It had been a couple weeks after my father’s sudden death when my mother and I arranged an appointment with the Napa County Coroner. After an autopsy and numerous toxicology reports, his death remained undetermined and we were left without answers. The only certainty was that his heart stopped.
As daunting as the outcome was, the coroner did have one suggestion and his advice was directed toward me.
“Your father had a rare type of heart disease and often these indicators are hereditary. It would be wise to make an appointment with a cardiologist and have your heart checked.”
My mother and I turned toward one another with a sense of enlightenment. We constantly searched for answers to the cause of my father’s death and the idea of seeking a proactive medical diagnosis for me seemed logical and unnecessary at the same time.
Following the coroner’s instructions, I made the necessary medical appointments, undergoing an EKG and echocardiogram. I was quite surprised to learn that I did have heart arrhythmia (which many people have) but my diagnosis hovered over the severe level.
I had not experienced any problems with my heart, other than it breaking from losing my dad, so the idea of focusing the attention back on me seemed more nonsensical than productive.
The only time my dear old dad would go to the doctor was when something prohibited him from playing tennis. When he was diagnosed with tennis elbow, he resembled the roadrunner on steroids rushing to get medical help. Tennis had become a drug that ran through his veins. It had become such a colossal part of his life; it was no wonder my mother chose his final outfit to be his tennis attire with his favorite tennis racket placed beside him inside his casket.
Dad was a retired firefighter for less than five years when he suddenly passed. His projects and hobbies grew as he was either working on stabilizing the creek wall in the backyard or displaying his competitive fierceness on the tennis court.
But due to my mother being mentally drained from the losing the love of her life and left without reasons of why he was gone, she reached out to my dad’s doctor for possible answers. Medical privacy laws became a roadblock as his doctor refused to share medical concerns or physical complaints he may have had.
You know the personality type. Someone experiencing possible life-threatening symptoms but they choose to ignore the signs as the reality may be too dark to handle. When it’s my time, it’s my time mentality. I do believe that to some extent but I also strongly believe we need to do everything in our power to attain the diagnosis in order to remedy the issue.
My mother felt he knew something was wrong weeks before he passed, but due to her dreaded high level of anxiety, he didn’t want to elevate her worried state of mind.
Just two weeks before the unexpected loss, we took a trip to Fort Bragg to celebrate their 30th anniversary. We fine dined at restaurant on the coast with an epic view and the following day rode the Skunk Train.
His coloring was pale and he appeared exhausted. When we expressed our concern, he insisted he was fine.
Fast forward to one year later.
I was pregnant with my son the following year and during that pregnancy I had experienced three emergency room visits due to chest pains and the inability to breathe. Each episode felt as if an elephant was sitting on my chest.
Eight weeks after my son was born he was rushed to UCSF for emergency heart surgery. He survived and my heart issues vanished for the next twenty years. Life was good.
For reasons still unknown, my heart began to misbehave again. The pain and the inability to breathe brought me to my knees every time. The attacks have become more frequent and painful.
By the time I’m admitted to the emergency room, the attack has stopped and I leave the professionals scratching their heads.
Three experienced cardiologists have been unable to provide an accurate diagnosis. Beta blockers create more issues due to my inherited low blood pressure, leaving me feeling more like a lightheaded sloth on Quaaludes.
Angiogram procedures revealed no blockage, moving one step closer to a diagnosis through the process of elimination.
My medical doctor will not allow me to give up and I am blessed that we are on the same page.
To say this heart disease is rare is an understatement.
There are times in this life that we must be our own doctor and refuse to throw up our hands and give up. Life is short. No one will do it for you.
We are still left without answers regarding my father’s sudden passing, but filled with hope with the continuation of more tests. There is a chance my heart diagnosis can finally reveal the years of unanswered questions for my mother.
If I have to visit ten cardiologists, I will.
Never settle, my friends. Grab your life by the horns.