It’s been a bit hectic around here lately, which is why I haven’t posted anything to RheumaBlog for more than a week.
At 5:00 a.m. a week ago today, Mom woke me out of a sound sleep to ask me to go downstairs and get her sciatica pain medicine.
“Aw,” I said, “sure I will. Is your hip really bad?” I was a little surprised, as she’s been doing great, sciatica-wise, for quite a while, now.
“No … my chest hurts pretty bad,” she said. Now that I was awake–though I hadn’t turned a light on, yet–the weakness of her voice registered in my sleepy brain. So did the fact that she was gasping for breath.
“Mom? Your chest hurts? How long has it been like that?” I took her arm and walked her back into her bedroom.
“Oh,” she gasped, “I guess since around 1.”
I found the lamp on the nightstand and turned it on. “You’ve been having chest pains for four hours? Mom, why didn’t you wake me??” I was aghast.
“I thought it would go away,” she said. With the light on, I could see that her color wasn’t good. She looked small, frail and very, very frightened.
I called an ambulance.
Mom wasn’t having and didn’t have a heart attack. It turned out that she was once again experiencing bradycardia, a condition in which the heart beats much more slowly than it should. Where a normal heart rate is in the 60 beat-per-minute range, when they measured it in the hospital emergency department, Mom’s had dropped to 29 bpm. That was why her chest felt tight, heavy and painful. It was what was causing her to gasp for oxygen. It was even why she’d waited so long to wake me–her brain was sluggish, foggy. She could barely think, let alone make vital decisions. That she was finally able to–and find the strength to get out of bed and make her way to the guest room, where I was snoozing blithely away like a hibernating bear–is nothing short of a miracle.
I could have wakened at my normal 6:30 a.m., got up and made coffee, fed the cats, got the newspaper off the driveway, performed morning ablutions and only then, when the fact that she still wasn’t up (which would be unusual, as she rarely sleeps past 7 a.m.), would I have discovered the danger she was in. In fact, it would have probably been too late.
In the ED, the doctors got her heart rate up to the low-to-mid-40s. Her chest pain disappeared and, with an oxygen lead in her nostrils, she started breathing more easily. The diagnosis of a second-degree heart block–a condition that affects the electrical charge in the heart that causes it to beat–was made by the on-call cardiologist. Because she was fighting off an existing bladder infection, he admitted her to the ICU and put her on IV antibiotics, hoping to knock it out quickly. The plan was to fit her with an internal pacemaker the following morning.
The device, he explained, would stimulate her heart to beat faster anytime it dropped below 60 bpm.
She still had the bladder infection the next morning, but the cardiologist didn’t want to wait any longer. They placed the pacer. Two hours later she was wide awake, smiling, bright-eyed and a little bewildered at all the hullabaloo. She felt great, except her upper left chest and shoulder were pretty sore from the minor surgery.
A few hours later I picked my sister up at the airport. She’d decided to come (she lives in New Mexico) for the obvious reasons–but also to give me some moral support and a chance to rest, bless her heart. Mom was released from the hospital on Saturday afternoon.
She’s doing incredibly well. Her mind is more clear, more sharp, than it’s been in a year, at least. At 80, even a minor surgery takes a little time to recover from, but she feels well. The docs told her to take it easy for two weeks, and she’s behaving herself nicely, taking their instructions to heart. And while she’s still on antibiotics for that persistent bladder infection, the immediate danger she was in is gone.
My sister flew back to Santa Fe on Tuesday afternoon. I spent the day yesterday at my aunt and uncle’s house, as usual, and am doing the same today. Mom is feeling really good.
And me? Same ol’, same ol’. Hips and hands are achy, but nothing I don’t get along with every day anyway. I haven’t had the wherewithal (or energy) to get to the gym since all this started, but I hope to re-start the regimen within another day or so.
And I tell myself: All will be well, and all will be well …
Update: It appears that mom’s very stubborn bladder infection has taken a turn for the worse. She ran out of steam mid-morning and has been in bed since. As you might imagine, she’s severely bummed. And me? I’m working hard at cheerful and upbeat. Sigh …
We’re off to see her PCP in a few minutes.