I never thought I would be writing this title for a blog post, but here it is. It’s been almost six weeks since this happened, but I wanted to blog about my double bypass heart surgery experience. I’m 42 years old and this was a complete shock. In some ways I still can’t believe I actually had to go through this.
I started experiencing symptoms of heart trouble in the late summer of last year. We had recently moved into our home, which has two stories, and I noticed one day that going up the stairs was getting to be very tiring. On one occasion, I went upstairs and experienced a terrible, dull pain down my left arm and jaw. I actually had to lay down in my bed for almost 45 minutes before the pain subsided. It scared me, but at 42 years old, I never imagined it could be my heart. Oh, how naive I was.
In September I had a few days in a row where it just felt like my heart was skipping beats constantly and that chest and jaw pain was still bothering me. I finally left work early one day and went to the doctor. An EKG was done and it was determined that I had a bundle branch block, but he scheduled me for an echocardiogram just to be on the safe side. A week or so later I did the echo and met with a cardiologist. He wanted to do a nuclear stress test to investigate further. At this point, I was feeling a little better and felt like all of this testing was becoming very unnecessary, not to mention very expensive. I had the stress test done and the day before Thanksgiving the cardiologist called to tell me I failed my stress test and I needed to have a heart catheterization done.
I was terrified about having the heart catheterization done, but the experience itself was a piece of cake. I experienced zero pain and was told before this test was done that at best I would be able to go home that same day and at worst, if I needed a stent placed that I would just have to stay overnight. I packed a little overnight bag, kissed my son goodbye with a promise to see him real soon, and my husband and I made our way to the hospital two hours away. I don’t remember much at all about the actual test being done. I was awake, but it was like I wasn’t “all there”.
Once the test was completed and I was wheeled back to the little holding area and the medicine that lulled me had worn off, the attending cardiologist let me know as gently as he could that my results were very, very bad. I had three blockages and I needed a triple bypass as soon as possible. As a matter of fact, he didn’t even want to release me and insisted that I have it done the very next day. I put on my bravest face and agreed to the surgery and as soon as he left to make the arrangements I completely fell apart.
I hadn’t planned for this.
I was only 42. How could this happen?
My son…what if I don’t make it through this surgery?
I can’t do this.
I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.
The rest of the evening was spent in tears and having pre-op tests run.
I was terrified and all I could think of was my son. He was with my mom and in excellent hands, but I couldn’t believe this was happening and I just wanted to see him so bad. My husband was an absolute rock and if he was upset, he never showed it. I had to put him in charge of calling close family and friends to let them know what was happening. I just couldn’t even say the words without falling completely apart. Mercifully, I was able to have something to help me sleep a little that night because the next morning I had to have a very bright and early start.
The night before surgery I had to shower using a special antibacterial soap. I had to get up very early on surgery day and repeat this process. We anticipated my surgery starting around 11 that morning. By 9:00 A.M. family members started rolling in. I felt so embarrassed because I was very emotional and pretty much fell apart when my mom arrived. She was a huge comfort for me because she had this exact surgery about six years ago and she reassured me about some things I was concerned about. The morning dragged on and I cringed every time someone opened my room door, just sure it was time for me to go. The surgeon was running a little behind and it was almost 2:00 PM before my surgery started. The very last thing I remember was getting a shot from a nurse while still in my hospital room and the next thing I knew, I was waking up from surgery. The surgery was successful and I only ended up having to have a double bypass instead of a triple.
The one thing I was not enthused about going into surgery was that I knew I would be placed on a breathing machine. Sure enough, as soon as I woke up I started trying to breathe over the machine, which is not a pleasant experience. I did this twice that I know of while in ICU and I desperately wanted them to remove the breathing tube, but it wasn’t going to happen on my terms. I would breathe over the machine and it would feel like I was suffocating. The nurse would quickly suction me out and all would be fine again. I spent two nights in ICU and only remember waking a couple of times when my husband and mom visited me. The rest of the time I slept and don’t remember a whole lot.
On day two it was determined that I could come off the breathing machine and they removed my breathing tube. The nurse just told me she would count to three and on three I was to cough and she would take out the tube. This didn’t hurt at all and I was so relieved to have that tube out of me so I could talk. Once this was out, I was helped into a chair to sit up for awhile. As soon as I was in the chair, I had a very welcomed surprise. My husband had gone home the night before and returned with our son. I can’t tell you HOW much better it made me feel to see my baby boy and talk to him. I had a few more visitors and managed to sit up and visit for a whole hour. Seeing my son just lit a huge fire under me to get out of there as fast as I could. Later that afternoon they also removed an IV of some sort that I had in my neck (I have no idea what for) and I was able to walk completely around the nurse’s station and eat a little bit. I must have proved to them I was ready because by early evening I was moved out of the ICU and into a regular hospital room.
Day three was a challenge. I still had drainage tubes in my chest and they were making it hard to take a deep breath and walk comfortably. I was up and down quite a bit through the night going to the bathroom because of the fluid pill I was made to take and just getting out of the bed was a huge accomplishment, and one that I couldn’t do alone. Thank God for my husband there with me every step of the way, because he had to lift on me and help me up and down. I felt like a helpless baby with no upper body strength. Just putting my arms out in front of me hurt. Nevertheless, we walked the halls, and I breathed into the little breathing apparatus that helped to keep my lungs open and working properly.
Day four was more of the same, but it was determined that I could finally have my chest tubes removed on this day. My nurse promised me I would feel so much better once he removed them, but I was skeptical. I was given a shot of pain medicine before he removed the tubes right there in my hospital bed and once again, I thankfully never felt a thing. A little while later once I felt strong enough, I was up and walking again and feeling SO much better without those tubes.
Day five brought a very welcomed surprise. My surgeon came around to visit and asked me if I was feeling strong enough to go home. He wanted to do a couple more chest x-rays and double check some things, but if everything checked out he felt like I was ready to be released. My husband and I were so excited and relieved to finally be going home. He was barely getting enough rest with nurses coming in and out of my room all night, plus dealing with a very needy patient around the clock. I was tired of being in my hospital room and so very anxious to get home and see my son. Everything checked out ok and I was allowed to (finally!) get a shower and start the long drive home. It was a tough ride home as if you’ve had any sort of surgery you will feel every little bump in the road. We had to stop a couple of times for bathroom breaks, but that was to be expected anyway. As we pulled into my mom’s driveway I was so very grateful to just be alive and arriving home safe and sound.
TO BE CONTINUED……