ICU from the Outside

After my first 10 minute visit I was a little shook but yet so relieved.  Shook because there was so much to take in and try to understand.  I sat in the waiting room with Vicki and we chatted and did our thing waiting until 2:30.  That was our next 10 minute visit time.  We went in to see him and I stepped up to hold his hand and say hello.  The breathing tube was still in.  He was looking good for a man who just had heart surgery.  Vicki came up to the bed and got in a short “chat” and got to see that her brother was going to be OK.

Back to the waiting room for an hour.  In that hour our son Matt showed up.  When the next visiting time came up Matt and I went in to see Ken.  Matt cautiously approached his dad.  It was hard to see him with all the tubes and lines, but so good to see him aware and good.  He STILL had the breathing tube in so we could only talk and hold his hand.  The nurse came in and said they would be taking the tube out soon.  A chance to hear his voice on our next visit.  We retreated to the waiting room and more time wasting.

For the next visit I only went long enough to hear his voice….say I love you.  Then left Matt to visit with his dad in private.  It was important that he knew his dad would be OK.  After that visit Matt headed home.  Vicki stayed until the next hour.  She went to see him but he was sleeping soundly.  She informed me that he needed his CPAP machine hooked up and that she was leaving.  I thanked her for being there.  I really appreciated her calm company.

I went to see how he was sleeping and talk to the nurse.  I could not find her.  I told the staff at the desk outside his room that Ken needed his CPAP hooked up ASAP.  I explained that I could see him having breathing issues as we spoke.  I was assured it would be done.  I believed them so much that I watched the time tick by and went back a half our later.  No CPAP.  I hunted down his nurse and told her I really thought it was important.  She agreed and said she would get to him very soon.  Next time I went back, a half hour later, he had it and was sleeping better.  He woke up and talked to me a few minutes.  Then I felt better leaving him to sleep.

I stayed for one more visit.  I decided to work on a puzzle in the waiting room on my last hour there.  It was very calming and time flew.  I then went down for my last visit before I went home to try for some sleep.  I got there and the night nurse told me I could stay as long as I wanted.  I sat for a visit and she also informed me that she was going to get him on his feet to stand next to his bed that night.  I was so excited!  When the time came, she helped him to “walk” his legs over the side.  Then he slowly stood next to his bed.  I was SO happy to see that!  It wore him out!  He got put back to bed and I helped settle him in before leaving.  Home for the night and back early for rounds.

Room move next!

Room 330

“Boardrow, 6/10/68″*

That’s the identifying information, name and birth date, everyone asks when they come to see you.  And I mean everyone.  There’s no way around it.  It’s a ubiquitous part of your very existence in a hospital.  (Yes, I know why they do it, but it still gets old quick.)

It was time for me to leave ICU.  Surgery was the 11th, and it was the next day, the 12th, roughly 11am…-ish.  I was put in a wooden wheelchair that reminded of some old sadistic psychiatric hospital in an old Hitchcock film, and wheeled up to the third floor to my home for the next few days.  The trip was pretty uneventful.  Missy was with me and the nurse and we chatted on the way up about nothing in particular.  If I remember correctly, my newly assigned nurse came down to get me.

“Boardrow, 6/10/68”

I was taken to Room 330, a small and sparse sterile-looking room.  When I was in overnight a few weeks before for observation I stayed in Room 436, which was a corner room with two windows and comparatively nice views.  For a hospital it looked and felt almost like an apartment.  So when we were in the “orientation” a week prior to surgery we ‘requested’ room 336, right below with the same set-up.  Allegedly these two are the only rooms with a decent view in the entire hospital.  My room, 330, had a view of the roof… the window washers were a surprise… and building expansions from when the hospital has been expanded haphazardly in fits and starts.

So we get into the room and begin to get settled.  I think it’s hot and stuffy.  I find out the next day that the room has an individual thermostat, so we set the temperature down to 68.  I think it’s still a bit warm, but Missy’s cold.  I also requested a fan so we could get the air circulating, and that was delivered right away.  The fan was a huge help.  At this point the room was reasonably comfortable, and it would be home for the next few days.

By this time the only things attached to me are the heart monitor and a single IV in the back of my right hand.  They used IV for some pain meds and other stuff the first day, but after that nothing was connected to it, though it was left in “just in case” they’d need it.  I was fully unattached now, so I could do things by myself like walk and go to the bathroom.  This is huge.

Edit:  Missy reminded that the small drainage tube from my stomach was still in, and had a bulb at the end that caught body fluids, which the nurses would have to empty 1 to 2 times a day.

“Boardrow, 6/10/68”

I had a plethora of nurses, nurse techs, nurse’s aids, and others, throughout my stay.  Pretty much down to every one, they were all absolutely awesome.  Caring, concerned, knowledgeable, helpful, anything you would want.  There’s a couple that stick out to me as exceptionally fantastic, Torry and Ande, but really they were all good.  All but one were women, and I’d say that probably all but one were most likely under 30.  Which, to me, makes it even more impressive that they have such a young staff that is both capable and dedicated.  They ran on 12 hour shifts, and I never had the same one twice, except Torry and Fifi.

I can say unequivocally that I left with a whole new respect and admiration for nurses.  These are the people on the ‘front lines’, so to speak.  These are the people that make or break your recovery, your comfort, your whole experience.  Even if you’re feeling cranky, be nice to your nurse.

The other downside to the ‘regular’ room experience was that there would be times where one person after another would come in wanting to do something to me… one would check my vitals (“Boardrow, 6/10/68”), two minutes after they left one would check my blood sugar (“Boardrow, 6/10/68”), 10 minutes after they left someone would come in to take my order for lunch (“Boardrow, 6/10/68”), 5 minutes after they left the doctor and/or their nurse’s practitioner would come in for their daily visit(“Boardrow, 6/10/68”) … and on (“Boardrow, 6/10/68”) and on(“Boardrow, 6/10/68”) , for sometimes three hours straight.  I wanted to put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door.  It was impossible to get any sleep.

“Boardrow, 6/10/68”

My walks increased in both frequency and length.  I would go a little farther and a different route each time.  My minimum goal was 4 times a day, one day I did 5.  I also had arm / stretching exercises to do.  The goal for these was 3 times a day, and I usually did 2 to 3.  “The Wave” is Missy’s favorite, btw, but I’ll let her explain it.

The bed, when packed with pillows around me, was reasonably comfortable.  The first couple days, though, I was so beat from the surgery that I could have slept on a bed of broken glass.  The only downside was that the controls for the bed were on the side railing, and I was too sore and stiff that made twisting my chest painful, so I generally had to rely on someone else.

“Boardrow, 6/10/68”

I came into my room on Wednesday, and on Saturday I had progressed fast enough and far enough that they were ready to discharge me.  I wasn’t quite ready, though.  I expressed a desire to stay another day, just to be sure.  Missy was not happy, but supported my desire.  So we stayed another day and I was discharged on Sunday.  The extra day gave me a peace of mind that everything really was ok, and that was important to me.  What was estimated prior to be a 4 to 6 day stay was 6 days total, but could have been 5 days.

So we get packed up, they put me in the wooden wheelchair for the trip to be dumped off at the curb, and away we go.  I’m on my way home.

Oh, and btw… “Boardrow, 6/10/68”

*- Birthday made up for example purposes.

Post-Surgery… ICU

Roughly four and a half hours later I came to in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU)… which is standard procedure after this type of surgery… in a dark room and with a bunch of tubes and hoses in me.  Very sore, very groggy, but I slowly woke up.  I was allowed limited visitors, and I made it very clear to my family beforehand that while I was in ICU I only wanted visits from three people: my wife Missy, my son Matt, and my sister Vicki.  I was willing to see anyone once I get into my regular room after ICU, but not in ICU.

My memories of visits initially are vague.  I do remember Missy coming in, vaguely, I think she was first, and I’m not sure if I reacted or not.  I think I did.  I remember Matt coming in, not sure for how long, but I do remember grasping his hand right before he left.  I was aware enough for that, and I sensed that it was something that both he and I needed.  I also know that Vicki visited, but she was unlucky enough that I was usually sleeping when she did.  At first, visits were limited to one person at  a time.

In me were a breathing tube, a catheter, a large drain tube from my stomach, a small drain tube from my stomach, a heart monitor (which would stay on to the very end), an IV in a large vein in my neck, and either two or three IVs in my right arm.  Throughout this entire blog this is the only thing that I am going to rail about:  the breathing tube.  I had been told by everybody… doctors, nurses, people who had had this surgery before, experiences I’d read online… that you generally don’t even know it’s there.  It’s removed prior to you waking up, as soon as you’re able to breath on your own without outside assistance.

That didn’t happen with me.  In my ICU room was a clock on the wall right in front of me, and I was aware and coherent enough that I was able to count the time.  I was awake and aware of the breathing tube for three hours.  THREE  HOURS!!!  Because it disrupts your vocal chords you can’t speak or even make grunting noises.  Because my hands were secured to the bed… so people don’t remove the breathing tube themselves, which people apparently do when given the chance, and now I know why… I couldn’t even signal anybody to ‘ask’ that it be removed.  Three hours I laid there staring at the clock watching the time slowly tick by.  I was livid.

I have been since told that I wasn’t breathing well enough on my own for the anesthesiologist’s satisfaction.  I didn’t care.  They should have put me back out, or something.  Once they finally told me they were going to remove it, I started planning in my mind all the invectives I was going to let loose with.  “It’s about fucking time!  What the fuck is wrong with you people?!?”  Once it did come out, however, all I did say was a solid, “It’s about time!”.  I even said it twice to make sure they heard it.

Moving on, I was recovering very fast, they said.  I stood by the side of my bed later that afternoon, which I was told is unusually fantastic.  The next morning, roughly 18 hours after surgery, I took my first walk around the nurses station.  Everyone was impressed with how soon and how well I was doing.  Because of my plethora of tubes and such still in me I had three nurses accompanying me, both to carry the tubes and stuff, and to make sure I was steady and didn’t fall down.  They said I walked them, I did so well and so fast.

My web server had a major implosion and was down for five days, hence the delay in this post, so I forget a couple of the details, but my memory tells me that no tubes other than the breathing tube came out the first day.  The next morning some of the tubes started coming out… not necessarily in order, both stomach drain tubes, the catheter, the neck IV (which required the nurse holding pressure for roughly 15 minutes so I wouldn’t bleed to death), and one or two arm IVs.  By the time I was transferred out of ICU and to my “regular” room around mid-day I only had one arm IV and the heart monitor.  I am told that my recovery was going much faster than average and very well.  Impressively well.

Surprisingly, as major as this surgery is supposed to be, I didn’t feel all that bad.  Sore, sure, but not any real pain.  Of course I did have some good pain medicine coming into me via an IV, but even after that stopped I never did have real outright pain.  The vast majority of pain medication in my regular room was simple acetaminophen (Tylenol).

Before I headed off to my regular room I distinctly recall a nurse practitioner rip my two nurses a new one because one of them cancelled a particular medication that she had ordered.  Kind of reminded me of Army basic training the way she spoke to them.  She was tough!  I did kind of chuckle because, before she started chastising them, she pulled the curtain to my room closed as if that might preclude me from hearing.

One aspect that intrigues me is that the nurses on the recovery floor were absolutely awesome, but the ICU nurses… while certainly capable and good… were a little sketchy by comparison.  The whole ICU seemed to be a tad less coordinated than the recovery floor, which is where we’re heading next.

Surgery Day

Up at 4am.  To the hospital before 5:30.  Let the games begin!  We do not sit around and wait for long.  We are taken back and put in a prep room.  Nurse comes in and asks questions and is way too cheery for that time in the morning.  Then she leaves us so Ken will be able to get “dressed”.  More like UNdressed.  Gown and socks only.

Let the fun begin!  Vitals checked, tons of questions asked and answered.  Then the shaving starts.  Yes, I said shaving.  TEEHEE!  Ken got almost all of his front half shaved.  Neck down.  He had already shaved his face the night before.  He made sure to tell the young nurse who was shaving him that he was a bit ticklish on his tummy.  She was avoiding that while others where coming and going and talking to him.  This process took the better part of an hour.  The whole time she worked hard to keep the more private parts covered.  When she did get to shaving the stomach area, it was VERY amusing.  Ken had to clench all up and make faces while trying not to laugh.  Trust me, there were some escaping giggles.

More vitals and questions before he was taken away from me and I went to the waiting room to collect my beeper.  The beeper was my life line to Ken.  Now, I will not say that I was scared or even really worried just yet.  I had instructions on how the day would go and what to expect.  I knew there was a board in the waiting area that told you where your person was in the process.  I had a color coated card to be sure I could read it.  I had a beeper that would go off any time there was news and I needed to talk to someone.  I also had three of the most awesome friends waiting for me.

Lisa, Teresa, and Kerry were waiting for me when I came out.  They drove over from Illinois the night before and stayed near by.  I was so glad to see their sleepy faces!  After greetings and a little discussion they went down to the cafeteria with me.  I would not have made it through without the distraction they brought me.  It went a little like this…  I would check “the board” and one of them would check on me.  The beeper would go off and I would go find out what was going on, and they all watched my every move.  Once they knew life was good, they went back to the jokes and the stories.  The teasing and the laughter.  Yes, that is what friends are for!  Eventually his sister, Vicki, showed up too.  She was there for the talk with the surgeon and this was very helpful.

When surgery was over they told me they would come get me when he was settled and I would be allowed to visit for 10 minutes every hour.  Only 10 minutes!?!?!  OK…I guess.  I was retrieved and went back for my first 10 minute visit.  He was aware and looked at me and squeezed my hand.  That was all I could ask for at that point.  After my 10 minutes I went back out to say good bye to my fantastic friends.  I could not thank them enough for what they did.  Then his sister and I sat and waited until the next visit time.

More waiting and progress stories to come.

Missy  🙂

Surgery makes one a busy person

It’s been two weeks since my last post.  Where does the time go?  Well, I’m gonna tell ya.  The last week before surgery was a plethora of appointments.  Some very valuable and important, some just seemingly dumb.  An example of the valuable:  an appointment where Missy and I went for almost half a day and met with a nurse and got the full low-down on what will happen and what to expect.  This was our chance to ask any questions we wanted.  We used our chance, you bet.

An example of the seemingly dumb:  I had to go to my family doctor for a pre-surgery physical, and get their clearance.  Ummm, why?  The family doc checked my vitals such as blood pressure, temperature, breathing, etc… things that the cardiologist and the surgeon and everyone else had been doing on an almost daily basis for the last two weeks… then they asked a bunch of questions from a checklist, AND it also cost me over two hours off work and a $30 co-pay.  I’m sorry, but I feel that I got no benefit out of that whatsoever.

One week of the last two weeks was occupied by my actual surgery and hospital recovery.  Yes, it finally happened!  Last Tuesday, September 11, 2018, was the big day.  I had fully intended to pick up the blogging a few days afterward, most likely in the hospital.  I mean, how hard can it be to bang on a keyboard and blog, right?  Apparently, harder than it sounds.  I simply did not feel like it.  I slept.  A LOT!!!  I came home two days ago, and even now I tire very easily.  Not sleeping as much, but something as simple as typing something can be exhausting.

So, anyway, the day of surgery comes.  I have to be there for check-in at 5:30 am.  I get up at 4:00 am, take a shower and scrub with some special cleaning solution pre-injected into a sponge, intended reduce the risk of infection by removing as many organisms from your body as possible.  I had shaved my beard the previous night, for the same reason.  First time I had done that in over ten years.

Anyway, we get there, check in, and am led to the back for prep.  I’m introduced to several nurses who have various roles.  The whole vital sign check… which will become a ubiquitous facet of life for the next week, along with repeating ny name and birthday… and other sundry tasks, including… the body shaving.  Yes, the body shaving.  I was not allowed to do this myself, again to avoid infection if I were to nick myself.  A young girl got the joy of shaving me.  I will say they were very cautious and very respectful, during this process.  I remained covered as much as possible at every step.  They used a special electric razor that virtually eliminates any risk of nick or cut.  Now, I was informed early that half my body would be shaved.  Which half, you ask?  Surely the top half, it is heart surgery, of course.  No, the front half.  The imagination runs wild.

End result it that, with the exception of a tuft around the “twig & berries”, the front half of my body was silken smooth, first time since probably babyhood.  This included my left armpit, by the way, but not the right armpit.  Had something to do with them taking an artery from the left arm, or something like that.

This last description is for the benefit of a co-worker of mine who was intensely interested in this aspect.  Which is ok, because once you get discharged from the hospital you have no modesty left anyway.

So, 7:30 gets closer and I get a visit from the anesthesiologist and the surgeon.  We all talk some, and I get wheeled from the prep room into the surgery room, all the while asking questions like how many surgery rooms they have total (12), how many are pretty much dedicated to heart only (2, but 2 others are purely dedicated to cancer), do they ever have all 12 going at the same time (yes, but not often), and so on.

And that’s where my memory ends.  There is a several hour void until after everything is said and done.  We’ll pick up post-surgery in the next post.

Discharge!

The next morning I get woke up by a nurse at 6:00 am with a single pill for me to take.  Yes, I was a bit annoyed, especially when they bring the rest of my pills with breakfast two hours later.  My surgeon is supposed to visit a couple hours later, as well, so I go back to sleep.  About an hour and a half later I wake up with my surgeon standing over me, smiling, and ready to talk.  Oh, ok, let’s talk.

A bunch of people come in and out over the next couple hours, each with a different task.  My proclamation of sarcasm seems to have worked well for making friends with my assigned nurses, gave us something to talk about and they better understood my corny jokes.  Consensus is that I’m ok, for now, and no reason to keep me any longer.  Also no reason to move up the surgery date, and we keep the appointments I have planned for the next week.  I’m ok with that.  As much as I want to get it done, I also want the time I had set aside in my mind to get things done beforehand.  Stuff with work, personal tasks, a couple more paychecks if I have to be honest, stuff like that.

We finally, get clearance to check out and go home, so Missy and I get around, get dressed, and do just that.  Not without eating lunch out, of course.  Now I have to make a comment on the hospital food.  Maybe I’m in the Twilight Zone, or something, but my experiences so far have been positive.  The food I’ve had so far, and with my thyroid surgery about five years ago, has actually been pretty tasty.  Last night I had meat loaf and mashed potatoes with gravy and green beans and some frozen cherry yogurt push up thingy that was pretty good.  Breakfast this morning was french toast… no bacon :(… with sugarless syrup that was surprisingly good, milk, and cereal.  I was pleasantly surprised.  I have a friend who has been having some medical issues and been in and out of the hospital and can’t seem to get a good meal.  She does things sometimes like have pizza delivered.  (We have our Toastmaster meetings in this hospital, as well, and I’ve seen pizza delivery people here, too.)

So, we go home, I go back to work the next day, and take it easy during the weekend.  The next week will be a few appointments and things are about to get busier.  Much busier.

Stunted by Emotions

Ken asked me to contribute to this blog.  I wanted to a few times.  I would start, stop, start again.  I could not find the words to describe how I was feeling and dealing with everything.  I have decided to just lay it out and hope you can understand it all.  I will start with my emotions leading up to the angioplasty and then what I felt after that.

As Ken explained, the nurse from the cardiologist’s office was trying hard to reach us. When he found out what was going on he called me and told me we were going to need to go in for the angioplasty.  He explained why and what that was.  I was sitting in the waiting room at the eye doctors waiting for his mom to be done with her appointment.  All I could think of was that I didn’t want to lose it there.  Then he asked me to talk to his mom about it.  “Sigh!”  Hold it together even longer.  I can do this!

The day of the angioplasty comes.  I was prepared to sit and do some work on my computer while they worked on him.  I barely got set up and the nurse was coming for me.  She took me to a little room with a computer in it.  I was not sure what was going on, but I knew in my gut that it wasn’t good.  The doctor came in and went to the computer to show me the pictures of Ken’s heart.  He told me that they found many blockages and that there was no way a stent would do it.  I was stunned.  He informed me that it was from years of diabetes issues.  However, the working part of his heart was strong.  At least one thing was good!

Once I was away from the doctor the anxiety set in.  I paced and started to feel out of breath.  I knew I needed help to not have an anxiety attack.  I called my mom.  She is always my rock and I needed her on the prayer chain.  She calmed me and was very helpful.  One more call to a friend to fill the rest of the time before they came to get me and I was calm when I got in the room with Ken.

This is where we learned of the waiting game that would become our lives.  I didn’t know what that meant at that moment, but I soon found out it meant anxiety, stress, and headaches.  We are almost there and I, for one, can’t wait!

Missy 😊

Uh oh!

…I woke up on a Wednesday morning, August 22nd, and didn’t feel right.  Discomfort in my chest, shortness of breath, and the slightest exertion such as tying my shoes wore me out.  People always ask me about chest *pain*, and maybe one’s personal definition of pain applies here, but I’ve never felt chest pain, only discomfort.  Which I normally blow off as acid reflux, which I have too, and which mimics the same symptoms.

Anyway, I get ready for work, and am sitting on the side of the bed contemplating what to do.  I finally decide that I’m going to call in and go back to bed.  I can sleep it off, I tell myself.  So, I do that, and also text Missy to let her know.

Missy is suddenly worried.  The doctors said after the angioplasty that if I experience ANY signs of pain or discomfort to get myself to the ER, either by ride or 911.  She tries to call.  No answer.  Keeps trying.  No answers at all.  (I was sleeping.)  Fearing the worst, the worry gets to be too much so she leaves work and heads home.

I wake up about 9:30am as she’s crawling into bed with me.  I eventually wake up fully, and she asks me whats going on.  I figure there’s no way I can my usual uncommunicative self, so I fill her in.  She’s now riding that fine line between feeling relief that I’m “ok”, and feeling upset because I worried her so much.  She also insists that I go the the ER… so we get dress and I go to the ER.

We get to the ER… she drove… and I walk up to the window and am greeted by three ladies.  One asks what I’m there for.  I say that I’m having chest discomfort and am going to have by-pass surgery in 2 to 4 weeks.  They immediately burst into action.  The one takes my info, another one offers me a wheelchair, and a third speaks into a microphone on her chest, something that was all code but obviously about me to get people in the back into action.  And action it was.  I didn’t even have a chance to sit down even if I wanted to.  I am escorted to a room where they begin to undress me from the waist up, and start poking and prodding and asking questions, about four people total, if I recall correctly, and even more enter and do their thing and leave at various times afterward.  I bet I was worked on and talked to by over a dozen people just in the ER.  It was actually kind of impressive in its efficiency.

I get my chest x-rayed.  There are various tests, many involving the drawing of blood, I take my first ever nitro glycerine pill, more questions, and I swear every person who wondered within a 100′ radius felt the need to break out their stethoscope and listen to my lungs and heart.

I going to have to apologize because I don’t always remember all the technical terms and names of the tests, but they did one checking for some anti-body or something in my blood, and it checked out fine, but they had to wait I think three or four hours to do again, which checked out fine.  Meanwhile, my cardiologists partner was on duty that day, and I met her and she was helping to try and figure out what might be wrong, and whether or not I might have to stay.

At the end of it all, she says that she’s not comfortable with my lack of diagnosis, she can’t rule out anything, so she’d like to keep me overnight for observation.  Ok, I suppose.  (I always wonder what they’d do if someone refused.  I’m sure it happens.)  They get some paperwork done, and wheel me, in my bed, upstairs to my room for the night.  For this trip, and my x-ray trip, they always seem to have the most petite young women wheeling my and my huge NASCAR-looking bed around the place, yet they seem to be used to it and aren’t struggling too much.

Anyway, I get the most awesome room.  For a hospital and in Cedar Rapids, anyway.  It’s a corner room, with a clear view of the s-curve of the adjoining freeway, and lots of light and a very airy feeling.  I ask if I can request the same room for after my surgery… they laugh.  My new assigned main nurse asks me to tell something about myself so she can put something on my white board to help people connect.  I say that I’m very sarcastic, and it works, because that little tidbit does help spur conversation during my stay.

Missy and I settle in for the night.  Missy goes home to take care of a couple things.  My son and my sister visit, and we have the most wonderful conversation for about an hour, just catching up.  It almost feels like a night out at a hotel, except for the constant checking on my breathing… I’m tellin’ ya, every person that walks by.