My Journey With Postpartum Cardiomyopathy
In 1992, I was pregnant with my now 27-year-old son. I was healthy, had health insurance, and possessed no family history. So in my mind, there was no need to be alarmed. During my prenatal care, reports from my doctor always came back as excellent. Throughout the pregnancy, I was tired, my weight had increased, and I had substantial swollen ankles, but I just pushed those symptoms aside as being normal when pregnant.
In July, I delivered my son by c-section after well over 25 hours of labor. I remember telling the doctor and nurses that I was extremely fatigued; that I had run out of energy for the delivery before my son arrived. One of the nurses insisted I sit in a whirlpool tub forth pain. The pain meds were not working anymore. Everything was starting to become numb. The delivery had gone fine. At least that's what I thought.
Twenty-eight days later, I still found it difficult to function. I was extremely fatigued, was constantly experiencing severe shortness of breath, coughing all the time and unable to lie down, heart palpitations, significant weight gain, and excessive swelling in my legs, ankles, belly, and feet. Thank God I had the daily help of my daughter, who was nine at the time, while my husband(now ex-husband) was at work. Each day became unbearable, and each night became a nightmare. I knew something was wrong with my body. I called my OB-GYN, and he told me that the systems were the result of a low blood count and I should eat beets. He said if I was not feeling better by Tuesday (this was Friday evening), I should call back and make an appointment to see him. So, I did precisely that. Well, up to a point. Between Friday and Sunday, I became weaker, dizzier, and more confused.
By Sunday morning, I was barely hanging on. I'm a spiritual person and felt the Universe was telling me to get to the hospital. Immediately, I called my husband, and 911. Then things started to move fast. It felt like everyone arrived within seconds.
Meanwhile, my body had begun to shut down. My heart was racing fast, and I was fading in and out of consciousness. The EMT on the scene could not find my pulse. I know you're alive, but..." They called ahead into the hospital to let the staff know what was happening, and then they gave me medicine to slow down my heartbeat until they could get to the hospital.
At Cobb General Hospital in Marietta, Georgia, I was unaware of exactly what was going on. I suppose you could say that I was not able to connect the dots. I remember getting blood, put on oxygen, hooked up to a heart monitor, and that they performed an Electrocardiogram (ECG). Hours later, the emergency room doctor came in and told me that my heart was failing, and they were going to admit me to the hospital.
There was a bad storm that night with a lot of lightning and thunder - the kind that made lots of noise and gave you a light show to remember. But I hardly noticed what was going on outside. The Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurses hooked me up to a heart monitor, oxygen machine, and placed an IV in my left arm. While all of this was taking place, I was trying to figure out why my heart was failing, especially when I had no family history of heart failure, never smoked, no alcohol or drugs. I hadn't experienced hypertension and no history of previous heart attacks. I thought to myself, "I'm only 30 years old and healthy."
The Cardiologist walked in. He seemed incredibly knowledgeable, sweet, and concerned. He said that I had postpartum cardiomyopathy, which is a form of congestive heart failure. He followed that by asking me questions and finally explaining to me what was happening. He did an echocardiogram, which is an ultrasound of the heart. It showed that my heart muscle enlarged and extremely weak had an ejection fraction of three percent, which I very low (The ejection fraction is a measurement of how well your heart is pumping). Before he left for the night, he sat at the end of my bed and asked me why it took me so long to come to the hospital. I told him what my OB-GYN said on Friday. He shook his head and said, "Oh. I see." At that point, I knew my heart was in big trouble.
Morning came, and I was hungry. A nurse brought in my breakfast. They had replaced regular sugar with Equal, whole milk with skim, and had removed any trace of salt in the food. Yuck. It did not taste good at all. I was ready to go home at that point. I thought it couldn't get any worse. But home was to be a long way off. Shortly after that, however, my heart condition changed course, and I began to experience aggressive heart palpitations. That was more than Cobb General is equipped to handle, so I was transferred to Emory University Hospital in Decatur, Georgia because they specialize in these types of heart issues. It was my second ambulance ride.
I arrived at Emory University Hospital within minutes, it seemed. The nurse checked me in, and then it was time to wait to see the Cardiologist. Later that afternoon, about five cardiologists came in to introduce themselves and go over my information and symptoms. They explained to me that my heart was fragile, and it was experiencing some aggressive heart palpitations, which I already knew. The plan was to monitor the palpitations over the weekend, and if they were still active come Monday, then I would be scheduled for pacemaker surgery. That wasn't the plan I wanted to hear, but it didn't seem that I had a choice in the matter.