Personal Stories: Elizabeth Maul
I suffered my aortic dissection on Dec. 23, 2006. I was 56 and had
never been diagnosed with high blood pressure or any symptoms that
would have lead to early detection. I was an active mother and
elementary school teacher. I was cleaning my bathroom, preparing for
family visitors for Christmas. I was scrubbing the shower when I was
stricken with severe pain in my back. I really thought I had pulled a
muscle in my back between my shoulder blades. I immediately sat down
and tried to relax to see if it was a cramp. Then I went to the living
room to lay down on the floor to see if I could stretch it out. When I
tried this, I could only roll up into the fetal position, as the pain
was so intense.
My daughter was home for Christmas and because she isa 911
dispatcher, she immediately called 911. I told her to pray for me,
because whatever was wrong, it was serious. We both began to pray, and
my cocker spaniel licked my face as I cried in pain. Soon my husband
arrived home with my other daughter. They had been Christmas shopping
and had received a call to come home immediately. I was glad they did,
I was sure I was dieing. When they arrived I could barely breathe
because of the severe pain. The EMT's arrived soon thereafter.
Their immediate tests showed no heart attack symptoms, but my
excessive sweating and excruciating pain alerted them to something
abnormal taking place. Pain medication was administered as well as
nitro glycerin. Nothing could alleviate the pain. The trip to the
hospital went quickly, thank goodness. I was taken to the local, small
town hospital in Somerset PA. I tell you this because it really is a
miracle that it was diagnosed so quickly. After an ekg, eeg, and other
quickly administered tests, they did an xray and quickly a CT scan. I
either had passed out from the pain, or was given something to relax
me for the tests, because I do not remember them, but I do remember
the ammonia capsule waking me up.
I remember hearing the ER doctor telling my husband that I had a
dissected aneurysm, their term for aortic dissection and was going to
be life flighted immediately upon arrival of the helicopter to a
cardiac unit about 30 miles away for surgery. I did not expect to live
to see the hospital. I kissed all of my family, my sisters, Father,
husband and daughters good by. I cried because I had not yet said good
by to my son. The trip to the hospital was a beautiful one. I
remember the sunny bright blue sky with a few white fluffy clouds,
very unusual for a Somerset Winterís day.
I was in no pain. Either the morphine was working, or God had me
wrapped in His loving arms. I was at peace. Even the attending EMT
wondered if I was still okay. I told him I was, but that he needed to
take a helicopter flight in Maui if he really wanted to see something
beautiful. I was also humming some Christian songs I had recently
fallen in love with from KLOV, the best Christian radio station ever.
The surgery team met me upon arrival. By then there was no more pain
stabbing me in the back. Their continued tests showed the dissection
had stopped and the high blood pressure medicine I was given was doing
its job. However, the tear was at least 23 inches long and spiraled
the entire length of my aorta into my left leg. There were many
possibilities of complications. I was admitted to the Cardio ICU.
I was on some serious blood pressure medicines. Many CT scans were
done to determine if damage was done to my kidneys. At this point, Iím
sure there was more stress for all my family. It was now Christmas
Eve. Maybe our last together, but everyone worked very hard to be
brave. We didnít know what we would soon be facing. Emergency meetings
were called with the specialists to determine what course of action
they might want to take. Christmas came and went. Family came and
went. Specialists came and went. God was there with me all the time.
Except for some very uncomfortable sleepless nights being hooked up to
many beeping machines with alarms going off regularly, I seemed fine
to myself. I was released after 7 days on 4 serious doses of
medications, with the expectations that I would seek follow up
treatment with a thoracic/cardiovascular specialist in Pittsburgh, PA.
I have continued with CT scans every 3 - 4 months. My doctor has
said that as terrible as a 23 in. tear is, everything that could have
gone right has and the tear spirals away from every other branch
artery or organ. I am relatively pain free, but live with the concern
that something else could happen. I also have periods of anxiety. Why
did this happen?
Why did I live while others do not? I wish there was more
understanding of the cause, more for my family than for myself. I pray
they do not have to go through this. I have retired from teaching, and
continue to thoroughly enjoy life. I recently bicycled at least 400
miles over a 3 month period in Florida. I completely give God
the credit for putting all the people in place that day to save my
life. Every day is a gift.
"Live well, Love much, Laugh often!"
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