Posted on April 20, 2017
UPDATE by Gunnar
Friday, the day after tomorrow, will be four weeks since my open heart surgery. It’s hard to believe. I thought a progress report was due you all.
Tomorrow I meet with my surgeon, Dr. Gorav Ailawadi, for the first time since then for my post-op surgical consult. They’ll take more X-rays, and he’ll give me his analysis of my progress. Hopefully he’ll take me off these diuretics, and adjust my other meds. If all has gone well, he’ll release me to drive again, and I will start cardiac rehab. It will still be weeks before I can hope to return to work.
Here’s my own progress analysis thus far. I’m doing surprisingly well!
Coming out of the hospital I looked like I’d gotten into a fight with a particularly vicious gang. Most obvious was the 7” long scar down the middle of my chest where the Doc cut me open and split my sternum to access my heart. That looked and felt like I’d gotten struck by a dull machete. Beneath that were two “bullet holes” where the chest drain tubes were before being pulled out. To the left of them were two small pricks that looked like I’d been Tasered in the heart; that actually wasn’t far off: two small wire leads had been inserted into my heart through and under my chest for a sort of pace-maker just in case I went into arrhythmia while in the hospital. They also had been simply pulled out. Under and around my belly was a chain of bruises where I’d been repeatedly shot every six hours, day and night for the four+ days I was there, with a blood thinner in case emergency surgery was required. I had had a catheter. There was another hole in my neck that looked like I’d been stabbed with an ice pick where a large IV port had been inserted into my carotid artery, giving the surgeons direct access to my heart for monitors, and to give large doses of meds or blood products, if needed. Two smaller IV ports had been in each arm, one inside my right elbow, and one in my left wrist (that one bruised badly). Throw in innumerable blood draws for tests, and shots for this and that inside my other elbow and wrist, and finger pricks ’til all my finger tips were blue for blood sugar monitoring, I’ve been needled enough for a lifetime, and I hate needles! I could post pictures, but I suspect they’d be found too disturbing for the general Internet; words shall have to suffice.
Since then I’ve been healing. It seems a bit slow to me, but everyday there is noticeable improvement, and both the nurse who visits me once or twice a week to check my vitals, and the physical therapist (PT) who visits once a week assure me I’m doing very well. My pain level remains remarkably low, controlled sufficiently by Tylenol alone, only jumping to near excruciating when coughing, or particularly sneezing (alas, the thick of pollen season is upon us now). I’ve regained full lung capacity, and best of all, no chest pains or severe shortness of breath just walking the length of the house as before surgery. My PT has given me simple exercises to keep limber without stressing my sternum, and get my pulse up without overtaxing the heart. I can feel, even sometimes hear the new valve pounding. Three times a day I go for a walk, ever increasing time and distance. First it was around the driveway, then up to the mailbox, then the length of the front yard, increasing time from three minutes to thirteen now. Our neighborhood is heavily wooded and quite beautiful this time of year, but also hilly, so it is a pleasant walk, but easy to feel the burn. I can now walk up to the next intersection, then down to the cul-de-sac and back home in this time; my pace and gait are improving as well, key to my returning to work. Walking has been emphasized since the day after surgery; they have us heart patients walk from ICU to the “Floor,” no wheel chairs allowed! Now, the bruises have faded away, scabs have fallen, and holes have shrunk. The only noticeable scars remain the incision and the two “bullet holes.” In fact, the hardest evidence to be rid of is the glue from the bandages and heart monitor electrodes!
Something else I’ve only just noticed is my improvement mentally. I was filling out more insurance forms yesterday and realized that my handwriting had improved greatly just in the week since I first started taking notes for those forms. When I first got home, I could barely concentrate on what my various care-givers told me, and relied on my wife Tanya to take notes. I often got light-headed, and tired easily, napping a lot. I still nap a couple times a day (what luxury!), but the episodes of light-headedness are fewer and farther between, and my focus is much better. Look at this long missive, for example. (I figure to still refrain from driving for a couple more weeks, though, even if released. The threat to my sternum from airbags alone is enough to keep me in the back seat.)
I want to take this opportunity to again thank everyone who has sent us their prayers and best wishes, and their generous support financially or through gifts of time, food, and other material aid. It is needed and greatly appreciated. All pay from my job has ceased, though there is a small chance that some disability insurance carried by the company may yet come through. I have recently learned that Social Security Disability benefits don’t kick in unless you will be out of work for a year or more due to disability, and unemployment benefits don’t kick in at all if you are “unable to accept work.” A tax refund will help, but it is you all who make the big difference.