I’ve spent more than a week tending to my brother in the hospital, where I’ve learned there is more than one silent killer to human health, and where hospital food can be a threat to your pre-existing condition.
My brother’s saga began last Monday when he told me he hadn’t been feeling well for a couple of weeks. He complained of lingering congestion in his chest, and having little energy.
Given that he’s 60 years old, I decided he should see a doctor that day. The amateur physician in me wondered (and worried) if he had pneumonia.
It turned out to be much worse, and more complicated.
Unable to get him a same day appointment with his regular doctor at Clinic Ole, I took him to the ER at Queen of the Valley. We arrived about 3 p.m., and found the ER waiting area packed with patients and family members.
We settled in for what I expected was going to be a long wait. I was not wrong.
Three o’clock ticked by to 4 o’clock, then to 5 o’clock, and finally 6 o’clock before my brother’s name was called — not to see a doctor— but just to get a chest X-ray.
It took another hour and a half before an ER physician saw him, after he also had blood drawn.
The first ER doctor informed him that he was experiencing renal failure, which meant his kidneys were not functioning properly. The doc said the kidneys might be causing fluid to build up in his lungs.
The doc left, saying more blood work was needed. More than an hour later, yet another ER physician came in to examine my brother.
After listening to his chest, Doc #2 suspected he might be experiencing congestive heart failure. She recommended admitting my brother in order for him to undergo more testing.
That was last Monday, March 6. As of Wednesday, March 15, he was still in the hospital.
He spent his first two days waiting for a diagnosis.
By last Wednesday, he was informed that he may have had a “silent” heart attack. In fact, the doctors suspected he may have had two silent heart attacks over the past few months.
I immediately asked my brother to repeat what he told me. Silent heart attack?
Indeed, there was such a thing. The difference between the silent kind and the “regular” heart attack was the noticeable lack of symptoms one usually experiences: chest pain, arm numbness, shortness of breath, etc.
Being a journalist I immediately started researching “silent heart attack” online. I quickly found out that the silent variety wasn’t at all rare.
A Harvard Medical School article published last June cited research showing “almost half (45 percent) of heart attacks appear to be clinically silent — that is, not associated with any symptoms at all, at least that the patient can recall.”
I then Googled “silent killer” — an expression that came to mind when I heard my brother’s diagnosis, which left me wondering what that was all about.
Silent killer pertained to hypertension, aka high blood pressure, which my brother was diagnosed with last year, along with Type 2 Diabetes.
With a diagnosis in hand, we were told he might only need medication to get his heart in better condition. Medication was also prescribed to dry his lungs out.
His cardiologist said my brother would need to undergo a stress test before they could be sure his heart was well enough for him to go home. It took another two days just for him to get the test, which lasted three hours.
Last Friday, the results of the stress test were in — and they were mixed. His heart was OK enough for him to go home, though an out-patient angioplasty was in his near future.
But now his kidneys, again, were a cause for concern.
He spent last weekend waiting to see if a biopsy was going to be performed on one of his kidneys to see why his creatinine levels — an indicator of kidney health or trouble — were still too high.
Doctors kept delaying the biopsy because his blood was too thin — a product of their decision to give him baby aspirin last week to help with his heart. He was scheduled to finally have the test done on Wednesday.
Since entering the Queen, my brother has been served three meals a day by the hospital. Many of these meals, I found out, featured entrees, drinks and side dishes that never should have been served to a diabetic.
In fact, the first food mistake occurred while he was in the ER, which knew of his diabetes because it was there last June that he was first diagnosed with the disease.
Thirsty from waiting hours to be seen and hours more for results, he asked for some water.
Instead, they gave him two small cups of apple juice — a drink loaded with sugar, just the thing someone with Type 2 Diabetes shouldn’t have. The same goes for high carbohydrate foods, like pasta.
The serving of fruit juices continued after he was admitted, often with his breakfast.
One morning while I was visiting him, a technician came in to check my brother’s blood sugar level, something all diabetics have to do.
The reading showed his blood sugar had shot up from 108 (good) to over 200 (not good at all).
I then found out that he had been served the following for breakfast: Frosted flakes (sugar), a blueberry muffin (more sugar) and of course juice.
I found myself thinking: Why don’t you just serve him a big bowl of sugar while you’re at it?
I then learned that his other meals — such as pasta primavera, or meatballs with bowtie pasta — included packets of sugar to go with the herbal tea he was served.
They really are giving him sugar! The guy whose chart reads diabetic!
I recalled that the Napa Valley Register reported late last week that the Queen will be shuttering its cafeteria and kitchen for renovations.
The story mentioned that during the kitchen revamp, a company called FoodService Partners will provide “fresh, pre-packaged, restaurant-style meals” that will conform to patients “individual dietary and medical needs.”
I found myself wondering, Why don’t you do that now while my brother is in your care?
The reality is they’re supposed to do just that — give patients like my brother a specific menu that excludes sugary, high carbohydrate foods that could spike his blood sugar levels.
As of Monday — a week after being in the hospital — it seemed they had finally figured out my brother should get the menu for diabetics.
The result, my brother woefully told me, was a dinner of bland, extra dry chicken he could barely choke down.
At least it won’t kill you, I thought. The silent heart attack has already caused enough trouble.