LET INGA TELL YOU:
As I told my husband Olof as they were moving him from the Cardiac ICU to the Trauma ICU, I wasn't that desperate for column material. A week before his recent heart attack-cum-traumatic-brain-injury, I had been wondering aloud at dinner whether after nine years of writing my column I had anything left to say. Were people just too polite to tell me? (This is your chance.)
And then Olof goes and almost crumps right in front of me.
It would not be surprising that this event has shaken both Olof and me to the core. But I never worried about Olof having a heart attack. Part of it is that he was too busy having cancer. But the cancer was cured and he was just so insanely healthy. No family history of heart problems whatsoever. This violates all rules of nature, never mind medical advice.
Speaking of medical advice, our first week home after he got out of the hospital was with fraught with inadvertently-induced iatrogenic afflictions. Please note that we were absolutely dazzled, amazed and tearfully grateful for the care that we got at the Prebys Cardiovascular Institute. I totally recommend that if you are going to have a heart attack, you have it there.
But in all the confusion between having both a heart attack and a head injury, I didn't know that Olof was being given Lipitor, a statin. I know that there are plenty of people who think that everyone should take statins. But they would be idiots. For people who tolerate statins well, they are apparently terrific. But there are a sizable number of people — Olof and I among them — who have serious, and potentially permanent side effects from them. We have many friends who've had bad side effects from various types of statins as well.
When Olof took statins a decade ago, he developed increasing severe muscle pain over a period of weeks, which since he never complains (including, alas, about chest pain), I wasn't aware of it until he was too incapacitated for business travel. It was our pharmacist who clued us in on the likely cause of it.
Olof's mother, I should mention, has had cholesterol in the 350 range (no, not a typo) her entire adult life. (She failed with statins as well.) Did I mention that she is 96 and clear as a bell?
I didn't find out that Olof had been given Lipitor in the hospital until a prescription bottle of it came home with him. He was already having muscle pain, but assumed it was a delayed symptom of his fall. But when we got home, the muscle pain absolutely crippled him. He was in agonizing pain, unable to get from sitting to standing — or vice versa — or to stand up straight. Just what somebody who has just had a heart attack, a neck injury, a smashed up face, and an ongoing brain bleed needs. It was heartbreaking to watch. I flushed those suckers down the toilet immediately. But it took almost two weeks for the pain to fully subside. That stuff doesn't leave your system overnight.
Our house is small so if you fall down, there's a reasonable chance you're going to hit something. I was just terrified Olof would fall again. His arsenal of new meds — eight! (well, seven after I gave the statins a burial at sea) — was making him very lightheaded. I just wanted to wrap the house in bubble wrap. Or maybe him in bubble wrap.
Our dog Lily was rapturously happy to have Olof home. Even though the neighbors had done a heroic job caring for her, she expressed her distress at Olof's absence by regularly pooping on the carpet.
I, meanwhile, thought I was managing the stress pretty well until I realized, when I came back from errands in downtown La Jolla one morning, that I had been wearing my fuzzy bedroom slippers the whole time.
It was probably not too surprising that I have developed a constant anxiety about having a stroke or heart attack myself. Olof was (and still is) in tons better shape physically than I am. So how exactly do you know you have occluded arteries before you drop almost-dead in front of your horrified spouse? Even the cardiac rehab people scratched their heads and said that Olof had already been doing everything that they normally recommend post-heart-attack patients do.
So when we went for Olof's next cardiologist appointment, I booked an appointment for myself. First available for new non-emergency patients wasn't until March, but that will hopefully give us time to get Olof back on track. I realize that obsessive worrying about having a heart attack or stroke is probably not helpful in preventing them.
In the meantime, every time I have the slightest heartburn — Olof's only symptom — I'm wondering, "Is this it?"
— Inga has next week off. Her lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in La Jolla Light. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org