Personal Stories: Edgar Grinnell
 

Hi, my name is Edgar Grinnell and I am 51 years old. I am coming up on a year since I had my type A aortic dissection on September 14th, 2007. I have visited this site many times in the past year and have decided to give my story. I have found it very informative and supportive.

About a year and a half before my dissection in April 2005 my wife had taken my blood pressure and it had seemed high so I scheduled an apt with my primary doctor. That doctor told me that my wife must have read my blood pressure wrong as he said it was fine (although she is a nurse). At the beginning of 2007, this doctor sent us a note that he was retiring and that his patients needed to find other doctors (thank goodness!!!). He gave us a list to pick from and I kept pestering my wife to just pick one. Finally, we decided on one and scheduled initial physical appointments.

When I went to my appointment in July 2007, this new doctor right away told me that I had high blood pressure (160/120) and that I had to be on medication to try and reduce it. He also scheduled two tests for me. In August 2007 I had a chest ultrasound (echo cardiogram) and was scheduled for a stomach ultrasound in October 2007. When I had my follow up apt with this new doctor in on Monday Sept 10th, he told me “did you know the chest ultrasound showed you have an enlarged heart?” He attributed it to my high blood pressure and since my blood pressure was still high at this visit he increased my BPH medication (it’s been changed I don’t know how many times the past year to try to get it right). My chest ultrasound did not show anything about what I was about to experience. I joked with the people at work that week that the doctor had said I had a “big heart”.

That very Friday morning, I “won” the lottery. If it’s true that only 2000 people get aortic dissections in the United States per year or that the ratio is 5 to 30 people per million then I had a better chance of winning the lottery (I read those figures somewhere during the past year). I worked evenings and had come home from my Thursday night shift on Friday morning around 130AM. I had something to eat: fresh garden tomatoes and watched some TV. My wife was working till 7AM that Friday morning. I was in bed around 530AM listening to the Women’s World Cup on TV when I experienced an incredible pain in my chest. I’ve read that it’s supposed to feel like a tear or ripping in your chest. Recently I read someone describe it as like a bubble “popping” in your chest. This is what I felt…a pop…it was so painful I rolled out of bed onto the floor and crawled towards the bathroom as I thought I might throw up. I laid there for a bit and tried to walk around but the pain was excruciating. I knew this was not normal right away and the thought of heart attack etc. went through my head. I made it downstairs and tried to figure out what to do. The pain kept on so I called my wife at work to come home, as I was “not feeling good”. She came home right away by 630AM. During that time I woke my son up and tried to relax. She drove me to the emergency room and I walked into UMass Memorial Emergency room at 7AM. I still don’t believe I was able to do that.

I was admitted to the emergency room and they started to do what they do. I was in that emergency room for about 3 hours before they decided what was wrong with me. I was in such pain, but I thought or hoped I just had bad heartburn. I guess they must have determined I wasn’t having a heart attack but that was about it. My wife kept telling them that I recently had an ultrasound of my chest there and that I was scheduled for an ultrasound of my stomach the next month. Meanwhile I remember saying to my wife around 930AM “I just want this pain to end”. They finally brought in an echo cardiogram machine around then and as soon as they saw the chest ultrasound everything started to happen around me. It was like I became the center of attention instantly. Nurses and everyone started to give me these looks of concern and support at the same time. I was transferred to the U Mass University branch of the hospital not too far away via ambulance. There I was given a CT scan and again, same thing, everyone hurrying and concerned. Before I knew it I was in operating room and people were shaving my chest. A doctor told me I needed emergency surgery and that I needed to sign a piece of paper to approve the surgery. I told my wife and the doctor I didn’t want to sign but I did when they said I had almost no chance of survival without the surgery.

And that was it. The actual surgery started early in the afternoon and ended around 10PM. Of course I don’t remember any of it. The doctors kept my wife and sons advised of the next procedure I was going thru. I had my chest bone opened up. I was put on a heart bypass machine and was put under deep hypothermia. My heart was stopped temporarily. The dissection was just above my heart. They cut out where it started right next to my heart, put in a Dacron graft there, and resuspended my heart valve. When I learned about all of this later I was both amazed and spooked by it all. It still spooks me. When I came out of surgery my wife and sons could not believe what I looked like. I was all puffed up from the drugs and half white from being “frozen”. I don’t envy what they had to go thru during the 8 hours I was in surgery.

The next 2 days were the 2 worst days of my life. I only remember 2 things that Saturday and Sunday. One was on Saturday night when my wife tried to tell me something about a soccer game we were supposed to be attending. We have season tickets to the New England Revolution. We didn’t attend any more games that fall. The other was very briefly on Sunday. I was under and coming out of anesthesia. It felt like a bad dream you could not get out of. I felt like this for 2 days. They gave me something to settle me down. I started coming out of it on Monday and by Tuesday I was walking around the intensive care hospital room. I was very adamant about getting out of the hospital. I guess because of my age and general health, once I came out of anesthesia, I “recovered” pretty quickly. By Tuesday night I was put in a regular hospital room. By Wednesday, they decided I could go home. I went home on Wednesday night not knowing really what had happened to me although I had been explained what an Aortic Dissection was. I was “dead” on Friday afternoon and home on Wednesday night. That was pretty amazing.

The next 2 weeks were a haze-I don’t remember much-except my wife taking care of me. I could not sleep more than an hour at a time without waking up. I was still under pain and other medications. After 2 weeks I started to walk slowly and I started to search the web about “aortic dissections”. Then I learned what they were, the types etc, all the facts I didn’t know. The surgeon told me this surgery under the best circumstances took 6 to 8 weeks for recovery. I took this to “heart” and began to walk everyday till I was almost at 2 miles a day 8 weeks after my surgery. I actually returned to work after 8 weeks. When I told my doctor about the 8-week recovery period he laughed and said 8 weeks for some of the physical recovery (like the chest bone) but otherwise he said a year or more. Now I believe him.

That is my “aortic dissection” story. If you haven’t fallen asleep yet, there is more. In February of this year my 73-year-old mother in Maine had a stroke. Some of the brain vessels in her brain hemorrhaged. She lost feeling in her left arm and leg. She is doing much better now but that was a shock to me.

In January, I discovered something else. My doctor told me that during one of the follow up echo tests in November or December 2007, the hospital had diagnosed me with an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms, i.e. my Abdominal Aorta was 3.97 cm wide instead of the usual 2 or 2.5 cms. That was something to hear after what I had gone thru the past 3 months. I had another test in March and it had grown to 4.3 cm. I was referred to Mass General in Boston and when I had a CT scan done it was discovered that besides the AAA I also had a Right Iliac Aneurysm, which looked just like a golf ball. I was advised that I should have the Iliac fixed as it was way oversized while the AAA fell under the “watchful waiting” diagnosis because it is not over 5 cms.

In April, I had my Iliac Aneurysms fixed at Mass General. It was via Stent Graft instead of open surgery. The surgery lasted 2 to 3 hours. I was under anesthesia and had similar but shorter effects from it when I was in recovery for a couple of hours. Again I listened to the surgeons on the hospital and recovery period. I stayed in hospital for 3 days and returned to work in 10 days.

In May, I had another follow up Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm ultrasound. It was up to 4.6 cm. I have another scan in August 2008. I don’t know how big it will be then.

I’ve received various recommendations as to what physical things I can do from my 2 surgeries. The specialists in Boston say I can do almost anything as long as it’s not Olympic type lifting. My doctor says nothing more than 10 or 20 months lifting. I think my doctor is more correct. In general, I get very tired sometimes and I have this almost constant feeling in the middle of my chest above my belly button. The doctors say it’s nothing serious but I think it’s either the recovery from the dissection or some feelings from the AAA. When I was recovering from the dissection my surgeon told me that my dissection had closed up after the graft was put in my aorta. But the doctors in Boston told me the dissection really doesn’t go away. Although the blood no longer flows between the 2 walls of the aorta the remains of the dissection are there. Blood clots where the dissection was and the aorta is smaller than it normally would be. Supposedly this doesn’t affect the blood flow and is not a serious medical condition but I cannot believe that one does not feel anything from this.

And to top it all off May 2008 brought one more thing to me. I lost my job of 12 ½ years due to my company going out of business. Now I’m looking for a new job. And I’m trying to keep positive through it all. Thanks for letting me tell my story. The web site is really great.

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