Here I am, probably lucky to be alive, just three weeks after the “event.” I am a 73-year old man in what I consider to be reasonably good shape for my age — I swim regularly, do strength exercises, and take power walks when the weather is right. I have never smoked and drink only socially.
I do have an elevated BP and take Atenolol on a daily basis. But, while sitting benignly watching TV, I felt an intense heat in my lower back, like I was pressed up against a heating pad on steroids. I jumped up and tried to walk around to shake it off (even used ice packs), but that didn’t work. I vomited everything I had, suspecting that it might be food poisoning, but that didn’t work either (I was not nauseous at any time). I went to bed, but couldn’t get comfortable, so made my way downstairs and tried to manage the pain. Although the pain was radiating up through my abdomen, pushing and prodding in that area didn’t offer any relief. Finally, at about 3AM my wife (a retired RN) insisted we go to the ER at our local hospital.
There they (fortunately) got to me right away and did a cat-scan, which showed an aortic dissection from the top of the arch down into the groin area. My BP at the time was 206, but they cautioned that it was elevated in large part due to the pain and the anxiety. I was cold and clammy and sweating profusely. Soon I was given an IV drip for the pain and was soon in an ambulance speeding down into Seattle to Harborview Medical Center, a Level 1 trauma center that services most of the Northwest, including Alaska.
The vascular team, led by Dr. Thomas Hatsukami, also a professor at University of Washington Medical School, met me in their ER and quickly started me on BP-lowering drips. I was three days in ICU, and two days in the surgical ward where two stents were placed to relieve any blockage in the groin area. I am home now monitoring my BP like a hawk and feeding the results to my private doctor, who is tweaking the med inventory to keep the BP between 100 and 120. Occasionally the BP goes too low, which can cause dizziness and disorientation. I have had one follow-up session with Dr. Hatsukami, and he did a stress test and ultrasound — no problems there. But follow-ups with him every 3 months will be part of my life from here on out.
I was not aware of the critical nature of this attack until the doctors began filling me in with details. I asked my own personal physician if he had ever seen an aortic dissection, and he replied “only during autopsies!” That was a sobering disclosure, underscoring the time-critical aspect of what had happened. In retrospect, we should have called 911, but fortunately at 3AM my wife had a pretty clear track to the ER. Dr. Hatsukami cautioned me that if I ever have intense pain across my chest, abdomen, or in my legs, to not ask questions but call 911 immediately, since a four-hour “window” is about all I would have available to effect a good recovery!
Thanks for stopping by to view our stories. Please help me keep the site going by shopping at Amazon.com-It’s very much appreciated. Brian Tinsley founder of AorticDissection.com (please book mark the link once you get to Amazon.com for future purchases!)