December 5th, 2021, started as a normal Sunday.
I was baking Christmas cookies in the afternoon and decided to take a short break . As soon as I sat down, I felt a sharp pain across the top of my back. I thought I was having a muscle cramp and got up to get the heating pad.
As I stood up, the pain intensified and I felt pain in my chest as well. This was not a muscle cramp. I grabbed my phone, and to this day I don’t know why, decided to look up heart attack symptoms for women. The symptoms listed were exactly what I was feeling.
I called my husband, who was visiting a friend, and asked him to come home immediately. I was now also experiencing shortness of breath in addition to the pain in my back and chest. As my husband was driving home, he called 911. The operator then called me and kept me on the line, talking to me the entire time while the ambulance was on the way. She told me to chew some baby aspirin.
The ambulance arrived from the Plymouth Fire Department. The EMT’s took me to the ambulance and gave me an EKG before taking me to the emergency room at Speare Memorial Hospital in Plymouth, NH. The EKG did not show signs of a heart attack. At this point in time I was in severe pain.
At the ER, I was given a number of tests as well as more medication. None of the tests showed signs of a heart attack. The ER doctor continued to look for a cause with every piece of equipment available to him. He eventually discovered that I had a Type A dissected aorta and that I was in critical condition. He knew that I needed emergency surgery and immediately got on the phone to find a hospital that could perform the necessary surgery.
Some of the hospitals were full due to COVID. Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, NH was able to take me in and do the surgery. I was taken by ambulance to Manchester and had the surgery that night.
Without the ER doctor’s commitment to finding the cause of my pain, I would not be alive today. He stated that if I had been admitted to the hospital just for the pain, I would not have survived the night.
Six months later I had a follow-up appointment with my thoracic surgeon. The appointment included a CT scan. When I met with the surgeon, he told me that the stent from the surgery in December looked great, but I had another aortic dissection further above the one he repaired. It was not an emergency, but definitely needed to be taken care of.
So, on August 1st, I had open heart surgery to repair the second dissection. The surgery went well, but recovery is slow.
I’m hoping that this is a positive ending to my dissection story and that I have many more years to enjoy life. After all of this, every day is a gift.