My Dad spent the last few days especially grateful to be alive. The angiogram and resultant angioplasties in and of themselves are not serious procedures, relatively speaking. Two stents are certainly better than a quadruple bypass or – well – a fatal heart attack.
But my Father has spent the last two years having symptoms of heart problems (despite medication and and a lifestyle designed to manage his hereditary high blood pressure and high cholesterol). And OH what a family history. He’s the oldest of eight siblings, and at least one of his brothers has already had serious heart trouble. His mother’s cholesterol (and she’s tiny) has been as high as 400. She’s had miny strokes, her siblings have died of heart trouble and strokes. My paternal grandfather died unexpectedly of a heart attack* at age seventy; one moment he was walking around, and a moment later he fell over and was gone. Just like that.
And here’s the rub: My Dad had a treadmill test a few years back; it was inconclusive. A few other indeterminate exams here and there… And then in late April he had an MRI and an extensive series of accompanying tests (despite the fact that the insurance company did not want to pay for it – imagine that). The radiologist called my father’s PCP and said everything was “clear.”
Then, last week, he sent the doctor the actual report. I don’t think anything on that report was “normal” except the size of my Dad’s heart. The report indicated horrible percentages of plaque blockage in a number of locations and recommended immediate catheterization. Immediate.
This is what, in medical ethics terms, we call a MEDICAL MISTAKE. Yes, physicians are human; mistakes happen. And I found myself grateful that the radiologist sent the report at all, though I do hope he was horrified at what could have been a fatal delay. I imagine a scenario in which he was making calls SEVEN MONTHS AGO, reading from an overwhelmingly tall stack of reports, and he simply gave the wrong results to my father’s doctor. Who can say.
All I know if that my father had started more and more often to feel faint and dizzy, fatigued, etc. So much of it you can write off: He has bone cancer, his schedule is ridiculous, he has sleep apnea and doesn’t wear his CPAP enough, he puts the “a” in type “a” personalities (? – well, you get the picture), he has asthma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and he deals with a ridiculous amount of stress.
Honestly, I felt like a heart attack was inevitable at some point in his life (especially when I’ve given him a really hard time, stressed him out and felt really guilty about it).
But then there was the cancer recurrence. And he’d delayed his colonoscopy for – oh – a decade (and said, “Well, I already have cancer,” which was supposed to be a joke). When I finally dragged him to get one he had two (or was it three?) precancerous polyps that they were able to excise right then. The irony: Colon cancer can be quick and insidious (okay, lots of cancers can be so) and so he could have died of colon cancer before he even reaches a difficult point in his bone cancer treatment (it’s really prostate cancer, but I always feel odd saying that since they did the radical prostatecomy years ago the “first” time he had cancer).
Then there’s the ticking time-bomb hernia. Tomorrow he’ll get a report about the tests he had on that last week. If it’s BAD I’m not taking him to the airport Tuesday to go to Disneyland – NO SIR.
I don’t know what I’m saying (insert joke here?), except that I, too, am grateful that my Dad’s alive. And I’m very glad he feels so much better; getting a little oxygen flowing efficiently through your system will do that, I suppose. But retrospectively, I’m really frightened. I don’t suppose that makes tons of sense, but so be it. He’s actually healthier and now I feel afraid.
If the radiologist had suppressed the report or delayed it any longer, who knows when the massive myocardial infarction would have happened. Probably while my Dad was at work in the middle of the night. He might have ignored it until it was too late; he was getting so sick of “inconclusive” or supposedly “clear” tests.
AAAH! I cannot think about this any more.
Everyone? Please just TAKE CARE OF YOURSELVES. And get your flu shot, please.
*I think that was it. He and my grandmother were in Germany at the time, so there is some confusion about the diagnosis (as he was the one fluent in German) – it could have been some sort of embolism. The whole thing was confusing; the airlines lost his body as it was being transported back to the States (just temporarily…).