It's difficult to believe that a year has passed since my surgery, but what a full year it has been! Life continues to be good, full of lots of activities, long weekend trips, travel, family gatherings, even a 50 year high school reunion thrown in for good measure!
Retirement was definitely the right decision, and no surprise, my stress level practically disappeared! I miss my patients, who had been in my life for nearly 15 years, and also my coworkers, who are an awesome group. I stay in touch with several of them, when we meet for walks along the beach, or for lunch, coffee or dinner. Santa Cruz is a small place, so I also encounter former patients occasionally, in one of the local markets, or about town.
Until the surgery, I truly didn't realize how much my mitral valve regurgitation was affecting my life,. My energy level and physical stamina have improved so much. I now walk as fast, or faster than Jack, instead of lagging behind. I'm walking daily, doing qi gong/tai chi twice a week, yoga, water aerobics, and zumba once a week, and core strengthening exercises. I'm BUSY!
We returned to Maui in November, where all of my symptoms began in 2010. I was able to swim and snorkel without any problems. What a joy it was!
Three of us have left the SC Women's Health Center in the last 7 months, and we all were perinatal providers. I've recently been hired to work 2-3 hrs a week doing a refresher course and clinical practice with one of the recently hired NP's. She's excited and eager to begin. The SCWHC will also provide a new service for postpartum patients-home visits during the first week, for assistance with breastfeeding and general newborn care. I'm going to provide this service in an ongoing basis. It's exciting to be a part of this new program. Not only will it be interesting work, but also is in my area of specialty. The home visits will be infrequent, and on my own schedule, so it suits me well.
I didn't plan on this journal entry to turn into such a long one, but there it is.
Today was the 4 month follow up visit with my cardiologist. He said I was doing great, and don't need to see him for a year, when he'll do another echocardiogram!
I'm feeling great, and am still doing cardiac rehab exercise classes twice a week. My strength training is progressing, and I can now lift and carry my grandchildren without any problem.
As of June 28, I'm officially retired. It's a wonderful feeling to be "free". No more alarms, or trying to fit vacation time around my work schedule. Life is good!
It has been 3 months since surgery, and my follow up echocardiogram results just came in. My valve is working perfectly, and my heart enlargement is gone! I'm really happy about this news. It confirms the way I've been feeling, now that my heart rate has self adjusted. My blood pressure is normal and heart rate in the low 70's.
Cardiac rehab classes continue to be fun, and my endurance improves each week. Upper body strength is also improving, along with less chest soreness.
The biggest news is that after my return to work last Tuesday, it was clear that I no longer want to be there. After 4 patients, and 6 1/2 hours, most of that time spent sitting at a computer, the thrill is gone. Electronic medical records have killed it for me. My retirement will be the end of June! My life has a different focus. So many things to do, so many places to go; grandchildren to savor, flowers to tend, piano to practice, hikes to go on, etc. Happy, happy, happy!
I've been attending my cardiac rehab classes regularly, and find them fun! So far, I use the treadmill for 20-30min, recumbent stair climber for 10-15min, Therabands and weight training for upper arm and chest muscles, for the remainder of the hour. I'm also continuing to walk for 30-60 minutes several times per week.
The only problem I'm having, which apparently is common, is that my heart rate is more rapid since tapering off from the beta blocker med, which also makes my blood pressure quite low. It was worse during the first week, and I didn't like the feeling. I'm told it can take 4 weeks for the body to adjust to this change. I've been off the beta blockers for almost two weeks, so I'm halfway there, with my resting heart rate around 80, instead of the104 that first week.
I've begun gardening, mostly pulling weeds! It feels good to be doing some outdoor work again. I'm also lifting more since the 5# weight restriction was passed. My muscles feel weak, so the exercises are welcome!
I had my second follow up with the cardiologist this afternoon. All is good. He is taking me off of the beta blocker I'd been taking since my surgery. The purpose was to decrease the risk of atrial fibrillation, a complication that effects +/-40% of post op cardiac cases.
I'm now walking anywhere without restriction. This Sunday, we spent 2 nights in San Francisco to celebrate our 41rst anniversary, and my successful surgery. It seemed completely normal to walk up and down the hills, and I had no trouble keeping up with Jack. It felt great!
The cardiac rehab classes began today as well, and will be twice a week. The rehab involves various body workouts to increase heart rate as well as to build upper body strength once the sternum has healed. I'm still restricted to a 5# weight limit, so no major upper body work for another week or two.
Just had my follow up with Dr Vial's PA this afternoon. He's happy with my progress, and has cleared me to drive now.
My daily walks are over 1/2 hour now, rain or shine.We keep finding new places to walk. It feels so good to be getting my energy back! My naps are no longer an hour, 2-3 times a day as they were in the first 2 weeks of my recovery. Now, they are more likely to be resting/reading, once in the afternoon, with an occasional 1/2 hr of sleep on particularly busy days. I've also noticed a remarkable difference in the way I feel this week, over last week, so it is very encouraging.
making my first journal entry at 2 weeks post surgery
Journal posted on March 3, 2011
I would like to thank everyone for the well wishes during the early days after my surgery. Jack and our children would read the entries to me several times a day, and it was wonderful to hear from so many of you.
My recovery is going well, after learning to pace myself. Just overdid it that first day home. Each day, I can do more, and have less discomfort.
We went to my cardiologist this week, and he says the mitral valve sounds perfectly normal. No more roaring murmur!
Today, we are celebrating the 2 weeks, by taking a drive to West Cliff, for a walk along the ocean, continuing up the coast to Davenport, to have lunch at an outdoor cafe we enjoy.
Two Steps Forward, One Back, and Two Forward Again
Journal posted on February 25, 2011
Donna's first day home was a learning experience. At the hospital, her activity was constrained, so she was energetic and pain free relative to earlier days. At home, however, we found out how much more effort it takes just to do the personal minimum, so she is more tired and achy now. Then, during the night before last, she began to experience irregular heart beats. Unsettling to say the least. But, after an EKG, her cardiologist said not to worry and just stick to the exercize/rest program. We checked her extensive discharge instructions, which warned of exactly these problems, so we continue to be encouraged. It's just clear now that it will take time for her to bounce back. The entire recuperation is said to take two months.
I stand in awe of this operation. It's hard to believe that what they did is possible, let alone routine - although each case is different, which means it demands confidence and courage on the part of the surgeon, who can never be sure of what he or she will encounter until it is too late to back out easily. Thankfully, Donna's problems had good surgical solutions.
Cousin Barbara Ogden, who is helping us out in these first few days (Thank you, Barbara!) says it's important to know that Donna's heartbeat seems to be back to normal, she had a great night's sleep and is doing very well.
Thanks again for your support.
Just a quick note to let you all know that mom was discharged from the hospital yesterday afternoon. She is happy to be home. She is sore and tired, but that is to be expected!
Thanks again for all of the well wishes!
Donna is on deck for going home tomorrow. Dr. Vial said that her lungs are clear and that her enlarged heart has already started to return to its normal size. Yesterday he said she would really enjoy life with a "competent mitral valve".
We had gone downstairs and he found us at the little grassy area in front of the hospital, sitting in the sun, and didn't seem to be upset. But today she went downstairs again and was located by the x-ray tech who scolded her for leaving the second floor. It seems that her monitor went out of range. Busted!
Donna feels good, has lots of energy for walking, and one by one, the tubes and wires they put into her are being extracted. Bottom line: if everything continues to go well, she will go home tomorrow.
Just a quick note to let you all know that mom is continuing to get better. She has so much more energy today! She took a couple of longer walks without needing to rest along the way, and we even ventured outside to get some sun and fresh air. (Click on "My Photos" to see the new picture I posted this afternoon) It is hard to believe she had major heart surgery just three days ago!
We had another encouraging visit from Dr. Vial. He is very pleased with mom's recovery so far and we are hopeful that she will get to go home on Tuesday.
Hello everyone! I just wanted to post a quick update. Mom's surgeon came to check on her today and went over her progress with all of us. He is very pleased with all of her test results and said that, even though it may not feel like it, her recovery is "picture perfect" for two days post-operation.
Donna was up and walking this AM in the ICU. She's looking much better, and is able to converse easily.
At noon she was transferred out of the ICU and into a private room in the coronary care wing of the hospital. I will stay with her tonight and sleep in her room on a rollaway bed.
Her job now is to walk four times a day, practice breathing with a device that measures her volume, and get up and sit down in a special manner that does not strain the wound from her surgery. (They cracked open the top half of her sternum - better that than the whole thing!) For two months she won't be able to lift her elbows above her shoulders or lift anything over five pounds.
We red all your comments to her and she thanks you all for your kind thoughts.
Donna awoke in the ICU yesterday in the late afternoon, but was uncomfortable until the breathing tube was removed at 8 PM. We visited her from 8:30 until 9:00. She was talking softly, was tired, but seemed like her old self -- she was even joking a bit. She said that she was so happy to be on the other side of this ordeal.
Liz, Sara, Peter and I are here with Donna's brother Dan and his wife Lina. It is just wonderful to be working together with all these people we love and who love Donna to get through this difficult time.
We are on our way to visit her this morning and we hope she will be discharged to her own room today. We will post more this afternoon!
Donna's cardiac surgeon, Dr. Vial, gave us a clear explanation of the repair he made to her mitral valve. Basically, the posterior valve leaf was loose and floppy. He took out some of the extra tissue and stitched it back together. There's more to it, but that's all I can credibly report. Donna will remain sedated until four hours after the end of the operation. Everyone associated with her care has given us encouraging words about her condition and prospects. Your prayers and good wishes are welcome. Jack Cowan
Today my husband and I met with the cardiothoracic surgeon and his PA, who went over all of the surgery and post surgery scenarios. It was interesting and informative. I am so ready for this surgery, so I can feel "normal" again. My surgery is set for next Thursday, the 17th. About 10 days ago, it seemed unthinkable that one of the other patient's journal entries said she was excited about the surgery. Clearly, I still wasn't in a mental situation to understand her attitude. A lot has happened since that day, and the most significant change was stopping work. The extra time has given me a chance to focus on my body and mind, doing positive things, like massage, acupuncture, and counseling. The counselor helped me to learn ways to think of the positive outcome rather than to focus(worry!) on the small probabilities of complications; and also learn to accept help from my friends and coworkers who really want to do whatever needs to be done once I'm home. All of that work, which continues, has helped get me to the place where today, I can actually say, "I'm so ready to do this!". So, yes, I'm excited about the surgery, and my fear level has greatly decreased to a shadow of it's former self.