In January of 2014, I suffered setbacks in recovery. I felt like I had to take 100 steps backwards in my recovery...all because of medications. The pain pain in my left leg felt like the pain in August. So, back to the cane and walker I went while the neurologist tried to find the right dose of medication.
Though out the spring, I was constantly reminding myself, to rest. I had to remember that it had only been 9 months since my cardiac arrest. I was not as strong as I thought I was. Lessons learned and noted.
I updated everyone on April 28.
It has now been10 months since my cardiac arrest. I am feel pretty good; however, there have been a few times my "action plan" at school has gone into effect. I am so thankful for our faculty, administration, and our nurse. They have gone above and beyond to take care of me this year.
My biggest lesson thus far: learning to say no, to rest, and to learn to do nothing effectively. It has been hard. I was able to go to New York and walkfor three days in a row without my cane. I am getting stronger, and I even swim laps for 30 minutes in the pool yesterday.
Medications: I went to get my medications yesterday. Get this: a whopping $45 for the month. No more $500 meds. Thank you Lara Hollaway and all those who helped me meet my deductible. I don't know how to thank you, but my heart thanks you each and every day! (Ha! no pun intended)
Things I'm looking forward to:
This summer, Billy and I will be taking 21 student to the International Thespian Festival. Yes. We are going again. Loyal festival attendees. This time, I will get to take a day away to go to Bryan Hospital to meet Dr. Oaks, see Mona Reynolds, and visit the many other nurses and doctors that saved my life. I'm excited to be able to walk up to them, give them a hug, and say thank you. I don't know if they get that often, but it is very important to me to to do this. After this trip, I will have lots of time to rest, get stronger, and just enjoy being alive.
In fact, while we are in Lincoln, we are going to celebrate my (second) birthday!
Starting back to school in August was hard and by October, I was beginning to feel the effects of going back to teaching.
On October 28, I shared...
Today I just felt "wrong." I couldn't put my finger on it, but I was out of breath, tired, dizzy, feeling like I was going to faint, and I was feeling skipped heart beats. My blood pressure was normal, and the nurse at school said she could feel the skipped beats when she took my pulse. So I called my doctor. I'm having premature ventricular contractions or PVCs. In fact, I'm having an average of 31 per hour which is more than the doctor wants to see.
PVCs are extra, abnormal heartbeats that begin in one of two ventricles. These extra beats disrupt regular heart rhythm, sometimes causing someone to feel a skipped beat.
So this is why I feel "wrong." All of my symptoms are the symptoms of PVCs, and PVC's are caused by...get this...heart attack/cardiac arrest, myocarditis, cardiomyopothy, and/or mitral valve prolapse. I have these or have had these.
UGH! I just want to feel better, and I want my life back. Worst of all at this moment is that I can't go to Haley's All-City Choir Concert tonight. I really wanted to see her sing and she really wanted me to be there. I talked to her as she went into the AISD Superintendent's Student Meeting. She said she understood.
I'll be home tomorrow trying to rest and waiting for the doc to call me with a plan of action.
By December 31 I was ready for the new year...
As someone who tries not to complain or whine, please allow me to say this has been the most difficult year of my life. I cannot wait for 2014. And as the new year begins, I will do this:
Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
In September, both my electrocardiologist and primary care physician referred me to a neurologist concerning the pain in my leg and foot. Today I saw her for almost two hours. The diagnosis is complicated, but I will try to explain. I have "sustained left leg large and small fiber neuropathy caused by the ECMO insertion in the left femoral artery" which has resulted in the excruciating pain and a loss in balance and coordination. This has caused hemiparesis, a weakness of one side of the body. This is mostly likely because I am in so much pain that I cannot effectively exercise.
Apparently, the large nerves will regenerate themselves but only at about 13 mm per month. However, the small fiber nerves are most likely permanently damaged, and I will have to learn to live with the pain. Meanwhile I must continue using the walker.
The neurologist has prescribed some medication to help me with the pain so that I can continue to strengthen my left leg. She has also taken blood work to check my B12 and other vitamins. Some studies have shown that B12 can help with the healing of large nerves.
She is also contacting my cardiologist to coordinate a baby aspirin regiment. Aspirin “thins” the blood and helps prevent blood clots from forming. Even with the ICD, she feels it will helps prevent clots, heart attack, and stroke.
I didn't believe everyone when they told me it would be 12 months to full recovery, but I do now. I'm glad to know and understand what is going on with my body. It helps me keep perspective about what I can and cannot do. (Paying Ninja with my theatre class is a no-no. Duh! I knew better!) I am learning the art of slowing down, turning down and saying no to things I like and want to do, and picking my activities carefully. I'm making a concerted effort NOT to complain because it could be worse. I am a live and that is the most important thing. Lately I like to think about what Emily Dickinson said, "I live in possibility."
Now that I was at home, and Billy stopped posting, we decided that I would continue the sharing and giving thanks for Journey. I would begin seeing many different doctors on this crazy journey.
Because the survival rate for adults who are placed on an ECMO machine is only 40%, my experience was giving doctors and nurses new things to consider.
When I collapsed, the doctors induced paralysis and sedated me. They put me on an Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machine. This is a heart-lung bypass machine that requires large tubes inserted in my left groin. Basically, this is a life support machine. I also had a drain placed in my left leg to help my body get rid of fluids from swelling. It seems that I have some temporary nerve damage in my foot due to all of the trauma that my left leg has gone through. I am told that the numbness will go away in time as my nerves start to wake up.
One August 12: I wrote....
Today was my much anticipated visit with my Electrocardiologist, Dr. David Kessler. First let me say that he was amazed at the entire incident and all that we have been through. He said that Bryan Medical Center East in Lincoln gave me EXCEPTIONAL care, and he was amazed that I was sitting in his office. I had a chance to ask a lot of questions, and I now feel confident about the ICD implant. I am free to drive now and return to work, but I must swim only with a partner. He feels the numbness in my leg/foot is definitely from the trauma of the ECMO and should go away in time. I am told to be patient. Meanwhile I must stick with the walker. Billy asked Dr. Kessler what it would feel like if the ICD gave me a shock. His response was, "It will feel bad." However, he got on the computer and set my device to a different sensitivity so I shouldn't have to worry about being shocked for no reason. I must continue cardio exercise by walking as much as I can to strengthen my heart, but I am finished with physical therapy. I can start Yoga at home to work on balance and core muscle strength. He said there is no reason why I can't return to work, but I must take it easy. No directing for at least four more months. I must sit more than stand, and basically take it easy. I'm learning to do this, and I think I like it.
Dr. Kessler says there is more we must do now. The first is to determine if I have Myocarditis or Cardiomyopathy. Myocarditis is weakening of the heart muscle that can be caused by a virus like meningitis. (Remember I had this in February) If this is the case, I will continue with medication to strengthen my heart muscle. Cardiomyopathy is a weakening of the heart muscle that is usually genetic. If this is the case, I will eventually have a heart transplant. I did not have either of these in 2009 when he last ran tests so he feels he needs to get an Ecocardiogram to determine details. The children will be tested if I have Cadiomyopathy as it is a genetic disease.
I will have the Echo this week, and we will know a little more then. Right now I am happy to be alive, slowly getting stronger, and I still look forward to the day I can sing and dance. Alas, it is not going to be soon. I will have a six - twleve month recovery. He feels that in six months I will feel really good.
Thank you for your continue thoughts and prayers!
On August 20 I wrote: For those of you who have been keeping up with my crazy story:
My Electrocardiologist called and told me that my ejection fraction was 44%. The ejection fraction (EF) is an important measurement in determining how well your heart is pumping out blood and in diagnosing and tracking heart failure. It is a measurement of how much blood the left ventricle pumps out with each contraction. An ejection fraction of 60 percent means that 60 percent of the total amount of blood in the left ventricle is pushed out with each heartbeat. A normal heart's ejection fraction may be between 55 and 70. At the time of my cardiac arrest my EF was 15%. So...this means that my heart is showing damage, but is getting better. He wants to continue the meds and retest again in six moths.
Meanwhile, I am exhausted from the first day back for teachers. However I KNOW I am truly blessed to be working at one of the best schools in the world!
My Journey from death's door to the miracle of life.
Annie Dragoo is a wife, mother, actor, singer, dancer, educator, and holistic health practitioner who lives in Austin, Texas.