Guest Blog: Deb Offers A Spouse’s Perspective On Heart Valve Surgery
In addition to talking with patients, I’m often afforded the privilege of speaking with their caregivers. Over the past several months, I’ve been trading emails and chatting on the phone with Deb. Her husband, Fred, was recently diagnosed with a severely leaking mitral valve.
Deb & Fred (Mitral Valve Repair Patient)
The great news is that Fred’s surgery went very well. In fact, he’s already back on the golf course.
To memorialize the experience, Deb recently sent me an email titled, “Spouse’s Perspective When Husband Gets Mitral Valve Open Heart Surgery”. With her permission, I am posting her note for all of us to learn from. Here is what Debbie wrote:
When I first heard my husband needed surgery to repair his mitral valve, I was thinking, “O.K. It’s time to get this fixed so he feels better.” He then had to get a TEE and angiogram (cardiac catheterization). When the tests revealed that he also needed 2 bypasses due to coronary artery disease, I started getting nervous. We started doing research to figure out who would be the best surgeon. We talked to family, friends, coworkers, doctors, and looked on the internet.
The more information we got… The more worried I became. Even though medical teams do these surgeries every day, they don’t do them on my husband every day. Also, after going through this experience, I have learned a lot. Thankfully, everything worked out amazing for my husband and he is recovering very well and quickly.
In hoping to help others going through this experience, I can now say the best thing you can do is,”Stay as positive as possible. Have faith that all will be well.”
There would be days where I would think, “I can do this. I can be supportive and get my husband thru this!” There would also be days when I would think, “Why do we have to have this happen?” On those days, I would just cry.
As people found out my husband upcoming surgery, it seemed like everyone had a story to tell me. Some people said stuff like “They do these all the time!” and “Act like he was getting a haircut”. Others would tell me these scary stories about stuff that made me very nervous. I was thinking, “Why are you telling me this?”
What I would suggest is that you definitely keep the faith, read positive books, learn to let things go, and keep everything you hear in perspective since everyone’s body heals differently.
My good friend, Amy Gould suggested I get Adam’s heart valve surgery book. This was really helpful for myself and my husband to get a better understanding of what to expect. My husband would read it at night after work and I would read it during the day. What really was good to know is how to get your house set up in advance of surgery. We had a recliner in the living room. However, it didn’t have a handle. We re-arranged our bedroom and moved a recliner up from the basement which had a handle. Even though my husband was able to sleep in the bed, it was good to have another spot for reading or taking a nap. I bought a few items from “Relax the Back” to elevate your legs and have different comfortable areas during the recuperation period.
When you do your research to find a surgeon, have a spiral notebook and write everything down. Make sure you find a surgeon that you can trust and feel comfortable with. Ask all your other doctors who they would suggest, doctors always know doctors. Set up two surgeon consultations. Then, after you make your decision bring your spiral notebook with your everyday to the hospital and write down all the doctors and nurses names and phone numbers, and info they tell you because you have so much to think about during the day, you will forget things. Then you can easily refer back to your notes.
While in the hospital, I brought my husband a pillow from home which helped him sleep much better. I also brought in some boxers, t-shirt and a robe. He was not able to use these until a few days later but made him feel better than just having the hospital gown on. They give everyone a red heart pillow after surgery. Spray it with lavender to help your spouse sleep well or your perfume to remind him of you when he is sleeping. I also brought in a stand-up clip that holds two fun pictures of us for him to look at which we put on the adjustable tray — where they keep your water and other stuff.
I used a small suitcase on rollers which I would pack the night before so it was ready to go in the morning since I left so early. I would put stuff in there for both of us. It made it easier just to roll it around every day. The first day while waiting during surgery I put my jacket in there, I brought snacks, water, books, newspaper, my laptop and cell phone charger. Then, on other days, I would put stuff for my husband in there like clothes, toilet paper, food, and the newspaper for him to read, etc.
I highly suggest you send out an email before the surgery for friends, family and coworkers to let them know that he will not be able to have visitors since the patient really needs to get sleep so the body can heal. People mean well when they stop by and visit. But, then the patient feels like they need to stay awake. If you do have family come to the hospital, make sure they have reading material, a laptop or cell phone for texting or something to keep them busy so the patient can sleep. I brought my laptop to do work and would also read emails to my husband which cheered him up knowing everyone was thinking about him.
Get to know your nurses since they have a tough job. I suggest bringing in doughnuts, candy or something to share with their co-workers. Write a note on the inside of the doughnut box or somewhere to thank them for taking such good care of the patient.
I was very tired the day of surgery. We had to be at the hospital at 5:30am and I stayed until 10pm. My brother had suggested I get a hotel room so I didn’t have to drive home. Even though I lived fairly close, just 30-40 minutes away. I did stay at a hotel 5 minutes away. I also got a room for my mother-in-law. This was 1 of the best things I could have done since I was exhausted that day. Also the 2nd day it was helpful to have somebody drive me home because I was again very tired. Have 2 friends come and 1 can drive your car home.
It really helps to bring in your own food. My husband didn’t have much of an appetite the first few days. But, when I started bringing in food he started eating better. Also, I brought snacks for myself to eat with him. If you need to pick food up from a nearby restaurant those hot/ cold storage bags are great.
After several days of being on so much medication, it is difficult for the patient to go to the bathroom. I brought Raisin Bran or some other high fiber cereal from home for breakfast. Bring in your own favorite coffee, it might need to be decaf because of blood pressure. Lastly, grape juice works like prune juice but tastes better. When all else fails bring in White Castle sliders they will definitely do the trick.
If you don’t already own a blood pressure machine and thermometer get one in advance. You will need to take both readings for a few weeks when you get home from the hospital.
The Breathing Gadget (aka Incentive Spirometer)
My husband is soon starting cardiac rehab and has been walking quite a bit and using the breathing gadget. Everyone highly suggests rehab for a better recovery. It’s really not as bad as I expected it to be. It’s amazing how fast the body can heal with proper rest and nutrition. You can do this!
Adam Pick is a patient, author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery and the founder of HeartValveSurgery.com.