“I had open heart surgery on March 11, 2018, at 7:00 AM.  Sometime that afternoon I awoke in ICU.  I spent the entire night in ICU awake, trying to breathe, and trying to avoid coughing or getting sick. Still, while I expected to be in a lot of pain, I didn’t really know what I was about to experience…”

“Everything you can
imagine is real”

 Pablo Picasso

On the Road to Recovery

Before my surgery, a young doctor came into my room to prep me.  He said, “I’m not going to paint you pie in the sky.  When you come out of surgery tomorrow, you are going to feel like you were run over by a Mac truck.”  I understood that he was trying to tell me that I was going to wake up in a lot of pain, but the analogy isn’t the best because I don’t believe either of us had ever been run over by a Mac truck.  So, I offer this as a fair idea of what to expect based on my experience. I will also say that time moves a little faster every day and three weeks will pass before you know it.  Soon six weeks will fly by and the weeks will become months.  Before long, you’ll have a hard time remembering the day to day recovery you have made.  Be grateful for what you have. Let gratitude serve as your most effective medicine. My comments below are, for the most part, limited to the first few days following surgery.

1. Getting the breathing tube removed.  Fortunately, I believe they try to do this as you are coming out from under anesthesia, and so you aren’t really fully conscious for this procedure, or at least I wasn’t, and that was a good thing.  The other good thing is the procedure is fairly quick and it doesn’t take long to get over the initial shock.

2. To say that breathing is difficult would be somewhat of an understatement.  The good thing is that breathing is so difficult that it took my mind off having the breathing tube removed.  It really helped me to forget all about that nasty thing.  When you land a fish on the shore, he probably doesn’t think much about the hook in his lip as he flops around trying to get a breath.  So, I kind of felt like a fish out of water when I first came out of surgery.  Whatever breath you were capable of drawing in before surgery is going to be reduced to about 10% after surgery. For example, before surgery I was able to draw 2,750 on my Airlife device.  When I woke up in ICU, I couldn’t get past 250. The good news is, recovery starts immediately and before you know it, you can breathe again.

3. I believe feeling nauseous is common.  If you feel nauseous be sure an let the nurse know so they can give you something for it.  The thought of getting sick was terrifying and I hadn’t thought about it until I woke up in ICU.  I suppose everything would have held together had I done so, but the feeling that I might throw up sent panic waves coursing through my mind.  I called for anti-nausea medicine several times my first night in ICU and even a couple of times the next day, once I was moved to the Cardiac Floor.

4. Expect the unexpected.  When I came out of surgery, I had two drain tubes.  One tube was placed neart the heart and the other near the lungs.  I had a Swan IV in my juggler, and another IV in my right hand.  There there were two temporary pacemaker wires coming out of my stomach just below my sternum.  These tubes and wires were tucked away inside me next to my vital organs.  I had, what I learned to be “a rub.” This was caused by the drain tube that had been placed near my heart getting rubbed by my heart as it continued to beat.  This was a scary feeling to have just coming out of surgery.  I remember telling the nurse to call my surgeon because something was wrong.  He called the head nurse who came in and told me I had a rub.  Still not satisfied that he knew what he was talking about, nearly an hour later I insisted that he call my surgeon again.  That time, he brought in an portable Xray machine and confirmed that it was only a rub.  So, I got to live the rub until they removed the drain tubes later that day.

5. I was told not to raise my arms above my head or use them for anything more than drinking water or eating food.  I had to be very cautious, but I was allowed to clean myself after a bowel movement, even though they really didn’t want me to reaching behind my back.  I never realized what it was to sit up or get out of bed without using my arms before.  The one thing you can do with your arms is squeeze your pillow which is a good thing because I did that that every time I coughed, sneezed or laughed.

6. I got moving as quickly as possible.  The more I walked, the more I could breathe.  The more I could breathe, the better I felt. I knew this was key to a speedy recovery. I got as much sleep as possible, and when I couldn’t sleep I got up and walked.

7. I was in control of my attitude.  I wasn’t able to do a lot of things, but how I felt about things was all up to me.  I had relatives that I had gone to visit while they were in the hospital who I thought were horrible patients.  They screamed a lot, and seemed angry about everything.  They didn’t like the nurses.  They didn’t like the food.  They had the worst care.  Not to judge anyone, but really, I learned that they were 99% responsible for all their complaints.  Having had open heart surgery, I can understand how someone might feel as they felt, (even though none of them had open heart surgery).  But I saw their attitude and behavior as an example of what not to do.  Going into surgery, I decided that I had to be the luckiest person alive.  Not only because I got sick at a time in history when medicine could actually save me, but also because my condition was diagnosed while I was still alive. Nearly 5 million people since 1990 could have received the same diagnosis I did, but their diagnosis would have required an autopsy. I made a conscious decision to fill my mind with gratitude, and it made all the difference in my recovery.  My nurses loved me.  My doctors came by to see me daily.  All my needs were met, and I was released to go home three days ahead of schedule.  So, I can say that open heart surgery is no cake walk but for those of us who make it into the operating room and survive (which is about 98%) it is not the end of the world either.  Be grateful, because gratitude is the greatest of all pain remedies. And whether you realize it or not, you are witnessing a miracle; your miracle.

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