28 February 2015

I am not Spock

Of course, everyone has something to say about the recent death of Leonard Nimoy. Like so many others, I was a wee lad of seven when “Star Trek” premiered and I fell in love with it. Many years later I wanted to figure out why I liked that show so much. Was it because William Shatner was so hot? Partly. Was it because it was about science and space and I liked both science and space? Partly. But, it turns out the main reason I liked that show was because Spock was different -- part Vulcan and part Earthling; yet was (mostly) accepted for his differences.

I was a “very different” kid when I was that age: I wore glasses, I was slightly overweight, I was sick with asthma, I was smart -- all things that were turned against me at every opportunity by every person on the planet, it seemed. But Spock was also different and, despite Doctor McCoy’s occasional jabs, he was accepted as a vital member of the crew.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but that gave me a little bit of confidence and a lot of hope that I would one day be accepted, too.

27 February 2015

Pharmacists Say the Funniest Things

Ever since I had heart surgery, I’ve spent a lot of time talking with my pharmacist. Who knew surgery on the heart would lead to the need to take tons of drugs? Not me. So, last week, I was talking to him about the annoying cough I’ve had since surgery. Nothing made it go away: no drops, no syrup, nothing. I asked him if he could recommend something over the counter.

He reviewed the drugs I was taking (apparently some of the drugs I’m on interact badly with other drugs) and noticed one specific drug. He said that this drug was probably the cause of my cough and that nothing (short of a prescription) would help me. It was a drug I was taking temporarily (for the first month out of the hospital) and he said my cough would go away soon after I stopped this medicine.

And guess what? That prescription ran out last weekend and now my cough is finally starting to go away. I stopped by today to tell him he’d been right;
it was that drug causing my cough. He smiled, happy that I was feeling better.

“Yeh,” he said as I turned to leave. “That drug is pretty toxic.”

25 February 2015

Heart Surgery Update: Week Six

Six weeks later, I’m 75% of my way through the standard recovery time of six-to-eight weeks. I’m feeling much more energetic. I would say I’m about 80% of my pre-surgery self, even though I can work only about two hours before fatigue starts to set in.

In about two weeks I’ll be able to start doing the usual things that have been verboten since my surgery: lifting things, pushing or pulling anything with a weight (such as the door to a building), etc. I’m looking forward to opening my own door again, just as much as I looked forward to (and enjoy) driving again.

I’ll need to wait an additional four weeks before I can begin working out with weights (to help rejuvenate the weakened chest and back muscles) and resume swimming -- my favorite activity in the world.

Good news: I actually walked 1.25 miles to one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants on Tuesday. It’s something we usually do weekly during the winter, but that I haven’t done since surgery. Nice to know I can do it again!

18 February 2015

Heart Surgery Update: Week Five

Wow! Hard to believe it’s already been five weeks since my open-heart surgery. I still find it hard to believe I actually had “open heart surgery,” but that’s another issue entirely.

With the exception of the cough that refuses to go away, I feel basically the same as I did prior to surgery. Many of my heart-related symptoms seem to have disappeared (shortness of breath, getting light headed), but it’s too early to tell. My energy levels are still all over the place; but, generally, the energetic days are getting more in number, while the exhausted days are being reduced.

In fact, I was able to walk about a half mile today to a near-by diner for all-you-can-eat fish fry (pictured) -- one of my favorite things in the whole world. Apparently, “all I can eat” was one piece (including fries and the salad). I guess my appetite is not yet back to where it used to be.

13 February 2015

Hospital Trivia

Here is some trivia from my hospital stay after open-heart surgery:

I was on IV fluids for the entire six days. Among other drugs (IV and pills) I was given saline, sodium, potassium, an antibiotic, several liquids to help my heart heal, a pill to control acid in my stomach (apparently because I didn’t eat much for the first three days post surgery), a liquid to make it easier to have a bowel movement (it tasted like maple syrup but didn’t work much), a diuretic, insulin injections to control my glucose (again, because I wasn’t eating much), the occasional pain medication (I basically kept telling them I didn’t want pain meds), a beta blocker (for my heart) and an anticoagulation drug (to prevent strokes).

Going to the bathroom while lugging around an IV stand is annoying, at best; but peeing in bed in a “male urine container” is worse.

I was glad there was a recliner in my ICU room as I spent most of my time switching between the bed and the recliner then the bed then the recliner. I just couldn’t get comfortable.

If I slept a solid hour, I considered it a big achievement.

They told me I couldn’t go home until I had a bowel movement. That’s some kind of blackmail, isn’t it?

ICU has a lot of machines that beep -- all the time, day and night.

Watching television was exhausting.

My first shower in ICU (about three days after surgery) was the most exhausting thing I’d ever done in my life.

Despite having a clock and a window, I could almost never tell whether it was day or night.

It appears I have hard-to-find veins. On a couple occasions they had to bring in an ultrasound machine to find them.

At one point, I had six IV lines in my body.

I received a blood transfusion during surgery. I’ve never had a blood transfusion before.

As wonderful as I was treated there, I don’t want to go back into a hospital ever again.

11 February 2015

Heart Surgery Update: Week Four

And now: four weeks post surgery. Things have been going generally well, but I found myself exhausted nearly all day Sunday and Monday and spent most of each day in bed. This is not good. I’m hoping it’s just part of the waxing and waning of my energy levels and nothing more serious than that. But the news is not all bad: I’ve started back to my little part time job, I’ll be able to resume driving tomorrow, and I’ve actually been able to start in on a big newspaper project I’m helping to write. All good.

One curious thing I’ve discovered is how exhausting it is to sit at a computer for two hours and work. There’s no explanation for it; but I’ve found that a couple hours sitting up and concentrating on typing and thinking is enough to wipe me out. Hmm. Otherwise, the cough is receding, I’m sleeping a little better (now, I’m up to about four hours a night) and my appetite is mostly back to normal. Yeah for small victories.

06 February 2015

What a Difference a Day Makes

Here are three photographs of me post heart surgery (click to enlarge). You can see both how bloated I was (from all the liquid pumped into me during surgery) and the progress of the scar. I’ll tell you, I’m pretty amazed my incision is healed already.

05 February 2015

Down to the Wire

When you have open heart surgery, the doctor cracks open your sternum (breastbone). When they’re done, they wire it together with seven wires. I’m supposed to be very careful for two months after surgery to not push, pull or lift anything because the wires might snap. Tuesday, my surgeon told me about a guy who, a few weeks after surgery, decided to move a refrigerator (!) and snapped all seven wires. He had to go back into surgery to have them replaced. Why, why, why would someone move a refrigerator shortly after open heart surgery? Why? Why? Why?

04 February 2015

Heart Surgery Update: Week Three

Here we are: three weeks post surgery. I met with my cardiologist Monday and my heart surgeon Tuesday and everyone says I’m making amazing progress! (I love how they keep saying “You’re doing well because you’re so young.” That’s nice.) Now, I have to get my “INR” level in balance. That’s something to do with the anticoagulant medicine I have to take the rest of my life (because of my new heart valve) to prevent strokes. It’s a bit low, so they upped my dose of the medicine I take now.

Energy continues to ebb and flow: some days I feel very energetic, and then others I’m exhausted. Odd, but it’s all part of my body finding its equilibrium to the drugs, the more-efficient heart, etc. My appetite is returning (yeah!) and that horrible metallic taste in my mouth is starting to fade. Nothing worse than eating when everything tastes like metal. Ick.

I’ve been cleared to drive starting Thursday of next week, and to return to work as my energy levels permit. I find I can do a couple hours of work before my energy level drops. That’s okeh; it’ll improve over time.

P.S. If you or someone you know needs to have heart surgery for any reason and they want someone to talk to, please tell them about me. I’d be happy to share the details of my experience. I had someone to talk to before my surgery and it really helped.