Heart Disease and Heart Bypass Surgery Recovery
In the Beginning There Was Heart Pain, Back Pain and Really Bad Indigestion
On February 18th, 2009, I had heart bypass surgery. Today on June 22, 2009, my surgeon gave me a clean bill of health and jokingly told me he hoped he never saw me again. This formally concluded the most painful, difficult, scariest, emotional and learning experience I have ever been through in my life. The pain, emotions and difficulties I was able to go through and overcome surprised me. It brought out an inner strength and deep faith in God that I never dreamed I had. It also made me appreciate life and my family more than I thought I did already. I just thoughtI loved them until the day of the surgery, and they wheeled me past all of them in the hall, just minutes after signing the paperwork saying that basically, I knew I could die during the three hour surgery. The look in their eyes was like nothing I had ever seen before. It was definitely a pivotal moment in all of our lives. Heart disease runs in our family really strong, I had smoked for over thirty years, and was about thirty pounds overweight. I didn't watch what I ate, am a recovering alcoholic (sober since 2000, thank you very much) and sat on my butt all day and watched television. Anyway, I certainly hadn't done myself any favors. I already had one stent in my lower left front vessel, and now it and the whole vessel were clogged 98%. I had quit taking my cholesterol medication and blood thinner a couple of years before. My blood pressure medication was not working properly, and when I went to the emergency room, the bottom number of my blood pressure was 200. They were amazed I hadn't stroked out or had a heart attack with numbers like that. Someone was looking out for me most assuredly, in my opinion!. Anyway, back to the day of the surgery.
This had all started from a nuclear stress test I had had a few months before, My cardiologist, Dr Lon Walder, found the clot, but couldn't tell how bad it was without an angiogram or heart cath which is just two different names for the same thing. They go in through the femoral artery in your right groin area and run a wire with a scope attaced to it into your heart so they can see for certain any clots or how bad they are.
I asked my cardiologist when he first found the second clot how long I had before some type of action had to be taken, and he said it depended on how well I took care of myself, I needed to stop smoking, and get back on cholesterol meds and blood thinners. Well, it was already too late. A few months later, I went to the emergency room with very bad chest pains, and then was when I found out WOMEN CAN EXPERIENCE HEART PAIN BETWEEN THEIR SHOULDERS IN THEIR BACKS!!!All this time and I had never been told this... I had been having awful pain there, and just thought it was tension or poor posture. Nitroglycerin was doing no good, so to stabilize me, they started shooting me up with morphine because one of the side effects of that drug is it opens up your veins, and that would help for a few minutes, then the BP would start going back up again. So I was scheduled for an angiogram the next day. I just figured I would just get another stent and that would be that. Boy was I in for a surprise! Well, while in the "cath lab" everone suddenly stopped working on me, and went off to the corner to huddle up and mumble between themselves. You are awake during a heart cath and can watch what they are doing on a tv screen if you wish. I always do, because it fascinates me. But now I was beginning to get REALLY worried. After about 10 minutes, the doctor comes over and tells me, "We aren't going to be able to fix you with a stent this time. You are going to have to have a heart bypass surgery". Then he had me turn my head slightly so I could see the screen and he showed the the vessel, the old stent and how all of it was clogged by about 98%. I never hesitated. I said, "Ok, well then let's rock and roll. The sooner the better". Next day around 3:00PM I was in surgery. Back to the emotional stuff-
In the hall was my family I had to be wheeled past on the way to surgery. My father, age 73 and with a pacemaker and diabetes, both horribly worried and feeling guilty because I had inherited his heart disease. My older sister, with one stent of her own in the same vessel I was clogged 98 percent in, that was being bypassed, both convinced she would never see me alive again and scared for herself and her own future. The look in my two sons eyes, ages 23 and 28, unlike anything I had ever seen, scared of losing a mother they were convinced would live forever. And last but certainly not least, my poor husband, tears streaming down his face, me trying to comfort him when I was scared out of my mind. Unless you have been in such a situation, you simply cannot understand the mix of emotions you go through both before and after the surgery. Before I had left my room, I made the surgeon wait until my stepmother got there, because I wanted her to pray for me. If you believe in God, which my family all does, that woman can practically pray the dead back to life. Anytime I have been in the hospital, I always want her to come pray for me. She is amazing. Then my oldest son, an ordained Baptist minister, led another prayer (he is another great prayer person), while we all held hands in a circle around my bed. Tears were flowing freely, and we all said our "see ya in a few hours", unwilling to even approach the word "goodbye"-too final...
I hugged and kissed everyone and told them I loved them, and remember now how those words seemed so inadequate at the time. When it came to my father, I couldn't even speak. I just stroked his cheek and locked eyes with him and smiled. He knew what was in my heart, without a doubt.My husband was just falling apart with emotion, no family of his own there to lean on, only mine, who all love him, but I know it just isn't the same. He needed his parents that day probably more than he ever had in his life, but they live in Florida and we live in Texas and they just couldn't make it there for various reasons. He was kind of on his own in a way, and I really felt bad for him. I was really more concerned for my family than I was for myself. I couldn't hug my sons tight enough. My only sibling, my sister, was a wreck. I thought she was just going to pass out right there. Then way before I was ready, the nurses came and took me away, and I was all on my own, with all these strangers fussing over me, and starting to approach me with very large needles, and then the anestheseologist said those wonderful words-"I will be your bartender for the afternoon", and just totally broke the tension, and I relaxed. I told him GREAT, and "Make mine a double, straight, no ice" and pretty soon I was outta there, haha!
I woke up in the most unimaginable pain I had personally ever experienced. One by one, my family was let back in to see me for a couple of minutes, but I was basically kinda in shock, teeth chattering, me moaning and groaning, but I do remember seeing them and saying, "I made it through!" and "My chest hurts like hell" and telling each one of them that I loved them so much. The next couple of days were kind of a blur because of the drugs, but the pain never quite went away. They had attached a pain pump of some type to my chest that kept the incision itself pretty numb and I am sure that helped a great deal, but you have to remember they had cut through the chest bone and now it was wired back together. Your ribs hurt because of the position they put your body in during the surgery, and all of your chest muscles have been cut and just raising your arm hurts at first, even with all of the morphine they will give you. You sleep a lot during the first 2-3 days, but right off the bat, here come the respiratory therapists and you have to start doing all these breathing treatments to keep you from getting pnuemonia. They gave me a bright red, heart shaped pillow after the surgery, so that when I needed to cough, I could hug the pillow to support my chest and help it to not hurt so bad. I had two of the coolest male nurses, that I harrassed to no end as time went on, and they both signed my pillow before I left, basically telling me to never come back, ha ha!!! They were Jason and Jaimie and they were just awesome. I can't say enough good about them and the care they provided. Just awesome at their jobs.
They finally nagged at me long enough to get up the nerve to get out of bed and start walking the halls with my walker, dragging all my various attachments with me, lol! I was actually stronger than I realized and only needed the walker for about a week after I got home.At first, at the hospital, I wanted to be a whiner, and just stay in the bed and not get up. But Jason figured out how to get inside my head and get me motivated. I am 48, and he told me, "There is this man down the hall that had HIS surgery two days after yours, and HE is already up and walking the halls. HE is in his 80's". I was like, "Oh no, he didn't just go there" and I immediately got my butt out of bed and took off down the hall just to prove I could! I didn't figure out until later Jason had just told me that to motivate me, but in all honesty, the faster you get moving, the faster your recovery will go. Anyway, it worked, and I am sure Jason got a good laugh out of it...He figured me out pretty quick, the turkey.
Then came the big day, time to go home. I was both thrilled and scared at the same time. Except for my husband, when he wasn't at work, and the therapists that would be coming, I was on my own. No one would be staying with me, and there would be a lot of time I would be completely alone for hours. I was still so sore, I couldn't get in and out of bed by myself, or wash my own hair, so my husband would shower with me, and wash me like a child and wash my hair for me, and help me change clothes. He was wonderful.... He works very long hours, but he would either cook or bring something home for dinner, and try to make sure I ate before he left for work, because his shifts change all the time, and he was exhausted from both the emotional toll my surgery had taken on him as well as working and seeing after me and trying to keep my spirits up. But he never let me down. Plus he was always having to pick up prescriptions for me, and listen to me cry with pain and frustration at not being able to do things that normally were so easy before the surgery. He would go to the grocery store, or whatever needed doing, like the laundry and vacuuming, all while working 60 hours a week and then coming home and helping me. He is a wonderful man and I couldn't have made it without him. He is my rock. If I neded to get out of the bed during the night to go to the bathroom, he would get up and help me out of bed, wait on me, and help me back into bed, then try to go back to sleep, when sometimes, he had to get up at 4AM.
The Real Healing Begins
I kept asking the nurses and therapists at home when the pain would start to get better. Everyone kept telling me that at about 6-8 weeks after the surgery, I would suddenly start to feel much better. I didn't believe it. To me, it seemed like it was going to last forever, and I was depressed and cried all the time , like a big baby, and finally, one day I woke up and realized that for the first time since coming home, I was lying on my side in the bed, and not flat on my back like every night before since the surgery!!! I was elated, to say the least. I called everyone in my family to announce my news and they all laughed and congratulated me on my HUGE achievement. It was all downhill sailing from that point on. I was getting stronger by the day, and less sore, although I overdid it at times, lifting things over the 10 lb. limit, and boy did I pay for it with muscle soreness when I did!
I had pulled something on the right side of my chest before I had ever left the hospital originally, and it still has more soreness than the left side, but nothing I can't handle with some Ultram (a non-narcotic prescription pain reliever) and Motrin, like my surgeon, Dr. Khalafi,prescribed for me after a few weeks of hydrocodone. By the way, if you are in the Dallas, Ft. Worth area in Texas, and need a heart bypass surgery, try your best to get Dr. Khalafi. He is wonderful. He does about 3 bypasses a day, 6 days a week, and has for years. I knew I was in good hands when he came in before my surgery, and as he was leaving, I said, "Well, you have my heart in your hands", and he replied, "Your heart will be in God's hands". If you are a spiritual person, like myself, this was the most comforting thing he could have said to me. I had absolute trust in him from that moment on. He is considered one of the best in the state, and supremely dedicated to saving lives. Plus, he seals all of his incisions with a liquid bandage, and just four months after the surgery, it is amazing how good the incision looks. Within a year it will hardly be noticeable. It is smooth and no wider than a pencil line already. Considering what it looked like at first, the improvement and healing process in just four months is amazing. I also use cocoa butter and Mederma on it daily now, but I just started that.
I can cook and do dishes now, without a dishwasher, do laundry, make up the bed, feed our animals, and am generally back to normal. Still a little sore, but my energy level is like when I was a teenager! I can run circles around my husband now and he is ten years younger than me, ha ha! Of course, it helps that I don't have to work outside the home, so I sleep until I want to get up which is around 10:30-11:00AM, but I am a night owl and don't go to sleep until about 2:00AM every morning. I have been back to showering and washing my hair myself for quite awhile now, and taken a lot of the stress off of my poor husband. He certainly needed it! I think he nearly went nuts from stress, exhaustion, and worrying about me, all while trying to work a lot of hours at a very stressful job, bless his heart. We had no one else to help us, and we had to get through it together, and it has really brought us closer together, as well as helping me to really appreciate him and his inate compassion and good heart, as well as proved to me how much he really loves me and how much I both love and respect him. He took the "in sickness and in health" part of our vows and proved his dedication in the most amazing way. I just hope no one in my family ever has to go through this surgery. I told them all that if anyone had to go through it, I was glad it was me instead of them, to save them the pain, and to please take my experience and learn fom it. One of my sons dipped snuff, and he quit cold turkey as a result of my surgery. Now if I could just get my sister to quit drinking, and my father to quit smoking I would feel even better. I can't say much, though, because I am smoking again, and cannot seem to quit. I am literally disgusted with myself about it. My husband smokes, and that makes it very hard for me. I can't blame him for my own weaknesses though. Ultimately it is my responsibility, and I certainly know the risks, and am a complete idiot for starting back again. I HAVE GOT TO QUIT SMOKING!!! I am thinking about the Chantax prescription drug, or trying the nicotine patches, but I have to get to the point where I am truly ready and dedicated to quitting. Until I get there, it won't do any good to try. I plan to write another hub about quitting smoking later. I hope I can announce that I have been successful, but we will see. I was able to just quit cold turkey both times I was pregnant, and kicked alcohol, and that was a piece of cake compared to trying to quit smoking. Nicotine is a really bad drug with absolutely no redeeming qualities. I wish the FDA would just ban the sale of tobacco products, and we would all HAVE to quit. But that is another hub for another day.
Hope you have enjoyed this,and if you are facing this surgery, don't let me scare you to death. I am not going to lie to you and say the surgery wasn't painful in the beginning and for about 6-8 weeks., but the end results are well worth it. Just please, if you smoke, don't start back after you get back home from the hospital! Do as I say, not as I did. Learn from my experience, and have faith and a positive attitude as much as you can. Even though it is hard, the end results are priceless and your attitude makes a lot of difference in how fast and easily you heal. I welcome any and all comments you have for me and look forward to reading more of your hubs out there! The majority of them are really interesting, educational and touching.