From ICU Nurse To ICU Patient To Cardiac Depression… Carol’s Story

By Adam Pick on August 9, 2008

I just received this wildly coincidental email from Carol. It’s amazing to read about Carol’s perspective on heart valve surgery, considering she was formerly an intensive care unit (ICU) nurse. Here is what she wrote:

Dear Adam,

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you for sharing your experience in your book. I am 6 weeks post-op mechanical aortic valve replacement (Carbomedics). Now, here’s the weird part…

I was a patient in the same ICU that I was the Charge Nurse of back in the 1970’s! They say “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”. I was VERY aware of my post-op complications as they were happening. Receiving four units of blood and going into a rapid atrial fibrillation with a heart rate of 150-160 several times was a unique experience!



I am currently an Administrative Nursing Supervisor in that hospital. My family and friends assumed that I would know what to expect and how to handle it all. WRONG! It sure is different being the patient! I wonder how many ICU RN’s have had the same experience.

I read your entire book this afternoon. I simply could not put it down.

I was especially interested in the pain management and cardiac depression information. When I see my cardiologist next week, I will make the inquiry about cardiac rehab. I live alone (excluding the dog & cat) and find it challenging to ask for help. My brother and best friend of 40 years were here for the surgery, but left far too soon. I hate asking people to drive me to the doctor, mop my kitchen floor, empty the garbage, etc.

However, as your book states, I have no choice. Each day does get a little better even though I have cardiac depression. I can’t tell you what a relief it was to read that chapter. Yesterday, my cardiologist referred me to a psychologist who deals with this and I’m seeing him TODAY. I can’t wait to get this managed, start cardiac rehab and get on with my life!

Again Adam… Thanks for your heart surgery guidebook and all you do.


Written by Adam Pick
- Patient & Website Founder

Adam Pick, Heart Valve Patient Advocate

Adam Pick is a heart valve patient and author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery. In 2006, Adam founded to educate and empower patients. This award-winning website has helped over 10 million people fight heart valve disease. Adam has been featured by the American Heart Association and Medical News Today.

Adam Pick is a heart valve patient and author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery. In 2006, Adam founded to educate and empower patients. This award-winning website has helped over 10 million people fight heart valve disease. Adam has been featured by the American Heart Association and Medical News Today.

Leslie says on August 10th, 2008 at 4:27 pm

Hi Carol,
Please don’t expect too much from yourself re the depression … it is very early in your recovery and it takes what it takes. I am now 6 months post operative from mitral valve repair and ASD repair (atrial septal defect) and I am just, in the last few weeks, starting to feel like myself again. I went through a protracted period of depression from April to July, cried every day, felt very low. I too am not married and live alone. But I had my ex husband and others around, and I still went into a lot of sadness. Other life problems do NOT go away because we have surgery so we have to continue to cope with them while we are on the mend. Hang in there and know that time is your great ally and patience with the recovery process is very important

Joanne Harris says on August 13th, 2008 at 2:00 am

Just to let you know I too suffered w/ depression after heart valve repair. It was the Worst part of the recovery for me. But 4 weeks after starting on an antidepressant, which seemed like FOREVER, it went away completely. I’m glad you are going to someone about this. Don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s the recovery talking.

Lisa Darr says on October 29th, 2008 at 12:14 pm

I am an ER nurse with upcoming mitral valve surgery. I am very anxious and my PCP just put me on antianxiety and antidepressants to help hopefully pre and post-op. I hope your recovery is going well. Wish me luck!

Lisa Darr says on October 29th, 2008 at 12:19 pm

I am an ER nurse expecting Mitral valve surgery in December. I am suffering with anxiety and sleep issues currently, my PCP just put me on medications for anxiety and depression to help hopefully with both pre and post-op issues. I wish you luck in your recovery.

Sheryl says on December 4th, 2009 at 9:46 pm

Hello Carol,
Oh my goodness, your history of surgery is almost the same as my own. I recently went through aortic valve replacement June 16,2009. I received a St Jude mechanical valve. I am also an RN (charge nurse for ER) I returned to work just shy of 4 weeks post op. I thought getting back to work would do a world of good (NOT!!!) Everyone thought that I was so brave for returning to work. I weaned myself off all pain meds and gritted my teeth with the pain. I would not suggest doing this to anyone…..just more distress than needed.
I am suffering from post op depression at this time. Everyone says that this is common and to just keep pressing on. However there are days that I just can’t seem to function. I continue to work full time and try to put on a brave face. How long did it take for you to overcome your depression and be back to your normal self? Also how long does the pain continue. I’m managing my pain with Tylenol but there are times that that just doesn’t seem to work. Any response will be appreciated. Thank You Sheryl

elizabeth says on April 14th, 2010 at 10:07 pm

Hi, I to am an ICU RN and was a patient in my ICU for 4 1/2 months. I had ARDS x 2, went into respiratory distress in recovery. After 7 months in hospital and rehab – I went home. Finally 18 months later I went back to work and am working one 12 shift a week. It is really tough. I can tell you – everyone expects you to know the answers to your questions — so not true. I found that I was handling a lot of my care — no one hardly treated me as a patient. Depression was and is present in my life. I try to keep going — but it is a daily struggle. I have permanent lung scarring and have a hard time with SOB. But, I am here and am considered a mirarcle. I wish you all the best.

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