Wow I can't believe it's actually been 4 months since my surgery!
Thanks to all the prayers, Love and support from everyone, I can actually say that the surgery and recovery hasn't been anywhere near as bad as I had originally imagined. To be honest the most irritating thing was the couple months of lifting restrictions. (And no driving)
Everything's been going great and I'm nearly finished with my 12 weeks of Cardiac Rehab - Yea! I've gone from thinking about my surgery every second of every day to sometimes forgetting that I even had surgery. (I actually feel normal again.)
The only challenge I have right now is trying to get my INR (coumadin) levels evened out again since I've gone on off some of the meds.
Ok I guess that's enough for now. I'm not saying that everything has been smooth sailing every single day but overall it's been alot easier than I thought and worried so much about.
Wow 7 weeks flew by and the whole surgery experience is nothing that I imagined it to be. Now I'm driving again, in Cardio Rehab and getting set to return to work. I reflect back and realize all the stress and worrying was for nothing...
Back in April when I failed my treadmill stress test and after several echos I can still hear my cardiologist telling me "It's time to replace your Aortic valve." And I remember it feeling like I was just given a death sentence and a ton of bricks fell on me. I wasn't really having any symptoms like passing out or chest pains.
I know I was born with aorta stenosis but since I've been free of symptoms all my life, I could pretend that it wasn't happening to me. And I became accustomed to seeing the cardiologist throughout my life and him saying, "Everything's good see you next year." So it was shocking this time when everything wasn't good and there might not be a next year.
So I was scheduled for a heart cath in a couple weeks. While waiting the couple weeks my emotions were a rollercoaster. (I've read on these journals that some people experience depression after the surgery, well mine came before the surgery.) So I began doing research and came across this guy Adam Pick who had written a book about his experiences, then I found his website, read the book and it was like someone turned on the lights. I joined this website and discovered that I wasn't alone and found a wonderful support group and tons of answers to all the questions flying around in my head.
So I got my heart cath - results were much worse than originally thought - aorta valve critically calcified and the artery was bulging or ballooning. My surgery couldn't wait until it was convenient so my date was set - May 27, just a few weeks away!
I knew that there was no way that I wanted to go through this experience again and again throughout my life and who knows how my health will be in 10 - 15 years so I chose the mechanical valve. (And the horrors of Coumadin where if you stub your pinky toe you'll bleed to death!!)
In my mind I thought ok I'll have the surgery, be laid up for weeks and hardly be able to move and I'll be in extreme pain...Or on the other side of the coin, I'll have the surgery and not wake up.
And so I began to get ready for the surgery: I got a Lazy Boy type lift chair which is great. (some types are really bad so you have to shop around) I got some books and magazines, I purchased the Incision shield, which is great for keeping the seatbelt off your chest. We stocked up on food and snacks. I brought my computer up from the basement. Got some PJ's and loose fitting shirts, I even got a cane but never used it.
I was happy that all of my immediate family was able to come for the surgery.
I was still pretty nervous and worried and it got to the point that I prayed that the Lord would help me and take this burden and help me to be calm. I was reminded of the poem about Footprints in the sand, for me this was one of those times that I only saw one set of footprints.
And so the day of the surgery came and I was surprisingly calm, I wasn't nervous or scared. I met all the staff that would be working on me, said my goodbyes to my family and got wheeled into the operating room - 7:30am. I remember the perfusionist telling me that in the few minutes while coming off the heart lung machine it's possible that I might regain some consciousness and hear them talking. (I didn't really need to know that and luckily it didn't happen) After a bit of prep I was put under and the next thing I remember was slowly coming to and being VERY groggy and realizing that I was intubated and it wasn't a pleasant experience - 1pm. My mouth was REALLY DRY and it didn't seem like much air was coming in from the tube! It seemed like I could only keep my eyes open for a few seconds at a time as they allowed my family to begin coming in to see me a couple at a time. (I don't remember much during this time) Then at about 6:30pm I was extubated (YEA) and could have ice chips!!!! Then in about an hour or two I was sitting in the chair eating/sipping broth and drinking diet Sprite - simply amazing, a miracle to me. One of the 1st things I noticed was that someone turned up my heartbeat to max. I could hear my heart beating so loud and that now familiar tick, mostly in my left ear. In fact it was so loud that I tried to listen to my music with my headphones at night but couldn't because my heartbeat drowned out the music or was on a different beat than the song. The other thing that I found Very Odd was that I wasn't in any pain and I wasn't on any pain meds - except tylenol for a headache.
I was given a couple of "gifts" by the nursing staff. A spirometer (with marks from 500 to 5,000) - the Voldyne 5000 which thanks to Adam I already knew all about and was ready to make that thing go all the way to the top - or so I thought, I could barely make it go to the first mark of 500. But each day I did better and better. It took several weeks but my lungs came back to normal. My other gift was thank goodness not a pillow or teddy bear but a "Hearthugger". (I called it my bra.) It fits on just like a bra and has 2 handles on front that you squeeze together to keep your chest together when you cough, sneeze, get up, etc.
The next day I was able to get up and walk around the hallways - a little at a time. I knew from reading Adam's book and speaking with nurses that to begin the recovery process it's critical to get out of bed as soon as you can. And so every chance I got I'd go for a walk or sit in the chair.
The next day I had a set back - I went into A fib - my heart wasn't keeping the beat right - which turns out is pretty common after this surgery. So I was back in bed all day and was started on Amiodarone to regulate my heart beat. It worked like a charm and that night I was up again walking around.
One quick thing about hospitals - there is no such thing as rest/sleep or a peaceful stay. I couldn't believe all the noise and disturbances 24 hours a day! From the beeping and alarms of the monitors, (mine and the other patients) to the blood pressure cuff going off every few minutes it seemed, to nurses coming in every half hour, 2am Chest Xrays, random noises in the hallway. I think I only got about 2 or 3 hours of sleep at night. On my 3rd night about midnight right when I dozed off some nurses came in and said "How'd you like to go to a new room?" I said "Right now??"
It seems an emergent patient was coming in and I didn't need to be in this critical care room anymore and so I moved down the hall.
And so on the morning of my 6th day I was discharged from the hospital. It felt so good to be rid of my IV. I dressed in the same clothes I came in with jeans, button up shirt and sneakers (and my new bra). It was sooooo good to go home and get out of the hospital. For the first couple of nights I slept in my recliner - not because I couldn't get out of bed but mainly due to my lung congestion. I guess I was lucky and was able to get around pretty good and in and out of bed although it was slow.
And soooo to make a long story longer ha ha. I had to go twice a week to get my blood levels checked for my INR coumadin effectiveness. Then it was once a week then once every 2 weeks then it was going to be once a month but they took me off of the Amiodarone and I'm back to once a week as going off meds will affect my INR level. So far I haven't seen the horrors of coumadin, I've bumped/cut/scraped myself and hardly bled at all in fact I don't see any difference now than pre coumadin. I suppose if I played Hockey or Football regularly it would be an issue but those days are behind me.
To anyone out there beginning this process I'd say relax, don't worry, don't get stressed out, just begin studying and doing research to get prepared.
And being a Christian I firmly believe that it was due to the prayers of all my loved ones and friends that helped me to recover and not feel pain. And I'm lucky that I had my family with me every step of the way. I know I still have a long way to go, but I'm happy and feeling great and comforted that the Lord is there and ready to pick me back up if I fall.
Last week I had my first ambulance ride - not something I wanted. Went out to eat and after being seated very quickly became woozy and nearly passed out. It lasted a few seconds and then I came out of it. I went to the ER and they ran tests and everything came back OK.
Maybe I was a little dehydrated? or I overdid it? not sure but I've been fine since. : )
I made it Home - yea!! Surgery went great! I'm already feeling great - only 6 days after surgery. I'm very aware that I'm only taking baby steps right now, but I'll take baby steps over the alternative any day.
1st - THANK YOU and ALL Praise and Glory to Heavenly Father I am sooo humbled and blessed to be a part of your miracle.
2nd - to my wonderful wife Lisa thanks for being strong and holding my hand, I Love You!!
3rd - my family and relatives, mom, dad, brothers & sisters, I can't thank you all enough for coming and stopping your lives to help lift me up. I couldn't have done this without your support - I love you! Thanks for all the prayers, phone calls, and pictures it means more than you'll know.
Finally Dr Brett Williams, all his team, hospital staff and the excetional nursing staff, even though you may never see this, you were all great and I thank you and owe you all my life.
Since my last entry I've had a chance to talk with others who've had open heart surgery and had family members go through this and it's gone a LONG way to put my mind at ease. I'm actually getting to the point where I can't wait to just get on with it. And I'm getting excited to see my family!!
I guess I can't pretend this isn't happening to me anymore. My surgeon's office called today and gave me the news. I feel like I've been hit with a ton of bricks - stress meter maxed out!! Actually hearing the date just freaked me out. But no more whining after today, I need to get positive and get ready to recover!!
During my angiogram they found a bulging artery/vein that will need to be repaired when my valve is replaced. Originally my Dr estimated I'd have about 6 months to a year to get the surgery, now he says more like 1 or 2 months. I'll meet with my surgeon next Thursday . . .
My Angiogram (heart cath) is complete! I made it through all the needles ok - whew. They went in through my groin and ran a wire into my heart and injected dye and I could see everything on a computer screen - kinda neat. I only felt the dye once as a very warm sensation. When it was done they closed my artery with a staple type thing - star closure - ouch! Then a nurse held pressure for a while. Then I had to shimmy off the table onto the gurney without lifting my head so they could wheel me back to my room. Then another shimmy - no lifting my head - to go back into my bed - for 4 hours. Laying still wasn't so bad but I did start getting antsy towards the end. I did get up too quick at the end and got a little woozy and had to lay back down and have crackers and juice - since I hadn't eaten in about 20 hours. But I was able to get up and walk around just fine - except for a migraine and a limp. Then we went home and I had some pizza and then I slept.
My Heart Catherization is scheduled for this coming Thursday, April 29, 2010 at Benefis hospital. I have to be there at 7 and I should go in about 9am and it should last about an hour and then I have to lay still in bed until about suppertime to allow my artery to close up. They go in through the artery in your groin area and send a camera up into your heart to check things out.