Here’s what goes on the day you’re told a family member needs emergency quintuple bypass surgery after an angiogram shows severe blockages in five major coronary arteries.
My mother was wheeled into the OR for quintuple bypass surgery two or so hours after she was told she needed the operation, and two hours after I was informed.
Imagine my shock when the worst-case scenario that I had played out in my mind had been the need for a balloon angioplasty or a stent or two.
Events Leading up to the Emergency Quintuple Bypass Surgery
My mother had chest pain two days after she had complained of shortness of breath. The first ER visit netted a “likely” diagnosis of gastroesophageal reflux disease.
The second ER visit two days later revealed an elevated troponin level, and as a result, the ER doctor (a different one this time) strongly recommended admission to the hospital.
The admission would hopefully expedite my mother’s original plans (which preceded the shortness of breath incident) to undergo a treadmill stress test.
Next day she had an echocardiogram (ultrasound of her heart). The cardiologist and internal medicine doctor said that the result was “abnormal,” and that the treadmill stress test would be unsafe.
Instead, the cardiologist recommended a catheter angiogram.
My mother refused and wanted to go home. “It would be unsafe to send you home,” said the internal medicine doctor. This doctor spent quite a bit of time convincing my mother to stay at the hospital.
My mother was mad that the catheter angiogram couldn’t be done that day, and that in order to get it, she’d have to stay another night at the hospital.
Furthermore, after reading about possible complications of a catheter angiogram, my mother refused to take the exam.
While my mother was reviewing the waiver, I was on the phone with my father, who was at home recovering from back surgery he’d had nine days prior.
He was reporting that both his legs were swollen. He told me to try to track down his surgeon to get advice, even though I insisted I drive him to the ER (he was restricted from driving) — the same ER that my mother had been in the day previous.
I tracked down the surgeon who then called my father and instructed him to go to the ER.
So I left my mother with the urging that she undergo the catheter angiogram — which by then we were told they could probably do it that day.
The 40 minute drive home took forever. Then it was back to the ER — another 40 minutes away, during which my cell phone rang: My mother reported that she was on the way to get the catheter angiogram.
Once my father was settled in the ER waiting to go to the ultrasound room, I went to the catheter angiogram floor to seek out my mother.
The internal medicine doctor was urgently walking down the hall and spotted me. “Oh, there you are; I’ve been looking for you and trying to call you.” (My cell phone didn’t receive well in the ER.) The doctor was not smiling. “It’s about your mother.”
I assumed there was a complication from the invasive procedure. The doctor said, “Your mother has significant disease. Her main arteries are almost completely blocked. She’s gonna need bypass surgery. Hold on…” the doctor put a hand on my arm and went off, answering a page, while my bug-eyes followed her.
Soon afterwards I met the cardiothoracic surgeon who’d be performing the operation; one by one he named the arteries that needed bypassing. I counted five by the time he was done.
He then said my mother needed a mitral valve replacement. He said a “massive” heart attack was imminent.
I asked, if my mother went home instead, could she possibly have a fatal heart attack within a week?
The surgeon, cardiologist and internal medicine doctor all in unison said “Yes” and nodded their heads.
Preparation for Emergency Quintuple Bypass Surgery
My mother was wheeled out of the catheter angiogram lab, very sedated, on a gurney that appeared to weigh 1,000 pounds.
She was taken to the surgery prep room, people bustling around her. My father had no idea what was going on, wherever he was at the moment.
Someone went down to get him. He was wheeled up to the prep room, having not been told that his wife could have a heart attack any moment and was being prepped for quintuple bypass surgery.
He was wheeled to my mother’s side and she mumbled, “I’m going to have bypass surgery.” His mouth fell open.
My mother completely recovered from the quintuple bypass surgery, which involved the heart-lung machine.
My father didn’t have a blood clot; the swelling in his legs was from inactivity.
Anyways, hope this account helps you understand what goes on the DAY someone is told they need emergency quintuple bypass surgery.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.