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.