Today, July 22, 2021, is 9 weeks post-op from my aortic valve replacement surgery. My surgery was at UF Shands Heart and Vascular Hospital in Gainesville, Florida. Dr. Thomas Beaver was my surgeon.
Rather than having to endure a full open-heart surgery, my aortic valve was in the right place for a mini-thoracotomy. This means my surgery was performed through a 5 or 6-inch incision in my upper right chest. The negative in this is that the surgery is a longer procedure because of the intricacies involved; my surgery was about 7 hours long. My roll to the OR began at about 7:00 a.m., and my wife was able to see me at about 8:00 p.m. that evening. It was a very long day for her, but the medical personnel was good about keeping her up to date with my progress through the day. I ended up on the heart-lung machine for about 4 1/2 hours. The ICU was full at the end of the day so I had to wait for an ICU room to open up for me. I spent a couple of hours in the OR while waiting for an ICU room.
I spent 4 nights in the ICU, with one additional day in a regular room before I was released.
As I look back at my procedure and hospital stay I will say I am very pleased with how things went. While I was in pain after the surgery, everyone was good at making sure my pain was manageable. I did have to beg for ice, then water, on Friday afternoon as I hadn't had anything to drink since Wednesday night. Once I proved I could swallow the water and keep it down, someone approved me for food. Imagine my surprise when I was delivered a dinner of Bar-B-Q chicken, with spinach (yes I like spinach), part of a sweet potato, some fruit, and a small can of ginger ale. It didn't last long as I was starved!
I did encounter a bout of AFIB on Sunday evening. It lasted into early Monday morning then vanished for good. I was moved to a regular room Monday evening.
Some other things of note:
My family stayed in a suite at a hotel in Gainesville the entire time. We went to Gainesville on Monday as I had to have some tests and procedures prior to the surgery. My surgery was on Thursday, and I left the hospital on Tuesday afternoon. We checked out of the hotel on Thursday morning. On Sunday morning I was up early to get dressed for church. Well, the shower and time spent getting dressed put me right back in my recliner. I was worn out for the DAY!
On Tuesday I walked over 4000 steps in my first walk outside. It didn't put me in the recliner as hard as Sunday morning, but I was tired after the walk.
I was driving at the two-week mark. This was with the surgeon's approval. I was told I could drive after of weeks, but not to enter into any racing events where I really had to "get up on the wheel." I took driving slowly, but it felt good being able to get back to life.
I teach college online, and I was actively teaching a class that started the Monday a week before my surgery. My wife said I was crazy, but I had everything covered with her so she knew what to do if anything happened to me. After surgery, I had a hard time making myself get back to grading again. I just couldn't concentrate on anything for more than a minute or two. I was not expecting this, so I had to push myself to get back to grading the assignments so I didn't get behind.
I am a vocalist, a trained singer. I volunteered to sing the National Anthem on July 4th. Wow...getting my voice back into shape after my surgery was an ordeal, and I only had a week to get my lungs and all the muscles working again to support my voice. I'm a baritone, and I generally have no problem with the upper notes at the end of the Anthem, but I did have to lower the beginning so I could hit the high notes at the end. I had no upper voice for several weeks.
Now, 9-weeks after surgery I am still getting stronger. I am careful about laying on my right side, but I am sleeping in my own bed...that was an awesome thing to get back to MY bed.
I feel great! My strength has returned. I didn't know my color was grey, but everyone tells me my color is good. I went to an Atlanta Braves ballgame this week as was able to walk a long way to my seat and back to the car 5 minutes after arriving at my seat as they canceled the game due to rainy weather. I was exhausted for sure and ended up with over 8000 steps for the day.
If you find yourself reading this post, and have valve surgery in the future, know that after the surgery you will feel so much better. Be sure you communicate concerns to your surgeon. I told my team about being a vocalist...I also perform voiceovers, so I was very concerned about losing my voice...and my anesthesiologist worked to make sure I came through with no problems, even using the smaller tube in my throat so as not to damage my vocal folds.
As I left the hospital my surgeon told me..."remember, you just got into a knife fight and your heart took most of the damage, so take it easy for a few months and you'll be just fine." He was right. My incisions are still tender but mostly healed now, and I can still feel soreness in my chest muscles.
One more thing...make sure you have an advocate for yourself. You need someone who is there with you to just watch out for you while you recover. I asked about every pill I was given, and my wife asked about the pills before I was really aware of my surroundings again after surgery.
Five days after surgery I’m walking out of the hospital with my wife and daughter. It was a beautiful day.
Update posted on...
May 29, 2021
Recuperation question: how long did it take for all of the anesthesia to work out of your system? I was in surgery for seven hours. Week later I am still having spots of numbness here there and yonder.
Tuesday: Enjoyed (lol) blood work, chest x-ray, covid test, and interview with PA and anesthesiologist...all in prep for Surgery day on Thursday. On Wednesday I will have a heart cath as the final piece of the "pre-op prep" for Heart Valve Replacement.
Today I was told to expect 7 days in the hospital. I know this what they say, but I'm hoping my stay won't be as long. I have a lot of pros on my side to shorten the hospital stay, but I do realize anything could happen.
It's getting real now. The wait was long and I'm ready to be on the way to full strength while recuperating in my reclining love seat at the house.
One week from today I’ll have a mini-thoracotomy to replace my aortic valve. It’s been since October 2020 when it was confirmed it was time and I pot it off until now. I’m terribly exhausted. I can’t wait to be on the recovery side of surgery.
Saw my general physician this week due to some sinus drainage, just wanting to make sure there was nothing more serious happening. He inquired about my valve surgery, then asked why I didn't consider another hospital. I replied that I had but hadn't been able to connect all the dots over a four-month period. I have him permission to make a call on my behalf, and poof...I have an appointment the very next day...Wednesday, April 28.
What we found was a huge sign of relief, and a big answer to prayer! I don't use that term lightly, I mean serious prayer has gone up on my behalf. In addition to an aortic valve that needs replacing, I also have lymphoma that is in my bones. This was bothering me as I didn't want to have a full open-heart surgery procedure for fear of aggravating the lymphoma.
What I found was strong reasoning and proof that I was an excellent candidate for the mini-thoracotomy (sp?) procedure, where they only make a 3-inch incision on the right side of my sternum...and it is directly over my aortic valve. It's still a tedius procedure, and time consuming, but it means I won't have to have the full open-heart procedure.
I asked hard questions, and got good answers to every one of them. I left knowing I was making a better decision for me and my family.
With my scheduled May 11 surgery for aortic valve replacement, I find myself getting anxious. I think it's the fear of the unknown that is really bothering me. Fortunately for me, I don't have to worry about missing work as I teach college but don't have summer teaching duties and still get a paycheck. I have three months to recuperate before I have to go back to the classroom, both in-person and online.
I appreciate reading how many others here handled their pre-surgery anxiousness.