A woman with heart failure holds a list but looks confused while thought bubbles are obscured around her head

My Experience With Confusion and Heart Failure

I remember I couldn't sort the mail. I'd just come home from the hospital after having twins. I spent 10 days in various hospital units while doctors ran tests and gave me treatments for an unknown issue. All they could figure out is that my oxygen was very low, and my blood levels were off. Finally, I was sent home with a diagnosis of pneumonia.

More than just "new mom brain"

It was my first day alone with the twins (since they'd been in the NICU while I was in the hospital). They were taking a nap and I decided to go through the mail that had accumulated while I was away. I flipped through the envelopes one by one, but nothing on them made any sense to me. It was like looking at something written in a foreign language. I didn't really understand the writing. After a while, I gave up. That's the first instance of confusion that I remember.

The confusion was a BIG symptom for me. It's not listed on many sites, and I haven't heard many people complain about it - probably because it's so easily confused with "new mom brain." But that first day, I was rested. I hadn't been up all night every night with a baby because I'd been alone in the hospital. Still, I was unable to make sense of simple scenarios and I was forgetting things I'd always known.

Confusion took over

My mother-in-law offered to pick up groceries for me and asked what I needed. I stood in my pantry and stared at the food. I knew I could see what was there but I still couldn't come up with how to put together a list of what I needed, and I told her to just bring me whatever she felt were essentials.

It wasn't just organizing and list-making either. I couldn't keep track of time. Which is kind of a big deal with babies because you have to feed them on a schedule (especially with multiples - your LIFE is a schedule!) And did they have to eat 3 hours from when I started feeding them or 3 hours from when I finished feeding them? I couldn't remember. So I set timers. And when the timers went off I would feed them and change them and do whatever else I needed to with them, just so I knew that I wouldn't forget.

I also happen to be an advanced pianist. I took piano lessons from age 5 to 21. But during this time when my brain was foggy, I couldn't read music or remember how to play any songs I'd previously memorized. I'd sit in front of the piano and know that I knew how to play it, but I still did not understand what I needed to do to make music.

Diagnosed with postpartum cardiomyopathy

At first, I chalked it all up to "new mom brain" too. I couldn't believe how intense it was! But after I was checked back into the hospital and diagnosed with postpartum cardiomyopathy, my cardiologist explained to me that confusion can be a symptom of heart failure because your heart is taking oxygen from wherever it can, including other major organs, in order to keep functioning.

This symptom wasn't quick to go away, either. Even after I started on regular medication and was considered to be stable enough to be sent home, the confusion cloud still followed me around. It took months into my recovery before I felt like I was back to myself. I was worried that I was going to have permanent damage and that I wouldn't be as smart as I had been before heart failure ever again. Luckily, eventually, my mind did return to normal. I can very easily sort mail again, and I'm happy to say that I play the piano daily!

If you feel like your "new mom brain" is maybe a little more intense than you'd bargained for and are finding that you can't do simple tasks - like sorting the mail - talk to your doctor.

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