Health Scare, Trust, and Second Opinions

Alan and I spent several days last week looking at death.

That sounds a bit dramatic I know, but it’s true.  At his doctor’s appointment last Thursday Alan was told that he had an aortic aneurysm. And that it could kill him at any moment.

Let’s back up a bit. This is the second time in less that a year that Alan has been given a serious, life-changing diagnosis. Last year he was told by a Pulmonary specialist that he had COPD, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. This for an athlete who never smoked, lives a healthy lifestyle, and aside from asthma, had no previous indication of such disease.  We knew that he was very sick at the time, but when we heard that diagnosis we were in shock. Alan, who had really been too sick to train, felt that any hope of recovery or competing in another Ironman had been ripped away from him.

Health Scares - aneurism

That lasted for about two weeks. He was given a prescription for the appropriate COPD drug, but because he is a stubborn (and brilliant in retrospect) man, he refused to believe, as he put it, that he was now relegated to a life of shuffleboard. He made an appointment with another doctor.

Doctor #2 scoffed, “You don’t have COPD! This is just your asthma!”  Alan was put on a prescription for montelukast (I’ve raved about it here before and have since started taking it for my own exercise induced asthma). At the same time, Dr. #1 got back results on the second culture test that she had ordered. The first one, for which Alan had been told to submit his sample after finishing a course of steroids and antibiotics, had come back negative. It seemed ridiculous to us that they would wait until he was (temporarily) well to take the test, so Alan insisted that they do it again when he was in the midst of illness. Thus he was finally diagnosed with a fungus in his lungs, finally treated correctly, and finally was able to get well. If that story seemed confusing and convoluted to you, imagine how Alan felt..this was his lifestyle that he was fighting for!

One of the tests that Dr. #2 ordered was a CT scan on Alan’s lungs, just to see that everything had cleared up and if there was anything else to worry about.

That brings us pretty close to the present, where because of an insurance change, Alan went to see Doctor #3 last week.  Dr. #3 is a general practitioner, because now we are dealing with an HMO system. This was when Alan received, for all intents and purposes, his death sentence.

He has an aortic aneurysm, said Dr. #3. Alan was pretty much told, that if he continued his active lifestyle of running, swimming, and cycling, that it could burst at any time, and that he would be dead on the spot. At 4.2 centimeters, the aneurism was not considered an immediate threat, though if it grew, open heart surgery would be the recommendation. While his low blood pressure and fitness were in his favor, here was another doctor telling him he might be better off playing shuffleboard.

Health Scares - aneurism

As you can imagine, Alan left the doctor’s office in a state of shock and disbelief. When he told me, I could hardly take it in, it seemed so unbelievable. Alan put on a pretty good front for me, as we talked about lifestyle changes and what we would have to do, but he was deeply upset and disturbed. Pretty soon though, he got to thinking, “I was misdiagnosed before. Could it happen again?”

We are very fortunate to have a friend who is a radiologist. Alan called him the next day, told him what was happening, and he basically dropped everything and told Alan to bring in his records and he would take a look. So, on to Doctor #4.

Health Scares - aneurism

After taking a look at the reports and the actual film (it’s on a disc so I’m not sure if that is the right word), Alan was told by his friend, who is a highly respected and experienced radiologist, “don’t worry.” In fact, he was surprised that it was made out to be so serious. The location of the aneurysm was on the curve of the ascending thoracic aorta, which made it seem slightly bigger than it was. It was also what is called “ectatic,” which means that the artery, though stretched, is unruptured.

Alan is waiting to schedule another CT scan, but in the meantime, we are feeling a lot better. Dr. #4 said he didn’t think that there would be any change in the size of the aneurysm. At this point, it seems unlikely that Alan will have to make a huge lifestyle change (no shuffleboard in his near future!), and we don’t have to worry about surgery or imminent death.

My husband is a lot more private than I am, which is why you never heard the COPD story before, but he agreed to let me write about this. We both want to share because it shows the importance of asking questions and always getting a second opinion! Don’t let any doctor relegate you to the shuffleboard courts without a fight!

The week ended on a much brighter note. On Friday, my daughter-in-law texted me a video of Samuel, which really made my day. They prefer to keep it in the family, so I removed it from my post.

We also had a chance to meet Carrie from Family, Fitness, Food, who was visiting La Quinta with her family. This wasn’t as easy as it sounds, since they were getting in some serious pool time and I had to work all three days that they were here. We managed to finally meet at Starbucks, and now I know that I like Carrie as much as I like her blog! Being good bloggers, we did get a picture, but it turned out pretty bad, plus it includes Carrie’s daughter (who is a beautiful young dancer), so I won’t post it here.

After a tough week, Alan and I are both feeling pretty positive about the whole thing. Alan swam on Friday, went for a run with the cross country team on Saturday, and rode his bike on Sunday, so that part of his life is looking great. We just want you to remember, always get a second opinion.

How was your weekend? Any events, races, or great training you’d like to share?