EKG and Stress Echo
After feeling winded or out of breath for a while I finally got into the doctor to have it checked out. First I had what they call a resting EKG on January 17, 2007 and then Dr. Ton scheduled me for a Stress Echo the following Friday. You've seen them all the time were the man is walking on a treadmill hooked up to all kinds of wires. Before that though they take another resting EKG with you lying your side while they give you an ultrasound of your heart. I joked with the doctor asking whether it was a boy or a girl.
As for the treadmill portion I barely got 3 1/2 minutes done when the test was stopped and I was put on the table again to do the ultrasound thing again. Dr. Ton said that the test was positive and he wanted to get advice from a cardiologist, Dr. Allen Anderson. Of course now I was getting more and more worried.
They now wheel chaired me to the cardiologist. Dr. Anderson explained to me the working of the heart and that when I get stressed or exert myself my heart was not pumping correctly, particularly the lower front portion, thus my windedness. He explained that he wanted to do a Cardiac Catheterization.
This procedure is where a small tube called a catheter through an incision in the groin area up to the heart. Then the doctor can use the catheter to inject ink and take more pictures of the heart or perform angioplasty where a balloon is inserted to stretch apart a partially blocked artery or insert a stint.
Dr. Anderson said that we should do this soon like next week. For some reason I was relieved that they were allowing me to go home for the weekend. We scheduled the procedure for the following Monday and I went home to deal with the shocking news I just received that this would be more serious as I had feared. I remember getting a pizza and a six pack of bear as all I wanted to do was to go home and spend the weekend on the couch. I also called Mary-Anne and Bill and Jeff from work to tell people what was happening. This started the grapevine working and I spend time on the phone with all of my family members.
Cardiac Catheterization -> Double Bypass
Eventually Monday (January 22, 2007) rolls around and catheterization procedure was actually quite easy however I was still quite uneasy with the troubling prognosis to date. During the procedure yet another cardiologist was called in to look at the results of the various tests including the ink test (which feels weird as warm ink is injected into your blood stream at your heart. Otherwise you pretty much cannot feel the catheter as it snakes through your veins).
The result was that one of three main arteries leading to my heart was 100% blocked while the other was 90% blocked. Basically not good! I was wheeled away to a staging area where the doctor explained the results to me and said he wanted to scheduled a double bypass for the following morning. I'm certain that I was given some sedatives to help me remain calm through the catheterization and afterward. Later nurses and other people came by and I recall signing a lot of documents and the like. Needless to say I was pretty much in shock. Part of this blog entry is to try to recapture the events/timelines as things moved pretty quick and/or times were hazy in my mind largely due to shock, stress or medications.
I believe I called Mary-Anne again to give her an update at this time and was wheeled to a room on the 6th floor of the hospital. I think Bill and Kent from work stopped by and Mary-Anne and Danielle arrived later that evening. I took a shower with antibacterial soap and a nurse shaved my entire body - odd feeling but my thoughts were much more about the major operation that I was scheduled for shortly
Mary-Anne and Danni got in late and back to the hotel late. It's really quite something when I think of how quickly they came to my aid even through between the shock, sedatives and worries my mind was occupied. On the morning of the surgery Mary-Anne was having difficulty finding the hospital again and barely made it before I was headed for the operating room, but they did make it.
It's at this time that things really get fuzzy in my mind. I do not recall entering the operating room nor being given any anestectic - not even the commonly talked about gas mask with the "count backward from 100..." thing. The next thing I remember was waking up in ICU.
Waking in ICU was strange. Of course I was sore and disoriented. I remember that Mary-Anne and Danni came in to visit and I believe Bill and David this time from work stopped by, although that doesn't make any sense as they are not family and I was in ICU for a few days because there was no space back on the 6th floor. Hey, I told you this part is still hazy to me.
The Breathing Incident
I remember in ICU having to do breathing exercises as an operation like this leaves the lungs with much fluid and you need to re-expand your air sacks in the lungs. These breathing exercises were done for 15 minute, 4 times a day and continued until I left the hospital. But the early ones immediately after the surgery were, of course, much more difficult.
At one time I could not properly breath. Taking a breath made me "wheeze" somewhat which caused me to cough and gasp for another breath. Let me tell you - you don't want to cough when your chest was just literally cracked open hours before! I could not catch my breath and the gasp/cough, gasp/cough continued. It is very frightening when you cannot breath! It is very frightening when you cough after such a surgery! Plus I was clutching my chest and tightening my chest muscles in such a way that the ICU nurses were telling me not to do that yet there was no way that I could see to stop doing that and get any air at all! Now during the operation you on a breathing tube and if need be I knew they were reinsert it. But I could not stand the thought of having that happen and me be awake!
An ICU nurse, a guy who's name still escapes me, helped me get up to a chair and sat and rubbed my back calming me down. That dude saved my life! - thanks dude!
After that scare I believe I was given some more pain meds. Now there was also a breathing apparatus that I was supposed to practice on on my own every hour. This one was powered by my own lungs whereas the other one forces air into your lungs as you inhale. Needless to say I made it a mission of mine to practice as much as I could because I damn sure did not want another incident like that one!
The ICU nurses are amazing. Nurses come in levels - levels of knowledge and personal care. The ICU nurses are on the top of the pack for sure. There was one named Amy (I think - geeze this is why I want to get this down) who was with me throughout the day. On the day after The Breathing Incident Amy really worked her wonders. Another things these nurses know are their pain meds. Amy gave me a couple of Percocets which really helped. I was able to get some sleep and afterwards felt great! It was at this point that I finally felt that I would "make it" whereas last night I thought I could easily have died.
I spent the next few days in ICU, not that I necessarily needed ICU but rather the 6th floor was filled. No matter, the care here was great. Pain meds, drawing of blood, draining fluids, breathing tests and practice and pulling of some of the tons of wires and tubes stuck in my chest was the order of the day here. I'm sure Mary-Anne and Danni visited a few times though again, order of events are still very hazy for me.
The 6th Floor
Eventually space freed up on the 6th floor and I was moved there. I received flowers from my sister, Cindy, as well as a fruit basket and nice card from my current client, Texas Instruments. I believe Bill and David visited as well as my older sister, Roxanne who arrived on Friday, visited. Each day I grew stronger. Breathing tests continued as well as breathing practice. Blood drawn, daily chest XRays, drainage of fluids, pain meds, diurects, monitoring of blood sugar, potassium, magnesium as well as potassium and magnesium IV drips, etc. were my life at this time. I also had a physical therapist that would help me take walks both in ICU and later on the 6th floor. Eventually I would just get up in the middle of the night where I could not sleep and do a few laps around the 6th floor.
We were still targeting for a release date of Saturday or Sunday and with Roxanne in we were set. We were still worried how I would survive at home with a set of 3 stories of steps to my apartment as well as be able to do the walking that was required while at home.
I must also say that I have had visits from various doctors including Dr. Ton, Dr. Anderson, Dr. Eckerson (the surgeon) and a few others. I got the feeling that not only the ICU nurse cared but the doctors did too.
I was released on Saturday, January 27, 2007 to go home. Mary-Anne, Danni and Roxanne were there to help me up the steps and I managed to get up them with a rest or two and to plop down into my newly bought recliner (Recliners of a Right of Passage for men. If you don't have one don't wait for open heart surgery to get one - they're great!).
Mary-Anne and Danni had a flight home for the next day and visited me in the morning before leaving. Roxanne would remain with me for the next two weeks. Again my strength was gaining with each hour. At first I took walks back and forth across the 3rd floor landing later adding going down only one flight of steps and back up. After a few days I added a few more landings. Now I'm going down and walking to the apartment complex office.
Being home is great. There's a sense of normalcy, comfort and familiarness that no hospital can give you. On the other side I do have to walk up a flight of steps to shower and showering, while refreshing, was exhausting at first but now pretty much a breeze. Having a nice recliner and access to the TV remote, access to my computer and entertainment of my own choosing is great. However I am growing restless and quite frankly want to get busy or productive again soon. I mean I typed all of this at midnight on February 2nd basically because I'm not sleepy yet. Plus as a contractor I don't get paid for not working. But Jeff, my boss at TI, insists that it's TI company policy that I sit out at least the required 4 weeks. I guess I should...
Super Bowl is coming up and Cindy's due to arrive for that so I'm looking forward to that. Tina, the middle sister, is coming a week after that followed by my brother Ray. It's nice to see all of the family again and I really appreciate them coming to my aid at this time.