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During the first half of last year I started to feel a bit craptastic. I was tired, getting sick all the time and generally unhealthy. Things came to a head one weekend in May, when late one night I headed upstairs to my home office to do some work ahead of time for the next day because I was feeling so bad I was considering waking my husband to take me to the hospital so didn’t think I’d be on deck to do it in the morning.
I got to the top of the stairs and all thoughts of work went out the window: I couldn’t catch my breath and thought I was going to pass out. I couldn’t get enough air in my lungs to call out to my husband or son, or to even head back downstairs. I simply had to sit on the stairs and wait until my breathing evened out over the next hour or so.
I went to the doctor on the Monday but unfortunately my own GP was away so I saw his partner, who was a little dismissive of the breathing issues but sent me off for some blood tests for the usual suspects (diabetes etc, lots of family history with that particular little beastie).
The result of that showed that I had become quite badly diabetic but with a mother, father and father-in-law who were all diabetic, I’d never seen extreme shortness of breath as one of their symptoms. So I opted to go back to my own GP when he was back the next day for another opinion.
From there things moved fairly quickly: he checked my blood pressure and heart rate (which was belting along at an impressive 140-something, and yes, that’s the resting heart rate), sent me off for a chest X-ray and referred me to have an ECG in Dunedin. Meanwhile, he prescribed some blood pressure medication to keep things under control until we knew what was happening.
And you know what? It turns out there was a very good reason for me feeling so spectacularly crappy: I was in heart failure.
The ECG showed my heart has been damaged by a condition called dilated cardiomyopathy, which was probably caused by a simple virus. My cardiologist believes it is also probably the cause of my diabetes, since it got so bad so quickly and has improved so much since the treatment began for my heart. And what fun the treatment has been: when I started on the beta blockers I ended up feeling worse to begin with and on my first visit to the cardiologist I was stunned when she told me I had to double first my morning dose and then my evening dose over the next several weeks until I had graduated from 3mg to 50mg.
She was right when she said I would eventually feel a bit better but it was an uphill battle. The diabetes medication (metformin) also took some adjusting to but the bad days aren’t as common as they were a couple of months ago.
I’m on lots of pills but, apparently, women respond better to medication for this particular condition than men so hopefully I will be one of the success stories. Which means my best-case scenario is that I’ll be on all these pills for the rest of my life, along with the new hardware I’m getting installed.
Oh yes, the hardware. Turns out the dilated cardiomyopathy wasn’t content with damaging my heart and causing permanent heart failure, it also decided to screw up the electricity in my heart with a bundle branch blockage. This means my heart beats a bit out of synch because it takes longer for the electricity to get to one side because it’s had to create a new path around the damage. I need an internal cardiac device, either a pacemaker or a defibrillator, to sort that wee problem. Just have to wait to see what my cardiologist decides will be the gadget for me.
One bit of good news is that I had an angiography done in October and my arteries are in great shape. And yes, there’s proof that I’m not a heartless bitch after all: I’ve got the angiography pictures to prove it.