Ticker

A couple of weeks back I had a CT scan of my heart to check for early signs of coronary artery disease, for purely precautionary reasons. Most people in my shoes would not have bothered with such a test, having not experienced any chest pain, tingling etc, nor would doctors generally recommend a test without some evidence of a problem.

Although I had already had a normal ECG and a stress test appeared to show normal heart function, after some discussion with my cardiologist of my personal risk factors (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, family history) we decided to go ahead and check anyway, just to be sure.

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Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), the CT scan revealed a surprise blockage in my LAD (an artery also known rather grimly as the Widow Maker). It appeared quite severe, so last week I checked in to hospital for an angiogram (the gold standard test where they actually feed a catheter into an artery and squirt radioactive dye in).

Part of me still expected it could turn out to be no big deal, since after all I was experiencing no actual symptoms. But of course the angio confirmed what the CT has implied: a major occlusion, greater than 80%. Standard procedure was followed at this point, which is that a stent was inserted immediately via the same catheter, and expanded to push the artery open at that location.

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All this means that even though I felt pretty much fine before (although perhaps a little easily fatigued?) I am now basically enfeebled while I wait for the stent to properly ‘bed in’. Because of the location and form of the blockage, my surgeon elected to use a drug-eluting stent which, although more expensive and high tech, actually carries higher risk of short term problems (namely thrombosis aka clotting) as it takes longer to be incorporated as part of the arterial wall.

Some things I am apparently not able to do safely right now:

  • Bend down and pick up my baby daughter
  • Run up stairs
  • Mow lawn (not that I care about this one)
  • Go more than a day without taking blood thinning medication
  • Any kind of home maintenance
  • Anything that might significantly raise my blood pressure or heart rate

The problem with that last point is that not being able to do certain things is itself a major source of stress and therefore a potential problem. This is probably why depression is so common after heart procedures; you basically look fine, but feel useless, and can’t do anything fun (and of course you’re acutely and persistently aware of your own mortality).

Cue lots of mindful breathing and trying not to focus on things that make me cross (not a good time to be following Australian politics right now). Ideally I’d like to be placed into a deep restful sleep and submerged in a nutrifying gel for a few months while my body fully heals itself, but apparently that treatment won’t be available for at least a few decades.