Heart Failure

Shortly after Gen settled in and began tearing down her house in Reedville, she drove to Richmond for a multi-day stay with Gloria. All was quiet until I got a call at work one morning from Becky. "Mom's had a heart attack," she said. "A nurse from Chippenham Hospital will be calling you."

The nurse explained that Gloria brought Gen into the emergency department the night before with a complaint of extreme shortness of breath. The diagnosis was congestive heart failure, which explained a lot of things. For several months, even mild exertion casued Gen to pant and wheeze. Her physician, one Colin Forrester--a fellow for whom I developed a dislike as intense as the dislike he himself had for his patients--was treating Gen for asthma, which seemed reasonable, but the treatment didn't help much. Dr. Forrester also told her to get more exercise, which also seemed reasonable, but couldn't possibly help because Gen likes to make her own mistakes and anyway it was probably too late in Gen's cardiac health history for exercise to benefit her. Ironically--and for better or worse--after we requested Gen's medical records from Dr. Forrester and told him the reason why we needed them, he signed off as Gen's physician and turned her over to a cardiologist down the road. It was perhaps the most honorable thing he could have done, having never ordered a chest x-ray to help him understand her shortness of breath.

Gen needed coronary arterial bypass surgery, which would be performed the next day. It was. Becky and I drove to Richmond, arriving just after the surgeon had stapled Gen's chest closed. She was in recovery, but still intubated and profoundly unconscious.

Three days later, Gen had been moved through Chippenham's cardiac intensive care unit to the cardiac step-down unit and the hospital was ready to turn her loose. Becky and I arrived early in the morning at the staff's request to attend a couple of seminars about heart health, heart attacks, bypass surgery, and recovery therefrom. We felt like we could handle things just fine. I had just joined a rescue squad and was freshly trained in first aid and CPR. I carried a radio that gave me instant access to the entire emergency response community of Northumberland County and my squad had an excellent performance record of responding to all its calls, as well as the calls of the other two squads in the county. Ted and I had an extra bedroom in our house, so it seemed appropriate for Gen to stay with us during the first weeks of her recovery.

After the seminars and discussions with Gen's nurse, Becky and I were ready to pack Gen into the car and take her back to my place. The nurse returned to Gen's room to prepare her for discharge. Becky and I waited. And waited. And waited. After about three hours, the nurse returned and said she couldn't keep Gen any longer because insurance wouldn't pay for hospital care after 3:00. So what was the problem? Becky and I weren't stopping her from leaving. The nurse explained that Gen was terrified to leave the hospital and needed Becky and me to reassure her. That was certainly not a problem. We were baffled about why the nurse hadn't asked us to do this in the first place. We went to Gen's room.