Dave has Bypass Surgery - Page 1

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The following is a detailed account of my experience with my open-heart surgery and of my hospital stay. I'm sure people have a curiosity about what it is like to go through a thing such as this, although it is something that most would not want to contemplate. My intent here is to provide you with the real life event as I experienced it. You may find some of the information here to be superfluous or mundane to you, but for me it describes and provides an overview of what I went through in what some would consider an ordeal, but what I now look upon as a life prolonging event.

Well, it had been scheduled for Wednesday, August 25th, however the doctors office called me on the 24th and asked if it would be OK to reschedule it for a later date. They said that the doctor had an emergency operation to do the next day (the 25th) and it would probably be best if he did not have to do two operations in one day. I certainly agreed with that, and I was given a choice of either Friday the 27th or Monday the 30th for the operation. I decided (with Diana's help) that the 27th would be OK. In a way, I was quite relieved. Even though I had prepared myself for the dreaded event, which would be "tomorrow", I now had a reprieve and felt a renewed feeling of energy as I contemplated how I would celebrate the next two days. It was now time for a beer (even though I'm not much of a beer drinker). For Diana, however, I think this was really a setback and something that would prolong the buildup of anxiety within her.

I had just been to see the surgeon on Monday, the day before, for the final get together before surgery. He is a very calm and collected 55 year old gentleman (although he looks 10 years younger) who has done a "jillion" of these surgeries, and he indicated to me that he expected that all would go fine with me, as I was in quite good shape. He never actually checked me out, my vital signs and all, nor did he wear a white coat that would tend to reassure you that he was actually a doctor. Instead, he had on casual clothes and spoke in a mild manner that gave one a feeling of confidence in his ability. It was as if we were both checking each other out, he observing my psychological state and my readiness, and me trying to determine if he was for real and a competent man. If you saw him on the street, you would never suspect that he was a doctor, let alone being noted as one of the top rated heart surgeons in Seattle. I found myself looking at his hands and observing how delicate and nimble they might be. I looked into his eyes to detect a sparkle of intelligence as well as a hint of his good vision. Instead, I saw a man that was not very tall in stature, but someone who was at my level with a mild mannered and confident disposition who was looking at me and waiting for my questions. He indicated to me that he was available for as long as I wanted so that any concerns I had could be answered. I was the one who was feeling compelled to talk, even though I'm one of those quite types. I kept bouncing the thought around in my head whether or not I really needed this episode in my life and whether or not this was a dream. I never thought of myself as being in poor health or with a bad heart. In fact, I was now thinking and feeling that I was really in the best shape of my life. I had recently lost about 15 pounds and I was feeling full of energy. How could this be happening to me when I was feeling so great? I have had no symptoms of a heart problem (in my mind). But, somehow, I knew it was all true, that there really was a problem, and now was the best time to get it fixed. The doctor and I talked for a while and then I indicated to him that I was ready. He told me that he would see and talk to me again after the surgery, but he said he was available at any time if I wanted to talk some more.

On Friday, the 27th, Diana and I arrived at the hospital just before 6 in the morning. My son Devin and his fiance Stephanie were already there in the waiting room when we arrived. I sat there with them, fidgeting a little in my black sweat pants and white Mickey Mouse sweatshirt, until my name was called about 10 to 15 minutes later. Diana followed me down the corridor to a small, closet like room, where I changed into a hospital gown that ties in back. I was then led to my preparation area where I climbed onto a bed and laid down. The same gentleman that shaved me for my angiogram now did the same procedure, except it was now a bit more extensive for the open-heart surgery. When he was finished, Devin, Stephanie, and daughter Karin showed up at my bedside wishing me luck. I was not quite prepared for all the fuss and thought it was not really necessary for them to be there, but I understood. Then, it seemed like only a couple of minutes before someone arrived to wheel me away. Previously, Diana was told that she would be allowed to follow me to where I would meet the Anesthetist. Now, she was being told by the person who started pushing my bed that she could not follow. I asked to let Diana come, but was given a stern "no". Everyone quickly said they loved me as I was being whisked away, and I noticed tears welling up in Diana's eyes as I caught a last glimpse of her.

I was wheeled down a few corridors and into a large room where there were cubicles on one wall in front of me where the Anesthetist was waiting for me. After she introduced herself and while she was working on me, she started talking to me about bicycling and indicated that she was a cyclist herself. I was distracted by her conversation, but I did manage to indicate to her that I was a little nervous. I was hoping that I would be given something such as Valium, which had been given to me prior my angiogram procedure. I had been told by the surgeon, and it was confirmed by the Anesthetist, that he usually recommends a spinal injection of some sort, and I was not looking forward to being poked with any large needles, or whatever other things my mind could conjure that might cause pain or discomfort. I then vaguely remember something being said to me that I think was, "bye-bye". After that, I have no more recollection of the Anesthetist.

Waking up from surgery is a slow process, but it was not a discomfort for me since I remember nothing of the parts of that process that I would not want to remember. Diana had previously been prepared to see someone on a respirator who had been quite "beat up" with a breathing mask and tubes protruding from every direction. She confirms that I looked pretty ugly when she first saw me. I was in obvious discomfort with the tubes that were stuffed down my throat, coming out of my neck, out of my stomach area, and out from both sides of my body. I appeared to be gagging and I was reaching for the tubes, although my hands and arms were restrained. I am glad that I remember nothing of this part of the recovery procedure, although in some way or another it all seems familiar to hear it all described. I do remember an uncomfortable feeling in my side that I wanted to adjust, and I do remember being admonished not to touch.

After the tubes had been removed from my mouth and throat, and after I had recovered sufficiently to breathe on my own without the respirator, the kids were then allowed in to see me. I guess that I was quite carefree at this particular time although I have a very tough time trying to recall anything of their visit. But again, however, their accounts of their visit sounded very familiar. There was joking going on about me pinching the nurses, and when I was informed that I had a male nurse, I said that I would pinch him too. Diana said that I mentioned that, "I'm so glad to be alive", and I do remember saying that and remember that as one of the last thoughts I had prior to going to sleep. And, I clearly remember the wonderful spoonfuls of crushed ice that were offered to my lips. Nothing could taste or feel better to the palate than that. I remember wondering what time it was and wondering how long the surgery took, but I could not read the clock on the wall and I did not feel like opening my eyes or talking unless I really needed to do so. I do know that all of this was taking place around mid afternoon on Friday, as the surgery did not complete until about 1:30 or 2:00 pm. The surgeon later told me that I had been on the heart/lung bypass machine for about two hours. During the whole time I was in surgery, Diana received periodic updates by phone from a surgery assistant who was positioned next to me. At one point, he asked Diana if she had lunch yet. When she said "no", he told her that he would not be calling with further updates until she had eaten.

During recovery in the ICU, I was constantly being monitored and had a nurse dedicated to watching over me. With Diana also close next to me, I was very well taken care of. The only thing that really bothered or concerned me at the time was my shallow breathing. It seemed that I could barely suck any air into my lungs and it was virtually impossible to consciously expand my chest to breathe. I had been told that I should periodically try to cough, but I could not do that nor could I find the power to clear my throat adequately. Toward evening, the first task I had to accomplish for my recovery was to sit up and dangle my feet over the bed while I received a sponge bath. I had known that this would be taking place, but it still took me a bit by surprise that it came so soon, and I was disappointed that Diana was not allowed to be in my room for this. I was then instructed on just how I should move to accomplish this feat and was then given a pillow to hold against my chest while doing the maneuver. I actually surprised myself on how smoothly it went, although it was definitely an advantage to be helped with a bear hug from the nurse. Congratulations were then offered to me on the fine job I had just performed. I was definitely not too desirous about remaining in this upright position for more than a few seconds, but I needed to endure a scrub down for a few minutes. It was all cut short, however, when I started to become nauseated and then with a warning to the nurse I cut loose with some extra fluid from my stomach. Here again, I was a bit surprised on how well my diaphragm seemed to be working as I seemed to have no problem in expelling all that I desired, even though I had that shallow breathing problem. This episode allowed me to be quickly put back into the prone position that I had become used to. When Diana was allowed back into the room, I again had an episode of expelling more fluid, but it all made me feel so much better. Later, at about 11pm that evening, Diana indicated that she was thinking of heading for home and I encouraged her to do so. It had been a long and stressful day for her and she definitely needed some rest. I think she was confident that I was going to do Ok and I also felt confident that I would have no problem before I saw her again. That first evening passed by slowly for me and the only bright spots that I can remember were the frequent sips of crushed ice that were offered to me. And, whenever I got the chance, I would ask for more.

At about 5am on Saturday morning Diana showed up and I was so very happy to see her. Just having her close by was very comforting. At about 8am, breakfast arrived. This was to be my first meal in about a day and a half. When a chair was pulled up to my bed and I was told that I needed to get out of bed to eat breakfast, a gasped in disbelief and said, "You've got to be kidding"! I had expected that I would only need to be propped upright in bed where I could eat comfortably with little effort expended. Instead, it was confirmed to me that it was time to get out of bed. So, with instructions again on how to maneuver and with me hugging a pillow to my chest, I carefully sat myself upright with some help, and then touched my feet to the ground. Getting to the chair and sitting down was actually quite easy, especially with all the encouragement I was receiving. Although, I really did not feel any hunger, I also did not have the feeling that I did not want to eat. I'm not exactly sure just what it was, but the dish in front of me seemed like a sort of custard that was molded and had a creamy white color. It was actually quite good and I ate it all, which made me quite pleased. I knew that the sooner I finished breakfast, the sooner I could hop back into bed.

Heart showing mammary artery graft

It was not long after breakfast that I was told it was time to go for a walk. I was not looking forward to this, but I knew that I could do it since I had already tested my capability of getting out of bed to have breakfast. I was soon being escorted out of my room into a much larger area where I felt the other staff near by was watching me, but I kept my eyes to the floor and did not feel like expending the energy to look around. I walked slowly as I was being directed on my route and soon I was back to my room and then back in bed. I felt that I had quite a jaunt and I was a bit surprised that I was able to manage such a feat with little discomfort and with little sense of exhaustion, especially with the shallow breathing I was still experiencing. As far as pain goes, I was feeling some from my incisions, but it was nothing that I felt too uncomfortable about and thought it was probably normal for this early part of my recovery. Even so, I was starting to wish that it would all go away and that I might start to actually feel an improvement in my condition. When the surgeon arrived a short time later, I told him that he had really "beat me up" and I indicated to him that my breathing was really shallow. He confirmed to me that he did beat me up and that the shallow breathing was normal and it had a lot to do with the tubes that were still within and protruding from my body. I also told him that I would like to have further pain relief, but I did not get too much encouragement from him on that. He then indicated to me that my operation went fine and that I had a 4-way bypass rather than the 6-way that he and I had previously talked about. He said that one of the mammary arteries being used for bypass was not quite long enough to reach a particular spot on one of the heart arteries and so he ended up doing an angioplasty on that heart artery and then put a patch on the opening. He also indicated that he used a vein from my leg and that I would find only about a two inch incision there where the vein was removed. He said that I was close to 100% blocked on several of my arteries and that these were bypassed. He then indicated that he would talk to me later and that I appeared to be doing well. He said that he would stay informed on my condition and that he would be looking in on me since my cardiologist was now on vacation.

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