I should warn you from the start that this story is more about thoughts and feelings about the sudden changes I face in 2015. The first week in January was like most any other week in the middle of a Northwest winter. It was dreary, cold, and rainy. I had been feeling a bit "under the weather," (excuse the pun), but I didn't really think it was anything to worry about. My son and his wife had encouraged me to apply for a life insurance policy while I was still relatively healthy for a woman of 62 years. So, I had done that in December 20014.
On January 4, my phone rang but I didn't recognize the number. I nearly ignored it, but answered it anyway. It was the nurse from the life insurance company. She had visited my home to draw blood and ask a million questions about my health. She was calling to tell me that the company had denied me coverage. When I asked why, she said it was because of my congestive heart failure. "Well," I told her, "I don't have congestive heart failure!" She replied, "Oh, yes, you do! We ran a specific blood test for it and it came back positive. You will need to contact your doctor right away."
As I pushed the End button on my phone, hanging up with the nurse, suddenly all the shortness of breath and chest tightness I had been experiencing became a concern. Still, I wasn't in a panic about it; I simply sent my doctor and email explaining my symptoms and also what the nurse had related to me. Three days went by with no response from my doctor. Feeling a bit frustrated, I called the office and spoke to the advice nurse. She said she would have a doctor call me back. I felt better that someone was going to call me.
About 10 minutes later, my phone rang. It was a female doctor, who asked me to describe my symptoms to her, which I did. She then said, "And you have an abnormal BNP?" I replied that I was given that information, yes. Without hesitation she told me to get to the local Kaiser Permanente hospital and that they would be waiting for me. Wow! I felt like I was in a movie or something. I mean I had pain and discomfort, but I didn't think it required all of this urgency! So, I was taken to the hospital. My family said they would wait for me to call and let them know what's going on. Now, I must say, I was put out by the fact that I was left there along, but that's neither here nor there.
Upon arriving at the hospital, I was immediately placed into a wheelchair and rushed back to a room. There were lots of people around, and I was given an IV. More blood work was done, a chest X-ray, and an EKG. The blood work came back with a similar result, and my EKG was all over the place. Hmm. I still didn't feel THAT bad!! Now all of the above was completed within 15 minutes. I was really impressed.
The next thing I knew, a doctor was sitting by my bed explaining that I was going to be transferred by ambulance to the cardiac intensive care unit in Clackamas, which is another Kaiser facility about 40 minutes drive from where I was at that time. Ok then. This must be serious, I thought. In a matter of seconds, the ambulance was there. Once inside, I received another IV. The ride was pretty uneventful, although it was pretty fast, with sirens blaring through Portland. Just before they opened the doors to take me out, the paramedic explains that when I get into the hospital there will be a lot of people asking me a lot of questions, etc., etc. Now I was really feeling like I was on television!
Needless to say, after a dozen tests including brain MRI, an angiogram and an echocardiogram, I was diagnosed with acute diastolic congestive heart failure. A portion of my heart has stiffened and will not allow the appropriate amount of blood to fill the ventricle. What fun! No, not really. Suddenly I went from pushing a client around in a wheelchair and mopping her floors to no pushing, pulling or lifting more than 10 pounds. No exertion. No cleaning, no laundry, no fast walking, a different life. But this is only part of the story.
One of the requirements of my job was that I be able to perform CPR. Although I had used the Heimelich Maneuver on my client once, thankfully, I never had to do CPR. In May of this year I was sent an email that advised me to go online and set up an appointment to re-certify. I went to the website and began signing up for the class. That's when it hit me that I can no longer physically handle performing CPR. I quickly emailed my doctor, and he advised me, in no uncertain terms, that I was not to do CPR or re-certify for it.
In the meantime, I had also been experiencing some memory issues of my own. Can you imagine it? I was caring for a woman who has dementia, and I was forgetting how to go where I need to go myself? The day I knew something was really wrong was when it was told to me that, although I had given my client her medications, I failed to write them on the "MAR," which is the legal form that must be completed everytime a medication is dispensed.
My boss called me in and asked me about my mistakes, since I had not made any errors in the previous 18 months! I told him that I had been experiencing some issues and was waiting on some test results. In the Summer of 2013, I had undergone the same testing. When the results of the most recent tests came in, I was devastated.
Once my Human Resources Manager learned about the CPR issue, I knew that, ultimately, my job would be over, and it was - the very next day. I have to say that it was one of the most emotional days of my life. To realize suddenly that I couldn't do the job that I loved anymore was heartbreaking - again, no pun intended. Unfortunately, I still had another hurdle to jump over before the end of that week.
As I sat in the office with the doctor who had performed the tests, he seemed tentative as he put a very positive slant to his remarks. He reassured me through some of the tests that the results were normal for my age, etc., etc. Then came the "but." Basically, the IQ shown on the latter test was 22 points below the one I had done in 2013. He said he had done more extensive testing in some areas than the previous doctor because he had already seen that I was having difficulty during the first couple of tests he gave me. The results: short and long-term deficits indicating early onset Alzheimer's Dementia. That was a huge "but" to swallow, especially since I was alone at the appointment and had no one to freak out on! Perhaps it was better that way.
I knew there was an issue. Two of my granddaughters were juniors in high school, and although I had driven them to school dozens and dozens of times, I still had to think about which way I turned out of the parking lot to begin the drive to the school. One time I had taken public transportation into downtown Portland (Oregon). When I got off of the first bus to transfer, I had no idea where I was or how to get to the correct stop for the next bus. I had a meltdown and had to ask someone where I could catch a bus to get to my destination. Another time, I rode the commuter rail into Portland, missed getting off on my stop, disembarked, and wandered around the streets trying to find my way. I got so confused, I couldn't even find my way back to the train stop I had just left. So, I knew I was having problems.
Life now is very different for me. Most days I feel as though I am walking through fog. I no longer drive. Unemployment is not an option because I left my job voluntarily. When I think about re-entering the workforce, I panic - I mean really panic. I get anxiety, and have trouble breathing. What happens in my head is: What could I do for work? I can't think straight or remember things. I can't lift, push, or pull anything, and I don't want to look like an idiot either! It is humiliating, especially since I have worked all my life, beginning when I was 15 years old. Multi-tasking was a talent that God gave me. I was an accurate speed-typist (120 words per minute). I could check a patient in at the doctors' office, answer the phone, and take a payment all without flinching. But, that was then, and this is now.
Looking back on my life (what I can remember of it - ha!), I remember being energetic, organized, dependable, and efficient. Work was the only place I could go where I felt appreciated or where I had any worth. Some poor personal decisions I had made left me insecure around family and friends, but some decisions were good ones. Not everyone understood them, but they were mine. The decisions I made regarding marriage were the worst, and the vibrant young woman I was as a teenager and young adult became self-absorbed in a negative way. The losses I have experienced this year have impacted me greatly, because I made the mistake of creating my self-worth around my employment. Let me tell you; that is a very dangerous thing to do.
Am I sad? You bet I am! Am I strong? Perhaps. But I don't feel strong anymore. I feel as though only half of me is here and half of me has gone by. It's a strange feeling. I find myself staring off into the beautiful landscapes around me as I suddenly wonder where everyone went. Were they even here to begin with or did I imagine it? When I have a conversation with someone, I get hurt if they don't answer me so that I understand. Then, I guess they don't understand either.
I do have good days when all seems okay with the world. I stay in well-lit areas and keep my mind busy with puzzles, games and texts. Whereas poetry always came easy to me, I have great difficulty with it now. When I try to express my feelings, they come out jumbled and all over the place. Although my writings on Legacy Stories may not be the greatest, I will try to keep writing. It may not help anyone else, but perhaps it will help me.
It's now January 2016, and I am starting to feel a bit frustrated by my disease. I have great days! But then, like one day last week, I can't have completely clear thoughts or I am substituting words for other words. It's weird really. I was actually hoping to maybe live even part-time with my elderly parents, but in the last couple of weeks, I realized that it will never be. In some ways, I feel like they are healthier than I am! Strange. I play "Words With Friends," and I make great words! Problem is, I don't know what a lot of them mean anymore. Those are the times I feel most frustrated. Or when it's sunny outside when I drive to the store, but somehow the sun goes down quickly, and I am afraid. I get lost and it takes me 40 minutes to get home. I was a couple of miles from home at a doctor's appointment where I'd been many, many times. I can't see where I'm going, and OH! Someone took the GPS out of the car. I'm afraid. I can't find my home. When I arrive home later, I realized I had a cell phone with me and could have called my son. Now I'm angry at myself. And I'm in tears. But this is only on the bad days.
That is a heart-stopping (no pun intended) story. I had a similar experience in 1985. I went to the doctor for what I thought was a routine, recurring prostate problem. Bang, bang, bang, three tests in a row and I was in the hospital having my cancerous left kidney removed. A sharp,dedicated x-ray technician had seen a shadow on that kidney while studying my prostate. After the surgery my doctor and surgeon said to me, "You're one of the luckiest men alive. We never catch kidney cancer that early. That sudden plunge into fear and the unknown is quite a "trip," isn't it? Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed it.
Millard, it is very rare to catch cancer early, but especially kidney cancer. I sure hope you are doing all right and that things are improving for you. It is amazing how we take life for granted when we are young. And yes, fear and the unknown are both things that can stress us out. I don't fear death at all. I just fear the pain. More than that, I know that things will get difficult for family members when I no longer know who they are. The unknown is definitely scary. I can handle anything if I know what it is. When there is a closed door (a lack of diagnosis for instance) and I don't know what's behind it, I tend to have anxiety!
Thank you so much for your comment! Your experience was very scary, I'm sure. Wow, the big "C" is nothing to sneeze at. I'm awfully glad that you were able to catch it early and everything is okay!