Search This Blog

Monday, April 14, 2014

Open Heart Surgery, ICU Recovery

It's called open heart surgery. Specifically it was an intra cardiac tumor removal by route of sternal incision.  Since that is too technical, and people look at you funny when you respond with that as an answer to their simple question, they stick with a traditional approach, "I had open heart surgery."

Those words would not ring the same in my ears after this April fool's day in 2014. I knew this the night before the surgery, as I scrubbed down with antibacterial soap and lined my stuff up at the door. This was a telling moment for me, I would never again look in the mirror and see a scar free surface. The small white marks from previous laparoscopic procedures were about to be erased with the distraction of a morbid crease down the center of my body. I stared in the mirror for a long time, just processing the sight. I was mentally preparing myself for the hours, days, weeks, even months ahead. I knew that night was the end of something, maybe a sort of innocence or an unknown territory. Something was reaching a conclusion, and the fear was creeping over me.

I had to leave the house at around three in the morning so I spent the night in a weird mood, opting not to give myself the opportunity to lie in bed worrying and instead to curl up on the couch with someone who saw me for more than my future of pain and struggle. We talked for hours and kept my mind busy with our small conversations. He took pictures of me laughing beside him and reminded me that all was going to be okay. As much as I wanted to believe it, I wasn't so sure that it would be okay. What if it was not okay, and I was not prepared enough, or did not tell someone I loved them enough? What then? I couldn't help but let the thoughts creep around my brain. I crawled into the back of my mother's red SUV and the hour and a half trip began. Within minutes I was overwhelmed with a solemn feeling, and the tears streamed down my face. "I feel like you're driving me to my death" I cried as my parent's heart broke in the front seat. Shortly after the words left my mouth I was lulled to sleep and did not wake up until we reached the hospital parking garage close to five A.M.

When I stirred awake I felt terrible. The lack of sleep, stress, and anxiety left me wanting to just curl up in a corner and vomit. The last thing I could think about was worrying further about the inevitable situation I was walking towards. The rest of the morning moved pretty quickly, as we checked in and immediately I was given a room to change and wait for surgery. The nurses bustled to and fro, asking a million questions to check me in and placing an IV in my left arm. Thinking back on it now, I actually don't remember being fearful at that point of the preparation. I met the people responsible for my life, took a final picture with my mother, and was quickly swept to saying goodbye. I meant it when I told my parent's goodbye and that I loved them. I was at peace with the situation, but I saw no light at the end of the tunnel. I thought that was it. A long seven years of Lyme suffering and medical mystery to be put to death by the irony of my case. I had always said 'Out of all my problems, I am thankful that at least my heart is okay!' and here I was facing the largest road bump in my trip through life thus far, being cut down the middle and spread like a sub roll for this operation. As grueling as it sounds, you must understand that the war going on emotionally inside me was much deeper. I was comforted by my faith, and I knew God had purpose and would see me through. I was worried for not my own well being, but the friends and family around me that needed me to make it through okay. I was encouraged by the possibility of an opportunity to experience something that might help me better support someone in my future. All these mixed emotions that I could hardly process, and the fear of the unknown left me numb.

They rolled the bed down a hallway and into a room full of people, shiny silver tools, equipment, and nothing I'd ever seen before. Technicians picked through buckets of stainless steel scissors and clamps on a platform straight ahead without turning around, and I became aware of the sedative not working enough to leave me uncaring. The blue sterile field I slid my own body onto was quickly surrounded by foggy faces who covered me in stickers, and placed cool patches across my center back and front as I lowered myself flat onto the table. I began to feel less scared, it was in full swing and there was no going back now. Before long I drifted to a point where I vaguely remember being asked where I went to school, and then the world faded from my senses.

The next 48 hours are a mixture of foggy memories and traumatizing moments. I did not care much for my surroundings, and I suffered through ICU with severe nausea and pain. I remember fits of throwing up, maybe four different times and the IV Zofran not being enough to stop the reaction. I remember bleeding from my canulated leg incision where the heart and lung bypass machine was run into my major vein. I didn't notice much as nurses tackled me to apply pressure and a brick of sand to the leg to stop the hemorrhage. Even two weeks later I still have a large bruise called a hematoma covering my entire thigh from that one wound.
Right thigh, hematoma, before it got worse!

I begin to remember my experiences on day two of post surgery life. I truly do believe this is for the best, because I have a feeling that the ICU stay after the four hour surgery and day one of recovery were the worst time in my life. The body tends to block out trauma from our memories, in an amazing phenomena not yet fully understood by psychology. All I know is it was certainly on my side through that part of the surgery. Also on my side, the hands of the surgeon and team that got me through that surgery. I may not have realized it immediately, but I was alive and I would appreciate that quality so much more from then on out.

1 comment:

  1. nice sharing...!! you brought your heart out in this story.


Hey! like the post or have some questions, concerns, or input? Comment on it.