20 April 2015

Old Man Rhythm

click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click This is what I hear all day every day for what I presume will be the remainder of my natural life click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click It’s the sound of my artificial heart valve click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click It’s made of plastic and keeps on clicking click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click

17 April 2015

Be Nice -- Always

Many years ago I was a day or two into my new job at a big corporation. My boss had a family emergency and had to go out of town for the rest of the week. I, of course, knew no one and was left to sink or swim on my own.

One afternoon, a woman showed up at my desk. She gave me this huge project to do. I had no idea how to do it, or who she was, but I’m always nice, so I accepted it and (surprisingly) tackled it. When my boss got back she shared with me an email from this person who had said how helpful I had been to her in completing this giant project that was under deadline. When my boss told me who sent it, I asked “Who’s that?” My boss stared at me bewildered. It turns out this mystery woman was my boss’s boss’s boss: the big department vice president.

I have always said that you should be nice to people because you never know who it might be you’re talking to. Now, I think that should be changed to “be nice to people because you never know when you’re being filmed and when your douchebag conduct will be broadcast on television.”

10 April 2015

Scars for the Memory

I was doing some online research into taking care of the scar left over from my open-heart surgery. I'd heard I was supposed to stay out of the sun, or cover it with sunscreen or tape or whatever. Along the way I found some sites where people discussed their feelings about their scars.

Some people said they were sad about their scar ("I feel so sad and stressed about my scar. Sometimes I cry when I’m in the shower") and others talked about how happy they were with their scar (“They are my battle scars earned and gloriously celebrated as such”) and lots of other feelings in between.

I was taken aback by the wide range of feelings about scars mostly because no such thoughts ever crossed my mind. I neither loved nor hated my scar. It was the result of needed surgery and was now part of me -- not good or bad, just there.

So, I started contemplating my scar. What did I think of it? It's there and doesn't bother me either physically or aesthetically, my spouse says he doesn't mind seeing it and, so far, it's not scared any neighbor children. So, I guess I really didn't feel anything about it at all. I mean, I'm not defined by this scar or any of the other scars on my body, just like I'm not defined by my thinning hair, my blue-green eyes, or the fact that one leg is a tiny bit shorter than the other.

Soon enough, my scar is supposed to fade to the point where it'll be hard to see. We'll see if that happens but, until then, expect to see me at the pool or working in the yard. I'll be the guy with the big scar down the middle of his chest.

09 April 2015

12!

Here it is, the magical end of the 12th week post heart surgery. It’s the point where I’m basically healed! Yeah!

05 April 2015

Pump It Up!

I had this really interesting conversation with my heart surgeon in the hospital a few days after my open-heart surgery. (I’m a journalist. It’s my job to have really interesting conversations with people.) We were talking about how the heart-lung (cardiopulmonary-bypass) machine has made operations such as mine so much easier. (It basically takes over the function of the heart and lungs during surgery, so the heart can be slowed down or stopped to make surgery easier.)

Recently, I was doing some research into long-term side effects of heart surgery and found something I’d never heard of. It’s called “pump head” and is thought to come from using the heart-lung machine. Until recently, it wasn’t even considered a real thing. Patients had complained of “cognitive impairment” for a period of time after surgery that included difficulty paying attention or concentrating, short-term memory issues and other symptoms.

One thing I’d noticed in the eleven weeks since my surgery is that I occasionally would have trouble remembering a specific word. I would eventually remember it, but it would take a few seconds before it popped into my mind. I mostly dismissed it at first, but noticed that it seemed to happen a lot more than it ever did before my surgery. In conversation, I would find myself telling the other person “don’t tell me” when I had trouble finding the word. I figure if I keep forcing myself to remember it, I’ll get better faster.

In the big scheme of things, I consider it minor (especially compared to some other people and their “pump head” symptoms) and presume it will go away over time. Right now, I find it really, um, don’t tell me, interesting. :-)

01 April 2015

Oh, Rats!

Here's a fun fact: Since my open-heart surgery and valve replacement, I've been taking an anticoagulant drug known generically as warfarin. It's been used to help prevent blood clots since the 1950s. I just found out it was invented in the 1940s and originally used to kill rats. They would eat it and their blood would not clot and they would bleed to death. And that's what I have to take every day for the rest of my life. Rat poison.

24 March 2015

Evil has a Name

And that name is “incentive spirometer” (pictured). This is another method used by healthcare personnel to torture you after surgery. Here, the idea is to inhale slowly and make the little blue plunger rise as far as possible. They say the point is to make sure you breathe enough to prevent pneumonia; I say the point is to make you suffer even more than you are already.

Just imagine: you’ve had your chest cut open, your sternum sliced apart, your heart cut into and sewn back up and THEN the nurse wants you to inhale when you can barely get in enough air to speak. AND you have to inhale through it ten times an hour EVERY hour you’re awake.

The ICU nurse told me I had to be able to reach at least 750 before they would discharge me. That didn’t happen. I was barely able to reach 500 while in the hospital. (To put it in context, today I tried it and made it up to 3000 before having to stop.)

P.S. I never figured out what the “incentive” was in this spirometer. It’s not like I got a piece of cherry pie or anything.

23 March 2015

The Walking (un)Dead

Over the weekend, I was reminiscing with Matt about the difficulty I had walking right after open-heart surgery. The physical-therapy team came in and forced me up and out and around the nurse's station. It was torture. I joked then that, if they really want to get a terrorist to confess, all they had to do was perform open-heart surgery then make him get up and walk. At that moment I would have told them I shot Kennedy, if they asked; that's how horrible it was.

Each day, the nurse came in and made three little squares on my personal white board. Next to the three squares, she had written "walk 3x/day." (see photograph) I had to take three walks that day. One square would be marked out when I took one walk until all three were checked off. The same routine was followed each day I was in the hospital.

Three times a day a nurse would come in. "Ready for your walk?" I always answered "no" but still got up and did it. One day I was so exhausted I flat-out refused to walk. The nurse wasn't happy, but she understood.

About four days into my hospital stay, I was taking one of my torture walks and encountered a man who was undergoing the same torture as me, but moving slightly faster and appearing to not be in as much pain.

My ICU floor had patients who had had heart surgery (like me) or lung surgery. I asked my nurse whether this guy (who I actually referred to as "Speedy Gonzales") had had the same procedure I had, thinking that it would bode well for me.

My nurse explained that he was an esophageal cancer patient and had a lung transplant. This meant they took out his esophagus (the thing food flows down to the stomach) and switched out his lungs. Clearly, a much more serious procedure than my little heart surgery.

At that moment, I resolved to walk three times a day or more if I could and not complain a bit. I mean, seriously, if this man (who looked to be my age) could be up and walking in his condition, then who am I to complain? 

After that, on several occasions, I got myself up and started my walk unassisted. I then proudly (but slowly) marched back into my room and checked off one of the boxes.

21 March 2015

Do You Feel Better?

I was discussing my open-heart surgery with someone yesterday. She asked me if I felt better now than I did before surgery. I had to stop and think. This was the first time someone asked that. (A lot of people asked if I felt better while recovering from surgery, but not if I felt better than before.)

Interestingly, I had to say I did not feel “better” than before; I feel pretty much the same. The only real difference is that I seem to be free of the annoying symptoms that used to plague me -- especially after eating. Gone is the lightheadedness, the pounding heart, the difficulty breathing. That’s great; but I guess my heart defect had not progressed far enough to have had more than an occasional impact on my quality of life.

Certainly, it was getting worse, and would have been a problem had I not had the surgery. So, clearly, I made the right choice having the surgery before it was too late.