Today marks one week since my husband had open heart surgery. He’s healing quite well, so I thought I’d share the journey.
We had been planning a family trip to Disney World since last spring and were to leave on November 3. It has been a dream of mine to take all my kids and grandkids to Disney and since we have a timeshare in Orlando, this fall seemed to be the perfect time.
About a month ago, my husband started saying he was going to make a doctor’s appointment because he had been getting short of breath and sweating more than normal. Back in 2009, DH suffered a ‘mild’ heart attack and had a stent put in. You can read about that here. So, he knew what symptoms to watch for and be concerned about.
After seeing the doctor, he had an appointment with the cardiologist for a heart catheter. The doc decided to skip the stress test and just go straight for the heart Cath. Looking back now, we probably should have been ready for the results. But we were not. We were hopeful that the worst case scenario would be another stent or two. However, that was not the case, obviously, as you can tell by the title.
Receiving the News
The doc said he had several significant blockages and would have to have open heart surgery. I think we were both in a little bit of shock. Of course my mind went immediately to our impending trip to Disney, so I asked him, “What if we have a trip planned to Disney World with all the grandkids?” His response was, “Skip it”. Reality set in. This is serious. And then of course I started imagining what could have happened at Disney if hubby hadn’t listened to his body!!! I fought back the tears.
After the devastating news, we started talking about when the surgery would be and what to expect and so on. We were there on Monday, October 23 and the nurse was saying surgery was going to be Wednesday, October 25. So, I immediately started texting the kids. I had to tell them the bad news….about Jeff, and that we had to cancel our trip. They all took it well, of course, and understood. The hardest part was going to be telling the grandkids, so my daughter waited a couple of days so she could tell them without being emotional, too.
Preparing for the Surgery
As it turned out, we had an appointment to see the heart surgeon on Wednesday, Oct. 25….not the actual surgery itself. Then the next day, Jeff had to go have all the preliminary tests done and the surgery was scheduled for Monday, October 30.
One thing we both noticed….my hubby’s heart surgeon had a Tony Stark beard.
I had several people warn me about a couple of things to be aware of, which now I am grateful for. One, when he first wakes up, he will have a breathing tube down his throat. And two, heart patients can have episodes of depression and may be very emotional.
The morning of surgery, we had to be at the hospital at 5:00am. That means we had to wake up at 3:00am, so hubby could take his shower using the anti-microbial soap they gave him. Then an hour drive to the hospital.
We arrived about 20 minutes early and sat in the main general waiting room of the hospital. We were called back to the registration area, signed a couple of docs and then went into the surgical prep waiting room. After just a few minutes they called my hubby back and said they would call me back when he was ready.
I watched other family members come in and get called back, but my name wasn’t being called. I thought for sure they forgot to call me back and my husband was in having open heart surgery and I didn’t get to tell him I loved him before they took him!
I had to use the restroom of course, but I didn’t want to miss being called back! But I had to go! So, I asked one of the other family members to listen for my name and let me know if they called me while I was gone. When I came back, sure enough, they had called my name. So, I stepped into the surgical prep area and asked for my husband. He was right there, lying in the hospital bed, with the hair cap, gown and all on. I got to sit by his side for a few minutes, and the PA came in and gave him some information about what was going to happen and so on. Then one of the nurses came in and gave me some instructions, like where to go wait, how to watch the board for his progress, a sheet with his number they assigned him for the board and so on.
Then the anesthesiologist came in gave my hubby some more information and what to expect and then they whisked him away. I didn’t get to kiss him goodbye or anything. I think I said “I love you” as they were wheeling them away.
As per the instructions from the nurse in the surgical prep area, I went to get a bite to eat in the hospital cafeteria, before going up to the ICU waiting room. Our pastor was going to come up and have breakfast with me, but I needed to follow the instructions of the nurse, because of the timing of everything.
After breakfast, I got to the floor where ICU is and was instructed to check in with the ICU staff, to let them know I was there so they could update me throughout the surgery.
I found my way to the ICU waiting room and made myself comfy….as comfy as possible. Why don’t they have nicer chairs in there? I’m sure several people have to wait in there for hours! But, I digress.
It wasn’t long before our pastor arrived. He got himself some breakfast from the cafeteria and brought it up to the waiting room. As he ate, I told him about the prep and how I thought they forgot about me. As we chatted, we also kept watch on the progress board.
Not too much longer, and my oldest daughter showed up. I informed her about the progress board and what had happened in the surgical prep area.
At some point, the nurse came back and told us that he was on the heart/lung machine, which meant the actual surgery had begun. The visions that ran through my head…………..
We waited and chatted and waited, and watched the progress board, and waited some more. I think it was about 2 or 3 hours…….but it felt like an eternity! Finally the nurse came back again and said he was off the heart/lung machine, which meant they were done! I thought it wouldn’t be long now till I get to see my husband!
It took forever for them to come and tell us we could go see him. Our pastor had left because he had a lunch meeting to go to. We kept watching the progress board, but it said “Out of OR” for what seemed like forever.
Finally, the doc came in! He had the red heart pillow in his hands and had drawn on it where he placed the vein from his leg. As he explained it to me, he mentioned that he didn’t like the way it looked the first time, so he had to redo it, which is why it took so long. In that moment, you’re kind of in a daze and don’t know what to expect, so I didn’t really absorb what he was saying. But, we were expecting a quadruple bypass, but it ended up being a triple bypass because his vessels were so small on the one side. ???
This image was taken when I arrived at ICU Tuesday morning!
Seeing Him For the First Time After Surgery
After some more waiting, the nurse finally came in and said I could go back and see him. I was prepared mentally for the worst case scenario…..breathing tube, all sorts of other tubes and wires and IV’s coming out of his body.
He wasn’t really quite awake yet, but he was trying to open his eyes and kept looking at me cross-eyed. He would smile a little, as best he could anyway with a breathing tube down his throat. He would hold up his hand for me to hold it. I think he was glad he was alive and that I was there.
Our pastor came back from his lunch meeting and came in the ICU room. He asked me if I was okay. I was. Truly. He prayed with us, and for Jeff, and went and sat with my grandson, who was out of school “sick”, so my daughter could come see him. I don’t think anyone warned her about the breathing tube. She may have been a little shocked. But, my hubby smiled at her and was glad she was there.
Our pastor and our daughter left, and I was allowed to go see him for 10 minutes every hour on the hour. There were a couple of times I had to leave….and I found out later, he had, had a couple of episodes where his heart was racing and they had to defibrillate him. I think I’m glad I didn’t know that at the time.
Star Wars Dreams
As my hubby was waking up, and after the breathing tube was removed, he mentioned that every time he drifted off, he would dream he was in Star Wars. That’s my man!!!
Moving to CVU
Tuesday morning I arrived at the hospital about 8:30am. It was the first snow of the season, and it was a wet, heavy snow, so the roads were slushy and slippery. Ugh. I had to drive super slow all the way, white knuckling it. (I wanna move South!!!)
I was expecting to only be able to see him for 10 minutes every hour, but was pleasantly surprised to see him sitting up when I arrived! (See image above) By about 2pm on Tuesday, he was doing well enough to be able to move him to his room in the CVU. I was able to hang out with him as much as we wanted.
Tony Stark, uh I mean his doctor, came in to see him and his Halloween costume was on point. He wore a navy blue suit with a white dress shirt and of course had the arc reactor under his shirt. So perfect!!! (We are huge Marvel fans, if you didn’t pick up on that!)
I spent the next 3 days with him, arriving around 8:30am and leaving about 8:30pm. At first, he was quite drowsy most of the time, but slowly gained his energy back. The first time he got up to use the restroom, though, he got light headed and nearly passed out on the toilet. That was pretty freaky.
They get you up and walking pretty quickly, which amazes me. He was slowly able to walk a bit further, but was still experiencing some light headedness whenever he would walk. So, on Wednesday, I think, they decided to give him some blood, to help bring his hemoglobin level up. That and some medicine they gave him at the same time, seemed to do the trick.
Excuse my crazy face! This was in the car, just leaving the hospital.
Thursday night when I left, there was talk of him going home Friday. However, when I arrived Friday morning, he informed me that is O2 level wasn’t quite where they wanted it, so he had a choice. He could go home Friday, with oxygen, or go home Saturday, hopefully without oxygen. He opted for Saturday, which would have been my choice, too.
One thing that I was super surprised about, is that the pain level isn’t as bad as I imagined! I thought he would come home in massive pain and be lying around for days. But, that isn’t the case at all. Whenever they would ask him about his pain level, it was always zero or one.
So, Friday we worked most of the day on his breathing and his walking. He was getting around quite nicely and not experiencing too much light headedness. By early Saturday, he was reaching his goal on the incentive barometer for his breathing. They removed the O2, and the doc came in and gave him the all clear to go home, without O2! Of course the paperwork takes forever, but I think we were out of there by 1:00pm, maybe earlier.
As I type this, we are one week out from the day of surgery. He is recovering nicely. The home nurse came in yesterday, and checked all his levels and he is doing very well. He can’t lift anything more than 5lbs. or use his arms for like getting out of bed or up out of a chair. He has to hug his heart pillow when he coughs or sneezes. He basically walks around with it. He just has to be careful not to break his sternum…..which would be very bad.
He has a follow up appointment with Tony, I mean his doc, in a couple of weeks, and will start cardio rehab soon, as well. I’m really amazed how quickly open heart patients recover. I was expecting it to be so much worse! I’m glad for him…..and me…..that it’s not.
PS. The nurses in the CVU are Wonderful!
I just want to do a quick shout out to all the nurses and techs in ICU and the CVU at McLaren Northern Michigan. They were all wonderful. So kind and caring, informative and knowledgeable!!!
If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below. I will be happy to answer as best I can.