John Sperando, Joanne, Debbie Castro and Shelley Sperando at the
New York Fun Walk
Get Cathed with a Friend…or your Big Brother
Is there anything higher on a PH patient’s DISLIKE list than the dreaded right heart catheterization? I know it’s my least favorite. My brother John hates them too. John was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension (PH) in 1995 and I was diagnosed in 1998. Our mom lost her sister Josie to PH in 1963, so we have the genetic thing going in our family. I’ve lost count now, but, counting the marks on my neck, I think I’m up to 12 or 13 catheterizations and John’s had his fair share too. Since we were both due for a catheterization, I suggested we go together. I figured we could share the long ride from Long Island, New York into Manhattan and our spouses could keep each other company while we were doing our thing.
So, we got to the hospital and made our way up to the catheterization lab. I had to go and have an echo done first (John had his done the week before), so big brother settled in and got on the schedule first. Darn it! I wanted to go first! After the echo, I waited outside the lab for someone to come and get me when I got my first text from him. It read, “Be brave today. Don’t cry. Preserve the family’s good name!” Nice. You see my fellow PHers, in those first few years after diagnosis I used to cry through the whole catheterization. I’m sure it was a nervous reaction/tension reliever/stress thing. The doctor also had a very hard time getting my arterial line in, so I cried a lot, but that was over 10 years ago. I texted him back with a sharp retort that cannot be repeated here, but gave him a suggestion to keep himself busy. I also told him I hadn’t cried in years.
One of the wonderful staff came out (props to the staff at New York Presbyterian Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory!!) to get me and settled me into a cubicle - with a door and everything. HAHA! Victory! My brother was in a curtained off area two sections away. After I changed into my high-fashion hospital gown, I made sure to saunter over to his vicinity to gloat about my superior accommodations. Score one point for the little sister. When the nurses came to get my intravenous therapy going, I chatted them up. “Listen...” I told them, “that’s my brother John in the curtain 2 area and he is in desperate need of a prostate exam. Can we get that ordered for him right away?” They giggled, but told me they couldn’t address that request in the catheterization lab. Drats.
Big brother got to go in first and smiled broadly as they wheeled him past my door. I wished him luck and told him to enjoy himself. I settled in for the wait and tried to lay back and enjoy the relaxer pill I was given. Yes, even after 12 years of PH and 13 catheterizations, it’s still a nerve-wracking experience, but we know what to expect and we hope for the best. I said a little prayer that John’s catheterization would go well and we’d hear good news about his numbers.
He was done fairly quickly, but of course our fun and games were far from over. By this time, I was feeling very dreamy (thank you Valium) and relaxed. “Here comes your bro,” my husband told me. As they wheeled John past my door, he decided to pantomime a seizure of sorts. His performance was brilliant, complete with drooling, shaking and nonsensical babbling. He had the nurses laughing. “Very funny John! Hilarious!” I called out. “Don’t shame the family,” he replied. I tried one more time to get the nurses to give John that much needed prostate exam, but they weren’t buying it. Bummer.
Thankfully, my catheterization went great and we both got good news on our pressures – down! We decided to celebrate and hit our favorite restaurant for dinner on the way home where they make the best fried calamari ever. Yes folks, brother and sister. Our relationship will always be one based on nuggies, merciless teasing and fun childhood memories.
In all seriousness, I know that I’m incredibly lucky to have my brother. He went through everything first and has prepared me for all the ups and downs of being a PH patient. We compare notes all the time, borrow medications (I am forever running out of Digoxin) from each other and support each other through this journey called pulmonary hypertension. He’s the best.
So, the next time you’re getting cathed, I recommend bringing a friend (or a relative). By the way, did I mention that John is 50 and I’m 46? Bet you thought we were a lot younger.