Personal History: My Lost Week

I’ve written twice here about my most recent hospital stay, beginning in late April and moving through heart and kidney transplants in May and returning home in mid-June. First was this fairly lengthy one, 2021: My Heart & Kidney Transplants, and later this one, ICU Delusions, about the many weird dreams I had while under the influence of sedation and the other various drugs they gave me.

My partner Y has now written his account of the first week of this period, the one I don’t remember well.

(As he mentioned some incidents, they did ring a bell, but I don’t have any consistent memory of the entire week.) I’ve lightly edited his text for grammar and spelling, and occasionally inserted [[ comments in double brackets ]].

The most interesting take-away here (for me): Despite my passing out on April 20th, when paramedics first took me to the hospital, they didn’t find anything especially wrong. It was only after a day or so in the hospital that I had a “major heart attack” and tough decisions then had to be made. Of course I am grateful that Y made the decisions that he did.

CPMC Van Ness Campus

Here is Y’s account:

The week before April 20:

[[ About a week before ]] Mark started feeling light-headed and sweating while taking a walk or walking stairs a few times, but it lasted seconds each time and back to normal. I asked him to call his cardiologist, Dr. Oommen, for advice and see if they could have his previously scheduled appointment on April 30 moved up. The cardiologist’s office was not able to accommodate an earlier appointment request and advised him to go to ER if the symptoms persisted.

Tue April 20:

[[Late in the afternoon ]] I heard Mark was making noises in the living room while I was on a business call in the family room. I went over and found him drooling, unconscious, and sweating. I was so scared I called 911. Mark resumed consciousness within a couple minutes, before the fire truck and ambulance arrived, and he was able to make conversations with me and paramedic staff. The paramedics checked his vitals, took him to the ambulance, put an IV on him as backup, and continued talking to him making sure he was conscious. They took him to the ER of Sutter Alta Bates Summit hospital in Oakland, where Mark had been treated and gotten triple bypass surgery after his first heart attack in October 2020.

I drove to the hospital and waited for an hour before I could meet Mark in ER. They did an EKG but didn’t found anything abnormal with his heart. They noticed that his heart rate was low, around 50bpm, and decided to keep him in the hospital overnight for observation.

Wed, Thu April 21-22:

Mark’s heart rate was still low, and the cardiologists suspected it was due to the heart medication he had been taking since his bypass surgery. They planned to do stress test then angiogram to evaluate his heart condition. But they couldn’t do the stress test due to an equipment issue and had to schedule angiogram for the next day. Mark was fine, and I left the hospital at the end of visiting hours, around 6pm. Later in the evening I texted with Mark around 8pm and he told me they moved him to the next room as they need his room with more utilities for another patient.

An hour later I got a call from the hospital around 9pm and was told that Mark had had a serious heart attack. They put him on life support and got ready to do angiogram/evaluation/treatment. I authorized the procedure but was not allowed to come to the hospital per their visitor policy. I waited then got a call around midnight and was told that one of Mark’s heart valves was severely damaged due to the heart attack and the blood flow in the opposite direction. They stopped the plan to continue the angiogram and instead got ready for a procedure to fix the heart valve. I was told that it would take 2-3 hours to gather heart surgeons and another 2 hours for the procedure. I got the 3rd call in the morning and told his heart valve was damaged but not to the degree affecting blood flow direction after all, and they didn’t proceed with that procedure. BUT they told me Mark was “very sick”, meaning his chance of survival was low. Mark was taken to the CPU (Cardiopulmonary Unit) and had been sedated and supported with heart balloon pump, ventilator, and heart support medications. I was devastated by the serials calls, waiting and updates. I shared Mark’s condition with my family and Mark’s sister and brother.

Thu April 22:

Based on the test results and evaluations, the cardiology team decided to do the angiogram and put a stent in the main right artery on his heart and hoped to improve blood supply to his heart. After the procedure in the afternoon, the cardiologist (Dr. Johnson) mentioned that Mark’s heart tissues may have been severely damaged due to the heart attack and the chance of the procedure to save his heart was unknown. I asked if there were any other options if the procedure was not enough to get his heart functioning, such as additional bypass surgery…, and I would authorize any procedure(s) to save Mark’s life (I was desperate). The answer was that additional bypass surgery was not an option if the heart issues were seriously damaged, but Dr. Johnson did mention the options of heart transplant or implanted heart pump device. He agreed to explore the transplant option by contacting his colleagues in his network even though Mark was at the upper age limit [[ 65 ]] to qualify for transplant, since he saw Mark still has a good life ahead of him and reliable family support.

[[ Y’s son and wife ]] Michael and Honey drove up here from LA to see Mark and be with me for support.

Fri-Tue, April 23-27:

Mark remained in the Oakland hospital CPU for continued observation and treatments under the life support and sedation, with hope that his heart condition would improve after the stent in his right heart artery; they monitored his vitals and most importantly, heart blood output. At one point, cardiologist Dr. Oommen had an optimistic estimation of 40-45%, meaning Mark’s heart still had chance to recover and function on its own without further procedure. But the estimation was corrected to below 30% a couple of days later. It was like riding a roller coaster during the days since Mark’s heart condition changed every day or every hour. The CPU nurse knew Mark and me since Mark’s last heart attack, and the staff were very caring and tried to comfort me whenever they noticed I was distressed about Mark’s condition.

Wed, April 28:

I got a call from one of the cardiologists (Dr. Lai?) when I was on my way to visit Mark as I normally was doing in the mornings; he told me that the cardiology team at Alta Bates Summit hit the wall with Mark’s heart condition. It was not improving despite their efforts with different medications. They had contacted the head of Advanced Heart Failure and Transplant Cardiology at CPMC (California Pacific Medical Center) in San Francisco [[ on Van Ness, a few blocks north of City Hall ]], Dr. Pham, where more advanced heart failure treatment options were available including transplants, and got acceptance to transfer Mark to CPMC.

Presumably they put me (us) in an ambulance on April 28th for a drive into the city over the Bay Bridge — and we’ve been billed for it! — but I have no memory of that. My awareness of circumstances came back only gradually, once in ICU at CPMC. I wonder if this is like what they say about about childbirth–it’s so painful that women would never do it again, unless the memory of that pain was somehow abolished by their minds. At the same time, I never experienced any amount of pain (except for just a couple days following the transplant surgeries themselves). At worst, I felt weak and woozy, and obviously was disoriented for a time. I relied on many people, the doctors and nurses and hospital staff, and especially my partner Y, for a recovery the doctors all kept telling me was remarkable. Of course they might say that to every patient. But in fact, three months after returning home, I’m doing just fine.

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