The Cruise That Almost Was

I am writing from, of all places, downtown Seattle, Washington….NOT a place we had planned to stop when we left last Wednesday with some very good friends for San Francisco, where we spent the night. On Thursday, we boarded the Sea Princess and sailed for our 25th anniversary cruise to Alaska. The first two days were at sea, where we were looking forward to some deep rest and fun.

On Friday morning, Colleen wasn’t feeling very well. Some heartburn that she’s been battling with for a few months now really knocked her down, but the chest pain was stronger than previously experienced. She thought maybe she’d pulled a muscle carrying a bag on some walking we did on Thursday before boarding. She spent Friday and Saturday pretty much in bed, hoping to sleep it off.

Sunday, we had our first Alaskan port in Sitka. She didn’t feel well enough to get off the boat. That afternoon, we went to the Ship Medical Center. She was feverish and blood work revealed an infection and one particular number showed the slight possibility of a blood clot that the doctor was suspicious about being in her lung because of the chest pain. All heart numbers were normal. IV antibiotics, pain meds and an overnight stay in the Ship Hospital were ordered.

Monday morning, blood work showed a decrease in the infection, so the doc released her back to the cabin with an order to return in the evening for additional blood work. We were able to enjoy the day from our room with a balcony, cruising through Glacier Bay National Park. It was absolutely stunning!

Late Monday afternoon, the symptoms returned, so I took her down earlier than expected. Blood work showed a return of the infection and additional possibility of a blood clot. IV antibiotics re-started, as well as pain meds and she was ordered to again spend the night in the hospital. The doc called ahead to Tuesday’s port in Juneau and arranged for us to get to the hospital for additional testing. We really thought it wouldn’t result in much more than additional antibiotics and rest on return to the ship.

However, after some further quizzing by a good ER doc and his excellent ear, he picked up in Colleen’s heart beat what they call a “friction rub”, which indicates something called pericarditis (enlarged pericardium, which is the sac of fluid around the heart). After more blood work, a cardiac ultrasound, chest x-rays and a CT scan, any possibility of blood clots was ruled out, but not only was pericarditis confirmed, diagnoses of pericardial effusion (too much fluid in the pericardium) and pleural effusion (too much fluid in the sac around the lungs) were added. The conditions are treatable with anti-inflammatories unless they’ve gone too long and are causing pressure and pain on the heart and throughout the chest.

While we’re obviously glad to have caught this, we are very disappointed that we were not able to return to the ship. Instead, due to no cardiologist in Juneau, we were medevac’d in a leer jet air ambulance to Seattle’s Virginia Mason Medical Center, where I am writing you from now. After sad goodbye’s to our friends, we left Juneau around 6:00 pm and arrived here about 9:00 pm.

The most pressing concern is not just the condition and what it can lead to, but the fact that we don’t know how long Colleen has had this condition, which means we don’t know if it is progressing or not. Today is the first “baseline” we have of the condition. She has been experiencing chest pain since February, when a visit to the ER showed no heart concerns. A cardiac ultrasound and chemical stress test done back in early March did not reveal anything abnormal. However, according to the Juneau doctor, she may have had early onset in February/March of chronic pericarditis (vs. acute/sudden) that turned into pericardiac effusion and pleural effusion. The doc in Juneau suspects that the cardiologist here in Seattle may want to drain the fluid rather than treat with anti-inflammatories.

The ultrasound today also picked up something not fully right about the right atrium, so the cardiologist here will delve into that as well. For now, Colleen is resting fairly comfortably while we await an assessment from the hospitalist here. We don’t know yet if we will see the cardiologist tonight.

All of these conditions can be caused by lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, both of which Colleen has, but they can also be caused by infection, which now seems to have been kicked, as those blood work readings are now in normal range.

We certainly appreciate any prayer you are able to give this way for total and complete healing and restoration of all of this. I’ll keep you posted as we know more.

  • Julie
    Posted at 10:50h, 15 June Reply

    Wow praying for you guys,so sorry to hear.


  • Karla Forbes
    Posted at 07:26h, 18 June Reply

    My goodness Paul and Coleen. Not one more thing. I will be praying for you and especially for Coleen’s health. God is sovereign no matter what. May He give you His peace. Love you guys.

    • Paul Kuzma
      Posted at 03:24h, 19 June Reply

      Thanks Karla!

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