Since I’m still getting concerned calls and e-mails, I figured I better give you an update on my little health scare…
Hearing when I came home that some folks were spreading the rumor that I had a heart attack (something that would make me lose my pilot license) and that I was going to lose the lease on the hangar (I own the hangar, so not likely), I should probably set the record straight. Yes, it was a dramatic event that could have cost me my life, but it didn’t… The circling vultures can go look for another carcass now.
Monday Sept 11th, I had a blood vessel in my stomach burst. It is officially called a Dieulafoy’s Lesion, which just means a blood vessel near the surface in the stomach region. I had one of these wayward vessels right where my esophagus attaches to my stomach and it decided to pop. Just a design flaw with me and it would have popped at some point. Better to happen while in town than at the cabin, where I’d have to fly myself back to town under duress…
So it popped and after throwing up blood a couple times through the day, I acted like a “guy” and laid on the couch telling Teen “it’ll clot”. Yep. It basically clotted once there was no more blood to bleed… The third time I tossed my stomach contents, my vitals started to crash and even I was convinced it was time for 911.
I’m very healthy and active with a very strong heart, which is probably why I’m alive. I also think it contributed to masking just how serious the situation was. In the ambulance and in the local clinic, as long as I was lying down, my vitals looked pretty good and stable. Sit up, or try to move much and it was like I was finishing a marathon and completely out of breath with 150+ beats per minute.
I was medevacced to Juneau via Guardian Flight (I highly recommend everyone get medevac insurance even if just for your one-week trip – a medevac flight costs upwards of $70,000 and is completely covered with our annual $120/year for our family). At Bartlett Regional Hospital, they had to give me 7 units of blood to stabilize me. Most people only have about 8 pints total… I have had a couple doctor friends tell me they are surprised I was able to survive this unscathed at all…
The primary concern was over my heart… I spent more than a day essentially without blood to pump, so they were looking at the potential damage this would have done to my heart. Even before they did anything to stop the bleeding, or look for the source, they had me getting an ultrasound and MRI of my heart. They needed to scope my stomach, but were afraid I may not come out of the anesthesia if there was a serious heart issue… So we waited another full day before the first scoping. Fully under and intubated, they located the lesion and put an alligator clip on the bleed. No visible ulcers and my stomach looked good in spite of my frequent use of NSAIDS…
About 12 hours later, they intubated and scoped a second time. Bleeding had stopped, but they cauterized around the lesion just for good measure. By the time they brought me out of the anesthesia the second time, they had the full 7 units in me and I was finally feeling well enough to move around. They still wouldn’t let me eat or drink anything (including water), just in case they needed to do another scoping. It was 5 days before I was allowed to swallow anything but spit.
By Friday night, I was well enough to move out of ICU and onto the regular floor. This also signaled their willingness to let me have some liquids. Chicken broth never felt so good going down! Within a few hours, they let me have solids, so my dam burst and it was sandwiches, soup and milkshakes every two hours until they had enough and released me Sunday morning.
Because of the potential heart damage concern, they wanted me to take the nuclear stress test before I went home to Yakutat. The earliest I could be scheduled for the test was the following Thursday, so we were in a Juneau hotel for another week. Thursday came and the insurance still hadn’t pre-approved the test. They wanted me to stay through Monday to try again, but this is mid-September with 1/3rd of the fly shop’s total annual business in one month, a mail plane every morning at 4am to load and offload, 1-2 extra cargo plane flights daily loading 5,000lbs of commercial fish, hangar winter storage starting to come in and a new aircraft fuel facility which still doesn’t have its self-serve credit card system functioning, so we have to meet every flight and give them “full-service”. All handled by Teen and Tanis. They did a great job keeping all the plates spinning. I couldn’t sit on my butt in Juneau any longer.
So this past week, we headed back to Juneau for the test. Preliminary results are that I do NOT have any long-term heart damage. My full day delay in getting medical care didn’t cost me my life, or my pilot’s license, or end my commercial fishing and physically demanding lifestyle. Just a few months of easing back into doing things and rebuilding my strength and stamina.
A friend who missed fishing this year had heart surgery a little over a week before my little emergency. I have lost a couple friends and family members this year, making my little adventure seem not so urgent in the overall scheme of life. I’m on the mend and will be back to being fully healthy and fit in pretty short order. I have much to be thankful for. Especially thankful for the outpouring of support and encouragement so many have given to me and Teen over the past month. There were far too many cards, e-mails and phone calls to respond to, but you are all a wonderful blessing to us. And tremendous appreciation to my wife and kids, who stepped in to keep all the stuff on my plate moving forward and keeping us from going under.
My mom and sister flew up from Seattle to be with me down in Juneau and it was a tremendous relief to have them there. I also have to share one little story… I’m in ICU and a guy walks past the windows (there is no privacy in ICU as described by my nurse as “I see you”) holding a vase of flowers. A moment later, he comes into my room with a bouquet from my CONGRESSMAN!!! He is the personal assistant for Congressman Stutes and he offered his personal car to my sister if we needed to get around while in Juneau. Only in Alaska! If you don’t have a congressman like this, you need to move, or get a new congressman!
I’m still a bit weak, but I hope to be out fighting a couple steelhead in another two weeks. I’ll keep you posted on whether or not I can pull that off. In the meantime, I am so appreciative of the literally thousands of friends that I have had the pleasure to get to know because of the fly shop and through this blog. Thank you.
Like I said, this was just a little “design flaw” in me and this event would have happened at some point. Just one of those things and nothing I could really have prevented. It all worked out OK in the end and can be a good lesson in arranging our priorities in life. There are a lot of things that aren’t nearly as important as we think they are at the time. Life, health and the love of friends and family… The rest is just noise.