Saturday April 15. Just a normal Saturday. Did the usual family stuff. Had lunch at Rudy’s BBQ. Went home to cut the grass…
While cutting the grass I started having some pain in my left neck, shoulder and arm…nothing new for me I have a bad neck and muscle spasm are nothing new but this pain was a little different…. It wasn’t the typical “crushing ” pain associated with a heart attack but it was different from my usual pain related to my neck issues…being a guy I sucked it up an moved on.
Throughout the day and evening the pain came and went, similar to my neck pain so I filed it away as the typical nuisance. At bedtime I went and laid down but could not get comfortable. Happens sometimes with my neck pain so i went to go rest in my recliner. At this point the wife asked if I was ok, I told her what was going on and she suggested TUMS thinking it was indigestion…. I have had heart burn and it was never like this, but I took one anyway to make her happy. I managed to doze off for a little bit and thinking it WAS indigestion and tried to go back to bed. Still could not get comfortable so back to the recliner it was. This time was a little different. My dog Faith wouldn’t leave me alone, kept trying to climb in my lap and was whining constantly. Then the pain increased. I yelled to my wife in the bedroom that I thought it might be time to go to the ER. On the way to BAMC, the pain was so bad I suggested she just run the gate…she didn’t.
In the ER i got taken right back and an EKG was performed and labs were drawn. The EKG showed a bundle branch block which could be an indicator of a heart attack but my cardiac enzymes didn’t indicate one. At first. In the ER the pain came back and was relieved with nitro, and they redrew my labs. This time my cardiac enzymes were up and the next set of labs showed them increased even more. I was admitted to the hospital with a cardiac catheterization scheduled for Monday (it was now about 5 am Easter Sunday).
Monday finally rolls around and I am prepped for my catheterization, which basically consists of me being given a Valium and moved to the cath lab. They inserted the cath through my wrist and while relaxing I get to see on the monitor what the Doc is seeing. Now the plan is to see what happened during my MI, and check for blockages, and apply a stent where necessary. Unfortunately for me, Mr Murphy decided to go to the cath lab with me. As I am sitting there relaxing with the Valium, I hear one of the people in the cath lab call out a rhythm change…no biggie. Then the same voice, with a bit more urgency calls out rhythm change again and adds the word V-fib. As the rhythm change is called i get the strangest sensation in my heart. I was asked to describe it, and the best I can say is it felt like my heart was trying to shake itself loose.
Now all hell breaks loose. I hear the Doc call out start compressions and receive 3 halfhearted one’s before I hear the doc call clear and they hit me with a full 360 joules. The pain from being defibrillated was one of the most intense and worst pains I have ever experienced. I was literally thrown up in the air off the table like you see on TV. Luckily, it worked. I went back to a normal sinus rhythm and they backed the catheter out and I was done.
I was wheeled back out to recovery where the doc told me I was missing a vessel and had 2 others that were blocked. They were unable to put in any stents and I was going to be having surgery. Time to wait for the CardioThoracic team to come talk to me.
Monday afternoon the CardioThroacic surgeon comes to talk to me. Dr G immediately puts me at ease and tells me more about my blockages and what he plans to do. Unfortunately, I will have to wait until Friday for surgery because I have to get one of the anticoagulants they gave me out of my system before they can cut on me.
Waiting a 4 days in the hospital is mind numbing. I am used to being the nurse, not the patient. Thankfully my family is very supportive, my Mom comes up to be there with all of us and even Andy (Flynguy) makes the 6 hr drive to come see me. I pass the time catching up on reading and some movies.
Friday morning comes finally. Here things get blurry. The last thing i clearly remember is shaving my body. All of it from the neck down. I have a vague recollection of them coming to get me for surgery but not a clear one. My wife tells me I was talking up a storm right until they injected me with the Versed at which point I was a vegetable.
So while I was sleeping, the CardioThoracic team, led by Dr G, first harvested part of my Saphenous vein from my left leg to use in one of the bypasses they did. Next they cut my chest from the top of my sternum to the bottom, then cut the sternum from top to bottom and spread my rib and chest apart. I was then put on a bypass machine to circulate my blood while another machine breaths for me. The doc use the harvested saphenous vein to bypass one blocked coronary artery then use the left internal mammary artery to bypass my Left Anterior Descending artery (the big one that they call the widowmaker). I had one more vessel that was missing (a hereditary thing) but they figured if I have been this long without it, then they weren’t going to mess with it. Finished with the bypasses, they wire the top of my sternum together, use basically 2 metal zip ties on the bottom half and close me up and I go to recovery.
My wife tells me I came out of recovery fairly quickly, I have no clue really. My first clear memory post-op is being in the ICU room and being HOT. I mean Texas Butt Bake hot. I was still intubated and had a gastric tube in and was unable to talk but using a pen and paper was able to let my wife know I was hot and she was able to apply a wet wash cloth. I kept falling asleep and the staff and my wife kept trying to keep me awake and breathing on my own so they could extubate me. At one point, trying to encourage my wife to be more aggressive with the wash cloth, i wrote “wax on”. She didn’t find it anywhere near as funny as my son did. Being extubated sucked but the pain was nothing compared to what I had coming.
The rest of Friday was spent mostly in a drug induced haze. Breathing was painful and I wont even try to describe coughing, which I was made to do regularly. Saturday, I was up out of bed. The 2 chest tubes I had made movement painful, but I was determined to get through this. By Saturday afternoon I was up walking the corridors with the assistance of a wheeled walker. Sunday I badgered them into removing tubes and lines as much as possible. Foley out (Thank God). Jugular line out. Both chest tubes and pacemaker out. Wow, I didn’t realize how much pain the chest tubes were causing until I had them taken out. It’s immediately easier to get in and out of bed. I am know able to move from my bed to the chair or toilet on my own, at a pace faster than a 90yr old with bilateral hip replacements. Monday they transfer me to a step down telemetry unit. I no longer have a giant room all to myself, I now have a room half the size and a room-mate. The staff, while professional, doesn’t seem to have their heart in it. I start badgering my Dr G for discharge. Usually discharge is 5-6 days after surgery…I want out now. After much whining and moaning, I get discharged on Tuesday, 4 days post-op.
The pain is exquisite. I have never appreciated how easy something like getting out of bed was until I couldn’t do it without 10/10 pain. I spend the first almost 2 weeks at home sleeping in a recliner I had the wife buy and put in the bedroom. I refused pain meds on discharge, as I want to do this and I need to feel the pain that I brought on myself through my own bad choices.
As I write this, I am 7 weeks post op. I haven’t been in a hammock since before my surgery, mostly due to an abundance of caution where my sternum is concerned. I am still in pain regularly and move like a 75 yr old. I can’t lift more than 10 lbs, yet,but hopefully that will change this week when i go for my final follow up with my surgeon. I never did surgical nursing, not even much in nursing school, so I don’t know how much longer it will be until my chest fully heals but I expect it will be a while, it’s not every day you spend 4 or so hours with you chest spread apart a foot wider than it should be. All my chest and upper back muscles were ripped apart or stretched, all the way down to the intercostal muscles between each of my ribs. Taking a real deep breath still makes me twinge a little, but I am in cardiac rehab and doing well.
I didn’t write this to make you feel sorry for me. I did this to myself, mostly. Yeah there was some genetics involved with the cholesterol part, but the smoking part was all me. Over 30 years of smoking, off and on, was a BAD choice. Yeah, i didn’t smoke a lot when I was active duty and on exercises, but if I was off duty i had a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. I actually quit a couple times, but picked it back up for some dumb reason, every time. The weight I put on, I blamed on my neck pain and depression. Yeah both contributed but ultimately I made the choice to let them control me. Now I am making different choices. I haven’t had a cigarette since the night of my heart attack. There isn’t a day that goes by that I dont think about having one, but I am holding firm on that one. I mostly quit caffeine and I can count the number of sodas I have had since surgery on one hand. I have lost 15 lbs since i was discharged from the hospital and would like to get down to what I used to weigh. If you read this far, I pray you learn from my mistakes. The night of my heart attack I found out I am going to be a grandfather. If it’s a boy, I want to teach him about the joy of peeing outside. I want to walk my daughters down the aisle. I want to hike the AT. The list of things i still want to accomplish is long, and I plan on learning from my mistakes, and taking this opportunity that God has given me to do the second 50 yrs of my life right.
I hope you do also.