I was not panicked. Just concerned. I did not think that I needed to worry too much, but I did pray. I had to pray we got there in one piece, as the roads were a bit dicey. We got there and I dropped Ken off at ER so I could park the car. I knew he would be in a room when I returned and he was. They had already started hooking him up to do his EKG and we were once again drawn into the crazy world of do a test and wait.
At one point they gave Ken a nitro pill. After that the symptoms subsided and they did another EKG. His EKG had changed ever so slightly. Right after this they took him for his CT scan. I sat in that little room thinking about the fact that the nitro effected his symptoms. For the first time I started to worry. I started to get major anxiety. He was gone a bit and I really just needed to see him. I was very relieved when they brought him back and said they were thinking of keeping him over night for observation. This was a relief because I WAS worried at that point.
I left Ken so I could go home and get some things for us. (Yes, I stayed with him.) I made a couple phone calls as I was leaving the hospital and warming up the car. Then took my time going home. Once I was home I gathered items and took care of the cat. On the way back I stopped to get something to eat. I sat and ate it before heading back. I guess I took too long because Ken started to worry about ME. Time to settle in for the night.
I slept on a cot and we got a few hours of sleep. Not much though. The morning brought more testing and waiting. We made do but it was a LONG day. When the Cardio doctor came with his nurse practitioner they pretty much said they knew it was not his heart. However, the doctor started talking about staying another night. We wanted nothing to do with that! They sent him for a stress test and called it good. We finally got out after 5 that night. 24 hours in the hospital, but it was all worth it to know he was well and safe!
For the past several years I have seen people who were happy that the last year had passed. Just in a general sense. 2016 and 2017 seemed especially to draw people’s individual ire. I’ve only seen a couple people that wanted 2018 to “FOAD”, so maybe things are getting better, but meh, maybe not. I guess it’s all individual perspective, and that’s fair.
How do I feel about the passing of the new year? I’ll tell ya how I feel. I am most certainly looking forward to an even better 2019, but all in all I felt that 2018 was a good year.
How can that be? A case could be made that I was somewhat near death in 2018, being lucky to not have had a heart attack, having had major open heart by-pass surgery, and on and on. So much negative. But here’s the deal and here’s why I feel appreciative and good about it… I did NOT die. I did NOT have a heart attack. My issues, through mind boggling coincidence and chance, were caught in time that they could be fixed… and they were fixed. That’s not a small thing. I have every reason to be appreciative for what has worked in my favor. And I give a lot of credit for my progress and attitude to my medical care givers (family, friends, doctors, nurses, rehab people, etc.) in being both competent and compassionate… making my experience actually pleasant at times. The outpouring of help, in all forms, has been overwhelming. I had very few instances where I wanted to condemn the people working with me.
In spite of my deep-seated grumpiness and natural cynicism, I’ve also been a somewhat “glass is half-full” kind of person all my life, so I’m sure that has a part to do with it. I’m ok with that.
I know other people who have issues and/or experiences that are not as easily-fixed and/or satisfying as mine, and I do not intend to be smug about it or throw my feelings of good fortune in anyone’s face. But the flip side is that a great many more people don’t have the issues I have, either. It’s all individual… I see this a lot in rehab. For whatever it’s worth, I do feel that one’s own attitude plays a part in their own recovery. The mind is powerful. It’s not the be-all-and-end-all, but it helps. Use it to your advantage.
I honestly consider myself very fortunate that everything has gone so well, regarding surgery and recovery. I do struggle with maintaining a proper diet, but I am doing better in a relative sense, so I’m telling myself that’s going in a positive direction.
I don’t remember if I mentioned this before, but in my rehab class I’m probably one of the better/best “in shape” people, which makes me feel good, but on the flip side I’m also clearly the youngest, which I do not consider to be a badge of honor.
You never know, though, just by looking at someone. There was one guy, 79 years old and super nice, who could run circles around me and everyone else, but he’s done now. He left early because his insurance wouldn’t pay for anymore and he could walk at home for free. Can’t say that I blame him on that one, though I was sorry to see him go.
It’s interesting to me that there’s a couple guys in rehab that you can tell are concerned with their macho image. As part of our “cool down” at the end there’s a little weight training, just really minor. These guys will pick the biggest weights, and the way they work them you’d swear they think they’re on Venice Beach, or something, posing for the babes. 🙄
One of these guys, who finished just last week, I believe has had a couple minor “events” during his rehab workout. He always has the biggest weights, his treadmill was always set at the highest incline and a high speed, and so on. I felt like he was showing off as much as anything, but the “events” told me he needed to be smarter about it.
As for me, I’m quite content just doing my thing and working in a smooth and steady progression. That’s fine by me.
That’s the most common question I’ve been getting the last couple weeks. That, and “How are you feeling?”
My standard answer: “Yes and no.”
Yes: I like my job. I like what I do. I find it both challenging and rewarding. I’m very proud of the projects I do, and get kind of giddy when I can point to something while driving and tell my companion, “I did that.”
I’m looking forward to getting back into something resembling a productive and reliable routine. Read my Grump blog post from today to see what I mean. Most people don’t realize it, but humans *need* structure. It adds purpose, and we *need* purpose to balance our lives. This is why many people who become long-term unemployed or retire and sit in a rocking chair seem to physically and mentally deteriorate quickly. People need purpose. I need purpose.
No: I won’t lie, I kind of like having my time as my time. I’ve been free to come and go as I please. This is probably the biggest aspect I miss about being a self-employed consultant a few years ago… flexibility. Having flexibility, not being so rigid that I feel hemmed in, is huge to me. If I wanted to make an appointment at 10am on Tuesday, I’d check my calendar and schedule accordingly. I never shirked responsibility or deadlines, but I had flexibility. I will miss that.
“Are you ready to go back to work?”
Today is November 1st… the 26th anniversary of my Dad’s passing, but I digress… and I have medical clearance to go back to work on Monday the 5th, four days away. I am excited and looking forward to it. (Ask me again next Wednesday. LOL!) I am feeling so much better, in many ways better than before the surgery. I’ve been warned that the long days will wear me out, but I work at a desk and should be ok. If I do have some days that catch up to me, I suspect they’ll be few and will go away in a short time.
I’ve addressed this before, but what to do with all this ‘extra’ time? It has been seven weeks today since my surgery. I’ve been progressing well. I keep feeling better and better. Late last week I took what I feel is a remarkable turn… for the better. All of a sudden I started what I would categorize as great. I could move faster and easier than I have since, well… I can’t remember when. Now, don’t get me wrong. I still have my weight lifting restrictions, and if I forget I still get very clear reminders that I have other limitations, as well, but overall, I’m feeling really good.
With that, is my mental faculties. I feel like my mind is engaging much better than it has. Things seem clearer and my brain cells are more active. I’m thinking like I used to, and that especially feels good. But now with all this time, I’m starting to go stir crazy. I was warned by my friends that this would happen, and they were right.
I went into work today for an optional employee meeting. We have these once a month, “Lunch/Breakfast with Management” they call it. It was presented to me as an option by my supervisor last week, and I jumped at it. I have to say that I enjoyed it, too. Not only was it something to do, it felt mentally stimulating, at east much more than I’ve been experiencing lately sitting at home. I mean, one can watch only so many episodes of Forensic Files while surfing Facebook before they start to go stir crazy.
I haven’t had this officially confirmed with my surgeon yet, but I am eyeing Monday, November 5th, for getting a doctor’s release and going back to work full time. That seems like a reasonable goal. I have tentative plans to go to the Manchester office, where I used to work, and have lunch with friends next week. I talked with my supervisor today, and we hashed out plans for me to continue my physical rehab after I return to work. It will be three times a week until roughly Christmas, but I will be able to do it with minimal disruption to my work schedule or productivity. That’s good.
I have to say, in spite of some feelings of stir craziness, I’m also feeling greatly encouraged and optimistic. So many things make more sense now, in hindsight, for why I was feeling so poorly for so long. I won’t say the surgery was the best thing to ever happen to me, but I am feeling good and encouraged and excited going forward.
How DO I feel? Since tomorrow is the one month anniversary of my surgery I realized that I haven’t given the simplest of updates… how I’m feeling as I progress in my recovery.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I am fully recovered. As I understand it, it can take up to roughly six month, on average, to be fully 100% (or better) yourself. I understand that, and can live with that. All things considered, though, I feel really good. I feel like my recovery is going quite well. Judging by comparing to others around me in rehab, and from what nurses tell me, I believe I am recovering faster and better than most people in the same situation. My breathing exercises have been lacking, and I still have a small issue with lung congestion, which I am working on. Even with that, I get the feeling that I was in better shape than most people going into a bypass surgery, which seems odd to me, but ok. I mean, I wasn’t exactly a pillar of physical strength and virility prior, if you know what I mean. I’m certainly younger than pretty much all of them, which isn’t something to brag about, either.
I have virtually no pain whatsoever from the surgery itself, meaning the inside stuff. I’m still short of breath and tire easier than pre-surgery, but that’s normal, and that and my stamina are steadily increasing with each day. The day after I got home I got wore out and had to take a long nap after just unloading the dishwasher… which Missy chastised me for doing too much too soon. Fast forward to today and I can do that and more, to the point that I feel like I’m actually accomplishing things.
My skin is… interesting. The two incisions on my left leg are pretty much fully healed. The two small incisions on my stomach from the drainage tubes are almost fully healed. I am amazed at how well the 7″ chest incision is doing. The scab portion is almost gone, only about an inch left. The 9″ incision the length of the inside of my left forearm is taking longer. It’s making progress, so I’m not worried, per se, but it is still about 80% scabbed with inflammation and redness. Just in the last week has it started healing enough in places for the scab to disappear. My skin on my forearm is forming some ‘pockets’ where the skin is pulling together unevenly.
Part of my left forearm and a portion of my left palm, in just the last 10 days or so, have developed some numbness and sensitivity. I was warned up front that this would be perfectly normal and not to worry about it. I have also since been told to ‘exercise’ it by stretching and working my hand and wrist from time to time.
My feet already had some very minor neuropathy from my diabetes prior to surgery, but now my feet and my upper chest, along with my left forearm, are all hyper-sensitive. Something as simple as wearing a shirt can be painful. My shirt will lightly brush against the incision areas and cause irritation, which turns to actual pain if it goes on for a few hours.
Part of my upper left chest will always be numb because they took out an artery that had some nerves attached for the bypass. And… this surprised me… I will never again have a legitimate pulse in my left wrist. The artery is gone from there, too, so there’s nothing to measure. Makes sense now that I think about it.
Mentally and emotionally I feel fine. I’ve been very open about this from Day One of being diagnosed. That’s been very therapeutic. I’ve been very stoic about it. It just is what it is, let’s deal with it. I feel like this blog has also been very helpful, keeping me in a good frame of mind. As I have mentioned before my sleep schedule has been upended, but I’m getting enough sleep and it has been good sleep. My appetite has been fine, though I’m consciously trying to eat smaller portions. I’ve pretty much cut out table salt, and have tried to make some better choices, though I haven’t gone total health nut whack job, and doubt that I will.
So that’s it. My health checklist, you might say. I’ll revisit this a couple more times before I’m done.
Aka exercise. Proper exercise and physical rehabilitation is crucial to a good recovery. This is something that both the professionals and the people who have gone through this have told me, and it is stressed a lot. Some people have told me about family members who blew off any physical aspect to recovery, and suffered for it. They either had more medical problems or at least took far longer to recover.
The first thing you’re going to do is walk. Three to four times a day in the hospital, even in ICU, and even as early as the next morning after the surgery. It’s not going to be far at first. It certainly won’t be fast. Are you familiar with Tim Conway’s old man character on the Carol Burnett Show who shuffled along with 2″ steps? Yeah, it’s going to be kind of like that. In the beginning you will have an entourage of 2 to 3 nurses dealing with your various IVs and tubes, etc., plus to make sure you don’t fall. A few days later you will get the regular physical rehabilitation people coming to see you 1 to 2 times a day, and they’re going to push you to go a little further, make sure you can do stairs, and so on.
Next comes a more rigorous rehabilitation, at the hospital three times a week. Here you do things like a treadmill, exercise bicycle, stretching, etc. I just started this week so my treadmill is at 15 minutes, but my goal is to work up to 30 minutes. I will eventually do some strength training, but right now my focus is on aerobic exercises. You wear a heart monitor the whole time, and they check your blood pressure several times before, during, and after. It’s pretty thorough. I also took a bunch of surveys the first day, which will be repeated for comparison purposes at the end. It’s a twelve week program, so I will have to work something out at work once I return.
Another aspect, both before and after surgery, is the incentive spirometer. This is a device intended to stretch and exercise your lungs. Prior use was recommended by my surgeon, it is not ‘normal’. The purpose for after surgery is that your lungs are negatively affected during surgery… “got lazy” is how one person explained it to me… and this contraption helps expand the lungs back into shape so they can be fully usable again. This is a big deal, but I have struggled with it. I can do it a few times then I start gagging, and I think the whole thing is mental. You’re supposed to do this 10+ times an hour, every hour that you’re awake.
I was also given a set of four arm exercises, stretching type exercises. These help stretch your body and muscles in your arms and upper chest back into shape, and it’s surprising how ‘closed in’, almost protective, your upper body becomes. You are expected to do these 3 to 4 times a day. For me it helped when I combined them with my walks, while in the hospital. They’re easy in a ‘hurts so good’ way. You do not have to do these anymore once you start the official rehabilitation.
Doctors and medical people can tell you all about the physical recovery. They can’t tell you much at all regarding what to expect emotionally and mentally. Oh, they can give vague and generic suggestions, but not first-hand experience.
I’ve been fortunate, I’ve been very straight forward throughout this whole experience. I’ve openly lifted my shirt and showed people my chest scar in public several times. I’ve been very open about it, almost absurdly. I haven’t really felt down or depressed, and I think things like this blog have contributed to my acceptance.
As I said in a previous post, while you are off work you’re going to have a lot of “extra” time on your hands. First and foremost you need to rest and rehabilitate, but what about you mind and emotional state? Be sure to keep your mind occupied. Do some easy projects around the house. You get a positive sense of accomplishment. Read and/or study some topics that interest you, but you wouldn’t normally have time for. Don’t be a couch potato mindlessly watching television every waking hour, but when you do watch tv include some mentally stimulating programs that will make you think and keep your mind occupied.
You will gain strength both physically and emotionally the farther you get from your surgery. Take advantage of it.
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.
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.