Saturday, July 02, 2005
An Encounter with Endocarditis: Heart Murmurs and the Dentist
I found out the hard way. My heart murmur was undiagnosed - even though I had seen doctors regularly. Then, after I had some dental work done, I came down with what I thought was the severe flu. My head was so heavy I couldn't lift it from the pillow. Severe nausea. I went to the doctor who agreed it was the flu at first, and then I continued to go to the doctor for the next three weeks, because I kept having different kinds of symptoms. The nausea subsided somewhat, then my leg suddenly started hurting, and my feet swelled. I was up and about, but strange things were happening. I couldn't remember things. I couldn't make decisions well. When I was driving, I couldn't remember if I had passed the exit I was looking for or not. I sweat so badly at night, my husband had to change the sheets. My muscles ached, and I was exhausted easily. My doctor listed and nodded, and took various blood tests. Finally, I was given a special blood test where blood is drawn from both arms, and sent to a lab in California. I remember, waiting for that test, how I couldn't stop shivering. "Boy, this is some flu," I was still thinking.
Two days later, the results came back: Sub Acute Endocarditis - and I was immediately admitted to the hospital. By that point, the infection had reached my brain, and a piece of the bacteria had hit the retina of my left eye. I had a severe headache and nausea, and I couldn't see well. By that point, I could barely walk; my left leg was so weak, I couldn't push the emergency brake on the car. Sunlight hurt.
What followed was almost three weeks in a darkened room in the hospital, in severe pain, getting antibiotics through an IV. Then six weeks at home with an IV in my arm, cared for by my husband John, who is the best nurse in the world. Little by little, I was able to eat, to walk, and to think. Each and every doctor told me, "50 years ago, you would have been dead." I am so lucky, lucky, and lucky!!
When I returned to music, I had to re-learn songs that had been memorized. I started from the basics and worked through pieces, slowly re-training, re-remembering. My left hand was the hardest. It was extremely frustrating, but I was so happy to be alive, playing music, that every moment was filled with joy as well.
Today - three years later - I am left with very limited vision in my left eye. My strength is back, but I think about how I almost died every single day. There are reminders, every day, of how precious life is. I have been deeply affected by the experience. But if you want to avoid getting to appreciate life in a less difficult, painful, expensive fashion, I can now stand strong, and say: TAKE PRE-MED BEFORE YOU GO TO THE DENTIST IF YOU HAVE A HEART MURMUR. Take it! Take it! Take it!
(If you don't know what a "pre-med" is, ask your dentist.)
There. I've told the world. Pass it on!
Thank you for your journal. I also have a slight heart problem, which took years to be discovered and doesn't always show up on annual exams.
I haven't needed a dentist, except for cleaning and checkups, so I've gotten lazy about premeds. I even had knee surgery this spring, and told the doctor I didn't need anything.
No excuse - I know that any bacteria that enters the body can find its way to the heart, and mine may not handle that well.
I'm going to be more careful!