My First Right Heart Catheterization

6:00:00 PM

As soon as the doctor told me that I needed a right heart cath, I could feel my heart beat faster. She began explaining the process and I couldn't help but want to cry. I absolutely hate all things medical, but these things are unavoidable when you have multiple chronic illnesses.

If you don't know what a right heart catheterization is, it's ok, I didn't either. It's a procedure where you have a catheter inserted into your groin artery. The doctor then passes the tube into your pulmonary artery that carries blood to your lungs. From there, they can perform different tests and other necessary measures.

I'm sure now you can understand why I was scared. I knew that I had to have the procedure done in order to get the go ahead for my three upcoming surgeries, but I still didn't want to go through with it. 

After a few weeks of scheduling conflicts, it was finally scheduled. I wrote it in my planner and informed friends and family. I also created a medical binder with any and all information the doctors, nurses, or my husband could ever need. I stressed about it every day until the Tuesday before it was scheduled to happen. 

On the Tuesday before, I was awoken by a call from that specific doctors office. My insurance company had denied the request. Immediately after hanging up with them, I called my primary care physician and had them send over another referral. Sometime after dinner, I got another call. The doctors office had not heard back from my insurance company, so we had to cancel the appointment. I wasted so much time worrying about something that wasn't going to happen.

About a week later, I had an appointment with my cardiologist. I explained the situation while still hoping he would say I no longer needed it. Of course, that wasn't the case. He agreed that my rheumatologist was right in ordering the right heart cath, and he wanted to send in another referral. I was originally told that these things normally take up to three weeks to schedule, but he told me that he could have me in as early as next week. We decided that if it was approved, it would be for the following Wednesday. To my surprise, they called me the next day and said it was approved.

I spent the next few days doing more research on the procedure and freaking myself out even more. Heads up, never actively search for the risks of a future procedure or surgery. It's like googling your symptoms, you'll almost always convince yourself that you're dying.

When Wednesday finally rolled around, I was a wreck. I frequently get an upset stomach when I'm nervous and I was trying everything I could to prevent that. I didn't eat, drink, or even take my medications before heading to the hospital. 

Once I got there, my husband and I were escorted to the heart center by an elderly volunteer. In the elevator, she told me to smile and not look so afraid. Of course, that wasn't possible at the time. My husband was sent to the waiting room and I was put in a room. One of the nurses asked what I did to end up there since I was the youngest person in the entire area. He then placed a gown, a sheet, and a pair of socks on the bed and told me to get completely undressed. I was under the impression that it was just an incision in my upper thigh, so I didn't think I'd have to get completely naked. I was wrong.

After I was finished getting undressed and into bed, a woman walked into the room. She explained that she was there to prepare me for the procedure and then a different nurse would come in. I was getting even more nervous as she started laying things out on the bed: rags, gloves, alcohol pads, a razor. Once she moved everything aside, she cleaned the area with a pad. As she did that, she said that she'll disinfect both sides because they will first attempt on the right side, but they may have to try the left side too. She also informed me that she wouldn't need to use the razor. Just to be safe, I had shaved everything from my underarms down that same morning. I didn't want to have to have anyone else shave me. I just thought it'd be weird. 

Next the main nurse walked in. She took my vitals and began asking me questions. I gave her my medical binder to make things easier. Once all of the paperwork was finished, she inserted the IV. She took some blood and then said she'd be back in a little bit. They brought my husband in from the waiting room and gave me the first dose of something that started with a 'v.' I had to fight falling asleep, because I forgot to ask if they'd put oxygen on me for my sleep apnea. My husband flagged down the nurse and she reassured me that they would. She then gave me my second dose and told me not to fight it. 

A little while later, I was rolled into the cath lab and transferred onto a metal table. The nurses started moving around the room and preparing for the procedure. They were talking about something, but I don't remember what it was. I reminded them of the oxygen and they set it up. They gave me one last dose of the sleepy meds and I just stared up at the light above me. I must have fallen asleep because that's all I remember.

Later on, I woke up in the room that I originally started in. The nurse said that I could sit up for the last hour of bed rest as she repositioned the hospital bed. My husband told me there was a sandwich in front of me because I was allowed to eat. I ate half of it and must have fallen back asleep. The next thing I remember was being woken up. I lifted up the sheet to look at the incision and saw blood. I immediately freaked out thinking either A. I was bleeding out or B. I started my period. The nurse then came in and helped out of bed and I couldn't help but turn red as I saw blood on the sheets. The nurse walked me to the bathroom and held onto me tightly since I'm a fall risk. It's funny because once we got in the bathroom she asked me if I was ready. I replied with, "ready for what?" It didn't occur to me that she was taking me to actually use the bathroom, not just stand in it. 

After that, I returned to the room. My husband helped me get dressed and then the nurse took my IV out. She sat me down and started explaining what I needed to do during recovery. I was still sleepy, so I really only heard to use a new bandaid everyday for five days. We packed up my stuff and they rolled me out to the car. 

My recovery was pretty simple. I just changed the bandaids as ordered and tried to stay off of my feet. I didn't seem to have any complications and it healed pretty quickly. I can still see where they inserted it, but it's honestly smaller than some of the freckles on my arms. I wanted to wait a few weeks before writing about this experience in case anything changed, but it hasn't. I learned that my pressures were normal, but I'll be getting annual echocardiograms just in case. 

Now that I've had my first right heart catheterization, and recovered, I can honestly say that I would get another one. Like most people, I don't like doctors appointments or hospitals, but it was a fairly simple experience. I got an IV, they took some blood, I went to sleep, I woke up, and then I went home. The only downfall though, is that I gained ten pounds since the procedure. I've almost returned to my starting weight, but I'm not quite there yet. 

What I learned from this experience:
  • This procedure is not as scary as I thought it would be! Had I been told earlier that it's basically an IV, but bigger, I wouldn't have been so nervous. 
  • Wear comfy clothing! I went in wearing a dress and leggings. I knew that if I couldn't put pants on, at least a dress still covered everything. I know guys can't do the same, but gym shorts will be way more comfortable than jeans or khakis.
  • Bring all of your medications with you! You'll want to bring them with you to have them, but also for your records. Your nurse will also ask what time you last took all of them the day before, as well as the last time you ate and what time you went to bed. It'd probably be best to write those things down ahead of time.
  • Come in with a list of questions! I know this sounds silly, but do it! It wasn't until after I was home and my nurse had already called to check in on me that all of my questions hit me. I forgot to ask when I could drive again, or when I could shave over the incision site, or when I could resume normally activities. During recovery you can't even have your pets sit in your lap,  there are lots of things you will forget to ask, so write them down in advance!
  • Make sure you've got a ride home! I obviously had my husband, but the doctor refused to perform the procedure for another patient (say that three times fast) because she didn't have a ride home. You will have been on fluids, and drugs, and you will have lost some blood. Not only that, but you also aren't even allowed to drive for a few days. 
  • Don't be afraid to call the nurse! If something doesn't feel right or you have questions, get the nurses attention. They are there to take care of you and to make you feel comfortable under the circumstances. 
  • Be kind to your nurse! Yes they are there for you, but that doesn't make them your servant. It's important that you treat them with respect and you don't abuse there services. Nurses are busy and they are often running on limited sleep, lack of food, and full bladders; they will help you as much as they can, but if you're calling them every 5 minutes it might turn into a 'boy who cried wolf' scenario.
  • Follow doctors and/or nurses, orders! Sometimes we brush off the little warnings or take things as a suggestion instead of as an order. It's important to follow through with exactly what you're told. There are many little things that could have led to reopening the incision had I not listened to the doctors orders. I'm usually pretty stubborn about doing what I want, but in this case, I was overly cautious and it was for the best!
Have you ever had a right heart catheterization before? What was your experience like?

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  1. I am so glad you got through it ok! Thank you for sharing your experience, this will be so helpful to someone who will be going through it.

    1. Thank you, I really appreciate you saying that! One of the main reasons that I started this blog was to inform others about the spoonie community and to let others know that they're not alone. If my story or something that I write helps even one person, then that's all I need :)