Recovery is a long, long road. It seems like everyone agrees, but I have a few accomplishments that I want to share. On the first day of Cardiac Rehab, there was a man moving fast on the elliptical. I thought to myself, "one day, that will be me." So they put me on a bike so that my sternum could heal more. Within the next weeks, I walked the thread mill. But today..... I ran the elliptical for 20 minutes. I also regularly lift 5 pound weights in each hand. I know that does not sound like a lot, but it is good for me. I also work my core and alternate legs and arms. Small but steady successes. My sister visited the Northwest for the first time and I really needed her visit. We went across the bridge of Gods to Mount Hood, up to Timberline, down to Hood River and over to Multnomah Falls. No snowboarding yet, not much hiking, but I kept up. Although I was tired this week, I truly enjoyed every moment. Her visit reminded me of why we moved to Washington and how much I miss snowboarding. It's a goal that I have now. I will be back on the slopes before I know it. The clicking is still really annoying but the pain is manageable now finally. I miss my friends at school but I will be back before they know it:)
5 weeks out from surgery. I have started cardiac rehab and all I can say is Holy Moly, Batman. Activities and exercises that I have been able to do all of my life for long periods of time, really really push me. I just can't do them today. Before surgery, I think most people would agree that I was a fast walker. And I loved to walk. Nope, not anymore. I lasted 15 minutes and it was slow. Then the bike, I lasted 7 minutes. Are you kidding me? That is nothing compared to how I felt afterwards. I felt like another bus ran over me. Also, the wires under the incision seem to poke out randomly and man, they hurt. I go to cardiac rehab twice a week and the second day this week I did last a little longer. 30 minutes, bike only. I admit it is frustrating but everyone seems to say that it is always frustrating in the beginning. There was a gentleman there today who was running. He was really running and said he looked similar to me when he got there. And today he was running. I am making that my goal in the weeks to come. I guess I will go back next week.
I would describe myself as an optimist. My mom always said that "if i did not have anything nice to say, then do not say anything at all." So, last week I kept my mouth shut. Everything bothered me. My back, the clicking, the pain from the wires, my appetite, my lack of sleep, my energy, etc. Then Sunday, I delayed my Tylenol (not on purpose) and that put me in more pain. I say all of that because on Monday, I went for post op appointment one month out and was reassured that I should have all of the feelings that I do. It's normal that I am hot one minute and cold another. It's normal that I cry easily. That I doubt myself. It's normal that the clicking keeps me up up at night and I could take a little melatonin . It's normal for my tastes to change. It's okay if I still can not wear a bra. It will be another 4 weeks before my sternum quits cracking. And the nerve endings are trying to grow back and it REALLY hurts. Still, when I am ready, I could start trying a bra and start driving and I could keep the pillow between me and the seat belt. So, I felt reassured. Tuesday was the worst day yet because I could not pass my bowels. Anyone that knows me knows that I have extensive issues in that area. But I made it through. Then, Wednesday, I drove my family to the store. I wore the pillow to separate me from the seat belt. And I was very tired so Kevin drove home, but I did it. Then Thursday, I drove myself to the anticoagulation clinic. I texted Kevin before I left, I texted him when I got there and he followed me home. I did great. Speaking of them....... I am practicing patience with myself. My INR level is clearly not regulated. I usually run high. 3.9 was my last check but everyone states it will eventually level out. I start cardiac rehab on Monday and I hope that helps me build my stamina and confidence. I also meet with my new cardiologist and my PCP. Hopefully, I will have a lot to update you next week. Thanks for all of your words of encouragement. It really helps to bounce thoughts off of people that have been through this process.
Exactly 4 weeks ago, my life completely changed. 6 hours of surgery, 2 new mechanical valves, and one sore body. Some days are tougher than others. I find that if I am out and about getting things done, then I need a full day to recover. If I do not take a full day, then I have setbacks for days. Pacing myself is hard, but essential. I was not taking narcotics regularly, but I have taken a couple in the past week. Nights are the hardest. The pain is enhanced when I am trying to rest. My chest and back hurt the the most. Specifically, it hurts the most my where the wires were left. They poke out a little and are uncomfortable. The medical team say that is will eventually go away, but it is annoying right now. My mom is leaving tomorrow and I am nervous. She has really helped me and motivated me to listen to my body. I could not have imagined doing this without her. I guess we shall see how I manage.
Friday was a big day. I learned I had too low of !NR levels so I was required to self administer injections into my stomach. Yes, I did it. Scared, but I did it. I also met with the medical staff of the surgeon to discover that my scars are healing nicely. I only have taken one narcotic pain pill dose since Thursday. I can take a shower and wash my hair by myself. Fridayś adventures really drained me. It takes me a lot longer to recover from everything. I set up my first cardio rehab appointment for the beginning of February.
Let´s talk about about the clicking. The mechanical valves click. I actually like it when it clicks normal. It reminds me that I am alive. However, there are times when it is irregular. Fast click, then slow and jolts my entire body, Like my body switches. It makes it hard to sleep. It bothers me most at night and I am trying to determine what triggers it because it does not happen every night. I want to shout out to my mom. I could not have done this as smoothly without her. She really has helped me through this entire journey. I am so blessed to have her here with me.
Can not communicate everyday but I will be honest.
Journal posted on January 6, 2020
I am tired. I feel like I am going to say the same thing over and over again. Pain. When they tell you that it will feel like a truck ran over you, they are being kind. Yes, your heart and chest hurt. But my arms, my legs, my back, even my nose hairs hurt. This week is about documentation and getting appointments lined up. It is a process. Kevin, my husband, and my mom keep me sane explaining to each medical staff as to what are my needs. I have horrible pains and that makes me super irritable. Showers are becoming bearable. My kids went back to school today and I get depressed thinking about all of my students that I miss. I know that this is just a season in my life and it will pass but man, PASS already. I am so blessed to have a support system that listens to be cry and comforts me.
Coming home. So happy but such a long road to recovery.
Journal posted on January 4, 2020
Guess who got to go home today..... Me. It was so scary but so rewarding. It was frightful because now I have to remember how position myself and all of my limitations. Well, my body reminds me immediately and then I have to rest. I got to see my kids for the first time in the week and I was overjoyed. They hug me. I am restricted from hugging them. They have been busy helping my husband get the house in order for me and I am so proud of them and their maturity.
Things that I have learned today. I MUST use the spirometer. A spirometer is an apparatus for measuring the volume of air inspired and expired by the lungs. But honestly it really opens up my lungs. My back started hurting. I mean really hurting. Meds weren´t helping. I did not believe that blowing into it would work but it so worked. I could sell this product but it was given to me. As my body heals, I bet the challenges will be hard and frustrating but I am blessed to have a strong support system.
Post op Day 4. This is the real Heather. My husband,Kevin, with the help of my mom, has been updating you very accurately about my progress. He understood how important you all are to my recovery. But today, I am speaking to you. Like yesterday, pain is hard to control. I got the Prevena incision dressing RIPPED off and the sensitivity to the tape was a new pain. I use that word ¨ripped¨ because it was the most painful yet and there was the skin missing from my chest so the hot nice shower was unbearable. It needed to be done but man it hurt. Today adventures have been short walks, chair sitting. building my confidence in personal hygiene , and mastering putting on clothes. I can hear the clicking of the valves all of the time and it is not annoying. Again, I want to thank everyone for their prayers and support during this crazy time in my life. Maybe this weekend, I can go home.
Day 3 (Day 2 out of CICU): Towards the end of Day 2, I awoke in my new room, and out of the CICU. So far, this is about as bad as one can get. Through all the medical battles I have succeeded in my life, this is by far the most personal, physical, emotional and mentally challenging procedure I have ever faced. I wish this on no one. Today I began to walk slightly more (approx. 15 steps) and ate/drink more. Several intense surgery related concerns have plagued me all day. I am so grateful for the support each nurse has given me...I need it. I finally had the two chest drains removed today. Not fun, but better without them. Tomorrow I will begin PT! I know I need it, but I am not sure I am ready! Pain is still unmanageable without the medical support. I can´t even begin to list all the ways these great nurses are tending to me. I am and will continue to remain extremely grateful. Thanks to All for your efforts and prayers.
Day 2: Long night and great nurses dealing with my pain and discomfort. I am able to remain awake for a few minutes at a time. I have been able to stand twice today (and more tubes have been removed). Today, I hope to move out of ICU and slowly proceed with OT. Most time is spent sleeping and accepting pain medicine. I have tried to eat and succeeded in keeping the small amount down.
Day 1: surgery lasted approx. 4.5 hours. In ICU, the pain is intense and continuous monitoring. The breathing tube was removed at 7:30, once I could breath by myself. The remaining tubes (and there are many) were removed during the night. Additional pain medications are supplied as each new phase begins. Tomorrow I will attempt to stand and work with my PT and OT. Lots of new information, supplied with huge booklets supplying how to transition home are supplied. Thanks to my Husband and Mother collecting it all and standing beside me supporting. Thanks to all for keeping in up-to-date. Sorry, no visitors allowed. My husband will inform close friends when visits could happen at home!
All went well. Arteries are awesome. We are ready for surgery on Monday. I love the medical team. Learning more and more each day about the procedures. Like the the draining of the 3 tubes and the wires needed to be left in case of an emergency. How they will be monitoring my blood sugar levels every hour on the hour. I vowed to everyone that I would eat in a chair, walk 4 times a day and eat. Trying to prepare the kids for my limitations. After the procedure today, I lost my driving privileges :( Let the season begin so recovery can begin.
Such a busy time in the year. My students have projects to complete, my own children have gifts to prepare for their teachers, and I have to release my responsibilities 3 days before break. Man, that is hard. I had some really good discussions with students and teachers. over the last week. I am trying to be honest but show too much fear in my voice. It is scarier to know how long I will go before I come back to school. Over the last few weeks, my students and I have been making a positive message. Check it out in the photo.
I will say, my surgeon´s team really calms me. They immediately answer my questions and demonstrate an empathy that can not be faked. I appreciate everyone´s prayers and support.
In class today, Wayne, my student teacher, led the class. He previously assessed where the students were with a specific skill and brought in reinforcements to enhance their own abilities. My point, I did not lead my class. My mind is shifting to away from school. In fact, during that time, I had a conversation with the district about my leave, bought my mom a plane ticket on my phone to come here for surgery and submitted reimbursement for a bill. I can not seem to let go of my tasks. I hate thinking about my limitations after surgery.
My heart is telling to handling me or it will handle me. Because of my lack to attention to my stress levels, I will be undergoing a dual mechanical valve replacement for my aortic and mitral valves. Wow.