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.

11 March 2015

The End

Well, here we are: eight weeks post heart surgery and I’m officially “healed.” I’m allowed to resume most of my normal activity, my energy levels are up and staying there, and my appetite is mostly back to normal. My heart is ticking like a champ, and (so far) none of the pre-heart-surgery symptoms have reared their ugly faces again.

This has been an interesting two months, filled with lots of new experiences and opportunities to learn. I’m really glad it all happened -- the good and the bad; but, seriously, no more hospitals for me (fingers crossed).

In case I haven’t said it enough, thank you to all of you who’ve been so supportive during this period. I had great doctors and nurses. I have wonderful friends. I have the best spouse in the world (sorry every other spouse in the world).

Please enjoy this little gallery of photographs. 

08 March 2015

Good-bye, Sugar!

While my heart-surgery adventure has been fraught with trials, tribulations and lots of naps, it’s had its lighter moments. The best one was on my last day at the hospital. Matt snuck me in a hamburger and tacos from a fast-food joint. Although I was still tasting metal in everything I ate, a cheeseburger hit the spot at that moment.

But, that’s not the funny part. A couple hours later, my nurse came in and I told her what we’d eaten for lunch. She had a shocked look on her face. (I desperately wish I had a photo of it.) “What?” she practically shrieked. “You’ve just had heart surgery! You’re supposed to be on a ‘heart healthy’ diet from now on, low fat and high carbohydrates.”

I explained to her about how nutritional science is starting to veer away from thinking fat is the problem and toward the view that sugar is. She said there was no way that was true. I told her that, within five years, the official position on diet and heart disease would change from eliminating fats to eliminating sugars.

I tentatively made that change 13 years ago when I was having trouble losing weight on a high-carbohydrate diet. Then, I read the book “Good Calories, Bad Calories” and immediately started reducing sugar (and bad carbohydrates) and not worrying about fats. I lost more than 60 pounds -- which have stayed off all this time.

You can find “Good Calories, Bad Calories” here.

You can read more about the new science behind sugar and heart disease here, here, and here.

06 March 2015

Quelle Surprise

Was rather surprised to realize, last night while watching television, that I hadn’t taken a nap all day. Doesn’t seem like such a big deal until you realize that I have had to take at least one nap every day for the last seven weeks (post heart surgery). For the first time, I had enough energy to make it through an entire day! Yeah!

04 March 2015

Heart Surgery Update: Week Seven

Woo-hoo! It’s been seven weeks since surgery. I really have nothing to add to that. Things remain essentially unchanged since my week-six update: cough is going away (slowly), I’m still tired all the time, my endurance level is increasing. I can actually spit again (try doing that after they cut open your sternum). Here’s something new: I cheated and started lifting weights two weeks before I’m really allowed to. It’s a five-kilo weight and I do simple lifts and curls. Nothing to stress the sternum (I hope). So far, that’s going well, too.

02 March 2015

How do I Hate Thee? Let me Count the Ways

Although my recovery from heart surgery is going very well, one thing is not: the speed at which I get exhausted every day. No, really. I’m up a couple hours then I need to take a nap. I’m up a couple more hours, then it’s nap time again. I sleep like a rock at night (about six hours) and wake up exhausted.

Apparently this kind of fatigue is common (which makes it even more annoying): “Fatigue is probably the number one patient complaint following heart surgery. Fatigue results from an extended lack of sleep while in the hospital, energy used by your body to heal its wounds, and energy used to fight off pain.” So, what do the experts recommend? “Take plenty of naps, walk regularly, eat well...” That’s all fine and good but I don’t have time to take naps!