My daughter’s high school graduation. We made it! Tomorrow marks three months since my surgery. I am blessed beyond words. I’m going to press my luck and try to stick around for her college graduation 😉
One Month Check in
Journal posted on April 2, 2021
It’s hard to believe that a month has passed since my AVR. My recovery has proceeded without complication (knock wood). I’ve gained more strength and stamina each day. I’m back at work and am walking 3 hilly miles per day, even wearing a weighted backpack at times. And as an added bonus, I’m not constantly thinking about my condition for the first time since my diagnosis in December.
I have my follow up with my surgeon on Monday and am hoping to get clearance to weight train again. Ironically, my neighbor and longtime running buddy had a mild heart attack on Monday while running. Thank goodness that he is now doing well after receiving a couple of stents. One of the bonuses of this experience has been that I’m now in a unique position to be able to be a sounding board as he processes what has happened to him.
Overall, my rehab experience was disappointing. I was hoping that I would be able to elevate my exertion level to at least moderate intensity to see how my heart responds under monitored conditions. Instead I was relegated to walking on a treadmill at 2.5 mph for 20 minutes (holding the handrails- a requirement) and 15 minutes on a recombination bike. Also, the doctor who was there did not introduce himself and just listened to my heart/lungs and walked away, giving no feedback. I’m not sure how much I’m going to get out of this so I’ll complete the 3 sessions this week then reevaluate. Maybe subsequent sessions will be more useful. I’ll continue to increase the length of my walks in my neighborhood and wait until my follow up consult with my surgeon to see when it will be safe to start lifting weights again.
Each day sees an incremental change in my strength and stamina. I’ve slowly ramped up the walking from 1/4 mile, 1/2 mile, 3/4 mile, and today 1 mile in the morning and evening. Each walk has been progressively faster with a lower heart rate. I feel capable of more but I’m not going to rush this. Lots of laying around and Netflix. I helped my daughter pick out her HS graduation ring last night and found myself getting choked up. I am overwhelmed with gratitude at being alive and the time I have with my family.
It was an unexpected sight. Amid the bustle of early morning shift change near the entrance of UT Southwestern Medical Center, a lone rabbit stood twitching and trembling. We made eye contact briefly before he hopped away into the darkness, pausing briefly to glance back at me. I could sense what he was feeling...scared and out of place. But I also knew that today was the day and this was the place to finally bridge the chasm from anxiety to recovery. I took a deep breath and walked through the wide sliding glass doors and up to the admission desk. “I’m Mike Dotson and I’m here for surgery”.
I am now back at home on my 5th day since my AVR after being discharged Friday. We stayed overnight in a hotel and made the 4 hour drive back home on Saturday. Many of my memories are blurry but my most prominent ones center around the professionalism and compassion of the staff at UT Southwestern. Dr. Doolabh and his medical team, the world class nurses, med techs and all other members of the support staff were simply amazing. Every interaction conveys that you are at the right place.
And, of course, I am grateful beyond words for my wife’s loving support during this...what is the word...ordeal?...experience? With COVID restrictions limiting visitors at most hospitals, I was fortunate to be able to have her stay in my room both when I was in ICU and then on the telemetry unit. I don’t think I could have been as brave as she if the shoe were on the other foot.
The only hiccup for me was the excruciating pain that I felt for approximately 36 hours due to my chest drain tube. Unfortunately, the various pain medications that were tried had minimal effect or made me want to vomit. And believe me, I didn’t want to vomit. Anything more than a shallow breath felt like a knife was being jabbed deep into the area under my right shoulder blade. I have never experienced anything so intense. Since I know others about to take this journey may come across this, I want to make it clear that although discomfort from the chest tube is common, apparently there are a few people, depending on where the tube lies and what it is touching, who experience greater pain. Once the chest tube came out, I felt 1000% relief.
Now, finally my focus is on recovery, both physical and mental. After an okay nights sleep last night, I was able shower (gingerly), amble into the kitchen, and make myself a bowl of cereal. Small but significant steps. I can’t imagine going through this without the support, knowledge and wisdom of those on this board who have trod this path before. I hope I can be as helpful to others starting this journey as you have been to me.
As Adele said, Hello from the other side,
I too exhausted for a long post but I will write up my thoughts about the experience next week. I just wanted to let everyone know that I made it and if things go according to plan, I will be discharged either tomorrow or Saturday.
I just got back to our hotel room after a morning of tests, CAT scan, X-ray, labs, etc. The facility at UT Southwestern is beautiful. I felt a little better after meeting with Dr. Doolabh’s PA who patiently answered all the questions my wife and I had. I’m feeling a better than I did last night but I’m n’t going to lie...I’m nervous as heck. I’ve been told that my chances of making it through surgery and having a strong recovery are good. I know this cognitively but I just need for my emotional side to catch up to my logical/rational side.
We finally got our electricity turned back on after going 2 days without it. This has truly been an historic winter storm for these parts. We continue to be without water due to multiple mains busting throughout the town. Nothing like a winter storm to get one’s mind off upcoming heart surgery. It also makes one appreciate the basics of life that most of us take for granted.
I have yet to hear anything back from the nurse regarding a new day for surgery.
The winter storm that has descended has made travel impossible. I can barely get out of my front door. 8 degrees with snowdrifts several feet high all around. Dallas is supposed to get another round of it on Wednesday. This is to say that my surgery is unlikely to happen this week. I haven't slept well or been able to concentrate well since my diagnosis. I'm just ready to get the damn think over with, get on to recovery.
Wouldn’t you know it. On top of stress I’ve been going through leading up to my operation in 5 days we now have an aortic storm blowing in. This will make our journey to Dallas perilous, and I’ve had enough perilousness to last me for a long while. I changed our reservations to come in a day earlier (Sunday) to try to beat the worse of it but even then the forecast looks dicey. I’m still trying prepare mentally for the operation and what’s on the other side of it.
I had an emotional conversation with my wife earlier today to help her prepare for any outcome. I continue to be cheered and inspired by the stories everyone has shared. I’m worn down and ready to start recovering both physically and mentally. I just finished baking some some brownies at my daughter’s request and then saw the most beautiful bright red cardinal outside my dining room window. A nice diversion from all my ruminating.
After feeling great yesterday, I started having heart palpitations prior to bedtime. My heart rate also jumped up to 140 for a couple of minutes, then down to 120 for a couple more. It stabilized and dropped down to the low 70’s on the drive over to the ER and stayed there. All tests were WNL (other than what they already know about my previously diagnosed aortic stenosis). No afib. As if I needed something else to increase my anxiety leading up to my surgery!
I’t’s been an eventful 24 hours. Yesterday I had my consultation with Dr. Doolabh and my head is just now clearing from the sedation of this morning’s heart cath procedure. The good news is that they found not blockages so it is only the valve that needs to be replaced. I’m waiting for confirmation but my surgery should be in mid February. Dr. Doolabh rates my chances of living through the surgery (I asked) as 99%. He also said that there are fewer complications with the technique he uses and that I should be able to resume my presurgery lifestyle once I recover from. I sure hope this is true. I will likely be going with the On-X mechanical. I have some concerns about the clicking and Warfarin management but these are outweighed by the potential of deterioration and ultimate replacement of a tissue valve. I don’’t want to go through this again or put my family through it again. I have goals on the other side of this. I just need to get there.
I had my consult with the cardiologist today. Since I'm asymptomatic, she said that I should plan on having my valve replaced in a 6-12 month timeframe. She also said that I'm an excellent candidate and she rates my prognosis as excellent. I hope so. I'll wait to see what the surgeon says. She also noted my anxiety and said that there is no value in waiting. Although I am still terrified by going under (I wish I wasn't but I'm being honest) I don't think I can deal with having this hanging over my head for much longer. I'm scheduled for a consult with a surgeon (Dr. Doolabh) on Monday and then a heart cath on Tuesday. I think things are going to move pretty fast from there.
I’m still waiting for my appointment with the cardiologist next week. Hopefully that will give me a better idea as to my surgery timeframe. In the meantime, I’ve tried to channel my anxiety by reading, researching, and walking. Today, I came across information about a minimally invasive approach done by Dr. Doolabh at UT Southwestern in Plano, TX claiming shorter time on the heart-lung machine and significantly shorter post op recovery time. Anyone else have experience with this?
So many things spin through my mind when I contemplate what's to come. A little more than a week ago I was blissfully going about my business, unafraid to climb a ladder, exercise, do yard work, etc. Now, I find myself unintentionally hyper aware of every bodily signal and likely over-interpreting their meaning . I hate it. I fear this will get worse once I get a valve. For those who have been post op for a while...does that go away after the healing is done or is it just something that will have to be managed?