Day Two – I want to take a walk

I awoke around 7 AM, after sleeping for about 45 minutes. Throughout the night I was basically in managed care, regulating my pain meds, and watching my heart rhythm on a regular basis, with monitors that beeped repeatedly all night. For me sleep was the ability to rest for 20 minutes at a time without moving around in order to keep the chest tubes in place to maintain steady drainage of fluid from the surgery. For the next two or three days, I chose not to look at my chest for fear of what I was about to see. I knew there had been some major adjustments, and I was just happy to leave things as is for a day or two.

I did wake up thinking about my family though. The nurse had told me our morning goal would be to get out of bed and sit in a chair. There would be no walking today – I would remain hooked up to a catheter for the next 72 hours. I was pretty impressed with that aspect of my care though. I thought not having to walk to the bathroom to pass urine was sort of a cool thing, I could get used to that. The things we find acceptable when recovering from a major surgery. So my next adventure began when the nurse came in and asked if I wanted to sit up for awhile.

Remarkably I got out of bed with assistance and while the tubes and wires were guided around me, sat down in a chair and immediately picked up the telephone. I called home and Sue answered, and I just wanted to assure her and the kids I was in a lot better shape than the night before, and actually felt pretty comfortable for the time being. Sue was relieved, and I was happy the kids would be relieved as well. The medical staff told me I looked pretty remarkable for the morning after surgery. I smiled inside and felt satisfied knowing I was still hooked up to a morphine drip. I think I was probably out of bed for about fifteen minutes when I realized it was time to take a nap. I grabbed my spirometer and drew a few breaths. The object was to get the meter to rise to the top in order to exercise my lungs. They had been collapsed during the surgery and needed to virtually be brought back to life. I drew back and blew out and reached about 65 to 70 percent before the chest pain took me aside. That was pretty good effort for the first day. I would top off at 100 percent by the end of that second day of recovery, but there would be additional moments where I couldn’t get the meter past 60 percent. Recovery would take time, and I couldn’t rush things. When I asked if I could take a walk, my assigned physical therapist said sure, I could walk from the chair to my bed, that was it for today. I set my sights on the morning, and was sleeping like a baby by around 8 AM.

One thing to remember is that while in a hospital the idea of sleeping for long periods of time was impossible. However, if I could sleep for 20 minutes without shifting the tubes in my chest, the act of which caused excruciating pain, I was pretty happy. If I moved wrong, one has to just imagine having a garden hose sticking into a fresh wound and every time you move, the sheath of the hose might readjust itself with your bare and raw skin. Good times.

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.