I am well. For the first time since May 5, 2019, I am not a hospital patient.
A healthy patient
Before our 2019 transatlantic cruise to Europe, I considered myself our doctor’s most boring patient. I was a fitness instructor. Apart from having our daughter nearly 30 years ago, I’d never been hospitalized, and I had none of the diseases that creep in as we age. My husband has not been quite as lucky, but he was cleared to travel.
Off we went on our two-week journey across the pond from Florida to Amsterdam, with one additional roundtrip week from Amsterdam to Norway tacked on. We had booked an apartment in Amsterdam’s canal district for a month to end our trip on solid ground in one of our favorite cities.
Three months in the hospital: May 5 to August 9
Saying that I was a boring patient was simply too tempting for The Fates to let lie, but they did give me a chance to make it.
In the single day we were in Amsterdam, I was felled by a ruptured arterial aneurysm, and my heart stopped as I was wheeled into the OLVG Hospital emergency room. They got me back and quickly sealed the leak, but my body struggled to keep going for nearly six weeks in the ICU, leaving me wasted and weak. It took me another six weeks to recover my ability to move and the strength to survive a flight home. I was transferred to a Florida hospital with the savvy to take over my treatment, the University of Florida’s Shands Hospital, where I was an inpatient for a week before being discharged to return home. Tomorrow is the second anniversary of that wonderful re-entry into our palm-and -lake-laden neighborhood.
But hanging over my head was Amsterdam’s diagnosis: the ruptured aneurysm had been surrounded by other aneurysms, symptoms of an extremely rare vascular disease: segmental arterial mediolysis. According to the Mayo Clinic (Jacksonville FL), SAM carries a mortality rate of 50 percent. If the SAM diagnosis was correct, I’d need to be carefully monitored by all-too-rare specialists for the rest of my life. Although Shands was five hours from home, I needed to remain their patient. Maybe forever.
One-month check up: August, 2019
On our return, Shands identified a pseudo aneurysm near my ER incision and fixed it while I tried not to hyperventilate. God bless the nurse who understood what was going on in my head. She stood right next to me chatting about children and dance lessons, keeping me distracted while the rest of the team worked away.
Four-month check up: November, 2019
This time, there was nothing to see. Apart from the evidence of the clamped tear, my blood vessels looked healthy. No aneurysms. Not even any pseudos.
One-year check up: virtual, 2020
It was out of the question to travel to Shands as the pandemic raged. Instead, I ventured to a local facility for the scan, and Shands had a look. Still healthy. No aneurysms.
Two-year check up: July, 2021
We were fully vaccinated mid-winter, and I scheduled my next checkup at Shands before Florida became ground-zero for the delta variant of the Coronavirus. However, by the time we traveled, cases, transmissions, hospitalizations, and deaths were all soaring. We kept on our masks. We sanitized our hands. We drove.
Shands’ CT scan showed no sign of disease. I do not have the terrible, rare SAM. I had some rotten luck, is all.
Go live your life. Follow up with someone closer to home in a year or two, and we’re here if you need us.Dr. Thomas Huber, Chief of Vascular Surgery, Shands Hospital, University of Florida Health
I will always feel deeply grateful to the staff in Amsterdam and at Shands who carried me through the days, months, and years since May 5, 2019, but it feels darn good to be a civilian again.
This time, however, I am taking nothing for granted. I am working hard every day at being strong, well-nourished, and engaged with life.