Part 1: Background
At some point in most developing relationships, there will come a time when folks will ask each other about their respective families. If you and I have reached that point in our relationship, chances are good that you know that I have a younger sister, who, among other things, has a nearly unquenchable passion for all things Bon Jovi. She will do things in the name of her fandom for Bon Jovi that you and I might consider extreme, even. As a for instance, she once purchased a chair from a venue in Hawaii (yes, she went to Hawaii, primarily for Bon Jovi, not the beaches or scenery or history or any of the reasons that most people dream of going to Hawaii) and had it shipped home, all because the last concert performed in this venue was one highlighted by… you guessed it… Bon Jovi. She has waited in countless line (in all kinds of weather), flown thousands and thousands of miles, connected with people she never would have met, even quit jobs in the name of Bon Jovi. Chances are also good that if you have heard of my sister’s passion for Bon Jovi, you will have also met with my reaction to such devotion. It hasn’t been positive. I now get a twitch in my eye whenever I hear music by Bon Jovi because of how much it has dominated her life. Read on, and learn how I came to promise that I will never say another deriding comment about her fandom, how I will promise to never get that look that passes over my face whenever the conversation turns to Laura’s most recent escapades with this show or that show again.
Part 2: More Background
If you know Laura well, in addition to (undoubtedly) knowing of her love of Bon Jovi, you probably also know that she has a long, long history of never quite feeling 100%. She used to insist, in fact, that she needed a stomach transplant. Also, it is my belief that in recent years, she may have single-handedly driven up the demand for Motrin (for complaints ranging from headaches to the infamous stomach aches to just about anything else) in such a way that if you are stockholder, I would consider selling in the very near-term. Given all of this, when she started experiencing shortness of breath a few years ago, especially when out for a walk, none of us got very excited about it. Just add it to the list of things that aren’t quite right, but probably aren’t very wrong, either. I assumed that it was some sort of combination of being not-in-shape and perhaps some exercise-induced asthma. It was a pain in the rear, but… what do you do? (Laura would probably say grab a Motrin and cool off) She started having weird rashes on her feet and legs, not to mention her toenail issues (both of which she went to the dermatologist for, but never really got relief nor an answer for). Who would have ever guessed, outside of a certain Dr. House, that all of these on-going ailments would be related? Certainly not I.
Meanwhile, Laura has become a nanny for a (very cute) little girl who has a certain joie de vivre, as little girls are prone to have, who may have also played a key role in this story. In addition to providing the relationship out of which Laura has become more financially independent and gained insurance, this little girl also has a penchant for letting Laura know how important Laura is to her through imitation. And, when a little cherub starts imitating your coughing and wheezing, I guess that’s when you start to pay attention…
Part 3: The Concert that Could Have Ended All Concerts
And… we’re back to Bon Jovi. It will surprise no one that if Laura hears of a concert, it will at least cross her mind to find a way to attend it. However, if she can also attend said concert at very little expense to herself? She’s there. In this case, there was L.A. Laura found a contest that she entered and won, providing her with access to 2nd row (!!!) tickets to a Bon Jovi concert in the ever-lovely Los Angeles. So, she flew out there a couple of weeks ago and met up with a fellow Bon Jovi fan to go to the concert. They fairly ran into the venue, which triggered one of Laura’s breathing “episodes” (which have been getting worse), and to her friend’s credit, her friend thought that this deserved a little extra attention and called the venue’s medics. Said medics felt that Laura was in pretty bad shape, and encouraged her to go to the hospital immediately. “Pish posh,” said Laura. “I have a Bon Jovi concert to go to here! I’ve got priorities!” Apparently, a good time was had by all (Laura would add that this is true of every Bon Jovi concert that has ever taken place, but this was certainly not an exception to that rule). Laura flew home (imagine what that altitude must do to someone with breathing issues!), but, as a result of this concert, finally agreed to see a doctor. Hopefully, she would emerge with an inhaler in hand and be ready to fly to Germany to visit Mike and I for Christmas. Haha. Hahahaha. (By the way, she said that the concert was pretty awesome. Rock on, Bon Jovi, rock on.) As it turns out (and I really just can’t resist this one, but I will apologize for it), she was “Living on a Prayer.”
Part 4: Our Hero, Dr. Michaelson
Laura’s insurance allowed her to make an appointment directly with a specialist (rather than requiring a referral), so after consulting with the list pulmonary doctors on the BCBS website, in combination with a handy-dandy Google Maps address check (to make sure that she, who also has no sense of direction WHATSOEVER, would be able to find said doctor), she made an appointment with Dr. Michaelson. She picked him based on geography and because, interestingly enough, she wanted a youngish doctor. (I am not going to say that I understand this criteria, but whatever… it worked.) It was decided that my father would go with her to the appointment (probably for geographical assistance as much as anything else), and this past Tuesday (which was a lovely day, I’m sure) they headed to the appointment. After a short time in his office with Laura, Dr. Michaelson rounded up my father and informed them that Laura was not going to pass go, she was not going to collect $200, she was going directly to the hospital. Laura’s oxygen levels were in the 70s (normal is around 95, and below 90 is considered “very low,” causing alarm bells to ring on LLs oxygen meter at the hospital). Laura, with her aforementioned priorities, had a small fit (according to Daddy); hospitalization was, of course, most inconvenient given that she had plans to go to Germany for Christmas. Couldn’t he do whatever he wanted to do another time??? ummm. NO. Now. With plans to run several tests, she was admitted to Piedmont Hospital. However, it was a busy time and they had to wait for a room to become available. With her ever-present value on vanity/hygiene, Laura was able to convince the admissions folks that she would be best served by their permission to go home and take a shower and do her hair. So… she didn’t actually do anything at the hospital except get registered until after she had properly washed her hair and shaved her legs. A girl has to do what a girl has to do…
They got busy on the tests pretty quickly, and she had all kinds of eee’s done (EKG, ECG, E-LMNOP), a sonogram of her heart, a pulmonary function test, etc. etc. The sonogram was apparently the most illuminating, and the doctor scheduled a cardiac cath done for Thursday morning. Fortunately, he is one of a handful of pulmonary doctors who is qualified to do that test, and it helps a lot to have a good relationship with the person who is all up in your business. Another reason he is a hero to me is that after determining that her pulmonary condition was fine, he could have released her and said, “as far as I can tell, you are doing A-OK.” Fortunately, he is of the sort who can put 2 and 2 together, even when the 2s don’t come from the same pile. The cath procedure, in addition to being relatively traumatic because of a certain betadine confusion, was also significantly invasive and required multiple shots of morphine. And it revealed that Laura’s heart was anything but ship-shape. The cath showed the doctor that LL’s heart was as enlarged as it could be, and that there was a lot of blood that wasn’t getting out of the heart in a timely way. He diagnosed her with Eisenmenger’s Syndrome and ordered an MRI to determine how large the hole in her heart was in order to determine the most effective way to treat her. There was concern that the pulmonary arteries leaving her heart may be damaged beyond the ability to withstand the surgery. Fortunately, her arteries were alright, but the bad news was that the hole in her heart was so large that the previously hoped for kind of surgery was no longer an option. Open-heart surgery would be needed to close the hole. And that, my friends, was beyond the scope of Dr. Michaelson’s expertise. We were so grateful that he had been there along the way, but as any good professional, he knew when to say when. He began assembling her cardiac team (which will apparently also include at least one specialist from Emory) to evaluate the surgical options.
Part 5: Where we are today
The last part of this information – the part about the diagnosis and the open-heart nature of her surgery – became available fairly late in the day on Thursday (after 2pm for the diagnosis, after 5pm for the surgery), which was very late in the day in Germany (add 6 hours). After midnight on Thursday, I decided that I really didn’t have a decision to make: I had to go home to Atlanta. My sister was having her heart operated on, after all. It is CHRISTMAS, after all. There was no choice to make. Except where to fly from. I listed myself for the flight (thanks again, Daddy, for putting up with working in the airlines for as long as you did; we sure do enjoy the benefits now!) from Stuttgart (about 2.5 hours away from Aschaffenburg), Googled train schedules, and packed for a trip of undetermined length, all after midnight. I am NOT a late-night person, people, so this is pretty darn late. At almost 2am, knowing that I had to be up again at 4am to begin my long journey back to Atlanta, I crawled into bed.
Of course, my head was still spinning (and not just from tiredness). Heart this, surgery that, Atlanta, WHAT? And all I could hear was a metallic tick, tock, tick, tock… UH OH. Did I have a heart condition, too? Laura’s issue is congenital, and is often hereditary… Oh man. Tick, tock, tick, tock… I would have sworn that my (obviously defective) heart was beating in my ear! I tossed, I turned, I worried. AND THEN? I remembered. Mike had been given a new Swatch watch on his trip to Switzerland that had been driving me crazy with its ticking earlier in the day (it is strange how selective my deafness can be)… and after hearing me complain about it, he thought it would be funny to put it under my pillow. I absolutely lost it at that point. 2:30 in the morning, and I came completely undone.
Fortunately, if that was the end of my rope, I was able to tie a knot. Everything worked from that point on. I did sleep (for about an hour), the trains to Stuttgart went flawlessly, and I was able to get on the plane back to Atlanta (in business class, no less). I was starving when we landed (boo on you, Delta, for not having a vegetarian option for the pre-arrival meal), and stopped at the CNN store in the International Terminal in the airport. While debating pretzels vs. granola bar, I tuned into the radio they had over their speakers. I thought, “wow. That sounds like Obama. Crying. What on Earth is going on?” I almost wish that I hadn’t asked the store clerks, because I wish I didn’t have to know what happened in Connecticut yesterday. It was almost too much for me. As for many people, I’m sure. Between my headache (ach! Do I have a heart disease that is causing this, too?!?), my hunger, and my anxiety, this news just made me sit down in the middle of the airport and cry for a minute. And then I got myself together and walked out like the big sister who is supposed to be strong and together.
I walked outside (with only a light jacket!!!), and very soon, my Daddy showed up to pick me up (we even rolled the window down occasionally on the drive!!)! Hallelujah! I am really home!! We went straight to the hospital, where Laura was holding court with one of the wonderful visitors from the church we grew up in. I can’t tell you how good it was to see that… Just writing it makes my eyes water.
There are still many unknowns, though, for me to be comfortable. Another group from the cardiac team and someone from the thoracic team still has to evaluate things before the surgery can be scheduled (though we are still hoping that everything is on-track for Monday). The doctor who has visited today indicates that the hole in her heart is in an unusual place, but we don’t know what that means… She has been started on Revatio (aka Viagra for those of you in the know) to help her heart muscle work more effectively (between her old-lady oxygen and her taking Viagra, the potential jokes are almost endless; let’s agree, shall we, that we won’t make them until there is enough time for it to actually be funny?), which has started causing nose bleeds. She’s worried about the scar, and a little miffed that the whole thing is happening to her (and causing her to miss out on yet another trip to Germany (when we were both in High School, we were supposed to go to Germany, but the government accidentally sent her old passport back to us instead of her new passport, and we didn’t get the new passport in time. We ended up having a lovely trip to northern California instead, but let’s be honest, that just isn’t the same as a European adventure)). Mostly though, she is doing alright. And really, that is A-OK with me.
What have I learned so far?
1. DO NOT, EVER, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES put a ticking watch under an emotionally fragile person’s pillow when they are already sleep deprived. It will not go well for you.
2. Living in another country is really cool, right up until you have a family member who isn’t well. Then? It kind of sucks.
3. God is beyond my ability to conceive. I knew that already, but this has brought it into sharp resolution. His timing, provision, healing, and peace do, indeed, pass understanding. He has brought the right people (from the highly skilled doctors to the tech who transported her (sharing his own story of recovery from a diagnosis like her’s) to her tests to the maid (who overhearing what the doctor said about the hole in her heart being too large for the “easy” surgery who came in to pray with my family)) to her at the right time. I may not ever understand why all this is happening (not that I need to), but I do know that Laura is in His care and His love and it is something that He is doing for His glory. And that is ok with me.
4. I promise, never ever will I roll my eyes when Laura tells me that her stomach hurts, or that her head hurts, or that her legs itch, or that she can’t make it up the hill without resting, or or or… It is all legitimate from here on out. Next time you have a complaint, I’m taking it seriously! I’m going to be a hypochondriac’s best friend… 🙂
5. Despite any previous remarks as to the impact of Bon Jovi fandom on my sister’s life, I will never say another negative thing about it (and, even more than that, I am sorry that I ever said anything). Had Laura not won that contest to go to that concert and then almost not be able to see the very thing that she loves so much, she may not have made an appointment in time (again, see #3). The doctor said that she probably didn’t even have 6 more months left had she not gotten this treatment.
Bring on the Viagra! Bon Jovi totally rocks!
While not Bon Jovi, I wanted to share this lovely little nugget that the whole business with Laura has put on my mind lately…
How could I pass up a little Extreme “Hole Hearted?” That’s right! I couldn’t…