Heart Surgery and P.T.S.D.
A Mending Heart Takes Time
Why Oh Why Did I Have a CABG and Not Die?Click thumbnail to view full-size
I'm home Day 1
The Incision Line
I Was Lucky
In retrospect, I was in one of the best cardiac care hospitals on the West Coast. That said, I am truly grateful to Southern Oregon Cardiology, Dr. Patterson (Cardiologist), Dr. Folsom (Cardiac Surgeon M.D)., Dr. Robinson (P.C.P., MMD), Dr. Taher (Primary Physician), Dr. Wang (Eyes), Rogue Valley Medical Center (Hospital) and Staff, Rogue Valley Medical Center Cardiac Rehab and staff. Dr. Theen and Jeff Bentley (Endocrinologist), Dr. Worland for fixing my hands, and Cris my therapist at J.C.M.H..
My Daily Medications and Pill Box
An example of how this event effected my family.
"One day I was at my daughter's preschool to pick her up. Her teacher stopped me while I was at the school to tell me about about something she had said when she was asked what her mother liked to do. Of course my daughter told her teachers and class-mates that her mom made Birthday cupcakes and that she like to paint faces and watch T.V. cake shows.
They then asked what daddy liked to do to which she replied, "My daddy goes to the doctors, he always is at the doctors, he sleeps there.". A sinking feeling developed in the pit of my gut. My little girl's view of her father was of a very sick man."
It was something I had asked her teacher to look for. I was warned that my children may have had some trauma as well.
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A Life Changing Event
I never imagined that I would one day have heart issues, much less have to undergo a quadruple bypass at 35, but it happened. I am a father three kids; a fourteen year old stepson, a four year old girl, and a two year old girl. I had only been married for three years when it happened and I was totally unprepared for how changed my life would become and how it would effect my family.
The Day My LIfe Changed Forever:
I was sitting in a child's examination room at my daughters doctors office. She'd had a rash and I was getting it checked out. I had gotten two metal stints placed in my heart two months before in December of 2010. I'd quit smoking and thought I was doing pretty good. But that morning I felt labored in my breathing, A heaviness was in my chest and I would experience pain in my chest which was alleviated only by taking a nitro pill. But since the nitro seemed to help I thought I was fine. But after a little while it would begin to hurt again.
My daughters doctor examined her and explained that I could use vaseline on her rash to help clear it up. He then looked at me and asked if I was okay. I explained what was happening and he told me to go to the hospital. I called my wife and explained I was coming home to drop off my daughter and go to the emergency room.
When I got home I decided I'd try to wait it out. But that didn't happen, my wife soon convinced me to go to the hospital. Once there they took me straight back to do an angiogram or cardiac scope. They discovered that my stints had failed and that my heart was struggling to pump my blood. I was essentially having a heart attack. I had very little time to grasp what was happening since they decided to go in right away. I was told they needed to do open heart surgery, but I really didn't grasp what was being told to me. I think my mind just couldn't wrap around the fact that they were going to open me up.
2 Months Earlier
When I had my stints put in just two months prior my angiogram entry wound began to bleed inside my thigh. I had turned over in my sleep and caused the sand bag on my leg to slip off and relieve the pressure just enough to have it bleed internally. I felt a great amount of pressure and pain at the area of the wound.
I called out to a passing nurse who stopped and asked me what I needed. I then told her I thought something was wrong because of the pain in my thigh. She shook her head and responded that I was fine and just a little sore. I then pulled back the blanket and my robe and told her to please look and just make sure. Suddenly she was frantic and calling to the desk. Two more nurses came in, then a doctor. The nurse that had found me was pressing down on the wound, then the other nurse a male pressed down and it hurt like I was being crushed.
I shook and tears flowed down my face as I reached out for someone to help me. A bearded guy took my hand. He told me to look in his eyes. I asked him if I was going to die. He shook his head, "No, they are helping you, just stay calm." They then clamped my thigh with a padded hand vice, I wince even now thinking back on it. I squeezed his hand and told him to call my wife, I remember shaking and feeling like I was getting weak. I now think that I was in shock. They then wheeled me to another room where I was injected with a special liquid to solidify and thicken my blood. I could have bleed to death internally and I am telling you, it is a painful way to go. It took a month for the blood to be absorbed into my body which marked me in purple bruising from my leg all the way up to my chest.
Facing Death Again
I was so scared that I was going to die that night, I felt my mortality and it hit me like ice. So now I was face to face with it again. My wife was there in tears I had never seen her more scared in my life. My mother and father then came. They all were in tears, The feelings made my blood run cold. The nurse came in and told me they were going to take me in for surgery. They had my mother, and father leave the room, my wife stayed with me who's hand held mine.
My aunt and uncle then came in, but they were almost to late as they wheeled me off to the operating room. My wife leaned in to kiss me goodbye. And that was it; I was being wheeled down the hall. My wife in tears, called out to me, "LOVE YOU BABE!" I was so scared I just closed my eyes. I was a ship in a tormented sea of fear, confusion, overwhelmed by everything going on. That is the last thing i remember. Being filled with fear and then darkness.
I woke up to the feeling of something being pulled out of my throat. It was like the scene from the Matrix where a long air tube was being pulled out with the sounds of rushing air and gargled throaty sounds. I was covered in a green tent that was over my chest and head. I was scared, it was like a nightmare. I hurt all over, I was so out of it though because of the amount of pain medications they had me on that I didn't realize what was going on around me or even where I was. I kept slipping in and out of consciousness.
I have very vague memories of those first hours of waking up. My wife holding my hand telling me she loves me. My mother and brother in the room asking me questions. I remember feeling like I was being shaken and tossed all around. But it was all so confusing and jumbled I don't think I'll ever know what happened in that span of time. But after a day the fog began to lift. I later discovered my wife told the doctors to lighten up on the amount of drugs they had me on because I was not able to communicate the fact myself.
It was so hard to breath. My lungs burned with every labored breath. I felt like I was going to die. Later my surgeon came into the room and explained what was happening to me. He told me I had pneumonia and that my kidneys had begun to shut down. He explained that I was suffering from something called failure to thrive syndrome. He told me that I was going to die if I didn't get up and try to walk and cough up the fluid in my lungs. That I had a choice to die in that ECU or walk out of that hospital under my own power. I remember how defeated I felt. I was tired, I was in pain, It hurt to breath, it hurt to move at all and i was weak. But I had to make a choice, was I going to die in that room or get up and walk out of there?
Within an hour I was asking the nurse to help me sit up, I wanted to sit in a chair, then I walked with a walker into the hall. I had never felt so weak in my life but I needed to try. I asked for a towel so that I could try to cough up the fluid that was in my lungs. Each cough was extremely painful but I wanted it out of my lungs. I was determined to leave the hospital.
The next day i walked around the ECU. Soon the nurses were taking out my catheter (ouch) and helping me to stay in a chair and out of the bed. That next morning I was taken to a regular room. The next day I was able to try and eat. Soon I was walking down the halls. It was so hard to do anything, My days were filled with pain but i did it.
The Day of My Release!
That morning my wife picked me up and I got into the car with her was one of the greatest days of my life. The feeling of being alive filled me with joy and happiness, but I was far from being okay. I soon found myself in a battle to recover, but I had gotten through the worst part of the experience and was alive to tell about it.
Recovery and Discovery:
It was the most traumatic event I ever experienced. I had my ordinary life taken from me and replaced by months of painful recovery, doctor visits, physical rehab, medication changes, and major depression. I was stranded in my apartment unable to drive. It was a struggle to do the most simple things like take a shower or go to the bathroom. It was so frustrating to be at the mercy of everyone else. I wanted to get up and do what I used to do. I had never felt so feeble in my life.
Depression, Anger, Sadness, and Fear
In the end I know they saved my life. I would be dead right now if they hadn't gone in and done the surgery but there was a part of me that was angry that I had gone through what I had.I went through a couple months there of having very bad nightmares about it all. I felt like I had cheated death but that death was just around the corner. I felt I wasn't deserving of being alive because I had lost my will to live while in the hospital. This very strange concept was hard for me to wrap my head around. Why would I have thoughts like that? I should be be taking deep breaths each day and be happy that I am alive right? Well for some reason I felt sorry for myself. I felt that I didn't deserve the life I have. It is a terrible place to be mentally and emotionally. I had created an island of isolation within myself. I had separated myself from others. I guess it's similar to how soldiers feel when the come home from combat. You feel like others can't relate to you because of your experience, in a way its true.
I soon started Cardio Rehab. It was there that I was with people twice my age and up. There were no other 30 somethings at the meetings or in the work out room. They were old people, all closer to my Dad's age or my Grandmother's age. I still felt alone even in the company of other heart patients. On the wall were pictures of people that had recovered and graduated cardio rehab, all of them were older people. This reinforced my own feelings of isolation and anger about what had happened to me.
For a year I felt cheated out of my life. I had caused my own health issues but I felt that I was still to young to have to have gone through so much. To this day those feelings emerge almost a year and a half after it happened. I find myself looking at my chest in the mirror, wishing that reminder wasn't there. But I am happy I am alive. I still have time to make changes in my life. To enjoy the life I have. Even if my health complications from diabetes and my heart issues are still with me, I am alive. I still see my wife and kids each day and in that I take solace.
How it Effected My Family:
There are times though that I feel that uncanny valley, when a situation arises and I feel my mortality and my limitations hit me hard. My son is 14 and wants to go camping, fishing, shooting... he has our church and there are men there that are willing to take him under-wing but this reminds me of how much my life has changed. The why me question swirls around inside my head.
My children get scared when I have to go to the hospital now. I know there is a part of them that remembers when i was gone, how hurt I was, how dad changed. My wife has had to help me, she went from being my partner to practically being my nurse for months. It forever changed the dynamics of our life together. It created an atmosphere of uncertainty in our home, a feeling of uneasiness has hung over us since it happened. Much of that feeling is because of my own fears.
A Television Report About P.T.S.D. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Heart Surgery Patients:
So my wife and I recently watched ABC's Nightline and a report came on talking about heart patients and cases of P.T.S.D. or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder suffered by cardiac open heart surgery patients. Well as the report played on I watched and listened to the symptoms of this trauma related disorder. They talked about depression and mood swings, bouts of anger and aggression, feelings of impending doom, and loss of interest in things I had once found fun.
The Report Site: LINK
I broke down in tears as they talked about how heart patients often don't take their medications because they are a constant reminder of what happened so they neglect themselves back into having another heart issue. I realized that I wasn't alone when he said one out of eight patients will suffer from P.T.S.D..after open heart surgery. My wife got up, came over to me and held me saying, "I didn't know babe." It was then that I sobbed. and I knew that my road to emotional recovery had begun.
I am now seeking help through mental health and am seeking financial help through disability. My life has changed so dramatically and there are times I feel it will never feel normal again. I can only hope that as time goes on and I manage my health in a more responsible way that I will heal enough to feel like I've beaten back death.
I Can Only Hope
I can only hope that even with the diabetes, kidney issues, my popping chest, diabetic retinopathy, macular eye bleeds, peripheral neuropathy in my feet, my pancreas no longer functioning, severe sleep apnia, my painful trigger finger in my hands which causes them to lock up all the time, my L4 L5 herniated disc in my spine which causes me extreme pain, pins and needles, and numbness, along with the hairline fracture in my T11 spinal bone (which feels like a ice cold pinning or a constant itching), anxiety and depression a constant in my daily life that I at some point I will get through it all and things will get easier . .
The road to recovery is a long and hard one. Thanks for reading and if you've had a similar experience I'd love to hear from you in the comments or you can email me personally.