Personal Stories: Peggy Hopkins
How was I to know that doing the dishes would trigger a tear in my
aorta! It was a Monday evening, November,26, 2002. Two of my daughters
were asleep. I figured they must have had a rough day and turned in
early; they never went to bed at 8:00 pm. As soon as the pain began I
knew it was something that I had never experienced and that it was
something that could be serious...I just never realized that it could be
life threatening. I had never been diagnosed with anything that would
indicate that an AA could be a threat and the pain didn't point in the
direction of anything concerning the heart so I took an aspirin and went
to bed and hoped that this 'thing' would go away.
I had the typical AA presenting pain: sudden ripping pain in the
middle of my chest that immediately traveled to my jaw and settled back
to the middle of my chest and into my back. Along with all of this was
difficulty breathing. I just couldn't catch my breath. I knew my smoking
was bad but not this bad. Anyway, after lying down for about an hour the
pain became more intense and that's when I decided that I needed to go
to the hospital.
As I was getting ready to go, my third daughter called from her
boyfriend's house and needed a ride home. I told her that I'd be there
shortly and that we would then head to the hospital to check this
'thing' out. She wanted all the details; I had none to give other than I
knew I needed to get to the hospital. I didn't call an ambulance because
I was living in West Virginia and I wanted to go to the hospital in
Maryland. We were only 8 miles from either, so I decided I could drive
myself. I think that by taking that route, it saved my life because the
Doctor at Washington County Hospital was totally on the ball and had
this thing diagnose within an hour.
I was in a helicopter, not my favorite mode of transportation, and on
my way to the University of Maryland hospital within an hour and a half
of enter the ER in Hagerstown. I remember talking to the nurse/flight
attendant and we talked about the safety of helicopters. Weird. I was
more focused on this contraption I was in rather than the condition I
I left my daughter at the hospital with instructions to drive home
(she didn't' have her license at the time :}) and let her sisters know
what was going on.
I barely remember arriving in Baltimore and going into the hospital.
I even talked to the doctor and I think I talked to my daughter Sarah on
the phone. That's it until I woke up on Tuesday afternoon after an 7 to
8 hour operation to repair the tear. They used a vessel in my leg and
they cooled my down to 'a very cold temperature' (I just don't remember
the exact degree) so that they could slow down my organs to the point
that they could be considered 'not functioning'.
I still think that that procedure has cause me memory problems - I
find it difficult to remember words. I can't remember the names of
things at times and have to stop and picture what it is so that I can
then put a name to it. NO! (ha ha) It's not menopause or old age!
I remember when I woke up and my family was there I asked what day it
was and then I went back to sleep. Recovery was the usual. Everything
went as planned and my doctor told me that I was very lucky. The tear in
my aorta was great and that because I got myself to the hospital when I
did and the doctor in Hagerstown was able to pick up on what was going
on, I was alive.
The recovery from the surgery was relatively easy. Recovery from this
'thing' has been difficult. I've read a lot of others thoughts and
concerns with the aftermath of this horrific experience. Most of us will
agree that we have all experienced the same sort of thoughts about what
the future holds. I often wonder if it will happen again. My doctor
tells me that, yes, it could happen again, but as long as I keep my
blood pressure down and "exercise", I'll be ok.
The other kicker in all of this is that I also have an abdominal
dissection that is not a real concern at this time. They don't know if
I've always had it or if it came with the premier dissection. I have to
go in every year for a CT scan to have it checked. This is the first
time I've diligently looked for a website such as this. I have been
needing to hear what others are experiencing after their operations and
how they are dealing with everything. Thanks for listening.
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