Cumberland Times-News

Editorials

November 14, 2013

Is Dick Cheney’s story anything like hers?

Watching former Vice President Dick Cheney’s Oct. 20 “60 Minutes” interview with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, I thought, “He’s a daring man, to publish a book about his heart struggles. After all, who will read it?”

In 2006, after my second heart surgery to correct birth defects and their effects, my home health care team told me I should write a book. “Who would want to read my story?” I replied. “No one wants to hear it!”

Mine is a fascinating story, though — to me, and my cardiologist, and a few other inquisitive folks. Interestingly, Mr. Cheney’s cardiologist and mine are colleagues. Maybe he’ll read the book. I don’t plan to.

As my cardiologist could attest, I’ve endured sufficient drama, and trauma, in my lifetime. Two difficult heart surgeries, three catheterizations, a dozen-plus other surgical procedures; an artificial aortic valve, chronic atrial fibrillation,; 10 pacemaker implants, an infected pacer (and plastic surgery to remove a baseball-sized keloid and close the wound), two malfunctioning pacers, two recalled, one broken lead (that was an emergency!), one fractured lead; 10 years managing congestive heart failure — prior to the last heart surgery, which left me with profound vision loss as a complication; near death several times: I’ve experienced just about all there is, short of a heart attack, which I hope I never do!

Like Mr. Cheney’s, my story, and survival, is very much about the intertwining of technology, timing and expertise — and my unshakable gratitude for God’s blessings.

Sadly, my story also features 20-plus years of turbulence with dozens of doctors who wouldn’t face facts about my situation and were uncooperative, disrespectful at best, manipulative, deceitful and abusive at worst. Surely, Mr. Cheney experienced this phenomenon. He didn’t mention it in the interview, but at times, Dr. Gupta showed himself to be incredulous, combative.

In the late 1980s and early ‘90s, when my pacemakers malfunctioned (the leads were “improperly implanted”), my then-cardiologist expressed his concern for my symptoms as, “You’re crazy.” And there was the endocrinologist who said she didn’t need to know about my heart condition, because “that all happened before I knew you.”

Then came the dentist who wanted me to stop taking Coumadin five days prior to a routine cleaning. My current cardiologist, and the ADA, said, “No!” And my cardiologist’s response to the dermatologist who, in spite of my high risk for infection, insisted on treating my acne with daily antibiotics: “Out of the question.” That dispute got me barred from the practice!

Then there was the family doctor who swore he knew nothing about hearts, as he proceeded to commiserate with pharmacy staff to rewrite my cardiologist’s Lasix prescription for the generic, which didn’t work for me — because the pharmacy didn’t want to stock Lasix.

That trick elicited a firestorm from me, which got me barred from his practice!

The dishonesty, denial and betrayal became overwhelming, and eventually, anxiety built into a breakdown, with PTSD. Enter the inept shrink who misdiagnosed me manic-depressive!

The correct diagnosis came seven years later from a competent and compassionate psychologist in Gaithersburg. With my capable cardiologist, he made two doctors I trusted by that time; well, three, including my dermatologist, who practices in Winchester.

She never balked or blinked at my heart history. Neither has my current internist, who is in Cumberland. He put me at ease in our first visit four years ago when he told me, “I’ll respect your specialists.”

I’ve assembled an ideal team, but finding them took decades of perseverance and hard work. I wonder if that is Mr. Cheney’s backstory. That I’d be interested to read.

Nancy E. Thoerig

Mount Savage

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