Waking Up To A Fresh Start (Part 3)
Note: This is part eight 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. Normal means that shit continues to happen.
This NoteStream covers Days 3, 4 and 5 after surgery. For Day 1 see here. For Day 2 see here.
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By the end of the third day, I could pee easier and walk around my room pretty well (I think I had my first bowel movement, too, which of course was a bit belabored).
I read and watched TV, but mostly I napped. My dad and Mandi were regular visitors and they spent a lot of time reading or talking quietly while I dozed.
I didn't have any tubes pulled out that day – the big drain tubes for my pericardium were left in until the fourth day – but they did wean me from IV painkillers.
The New Protocol
This meant I had to swallow pills from then on, and they weren't as strong or fast-acting as the drip.
They started me on a very conservative dose of Oxycodone, at 10 milligrams.
I ended up watching the clock for hours until my next dose. Eventually I convinced the nurse to up the dose to 15 mg every six hours.
"Ten milligrams is like what they give to little old ladies," one nurse said later in disbelief. The point is, painkillers are something the hospital basically makes you ask for.
On day three I also took my first shower, which was part of the bathroom attached to my room. I felt better after washing my sweaty skin, but it took a lot of effort, especially since I had to carry the blood-filled bottles attached to the end of my sensitive pericardium drains along with a heavy electronic monitor that streamed my vital signs to a computer at the nurses station.
One perk of my situation is that, as a healthy young man, I had no dietary restrictions.
I could order whatever room service I wanted! The doc even encouraged me to eat whatever made me happy. Still, I didn't get much of an appetite until the end of the day. I ate mostly soups and simple foods with juice. By the end of the day, though, I was ordering crab cakes smothered in hollandaise sauce and cheeseburgers with onion rings.
Are You Sure?
The room service attendant couldn't believe it.
"You're a heart patient? You're sure you're allowed to order this?"
"Yes," I said.
"I'll need to check with your doctor first."
The room service certainly added an element of fun to my hospital stay.
The Broncos lost miserably to the Patriots and my last drain tubes were pulled out, which made it a tough day.
Again, the nurse didn't seem to pay attention to my warning that one of the tubes was particularly sensitive.
"It'll be like pulling a stitch – it won't hurt at all," he said as he went about pulling the most sensitive tube with casual abandon. I started to tell him, "Bullshit, let me have some painkillers first," but, again, I was cut off mid-sentence by the paralyzing pain of the tube being pulled from my chest cavity.
Not Ready To Leave
The doctor came by and floated the possibility of discharging me that day.
I remembered how I felt when I allowed them to move me out of the ICU before I was quite ready, and declined the offer. I would have a three-hour drive to get home, and I wasn't exactly feeling tip-top. No thanks, I told the doc. I was glad I stuck to my guns, because going through discharge the next day was exhausting in itself.
One More Day
(Keep in mind that any hospital wants to free up as many beds as it can whenever possible, so hold your ground if they're pressuring you to discharge before you're ready.)
Discharge started around 8 a.m. but the process took hours. The doc had to do a final check up. Nurses came by to lecture me how to handle myself once I was back at home.
There was endless paperwork to sign and prescriptions to fill. Our goal for check-out was 10 a.m. but it was early afternoon when we finally got out of there.
Mandi drove and took lots of rest stops for me as I tried to relax with a pillow between me and the seat belt. (Seat belts still irritate the scar on my chest.)
Plan carefully if you have more than a one-hour drive to get home after discharge. Don't underestimate how hard it can be to sit in a mostly fixed (and vulnerable) position for so long.
We stopped by Ragged Mountain Sports, the shop where I work, on the way home to show off my scar. I felt great, but I had a loooong way to go.
(Image: Showing off my fresh scar on the way home from the hospital!
The next chapter of my story can be found here.