I want to take a moment to say thank you all for your continued love, encouragement, and support over the last three years. As many of you know, the last school year, the third school year since first cardiac arrest, was just hard as the first year of recovery. However, this summer I have been focusing on rest, relaxation, and strength/endurance building. I have seen my cardiologist, my surgeon, my neurologist, and my primary care physician. The cardiologist wants to see me in four months to get an echo cardiogram, checking for improvement my ejection faction, and distended right ventricle. The surgeon says there has been no change in the nodule on my aorta and wants to see me in 2 years...unless the echocardiogram shows something. Finally, the neurologist has taken me off one of the meds because it caused me to gain 25 unwanted/unneeded pounds. After weaning me off of the med, I have very little pain, so I don't have to have a new med. YAY! My goal would be to TAKE NO MORE MEDICATION.
Earlier in the spring, Dr. Eckry told me that I had given teaching a valiant effort these last few years but that it might be time to look for something new (or disability). We seriously considered this. The reason I did not opt out of teaching this year is because I was given a schedule based on the American with Disabilities Act, allowing me some modifications to my job description. Billy and I are hoping that this will allow me to make it through the school year without being stressed, sick, and in the hospital. One of the biggest decisions that I'm making is to study to be a Holistic Health Practitioner. This training will be in Clinical Nutrition, Herbal Medicine, and Personal Training / Physical Fitness and will enable me to assess clients and tailor unique holistic care plans to meet clients' needs. Care plans can include dietary analysis and restructuring, fitness assessments and individual fitness plans and herbal recommendation. Most of all, I'm hoping that the study will help me be more holistic in my personal healthcare and that of my family. (Plus this goes hand in hand with my It Works business.)
I believe that I have a story to tell of physical, mental, and spiritual well being, and I feel like I am supposed to be sharing this with others, especially teachers. Stress management is key!
In April my neurologist said I needed to have An electroencephalogram (EEG). This is a test that detects electrical activity in your brain using small, flat metal discs (electrodes) attached to your scalp. Your brain cells communicate via electrical impulses and are active all the time, even when you're asleep. This activity shows up as wavy lines on an EEG recording.
Because my brain was without oxygen for at least six minutes when I had the cardiac arrest, my neurologist wanted to see what kind, if any, brain damage I have. We know I have some memory loss, but recently, I've been experiencing what Josh calls "brain farts." I can't remember words, phrases, names, and it just stops in the middle of sentences. Some say I'm just getting old.
An EEG is one of the main diagnostic tests for epilepsy. An EEG may also play a role in diagnosing other brain disorders. The results came by fairly normal, although I do have some brain bleeps. My memory is not the same as it was before, and i have trouble staying on task, staying focused.
In July, I was finally healthy enough to begin my cardiac rehab. So I took on three days week of exercise with a wonderful group of nurses who helped me gain strength. I was feeling really good and could tell a difference. However i did learn that you can pull a muscle that will cause you to have heart attack symptoms. Costochondritis, also known as chest wall pain, is an acute and often temporary inflammation of the costal cartilage, the structure which connects each rib to the sternum at the costosternal joint. I had pulled the muscle while working out my arms. I did finish cardiac rehab and was excited to begin phase three on my own.
After two years of not being able to go to the dentist, I desperately needed to have a exam. In November, I had a molar extracted, and it resulted in dry rot. The dentist put me on a second antibiotic to get rid of the infection. The infection however did not go away, and the antibiotic messed up my system, landing once again, at Austin Heart Hospital. I had Clostridium difficile colitis results from disruption of normal healthy bacteria in the colon, often from antibiotics. C. difficile can also be transmitted from person to person by spores. It can cause severe damage to the colon and even be fatal. I was in isolation for 7 days.
At this point, my cardiac rehab stopped. I didn't get to continue to phase three because I was sick until the end of the year.
I guess I'm the only person I know that can go in for routine surgery...die, be put on life support, and then be okay. Unfortunately, I've lost another week of my life. CRAZY! Each day I'm learning of the different things that happened. What a journey this has been! I did return to school on the first day but went home at lunch on most of the days during the first two weeks. I was back on the walker as I had little strength in my legs and walking was difficult. On August 31, I still have about 15 pounds of fluid that has caused lots of swelling in my legs and torso. Between the first and second open heart surgeries, my heart stopped and someone performed compressions. Apparently this can cause broken ribs. Dr. Ekery told me that this is why I hd so much pain at that point. At my follow up appointment, she removed my staples, discussed the cardiac rehab I'll be starting, and adjusted some of my meds. My scars are looking okay, and the bruises were slowing going away. I just needed rest so I can gain strength.
The first month at home and back at school was very hard. I was trying to enjoy Haley's senior year and Josh had moved out on his own. Needless to say, I was an emotional wreck. What I found out was that I was not nearly as healthy as I thought I was.
On September 22, I was admitted to the Austin Heart Hospital again. Pleurisy. I had Pleurisy. I was in the hospital for a week and had the experience of being drained. A large needle threaded a large tube into my back and 1 liter (2 pounds) of fluid was drained from my plural cavity. My doctor said it is my body's reaction to the three open heart surgeries. It could come back, and if it does, I must go have it drained it again. So it was after this hospital stay that I made it through the my entire day at school. I was tired, but I felt good seeing my students.
On October 25, I was admitted to Austin Heart Hospital again with pleural effusion again. Another Thoracentesis was performed pulling out 500 cc's fluid.
Earlier in the summer, I began cutting meat out of my diet, but it was after this hospital stay that I began to get very serious about cutting out animal portions from my diet.
"There is no escaping the fact that the more we consume prepared and processed foods, the more we trip the inflammation switch little by little each day. The human body cannot process, nor was it designed to consume, foods packed with sugars and soaked in omega-6 oils."
In January, I hit a snag in my journey. I had a scheduled CT and check up with my surgeon. The good news was that there was no fluid building up around my lungs or heart at this time. Considering I'm taking 60 mg of Lasix each day, I would glad to hear that. However, Doctor Felger was concerned about the little bubble he found told you about three months earlier. It has not healed itself or gone away. In fact, it is about a millimeter bigger than before. He called it a pseudo aneurysm. It is only bulging through one layer of tissue rather than three layers so it cannot be called a true aneurysm. So...the prognosis...Dr. Felger said it could be an injury from the three open heart surgeries and if so, it should heal itself.
Another CT was scheduled for six months and he said, "I don't even want to think about what we has to do if doesn't heal itself." Needless to say, that was a little scary.
I know I felt better, but I was not healed or well yet. There are no words to express how frustrating this was.
In early February, I was taken to the hospital again. The week of February 6 was rough. I was diagnosis with Bad Virus, a UTI and I endured a spinal tap. The results from the tap were normal, but I suffered a spinal fluid leak. I could not sit or stand up at all. I was having to crawl at school, so I was taken back to the ER. Austin Heart doctors know me by name now. had to perform a blood patch.
It was as if I couldn't get well. One thing right after the other was being thrown at me.
As my recovery and healing had begun again, I was getting anxious to go home. I was nervous because this time, I had lots of holes in my abdomen and a wound in my sternum. I just knew I could over come this, but having spent the last year trying to over come, I was a bit nervous about starting everything over. Billy on the other hand was ready for me to be home.
Good morning to all reading this. I just spoke to Annie, who had just visited with her surgeon. He wants to do an echocardiogram on her tomorrow. He suspects everything is GREAT and, if so, he wants to discharge her from the hospital TOMORROW! Oh, how I hope this happens. Our home is not complete without her, and we really want her back.
To all of you who have asked about her return to work . . . we will, of course, follow the doctor's orders. But he has already told her that he wants her moving, not lounging around. We will ask specifically about when HE thinks she should return. (We all know what Annie would probably say.) I appreciate everyone's concern about her return. Please know that we won't do anything that will endanger her. But medicine has changed radically in the past 40 years. When she was in ICU, I was recalling how different it was from when I was a child. Back in the day, absolutely no children were allowed, and even adults had to be related. And I think visits were limited to something like 15 minutes every 4 hours. Our experiences in Lincoln and at the Heart Hospital were quite different. Annie had lots of visitors. (I believe a nurse in Lincoln talked to me about studies saying family and friends' visits were proven to speed recovery.)
Later her added...
My mind is blown. Annie is almost certainly going home tomorrow (Monday)! Just a few minutes ago, Dr. Kessler came in and said she was looking great, but he wanted to keep her "one more day." He says if the echo reveals what he believes it will, then they're going to release her. WOW! Just six days ago I was pondering the possibility of a heart transplant, and now she's about to walk out of here. As my brother said, "Holy crap! Her crashes are spectacular, but her recoveries even moreso! Agreed.
She and I went on a walk -- 270 feet. She only stopped once, and even that was only for a few seconds.
Okay, this is for my dear theatre colleagues: Do not think that I am some cruel taskmaster because she's going back to work on the first day of school. Yes, you heard that right. She and I both asked about work. His response was, "In my experience, people who lie around the house after these operations become cardiac cripples. You need to go back to work." Perhaps not the most PC way of putting it, but clear nonetheless. My dear friend, Mark Pickell, was in the room and witnessed the exchange; he will back me up. So don't be thinking it's me being cheap, y'all! Anyway . . . we're going to take it VERY slowly, and I foresee a month or more of three-day weekends."
This is just the most phenomenal day. I have to process before I make any more statements. Thanks to everyone for your continued support!!
We arrived August 6 at 8:11 a.m. and departed at 4:49 p.m. on August 18. That's almost 17,800 minutes. And I gotta say, they were some of the longest minutes of my life! But . . . with the help of all of you out there in FB-land and our families and friends, she did it! My unshakable warrior is home. Right now she's in the shower -- her second today -- and she is enjoying every minute of it. And who could blame her? Now we can get on with the business of Life.
I'd like to thank all of you once again. Never in my life had I imagined we'd be in such a situation, and certainly not twice in fourteen months. Your encouragement means so much to me. To everyone who came by to visit -- you don't know how that elevated my spirits. Those first five days I was perilously close to losing it, and many of you showed up just at the perfect time. Thank you. And to those of you who aren't close enough to stop by, please know that your prayers and support were also instrumental in Annie's recovery. Like I told the doctors and nurses, I could never thank you enough.
And about those doctors and nurses . . . they were TREMENDOUS. The care Annie received was beautiful to watch and rivaled the unbelievably phenomenal care she received in Lincoln. Each member of our caregiving army bravely gave of their heart to save Annie's and fill mine. Like I said about 6N, you are surely the fingers of God.
And speaking of 6N . . . a very special shout-out to the greatest nurse ever, Mona Reynolds. I truly don't know what I would have done without you to interpret everything, do detective work, and talk me down from the edge. God bless you!
Anybody wishing to visit . . . Annie's going to be up and moving immediately, but she'll also need lots of rest. Please call first. If you need a number, please message me.
This -- or perhaps one more -- message will probably be my last of the "dailies". I will occasionally update you. So, farewell, my friends. Your support and friendship makes us rich, indeed.
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.