12 September 2004
The doctor didn't listen to my husband, Mike, when he told him his left leg was hurting so badly that he couldn't walk. He died from a ruptured aorta on August 21, 2004.
On Monday night in August 2004 my husband Mike was getting ready for bed. Suddenly he sat up with a strange look on his face and said he was having a severe pain in his chest. I knew from his lack of color, his clammy forehead and his usual reticence about complaining that this was serious.
He was experiencing a tremendous pain in his chest that immediately went up into his throat and lower jaw area, then it suddenly went down into his lower abdomen, back and left leg.
He had been hospitalized four years earlier with tachycardia, racing heart, and they had found some unusual 'wrinkles' in his arteries causing his blood to 'roll' rather than flow. Other than that and his problem with high blood pressure, all was well. He had a family history of heart problems on both sides of his family, but he was told he had none of the heart diseases that they had. Because of that hospital visit we had nitroglycerin patches left over. They were four years old, but when the pain in his chest, which he described like pressure and a 'tearing' and shortness of breath continued for several minutes he allowed me to try one on his arm to see if it would lessen the pain. It did so we knew we were in for some type of major problem.
He had few problems in the intervening years. His blood pressure was under control with medication and the racing heart never troubled him again. But his life was very stressful. He had a fast paced job in the publishing industry along with the financial problems that many face, but it never seemed to end for us. One major stress after another every year. Mike was not one to complain to others but kept it to himself, blaming himself for every struggle.
That night, as a last straw that broke the camel's back, our car engine blew out. He had been working on the car all weekend on minor maintenance and when that happened he was very discouraged and upset. I didn't realize how upset he was until later.
Once we saw that the pain, however diminished by the nitro patch, was not receding any further, he agreed to go to the emergency room. He wanted to drive himself since I can not see to drive at night because of macular degeneration, and he didn't want to wake our daughter who is expecting our first grandchild. But before he could get into the living room he was so short of breath that we agreed to call 911, something he would never have done normally. He went out onto the porch, he said, so that the EMT's would not have to carry him down the steps since he was a pretty big guy at 240 lbs. He was always thinking of how others would have to work hard and trying not to be a problem for anyone.
At the hospital they kept him overnight, although his ekg's were good, because the pain wouldn't stop. They gave him morphine and it was barely taking the edge off, he said. They seemed to think it was an esophageal spasm, or something of the kind, but wanted to watch him. They got him into a room around 5 a.m. He told me to go home so that our daughter, who had driven me to the hospital, could rest. When I came back around 10:30 a.m. he said they told him he could go home but to come back the next day for a Stress Test. He was still having pain, but he said it was more of a 'soreness' like something hit him in the chest.
I didn't hear all the doctors had to say, just relayed by him. He was ready to get out of there, as usual, and was stressed out from the people in the other bed who had a lot of company and talking.
Later at home, he began complaining of severe pain in his left leg. He was unable to go from the living room to the bathroom without it hurting terribly.
He took pain medicine all that day and night for it and was not very much relieved. He kept saying he didn't know if he would be able to walk for the stress test the next morning.
The test was scheduled before normal doctors office hours and when he got up the next day he was in such pain that he knew he couldn't walk on the treadmill. He decided to cancel and call the doctor at 9 am so that he could tell him about the pain in his leg. He said that something was wrong and he felt he should tell the doctor first and let him decide what he should do about the test.
We went together to the doctor at around midday, hoping he would look into the leg pain and then reschedule the stress test for later.
When the doctor entered the room, he seemed unsure of who my husband was until we began talking about the hospital call and the stress test Mike was unable to go to that morning. Mike explained how his lower abdomen, back and leg was giving him such severe discomfort and told him he wanted to know what the doctor thought it could be.
The doctor interrupted him very rudely "You didn't go to have the stress test this morning?" Mike began again saying that he was unable to walk long enough to go to the bathroom and couldn't walk on a treadmill. The doctor stared at him and told him "you could have taken a chemical stress test. You didn't have to walk." In a manner that seemed to say that he thought Mike had just shrugged off the appointment because he didn't want to do it.
Mike began again to try and tell him how badly his leg was hurting, telling him he planned to reschedule and go as soon as he could get the pain eased, explaining he didn't realize that there was a chemical test, and again the doctor interrupted him saying that he would probably be unable to get on the schedule because it was so full. That was why they couldn't get him in while he was actually in the hospital so they let him go home. When he asked him to tell him what was wrong with him. The doctor told him they had to finish the heart tests and rule that out before they could go on to the other possibilities.
Then the doctor folded his arms and sat staring angrily at my husband, not speaking, not answering his appeals to see why his leg was hurting. Mike began to falter, feeling embarrassed, as if he was complaining and he felt as if the man thought he was a hypochondriac or something.
Since he had had a pinched nerve in his back and in his leg a few months before he wondered if that was just acting up again and asked the doctor, "Could it be a nerve or something?". Rather than answering, he said, "What kind of nerve would that be?" as if it was the most absurd question. He finally told him it could be gastrointestinal from stress and gave him samples of Prevacid, and sent him home, with Mike assuring him he would go for the chemical stress test as soon as he could get scheduled, which turned out to be the next morning.
Mike hurt all night that night, did the test the next morning. The heart doctor looked at the tests and said they were fine, scheduling him for the nuclear photos the following day. Mike hurt all night again that night and was running a slight fever. He was concerned they were missing something, not sure what it could be, but was very upset because of the pain in his leg that he felt no one was addressing.
The 'Pictures' were taken on Friday morning and the technician told him it would be the following week before they could get the results read. Mike was extremely upset that he would have to wait that long before they would go on from there and get a diagnosis. He was concerned for the outcome as well as worrying about going back to work. His sick days were used up and the following Monday would start a workweek where he would not get paid. He was concerned they were missing something that would be detrimental to his health. He was angry that his doctor had treated him so condescendingly and acted as if he were a errant child, glaring at him, arms folded, instead of listening. He called the office and got in to see him again that day.
While he was gone to the doctor, just down the street, I called the cardiac specialist who had performed the tests at the hospital that morning. I urged them to get the test read quickly. After much wrangling, they had them read that day and called me back to tell me that the tests were in and that the cardiologist had said they looked 'fine' except for a small blip that was most likely from movement or tissue obscuring the photo. He said that he was prepared to say that it was not his heart. By this time Mike was back from the doctor who had done a chest x-ray or CT scan in the office. He gave him Prednisone in case it was a flare up of the problem he had had earlier, in response to Mike's insistence on looking on to other things, just in case. Mike said he was 'nicer' this time than last but still wasn't very concerned about the leg pain.
I had the test results faxed to him, the primary physician, immediately and called to tell them they were on their way. I got the answering machine for the office and left the message urging him to read them and call back as soon as possible with his findings.
By 5pm we had still not heard back from him. Exhausted, we had both taken a nap, not waking until after office hours.
Mike felt bad all night, still hurting and telling me that if it turned out they were missing something 'bad' that he was going to sue him. He still was running a fever, slight but a few degrees over normal and was concerned that they had not checked his temperature since the morning at the hospital.
He slept that night off and on, then woke early on Saturday the 21st before me. He woke me to tell me he was going to return some videos to the store and get something for breakfast. I asked him if he was sure he felt like going and he said yes that he needed to get out of the house.
I dozed back off and then woke suddenly, realizing he wasn't back. I wasn't sure how long he had been gone but I knew he always stayed as short a time as possible in any store or restaurant when he went for things and he was always back in a short time.
When he hadn't returned by 10:30 I knew something must be wrong.
At about 11:00 the hospital called. He had become ill and was taken by ambulance to the hospital. They were going to perform emergency surgery and asked that we come immediately.
A neighbor drove my daughter and I to the hospital where we found him in very bad shape. That is when they told us he had an aortic dissection and that the chances were very slim. The surgery could take up to 8 to 10 hours and the risks were very grave with the surgery and even graver without. They said they would have to open his chest and do a bypass to keep him going till they could fix the rupture and open him lower, gesturing to the area near his lower abdomen and groin near his left leg that had been hurting so long that week.
Mike was coherent and speaking, but very ill. He was drenched in ice cold sweat but told me he was 'burning up'. He said he had become dizzy and disoriented at the store. He said he felt worse than he'd ever felt in his life. I talked to him and he prayed with me asking God to forgive him and take him to heaven if he didn't make it. He talked to our daughter and he told us both that he loved us. He said that he hoped the doctor would hurry and get there so they could put him under and the pain would stop. We walked with him up to the surgery doors then went in to wait.
They came back in less than an hour. They had not been able to keep him on the bypass long enough to fix the tear. His heart stopped several times and in the end they were not able to save him. Mike was 47 years old.
When we were able to see his body in the hospital he had such a sweet expression and almost a smile on his face. It is the only thing that keeps us from despair now. He made his reconciliation with God and he was at last asleep in peace with Him.
We miss him, but we know that, despite the indifference of his doctor and the stress and pain he caused Mike and us with his attitude, Mike is now in the place where we all hope to be, a world without pain, sickness, crying or dying. At home with the Lord.
© Copyright 2004 Rachael Curry
All Rights Reserved - Fair Use acknowledged
Return to contents
Return to Aneurysm & AVM Support