Paganini and Me-originally posted in Sept. 2010

One of the reasons the “Paganini was a Marfan” theory fascinates me beyond all others is that he actually had symptoms of an aortic aneurysm, specifically, versus other historical figures purported to have Marfan mainly because they were tall and lanky.

In addition to his prowess with the violin, Paganini’s contemporaries thought he was a sorcerer because of his constantly declining health. Later in life, he hardly left his room except to perform in public. He was constantly out of breath. He was pale, almost gray, in complexion. Most interestingly, he barely ever ate and reportedly had problems swallowing.

Somewhere around 15 years ago, when I still had the aortic root aneurysm but a year or two before my actual surgery, I mentioned to my cardiologist that I was having trouble swallowing. Quite ironically, given the frequent “your chest pain is just gas” or “your chest pain is just heart burn” dismissals that one hears from a doctor, I mentioned to my cardio. that I was having trouble swallowing, and I felt like my aorta was pressing on my esophagus.

He said, “As a matter of fact, we had a patient who came to Dr. [one of his partners who was a gastroenterologist] about heart burn and indigestion. It turned out he wasn’t having heart burn–he had an aneurysm that was pushing on his esophagus and made it hard for him to swallow.”

Lately, that’s been my problem. For the past couple years, there’s a part of my back that’s hurt when I lean against it the wrong way or overexert myself. Lately, it hurts almost constantly, and those things just make it worse. The nature of the pain is what I remember feeling in my chest before my surgery, combined with back pain–I attribute it to the aneurysm pressing against my spine.

However, since sometime earlier this year, I’ve also begun having the problem swallowing again. Sometimes, I feel like I just want to give up eating solids altogether. When I eat, I get horrible pain as the food passes the equivalent area of my esophagus to where the back pain is. And of course, pain raises blood pressure, so it causes that vicious cycle where the blood pressure raises, so my heart and my aneurysm hurt because the bp is high.

Or even “just gas” isn’t just gas anymore, since the gas pressure in my chest makes that area of my back hurt just that much worse.


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