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Surviving an abdominal aortic aneurysm

When Margaret suffered a ruptured aortic aneurysm in a small town on the East Cape, she had to be transferred to Waikato for life-saving surgery. However, having surgery a long way from home has its disadvantages.

This is a record of my health, travel and surgery at Waikato Hospital and back to Te Puia Springs Hauora Hospital.

My name is Margaret and I’m 82 years old. I married Graham in 1957 and had eight children. I am a part-trained (two and a half years) as a general nurse in Wellington. My husband is a secondary school teacher.

We lived in Quebec for five years. My husband served five years as an education officer in the Canadian Airforce and 10 years as an education officer in the New Zealand Army. After we were married, I was a stay at home mother.

In our retirement we have travelled around the world twice, also to the Pacific Islands and Australia.

Journey with heart disease

Now I shall proceed to tell my story. It all began on the 15 May 2018. Just back to Tokomaru Bay from Gisborne at 9pm, and we were unloading the groceries when my main artery (aorta) that runs through my stomach ruptured. An aneurism had begun, pain was 9/10-.

My husband rang Te Puia Hospital (9k away) and said that he was bringing me up by car. Two doctors were waiting. Diagnosed with an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA). Ambulance to Gisborne Hospital.

CT scan in ER. 50/50 chance of surviving the AAA. Also, the scan showed a ‘shadow’ on the lower bowel. Doctor in ER said, "first things first". He referred me to Waikato Hospital to deal with the aneurysm. A team of doctors were waiting for me on my arrival, by air ambulance.

12.10am I was in surgery. Two surgeons for a key hole surgery. I was awake but did not feel anything. Two and a half hours later, after stents were put in, I was wheeled out in to recovery. I had survived the ordeal. My surgeons said that I was their miracle.

Recovery from surgery

5am, 16 May – usual after surgery care began.

17 May – after a full day in recovery care, I was transferred to Ward 14.

18 May – our daughter arrived from Perth. She took care of me. I had no family from Tokomaru Bay except a phone call from a dear friend. Husband in shock. The ward was very busy. People coming and going. Very little rest. The local clients had their families come; children and all. Some brought fast foods which made me feel hungry but I could not eat anyway. I tried to be happy in spite of my going through recovery.

I was experiencing hot and cold feelings all over. I was not given an extra cuddly at Waikato.

I’m learning to be independent again. Lost my taste buds!!

The doctors ordered another scan before going home to Gisborne Hospital, or so I thought. But in fact I was discharged back to my home in Tokomaru Bay, not to Gisborne Hospital for physio or a rest. No nothing at all.

In fact, my staff nurse informed my daughter that I was to book in "at the local hotel" and to book my plane fare to Gisborne via Air NZ, rather than return by air ambulance. My daughter was horrified. She told nurse in charge that she would have to go out to buy suitable clothes for a public flight. I then refused to leave Ward 8 (departure ward) and waited for an empty air ambulance from Gisborne on the return flight.

My doctors were notified and four came to talk to me. "Mrs Smith you are so well," they said. I was told any extra days in a bed in Waikato meant I was preventing another person occupying that same bed! I waited two days, when I was able to leave for Gisborne Hospital in the air ambulance. No referrals for physio or care giving.

My daughter rented a car and drove home to Gisborne to pick me up. I waited 20 minutes in a wheelchair just inside the main entrance. The two voluntary ladies at their desk were very kind to me. It seemed to me that this was a common procedure with transfers from other hospitals, mainly Waikato to Gisborne.

Arriving home exhausted from lack of sleep I asked my daughter and husband to take me to the Te Puia Hospital where I was received and given complete rest and care. After four days I was starting to eat again and was discharged home. Physiotherapy began and a soak in the thermal pool twice a week. My husband and daughter became my care givers.

The follow up

  1. My six-week checkup at out-patients in Waikato.
  2. Two months later in Gisborne a colonoscopy – cancerous polyp (several) removed.

To end my journey with a negative. I did not get any travel assistance to and from Waikato for my check up even though I was asked to fill in forms on arrival.

The positive is I'm smiling, laughing and bluffing my way through my back pains which are getting worse. However, I also realise that there are many, many others in a worse off situation regarding orthopedic problems.

I was invited to a vascular doctors and patient survivors conference held at the Hamilton Gardens. Very educational for me.

Shared June 2019

Please note: the views and opinions of the storyteller and related comments may not necessarily reflect those of the Heart Foundation NZ.

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