In last week’s column, I wrote about the chaos brought on when my sister had her fifth baby and I watched her other four children.
But life has a way of proving you have no idea what chaos really is.
That’s exactly what happened when shortly after my column published, my sister Casandra went into heart failure.
That’s right. Heart failure.
When I saw her on Sunday, she said she was having trouble taking a full breath. But because she’d just had a baby and had a cough leading up to it, she mostly dismissed it.
On Monday, she still had shortness of breath and had considered going in to the doctor, but her husband had left for their oldest son’s all-star baseball tournament in Elko. She couldn’t leave the baby because she had to nurse.
She told all of this to me on the phone, but I was busy working on other things and only about half listening.
About an hour later when I was out walking the dog, the severity of the situation hit me. I came home and told her I was taking her in. I’d watch the baby while we waited and bring Maggie to her when she needed to eat.
Somewhat reluctantly, she agreed.
On the way in, we laughed inappropriately about all the things it could be. She pretended to be Val Kilmer in “Tombstone” in the final stages of consumption. All the while, we were thinking it may be pneumonia — worst-case scenario.
As the night progressed in the emergency room, they ran every test and we heard possibilities from a virus to a blood clot in the lung. We prepared for what we thought was the worst.
So we were completely blindsided and confused when the doctor came back saying congestive heart failure. (The truth is, he buried the lede. He listed her recent pregnancy, fluid in the lungs … then mentioned as a sort of side note the heart thing, which contributed to the confusion).
Casandra, in her classic strength and stoicism, took it all in unflinchingly. But when the doctor said he would be giving her medications so she could no longer breast feed, tears streamed down her face.
They continued to fall when she learned she’d be admitted to the intensive-care unit where Maggie wouldn’t be allowed, even to visit.
So five days after giving birth, mom and baby were separated for the first time. Maggie had to learn to eat from a bottle, which she did like a champ.
The days that followed were a mix of tests and procedures, beeping monitors and missing her baby.
Her cardiologist tried to put it in perspective.
“What are you crying for?” he asked. “You survived. You’re out of the woods.”
But it was of little comfort to a mother in a swirl of hormones and a bra stuffed with cabbage (allegedly it helps dry up the milk).
The final diagnosis was postpartum cardiomyopathy, which, simply put, is when a mother’s heart fails in the final stages of pregnancy or shortly after giving birth.
She’s back home — in the comforting chaos of five kids, a husband and a dog — and adjusting to a new normal bottle-feeding her baby, which still makes her cry.
Doctors are hopeful she’s going to be back to normal in about three months.
I know she will be. She’s got a lot of heart.
Teri Vance is a journalist, freelance writer and native Nevadan. Contact her with column ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.