Waking Up To A Fresh Start (Part 2)
Note: This is part seven of the “Open Heart” series. To read part 1, click here.
I'll tell you now that the four-and-a-half days in the hospital after open heart surgery feel very distant. It was less than four months ago as I write this, but it seems much longer than that.
At the time the ordeal was a magnanimous one, but now it is almost a speck in my rearview mirror. You might say it's out-of-body, because it's so far removed from your typical life, and then suddenly it's over and almost everything is back to normal. And normal isn't entirely a good thing.
This NoteStream covers Day 2 after surgery. For Day 1, see here
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Click here for the NoteStream for Part 1 of Waking Up to A Fresh Start
Sunrise was about the time I started to feel a bit lonely. My family's anticipated arrival of 7 or 8 a.m. seemed a lifetime away. It also started to dawn on me that having many of the various tubes pulled out of me was not going to be pleasant.
A cardiac catheter was in the jugular vein of my neck and went all the way into my heart. It had allowed the surgeons to run diagnostic tests and scope the situation with a camera before cutting into my chest. I was glad I couldn't see it when a male nurse pulled it out.
Let’s Take A Look
He made me hum as he removed the long, rigid tube. My humming was to reduce the risk of getting an air bubble in my circulatory system. The sensation was not something I'll forget, and it gave me a taste of what was to come.
Soon after the cardiac catheter was removed, a couple of temporary pacemaker wires that sprouted from my torso, a urinary catheter and an IV or two,
(I recall having three at one point, then two for the rest of my stay) were pulled out as well. Then it was time to try walking.
The physical therapist was at the end of her shift and was ready to go home. If I wanted to be moved from the ICU into general care, where I could have my own room and more privacy, I had to prove I was well enough. That meant I had to walk as far as I could from my bed and back again.
Not Enough Time
Ten minutes earlier I'd just had the tubes pulled out of my body; I wanted to take a short nap before I tried to walk.
There wasn't enough time. I would have to buck up and do the walking test now, or wait until the PT returned the next day.
Reluctantly, I sat up and grabbed the walker in front of me.
The stern, young Latina woman treated me rather coldly, I thought.
Not A Good Feeling
She had short patience for my moaning and I felt like a pig at a 4-H show being hustled around the ring with taps from a stiff little whip. I stifled the urge to vomit or pass out over the walker and shuffled about 100 yards total. The fun had just begun.
Now that my catheter was out, I was told to pee in a jug whenever I had to micturate.
This allowed the nurses to measure my outflows. So began my desensitization to holding my penis in a jug for the world to see as I sat on the edge of a chair or a bed.
I've never been shy in public restrooms. I've always been able to pee at will. Of course I felt shy learning to do my business in front of anyone who was in the room, but that wasn't the full reason I struggled to void my bladder.
The urine came out in forced bursts and little trickles, yet my bladder was aching for relief that wouldn't come.
This was probably because of the drugs affecting my system, and it continued for about 48 hours after surgery. I'll talk about this a little more in a moment.
It was during my transfer to from the ICU to general care that I noticed how some nurses didn't seem to listen as well to what I was trying to tell them, that this or that hurt, etc.
Are You Listening?
To their credit, it's unlikely I was communicating as well as I thought.
For example, I had two large drains that came out below my ribcage.
The tubes were connected to a couple of balloon-like containers that collected blood from my pericardium (the sack of tissue around the heart). The containers had to be emptied regularly. One tube was especially sensitive and I tried to tell a male nurse, who was new at the job, about the pain as he emptied one of the containers.
He casually pinched the tube and squished the remaining blood down into the balloon by sliding his fingers down the length of the tube in a stripping motion. It felt like a vacuum was sucking on my heart.
The pain of having my guts stirred in such a way was so intense and sudden that it cut me off mid-sentence. I was paralyzed for a moment.
"Oh, does that hurt?" the nurse asked.
I couldn't speak.
"Do you want some pain killers?" he asked after a long pause.
The nurses clearly wanted to do their best, but of all the ones I met, none had been through open heart surgery. They meant well, but they only had a theoretical understanding of what it felt like.
I have both criticism and empathy for the hospital staff.
Until I was 17, I planned on being a doctor – a heart surgeon, no less – and I was in the med-prep classes in which we did internships as nursing assistants at the hospital.
It was enough experience for me to appreciate how challenging it is to provide a high level of care for a great number of patients, who vary as much in their needs as they do in personality. Thus, I might be more forgiving on some matters and less so for others.
When they finally moved me from the ICU, hours after they said they would, it was in a wheelchair.
Another young male nurse said he normally worked in the cancer wing and was filling in for someone. Which meant he had even less of an idea what exactly I was going through.
He wheeled me to a bed in a cold room and parked the chair in front of it. In my mind I felt as though everyone was waiting expectantly for me to stand up and get in the new bed on my own.
Not Easy On Your Own
Isn't he going to help me with this? I thought. I'd been trained to be hyper-attentive in these situations during my hospital internship half a lifetime ago.
Next Time, Ask
I should have asked for assistance instead of assuming that everyone was waiting for me to perform like they had during my test with the walker.
I lurched from the wheelchair to the bed, shivering in the room that seemed so cold. Dizzy with fatigue, I couldn't even hold myself upright and allowed myself to collapse back onto the pillow. Except the bed was completely flat, as opposed to the elevated position.
I slammed onto my back and my torso exploded with pain. I asked for a blanket and more pain meds with chattering teeth as the young nurse looked down at me, wide-eyed, probably feeling like he dropped the ball (or a patient).
No Sweet Dreams
At least I finally had my own TV and some privacy. The rest of the day passed by in one long sleepy stupor, until late that night when I had to pee in the worst way.
"Maybe you just feel like you have to pee – the drugs can have that affect," said a well-meaning nursing assistant.
"No, I really, really do have to go." I'd been sitting on the edge of the bed with my jug for the last hour. I'd managed little squirts here and there, but for some reason I couldn't drain my swelling bladder. It was hell.
At first the nursing assistant hovered behind me for several minutes to give me a degree of privacy. When nothing was happening and she couldn't convince me to give up, she left the room after I swore that I was able to do this safely on my own.
That didn't stop her from checking in on me every few minutes, standing in the open doorway of my dark room.
At first I'd try to cover up when she came in, but soon I stopped bothering with any notion of privacy. I didn't care anymore who saw me through the open door with my junk hanging out. I just wanted to pee.
The well-meaning NA continued to hover and talk to me like she was mothering a 10-year-old boy. It annoyed me that she didn't believe how truly I had to pee. How I dreamed of peeing!
Really Did Have To Go!
"I think this would be easier for me if you just left me alone. Really." I said.
She seemed hurt at the implication that she wasn't helping me, but she finally listened and left me alone with the jug between my legs. By midnight, I'd filled that sucker up one and a half times.
"Oh, you really did have to go!" the NA said.
Part 3 continues here.