoms I had been experiencing were all due to heart failure, and could potentially take my life. As the cardiologist explained to my shocked husband and I, there would have been no "heart attack", just a complete "heart failure". I should probably add here that I hadn't shared my symptoms with anyone else yet and my nurse friends were adamant that I do exactly what was prescribed once I told them.
One of the tests done measured my "ejection fraction", how well your heart pumps with each beat. A typical ejection fraction is 55-70%. My ejection fraction was 10-15%. Immediately I started taking a beta blocker, alpha inhibitor, and diuretic. My enlarged heart needed the fluid around it released and my blood pressure, while not currently elevated, needed to remain low to eliminate any additional strain. I went from taking no medication at all one day to 8 pills per day! Within 48 hours, I felt incredibly better.
Feeling fine and "fixed", I told my cardiologist (it sounds important when you have one you can call your "own", or maybe it just makes you sound like an old lady) that I didn't need all that medicine and I was now fine. Hold on there, Missy, he said (not really, but I'm sure he thought it). He gently explained to me that I would, perhaps, be on some of these medications, albeit at a lower dose than initially, for the rest of my life. THE REST OF MY LIFE!? ARE YOU SERIOUS!? I DO NOT TAKE MEDICINE!! (yes, I think I did perhaps shout a little at him; you'd have to ask my husband....)
Quite thankfully, a test called a "cardiac cath" did not show any blockages whatsoever. So my only real problem was the cardiomyopathy. As a side line, the day I went to Christ Hospital to have this procedure my nurse happened to be a good Christian friend - what a blessing! Each step of the way of this ordeal God has provided just the right people to walk with me through it. There have been humorous times too - when the original dosage of blood pressure medications was too effective, I passed out at my desk. My coworkers came to my rescue and took care of me, all the while not 100% certain that I had not come to work drunk that day. Actually, I was just on drugs.....prescribed at least.
With an arsenal of drugs, my own personal blood pressure monitor, a renewed interest in walking for exercise, and prayers and support from friends and family, I felt certain this cardiomyopathy (idiopathic as it was) was outnumbered. For those who don't know, idiopathic means there is no known reason for you to have the disease. Alcoholics, cocaine users, and chemo patients are all susceptible to dilated cardiomyopathy and I was none of those. Family history didn't seem likely either and so perhaps it was a virus at some time in my life that caused this. My doctor said to focus on the treatment, not the cause.
Blood tests became a monthly event for me and I got familiar with the lab folks at my local hospital. Two more times my ejection fraction was measured, only to find out that it had not improved. In August I was given the unwelcome news that my best hope was a pacemaker/defibrillator that would not only help my heart to pump efficiently, but also provide an emergency shock if my heart were to stop beating. I was not convinced - perhaps I would think about getting this thingy when I'm older....
Heartfelt talks with my family and, of course, nurse friends, convinced me that I could not wait. So on September 2, 2011 I had the device installed. Cardiac resynchronization therapy is the fancy name for what my little "friend" does for me. Next post I will share more about the procedure and recovery.