You are currently browsing the monthly archive for March 2012.

My posts that led me to this point can be found here and here. From here on out, my recollections are, well, more than a bit fuzzy, so my post is a series of vignettes.

  • 11:00 PM the night before my bypass. Two nurses arrive and inform me that a) they’re here to shave me from chin to just below groin, fore and aft as it were, and b) they are from another floor and have never shaved anyone before. That was a fun experience. We’ll leave it at that. They also informed me that I was to take two showers, one now and one at 3:00 AM, with some special soap. I got lots of rest that night.
  • Patti and my sister show up the morning of, around 6-ish, and I told them about my fun-filled night. At 6:30, I was moved to a gurney and we all set off down the halls. When we got to the waiting room, the nurse gave Patti some last minute info (which all turned out to be wrong) and we said goodbye. And then I had an enlightening moment. I looked into my wife’s eyes and saw that she had been crying and that she obviously had plans for more after they wheeled me away. Through this whole event I hadn’t been scared. I had been anxious and apprehensive over the process I was facing and the indignities I was to endure, but fear for my life was never an issue. It certainly was an issue for the woman I love and I’ll never forget the look on her face. And then I was whisked into the O.R.
  • At least this looked like a real O.R.. The nurses were bustling about but they were extremely kind and careful to set me at ease. They gave me warm blankets (it was VERY cold) and got me prepped. As I had come to expect, I hadn’t been shaved enough (down to the ankles!) but they said not to worry, they’ll do it when I went to sleep. Then the guy said he was putting me out, I said “bye-bye”, and out I went …
  • … only to wake up to pure hell. No, really, it sucked more than anything I had ever experienced and hope to experience again. I had a tube down my throat and couldn’t breathe. I’m sure I was in extreme pain, but I was focused on trying to breathe. Which I couldn’t. Now, my analytical brain was telling me that the tube was breathing for me, I knew that deep down, but my animal brain was firmly in charge and it wanted to BREATHE. NOW! I had a nurse next to my head and I can remember her constantly telling me to relax. Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen. I did calm down and accept the situation, somewhat, but it wasn’t easy. Patti was there, off and on, which was a tremendous reassurance. I was very, very hot and kept trying to wipe my brow, but the nurse thought I was going for the tube and kept knocking my hand away. Patti held my hand at one point and I tried to pull a Helen Keller and write the word “hot” on her palm but that didn’t work. I finally was able to fan my face and they got the message and wiped my head. It was heaven … a minor victory!
  • After what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only an hour, hour and a half, it was time to take the tube out. I had always heard on TV that that was very painful but I must have been pumped full of morphine because it came out easy. And it felt great but for one thing…I still couldn’t breathe! At least it seemed that way. Each breath was a major struggle and it felt like I was getting no air. I still had Nurse Cratchett standing over me telling me to relax. Patti and my sister were there too and over the course of the next hour or so my breathing got easier. And then the healing began.

Next time: Moving slowly, I get to go home and lessons I’ve learned

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Pre-surgery and still feeling good

Disclaimer: From this point forward, all of the events I describe actually happened. I just can’t guarantee that they happened in the chronological order that I describe. Things got a bit hazy.

Wednesday morning arrived and I started getting ready for the busy day. Patti showed up and we talked briefly with the guy in the bed next to me and his wife. Turns out he had had a catheterization several years earlier and he gave me some encouragement. He also mentioned that after the procedure I would need to remain flat on my back for 6 hours while the puncture wound in my groin healed. Oh joy, something to look forward to.

Pretty soon a nurse came in to shave me. While I realized this moment was coming and was pretty much resigned to the inevitable, I was less than encouraged when she informed me that she normally didn’t work this floor and that this was her first time shaving someone. Great. Even though she was a rookie, it went pretty quickly. She told me that she had done only as much as was needed. So far, so good.

Eventually I was collected from the room and rolled down the hall to the “Cath Lab.” A quick kiss to Patti and I was rolled on in and placed on the table. The Cath Lab was not what I envisioned. It was, well, industrial is probably the best way to put it. Equipment everywhere, kind of dark …just not what I expected. There were three female nurses and one male. They were very friendly and I immediately felt at ease. They got me arranged on the table with some warm blankets (it was chilly in there) and started to get set up. Then one of them started to prep my groin. She called the others over to look at the crappy shave job the earlier nurse had performed and they all stood around and looked at my groin and laughed. This was the high point of my day.

Eventually they were ready and the doctor came in. We discussed what to expect and then they gave me a shot to make me happy and got to work. I don’t remember too much of the actual procedure but it wasn’t painful or uncomfortable at all. At the end, they wheeled the huge monitors so I could see them and showed me what they had found. And it wasn’t good. Severe blockage in several locations, including a 90% blockage in the left ventricle (which pumps 70% of the blood through the heart) and two other significant blockages. All of which meant no stents for me. I needed a triple bypass. Not good.

They wheeled me to the recovery area, picking up Patti on the way. There I was informed that they weren’t going to close the wound in my groin until the bypass surgeon, who is different than the cath surgeon, gave his OK. The great nurses in recovery made me as comfortable as possible (under the circumstances), but being unable to move was no fun. They finally (4 hours later) got the OK to close my wound. Sewn up, I was wheeled back to my room. I was still facing 6 hours of no movement. Crap.

My roommate and his wife was still there, although he was being sent home that night. When they heard I was facing a triple bypass they were sympathetic and offered to join me in prayer. I thanked them, told them I appreciated it, but I was a Buddhist and would not be joining them.

I spent a VERY long day flat on my back. Patti was with me much of the time but she was in and out, particularly when I dozed. Late in the day, my neighbors were visited by a prayer group. I was dozing, but I heard them quietly talking, including “mumble mumble Buddhist mumble.” Shortly after that I was startled awake by one of them coming over to talk to me – offering once again to pray for me. I again politely declined the offer and closed my eyes. They went into the hall where I believe they did their thing for me. While I’m sure they had the best of intentions, waking a recovering patient seems an odd way to go about it.

At 10:00 that night I was finally allowed to get up. It felt great! I spent 45 minutes just standing around — me & my pole of meds and monitors. My bypass was scheduled for 6:30 sharp the next morning and while I wasn’t scared, I was a bit nervous about the whole process. Which began at 11:00 PM.

Next: I’m shaved from stem to stern, my chest is cracked and I spend a horrible couple of hours unable to breath.

posted by Patti

Tuesday, February 21, not quite 1:30 in the afternoon, I’m sitting at my desk in my cubicle in front of the computer screen, as usual. My cell phone rings. It’s John.

Me: Hello

JP: Now, don’t freak out …

Me: (!!!!!)

JP: … but I’m at the OHF [occupational health facility] and they want to take me to the hospital.

Me: What?!?!?!?!?

JP: I’m sure it’s heartburn but they want me to get it checked out.

There’s more to that conversation but that’s mostly what I remember. John told me not to come home right away, and against all my instincts I did not. I told him to call me when he got to the ER. Then I tried to work while convincing myself it was heartburn.

About an hour later, he called from the ER. He told me that they gave him nitro and the chest pain went away. Uh-huh. Not heartburn, then, eh? They planned to keep him overnight to run the blood tests to confirm a heart attack. After sending an email to John’s buddy at his job to let him know what was going on, I finally left work. My commute is about 75 minutes. That was the longest drive ever.

After stopping at home to grab a couple of things John requested, I found him in the ER still insisting it was heartburn but we both knew better. We figured he might have to stay on Wednesday to get a catheterization and a stent. Home by Thursday or Friday. Yeah. Right.

By Patrick J. Lynch, medical illustrator [CC-BY-2.5 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, February 21st, was a normal workday for me. It was the first day back from a 4-day weekend that didn’t quite go as planned. Friday morning I had been setting up camp for the long weekend when I dropped a picnic table on my big toe, turning it various colors that are not good for toes to be. Other factors conspired against us that weekend so we returned home early and took it easy. I had had a mild case of heartburn for several days, unusual for me, but the big thing on my mind that Tuesday was my throbbing toe.

My heartburn kept getting worse, though, and after lunch I googled the differences between heartburn and heart attacks, just to be safe. I was pretty sure I wasn’t having a heart attack since the pain was central to my chest (not radiating into my arms), and I felt it in my throat and glands, which led me to think acid reflux. There were two symptoms that I had — sweating and light-headedness — that were heart attack indicators and it was getting kind of painful so I hopped in my truck and drove over to the Occupational Health Facility (OHF) to have them check me out. I walked in and told the lady behind the counter that I was having chest pains. I have had pretty much zero control over my life since that moment.

About 15 years ago, I had done the exact same thing. At that time I had never had heartburn before and Google wasn’t around yet so I didn’t know what to expect. They hooked up an EKG, took a look and declared me okay. They sent me home and told me to get checked out by a cardiologist. I did so. The verdict was heartburn. I expected no different this time. I was wrong.

They took the EKG, which looked okay. But they told me that they were shipping me off to the hospital in an ambulance just to be sure. I kept insisting it was probably nothing more than heartburn. They said maybe but they weren’t screwing around. I called Patti and told her what was up and not to worry. (HA!) Off I went in the back of an ambulance for the first time ever — strike that one off my bullet list. The EMT and I chatted the whole time and he told me I looked good, all the signs were fine, not to worry. And I wasn’t worried (even when we were followed the last several miles by a hearse). I was feeling fine by this time and was convinced that they’d check my blood, no markers would be present and I’d be sent home.

The ER was nuts, like all ERs the world over. They wheeled me in, moved me to a bed and I said bye to the KSC EMTs. And it began. I was poked and prodded, blood was drawn, students came to take their shot at me. At one point they gave me some nitro under my tongue, which seemed to help (a mild pain had returned by then). That was when I knew that I might be in trouble, since I had been told that nitro only works on heart attacks. Crap. I remained fully in denial.

I was in the ER for many hours. They kept drawing blood to watch the markers, which were indeed trending up. I had already been told that I would be spending the night and by that time Patti was there as well as my good friend Oscar. Oscar had told his daughter Michelle, who just happened to be in town and who just happens to be a cardiac nurse, what was happening and she came over too. The moral support was much needed.

Finally, they came in and told me the news that by now had become inevitable: Wednesday they were going to run a tube from my groin up into my heart, take a tour and, if necessary, put in a stent or two. No sweat. By 10:00 that night I was settled into a room enjoying all the comforts the hospital had to offer. The next day was going to be an interesting day.

Coming up next: Women laugh at me, I see my heart in action and I spend the day on my back.