My last update was way back in August when I wrote about my first TEE results. In that update I was contemplating whether I wanted to do the second TEE locally, or fly down to Austin, TX to have it completed. I actually ended up not going with either option.
After a lot of back and forth with my care team down in Austin, TX, I opted to have a CTA chest scan done locally. They said they got more consistent and accurate results from these chest scans than from TEE’s done by doctors outside their hospital. They wanted me to either do a CTA chest scan locally or fly down to Austin, TX to have a TEE. The chest scan was a no brainer so I made an appointment with my local cardiologist to have it done on Monday, October 30th.
What is a CTA Chest Scan?
CTA stands for computed tomography angiography. A CTA chest scan combines a CT scan with an injection of a special dye (done through an IV) to produce pictures of blood vessels and tissues in the chest. The actual scan takes less than five minutes to complete!
My CTA Chest Scan Experience
When I arrived for my appointment Monday morning, they put an IV line in and then had me sit and wait outside the lab for about twenty minutes to wait my turn. There were a handful of people waiting outside the lab to have a chest scan done that day.
When it was my turn to enter the lab, the person conducting the chest scan had me lie down in the machine. I asked her if I was supposed to change into a gown or take my shirt off or anything. She said no, none of that was necessary. After I got settled in and comfortable, she hooked up my IV. She warned me that when they release the dye into my IV just before the scan starts, I will feel a rush of warmth throughout my body. She said it might even make me feel like I’m going to pee my pants, but she assured me that has never happened. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about being the first guy to pee his pants during the scan!
She then walked into the other room and spoke to me through a speaker that was near my head. She fired up the machine and then about two minutes later she said, “O.K. I’m going to release the dye and do the scan.” This was the worst part of the whole experience, wondering what this dye was going to feel like.
I listened to the IV machine push the dye into the line so I braced for impact…lol. It was a total nonevent. I felt just a bit of warmth throughout my body but it wasn’t anything like she described, and I didn’t have any urge to pee either. I was kind of disappointed it wasn’t as dramatic as she made it out to be.
Once the dye was released, she ran the scan and about two minutes later it was over. She came into the room and unhooked my IV and told me I could get up and wait again outside the lab for fifteen minutes. They want you to wait around for fifteen minutes to ensure there aren’t any reactions to the dye.
After fifteen minutes I was given the green light to leave. My only post-scan instructions were to drink “more water than I’d normally drink” that day to flush the dye out of my system.
Getting a CD of My Chest Scan Images
My care team in Austin, TX said that it would be best if I could get a CD of the chest scan images myself and then mail it to them. Fortunately, the hospital I went to for the chest scan had a records office just down the hall from the lab. They were apparently accustomed to patients requesting physical CD’s of their images because when I got there and explained to the guy working that I had to get a CD of my images, he didn’t bat an eye at the request.
I only had to wait about ten minutes for him to download and save all the images to a CD for me, and I was on my way home.
The Results of My CTA Chest Scan
This part of the process was a bit frustrating. I got the CD in the mail the same day I had my chest scan completed. My care team had the CD in their possession on Friday of that week (November 3rd).
For whatever reason, they didn’t get around to looking at my images until Saturday, December 2! I had to wait over a month to get my results. I was not happy about the delay as I was hoping to hear back from them by Thanksgiving. I thought it would be awesome to get the green light to stop taking blood thinners before the holidays, but no such luck.
They sent me an email on Saturday that while a “tiny leak” was detected, they weren’t concerned about it at all, so they were giving me the green light to stop taking blood thinners! Of course, when I saw “tiny leak” I freaked out so I immediately emailed them back asking for a clarification.
It turns out a small percentage of people still have minor leaks from their Watchman devices at the 6-month mark but in every case they eventually seal up completely. Bottom line, it was nothing to worry about and the leak was so small that they had no concerns about me stopping Eliquis.
They also told me I’d have to have a final TEE in another 6 months, which would mark the one-year anniversary of having the Watchman implant put in. They more or less insisted that it be done in Austin, TX so I guess I’ll be flying down there in the early summer to have it done. Hopefully, after that TEE the Watchman will be fully sealed and I’ll be good to go for life (at least as far as the whole Watchman stuff goes).
COVID Puts a Damper on My CTA Chest Scan Results
I should have been doing back flips about getting the green light to stop taking blood thinners. I had been waiting for this moment for six months! Unfortunately, I ended up testing positive for COVID on Sunday, November 26th. I got really sick from it and ended up spending most of the week resting in bed recovering from it. I also completely lost my sense of taste and smell! From what I’ve been able to find out online, it could take several months, if not years, to get my sense of taste and smell back so I’m a bit bummed about that.
At any rate, with COVID there is an elevated risk of blood clotting so when my care team told me that I could stop taking blood thinners, I told them I was recovering from COVID and that I will probably stay on a low dose of Eliquis for a while as a precautionary measure.
They replied back that that was a prudent decision. They advised that I stay on Eliquis until the end of the year and then go off of it after the first of the year (if I want). They said it was also perfectly fine if I stayed on a low dose Eliquis indefinitely. The choice was mine. I could either stay on low dose Eliquis (2.5mg twice daily), or stop it and take a baby aspirin every other day.
Unless something else comes up, my plan is to go with the latter option. I have no desire to be on any blood thinner “for life.” The main reason I had the Watchman put in was so I wouldn’t have to take a blood thinner!
Reflecting on the Past Year
I couldn’t help but reflect on everything I have been through the past year. All of this started the day before Thanksgiving last year. Here is everything I’ve been through the past year:
- Atrial Flutter attack the day before Thanksgiving
- Fifth cardioversion
- Second “major” ablation (& subsequent recovery)
- Third minor ablation & Watchman implant (& subsequent recovery)
- First ever TEE
- First ever CTA chest scan
- First time getting COVID – got really sick and completely lost my sense of taste and smell
Geez. I look at that and I can’t believe I’ve been through all that in just twelve months. What do they call it? Curveballs? You never know what curveballs life is going to throw you. One minute all is quiet and the next minute it’s storm after storm.
Still, though, I’m incredibly grateful for so much, the least of which is that it appears my latest journey with my heart is over for now (knock on wood). I’ve been in normal sinus rhythm since my last ablation, and I’m thankful that COVID didn’t mess with my heart (i.e. didn’t trigger a-fib or flutter or give me palpitations). I’ve also been given the green light to stop the Eliquis after the first of the year. And other than my COVID infection, I’ve been healthy. Ya, I’ve been through the wringer, but God has seen me through it all. God is great!