Day One – an unexpected chapter

I was prepped for surgery around 8:30AM, having arrived at the hospital at 8 AM. Gradually throughout the morning, I was given different lines – IV’s for fluid, pain medications, and finally around 10:30 AM I was fitted with a central line in my jugular. By mid-morning, I was pretty well a showcase for a patient fully encompassed in surgical preparation. I remember the nurse checking in with us at around noon, and she said to us – Libby, Alex & Sue – that they were cleaning up the OR and I would be moving in soon. I remember looking at the clock in the room and it was around 12:20 PM.

I awoke to a voice that kept saying repeatedly, “Just try to breathe, try to breathe,” repeatedly as I suddenly felt an immeasurable pain in my chest that I could only imagine someone had ripped apart my sternum.  Though it had been done methodically at the hands of one of the finest cardio surgeons in the game, Dr. Timothy Kroshus. Apparently he had been successful because I was waking up. Around six hours had flown by since that last moment of glancing at the clock in the prep room. I could see Sue standing nearby, the kids in the background, as I was surrounded by medical staff, reading monitors while talking with one another, while holding me down so I wouldn’t seizure right out of the hospital bed with the excruciating pain. I kept hearing “breathe” as I tried to suck air, and heard myself finally utter the words, “I just want to breathe!”

The next two or three hours were dedicated to stabilizing this 53 year old heart patient. The process meant hands on my shoulders holding me down, with repeated assurances that everything was ok and that I was in the post-operative phase after having open heart surgery, and did I know my name. I’m pretty sure I got it right because they continued to work on me rather than run away in fear of misidentifying their patient. Sometime in those early moments Sue came up to the bed and held my hand, and I whispered to her that I didn’t feel like I was up to having any additional visitors tonight. I was feeling absurdly wracked with horrendous pain, and mildly embarrassed that I was letting any visitors down by sending them home. I soon got over it as the next wave of pain shut me down, and the nurse gave me morphine to settle my nerves, head, limbs for the next fifteen or twenty minutes. The course of the night followed that pattern throughout the next six hours. At one time two nurses came into my room and told me they were going to shift my position in the bed. Please understand, that the pain was so severe, I thought if I moved I would literally split apart. However, the moment occurred and when they lifted me off the bed, I suddenly felt instant bliss, suspended in air. I realized later that the actual action of lifting me was naturally pulling my chest together, recalling that my chest had been surgically split apart 10 hours earlier.

I was now in the hands of a night nurse, who monitored my initial recovery with precision and care, giving me pain meds on a regular basis. Finally, around 3 AM I seemed to take a turn for the better, and the medication began to feel regulated. I could actually request a medication after being asked what the severity of pain was. “What is your pain, between 1 and 10?” I said “10” without consequence. By around 5 or 6 AM I was able to say, ” Well maybe, 8 or 9.” That level remained consistent over the next 24 hours.

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