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.

After the diagnosis

So, where were we?

Oh yeah, I’ve been diagnosed.  As I mentioned the surgeon wants me to get my blood sugars down below an A1C of 8.0.  It was 10.5.  Not good, I know.  (No lectures, please.)  So that’s where my focus is going to be the next few weeks.  I begin a stringent regimen of tracking my blood sugar numbers and eating less and better.  In true nerd engineer-like geeky fashion I created a spreadsheet to help me.  Those of you who remember Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant will remember the twenty seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures “…with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against us.”  Well, I created a spreadsheet with rows and columns and colors and a key chart to be used to keep me straight.  Here’s an image of the actual spreadsheet, so far…

My endocrinologist today said that I have provided too much information.  It’s overwhelming and hard to narrow anything down, but that’s jumping ahead a bit.

Anyway, with my meter and my chart I track myself morning, noon, and night.  I have two appointments later in the month, the 28th with my endocrinologist, and the 30th with the surgeon where we will set the surgery date, providing my blood sugar numbers are down to being reasonable.  Today, as I write this, it’s the 28th.  Had my endocrinologist appointment this morning.  Two days to the surgeon’s appointment.  I’m just a little anxious, I want to get it scheduled and done, but I digress.

A couple days later my endocrinologist’s office calls and wants to see me for some diabetes education, so I set an appointment and we meet.  Ends up being two appointments over two weeks and some good information is exchanged.  The nurse marvels at my out-of-date glucose meter… she had to go look for the program to download it, it had been so long… so she gives me a new one.  Then, we’re both perplexed because the new meter’s smart phone app to track for me won’t download onto my phone.  Ya see, I have an Android v5.0.1 and the minimum version number is v5.1.  Figures.

Long story short, things are going  well and the next two and a half weeks go by fine without incident, until…

Headaches… and migraines

It’s amazing how busy a person can get even when something like impending heart surgery is looming on the horizon. It has been twelve days since my last post, and I have more stuff to say. But today we’re going to take a detour from my path to this point and talk about headaches… or more specifically, migraines (with aura).

I am not one to get migraines. Never have been. I’ve tried to understand what people who do suffer from migraines go through, but I’ll be honest and say that I don’t fully understand it. It’s not literally required that a person has to have “been there, done that” to fully know, but it often helps.

This past Friday, after lunch, I felt a headache coming on. Within about 30 minutes it had progressed so far so fast that it was almost unbearable. Intense pain, most only on one side, the right side, if I recall correctly, primarily behind and above my eye and radiating back into my head.  (I do get sinus headaches, so I needed to make sure it wasn’t that.)  Inability to focus mentally and really think, though if I absolutely had to I felt that I probably could. Aura, or visual disruptions, inability to focus visually, distorted vision, black spots. Oh, and did I mention the excruciating pain?

It wasn’t fun. But did I leave and go to the doctor? No. One, I don’t think I would have been able to drive safely. Two, I had just gotten back to work after two days in the hospital for what turned out to be something of a false alarm… but we’ll get back to that in a future post.

Anyway, it was incredibly difficult to work, and after a little over an hour it subsided. Not completely, but bearably miserable. Quitting time came and I was out of there and on my way home. Still had a non-migraine regular headache that hindered my concentration into the evening. Took a long nap that evening, and woke up with headache. Yay me. It didn’t finally go away until I woke up the next morning.

That day, Saturday, went well. No headache, no issues.

But Sunday. Woke up fine. Ok, woke at 1pm, but to be fair I didn’t go to bed until after 4am. Anyway, was fine in the beginning, then around 3pm it came back. It’s 9pm as I write this  Not migraine level, but bad enough. So I have to wonder, what causes migraines and/or headaches in general? Each of these incidents was preceded by a stressful event, so there may be that. I was also started on a new medication, some what I call a min-nitro glycerine pill that I cannot remember the name, and was told that it can cause headaches in some, so it could be that. At this point I really don’t know, but I don’t like it.

How did I get here?, Part 3… The Great Leap to the next step

The doctor (my cardiologist) gets my attention, and pulls me out of LaLa Land, and tells me the procedure is over.  I’m just a little taken aback… when did they start?  He then proceeds to tell me, very matter-of-factly, that I need to have heart by-pass surgery.

My reaction:  😐  Oh.  Ok.

I had to absorb this a bit.  The whole process up to this point from the tennis elbow up to this moment has been pretty mundane, almost kind of funny.  “Juuust to be safe”, now took on a whole new meaning.  It was serious.  We talk for a bit, they show me the photos they took, and explain that they went in, found several near-blockages (four or five, something like that), knew a stent or two wasn’t going to cut it, took the photos, and got right back out.  Took all of twelve minutes.

I listen.  It all makes sense.  Somewhat shocking, but it makes sense.  come back to the moment and ask the doctor directly, “Ok, so why haven’t I had a heart attack already?”

Without missing a beat (no pun intended), he says, “You’re lucky.”

I can buy that.  I also like his sincerity and forthrightness.  Just tell me straight up.

Fast forward a few minutes and, after they put this inflatable device on my wrist to ensure the artery does bleed out, they wheel me and my bed back to my room.  I’m reunited with Missy, and for reasons that are blindingly obvious, she’s upset.  Or, rather, was upset.  She has spoken with the doctor, called her mom, but has calmed down now.  When I see her she has sort of a “We have work to do, but we’re going to get through it.” resolve, which is exactly what I needed at that moment.

Most of the rest of the afternoon is somewhat relaxing.  I’m still in bed.  Still wearing the stylish hospital gown.  Almost kind of ‘chummy’, as we’ve gotten along quite well with our nurses.  My primary nurse comes in every so often to let some pressure off the wrist device and check up on me.  Another nurse comes in and does some sonic listening of my heart that I forget the name of.  Another nurse comes in and checks out the veins in my left arm.  This is where they will get the veins for my by-pass.  The nurse also checks my legs for the same reason, as a Plan B.  All this is unplanned, of course, but they’ve been through the drill before and are clearly competent at what they do.  It’s actually impressive at how they can keep their spirits up working in an environment where there is so much potential for disappointment and grief, not to mention that your ‘clients’ keep changing on a daily basis.

Anyway, a couple more hours pass as things are done, I’m eventually disconnected from all the wires, get some more information and explanations.  I meet the surgeon who will perform the actual operation.  Very serious man, but also has a very good reputation.  He says prognosis looks good, but since my blood glucose numbers have been up lately he wants them to come down a bit before he schedules the surgery (which has been going well), otherwise it would have been done in just a few days from then, almost immediately.  They want my A1C down to 8 or less, and it had been a bit above that.  An appointment is set for about four weeks away, and I should get a date scheduled then.  It will probably be pretty soon after that.  Until the, I wait… though it is nice to have some time beforehand to get things in order instead of having life take a sudden turn with no warning.

How did I get here?, Part 2… The Angioplasty

Actually, the nurse was trying frantically to call me late Friday afternoon.  And I’m the kind of person that rarely hears their phone, and I was driving anyway, so I missed the call.  They also called Missy, and she missed it, but she did hear the voice mail.  After an hour of phone tag we settled in with the notion that I would call Monday morning.

I finally get a hold of the nurse on Monday morning, and she’s kind of upset.  Says it’s urgent that I go in for an angioplasty as soon as possible.  She told me what was up, but most of it I didn’t catch.  I knew they wanted to possibly… probably… put in a stent.  We schedule for that Thursday.  I arrange to take the day off as I’m told the whole process will take about five-ish hours.

No eating after midnight the night before.  Only clear liquids… which includes coffee, soda, tea, etc., caffeine was ok this time, who knew?… only up until three hours prior to the procedure, which was scheduled for 1030 am.

We get to the hospital and sign in.  It was as if everyone was expecting me.  haha  I get a room and nurse… I’m going to call everyone except the doctors a nurse as I have no idea which ones were and which ones weren’t… and am told to undress to a certain point and put a gown on.  And let me say that hospital gowns have not changed for at least the last 50 years.  Anyway, eventually a second nurse comes in, who I believe was my primary nurse, and they poke and prod and hook stuff up and get all kinds of vital signs.  Everyone is super friendly, and professional at the same time.

Come time for the procedure they wheel my, still in my bed, out into the hall and down the hallway, around a couple corners, and into a room that looks like a surgery room.  It’s very sterile looking, but also very large and has an enormous set of equipment.  I have an IV in my left arm that was put there in my room.  The nurses… I must have seen a dozen different nurses that day, except for a couple they all seemed to have a single purpose… are all doing various prep-type things to get ready for the procedure.

Time for the procedure comes, and I had been paying attention to my surroundings and all the bustle up until then, and one of the nurses tells me they’re going to inject the anesthesia into my IV now.  I say, “Ok.”, and off we go.

And I mean “off we go” very literally.  This is the same kind of anesthesia that they use for procedures like colonoscopies.  You’re ‘out’, but not out cold.  It’s kind of hard to explain.  Anyway, I say “Ok.”, and they keep bustling around, and my mind wanders a bit.  I think I’m still with it.  Before long I’m no longer aware of my surroundings, though I think I am.  They did tell me when they were going to insert the tube into my artery in my right wrist, I do remember that.

As a side note they go through the wrist now, preferably the right, instead of the groin, though the groin is sort of a ‘Plan B’, if necessary.  And it strikes me as odd that they have to go through an artery, though maybe that’s the only place big enough for the tube, I don’t know.

So there I am with my mind wandering… and wandering… and wandering… thinking I’m aware… and wandering… when they suddenly get my attention.

To be continued.

How did I get here?, Part 1

This has been an interesting journey, so far.  It started around Memorial Day weekend, I was experiencing some sharp pain in my left elbow.  It would at times radiate down to my wrist and/or up to my shoulder.  I lived with it for over two weeks trying ibuprofen to keep it in check.  It was affecting my sleep, keeping me awake at night.  After a couple weeks of no discernible improvement, I finally gave in and went to the doctor.  Urgent care, on a weekend.

The doctor diagnosed me as having tennis elbow.  I was not expecting this, but it made sense.  It felt muscular, not heart related.  Got some advice to take lots of Alieve and use occasional cold compresses.  I also got a rest pad for my elbow at work.  Over time my tennis elbow improved, and is very manageable now.

Anyway, while there, juuust to be safe, the doctor wanted to do an EKG.  We get the EKG done, and he has it read by an on-call cardiologist downtown.  The results come back normal, except a small abnormality that he has concerns with.  They think that maybe I had had a heart attack previously and never knew it.  The set-up an appointment with a cardiologist for a better exam the about five weeks later.

I get to the cardiologist appointment and he essentially says the other cardiologist didn’t know what he was talking about.  I had definitely not had a heart attack previously.  Everything was fine.  However, juuuust to be safe, we’re going to do a treadmill stress test… a nuclear stress test.  So we set it up for the net week.

This nuclear stress test is a two-day stress test.  The first day is a resting stress test.  They take my vital signs.  They inject me with the nuclear stuff.  I go eat a light meal… I ask what the meal is for and they say it’s to ‘push’ the nuclear stuff through to the heart and kidneys, or something like that… then I go in and get pictures taken of my heart from a very expensive looking piece of equipment.  Then I go home.  No caffeine for 24 hrs, btw, for the next test.

The next day I get more vital signs.  I get hooked up to ten electrode things, and they put me on a treadmill.  It starts somewhat fast, I thought, and increases speed and incline as I go along.  Once I get to a certain point they inject more nuclear stuff and keep increasing the speed and incline.  No meal necessary this time, as the higher heart rate pushes the nuclear stuff through just fine.  This did not go well.  I am very out-of-shape.  Once finished I did calm down fairly quickly.  Then for more photos of my heart, for comparison.

The next day I get a phone call from the nurse.  They did not like the photos.  There was a dark area near the bottom of my heart.  I am told I need to go in for an angioplasty, and maybe get a stent, or two.  It’s scheduled for later that week.  At this point, Missy is worried.  I’m, somehow, unconcerned.

To be continued.

Hello!

Hello.

I’m Ken.  I’m normally a very private person, so my sharing of personal stuff will be surprising to some, but I feel compelled to share my experiences with my current heart health situation.  Maybe my experiences can help someone understand what they’re going to go through.  Maybe my experiences can help calm the feeling of uncertainty and of the unknown.  Maybe my experiences can just be a little educational.

Please note that my experiences are just that, my experiences, nothing more.  These are NOT any form of medical advice.  From time to time I may share an article that I come across, but I am not a doctor.  Please consult your doctor for medical information and advice specific to you.  This blog is intended to help those get through a tough time regarding ancillary issues that you may not hear from medical professionals… i.e. how you feel physically and emotionally, potential timelines, what you may expect in recovery, and so on.

The plan is for my wife, Missy, to also be a contributor here.  I will give the perspective from the patient’s side, Missy will give the perspective from the other side, the person taking care of the patient.  You don’t normally see it from the other side, so this will be great.

So sit back and enjoy.  Comment, if you like.