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My Own March Madness – part 5 March 31, 2006

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My stay in Intensive Care was extended a day by the endrocrinologist, while he continued to tinker with dosages, trying to find a balance that suited him between two two kinds of insulin I was being given (one fast-acting, the other a 24-hour-type).

I gained a small personal victory in how I made the move upstairs to a regular room. I “walked”!! No, not up the stairs… but to the elevator, on and off there, then to my new room. The nursing staff on that third floor wing all knew where I was coming from and there were looks of genuine surprise on a few faces.

The next couple of days passed rather slowly. My cardiologist and my surgeon were both ready to send me home, but delayed my release until my endocrinologist could decide upon my “discharge dose” of insulin. He finally agreed on Sunday evening to set those the next morning.

At about 10:00 a.m. on Monday, March 20th, I called Lara at work and told her that she should probably be there in about an hour. FINALLY, at around 12:30 that afternoon, I was free.

I had been to the edge, to the very brink. I had been much closer to that precipice than I should have ever allowed myself to get. Much closer than I intended to be again until at least another fifty-one years have passed.

Now begins the long journey back. Back to health, back to vitality. Back to not merely functioning …back to living. If ever there was a time for self-examination, introspection, re-evaluation and such, it is now. I know it’s not going to be an easy road, but it is a road that must be travelled. I embark upon this with optimism reminiscent of what I felt before the surgery. I’m hopeful and curious. It’s going to be interesting to see what I’ll be becoming.

My Own March Madness – part 4 March 30, 2006

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Tuesday the 14th dragged along without further news. Finally, about 2:00 p.m., I was told that it did not appear that they’d be able to get to me that day, so I was being scheduled for first thing Wednesday morning.

I ate dinner in the room with Lara that evening feeling a sense of guarded optimism. I was absolutely glad that there was not going to be another day of waiting and uncertainty. I had never undergone surgery before and tried my best not to allow my blank expectations to be colored by what I had seen during decades of television and movies. Feeling genuinely upbeat was nice. There was no need to manufacture a brave facade to present to Lara.

Sleep came around midnight that night. I was awakened at about 5:00 a.m. by early preparations for surgery. Eventually I was taken downstairs to a large green-curtain-partioned “holding area” where I met the doctor who would be my anesthesiologist. I asked him a couple of questions about what to expect when regaining consciousness. Memories of his answers are fuzzy. There is no memory between that and waking up in a room in the ICU.

According to Lara, I evidently was evidently waking up too quickly and was given additional anesthesia. My first real memory was the awareness that I was out of surgery and that she was there. The first coherent thought I recall having was to try to demonstrate that I was capable of breathing on my own so that they’d remove that cursed respirator tube from my throat. I did, and they obliged.

Once that was out I lifted my head a bit to try and take a look at myself. It was not a pretty sight. There seemed to be a lot of blood on my gown. Multiple drainage tubes protruded here and there across the middle of my chest. I felt covered with heart monitor electrodes, and I was aware of big IV lines inserted on my upper chest near each shoulder.

And I hurt. Not a lot, no the morphine and whatever else kept things manageable, but the realization was present that all this was really going to be hurting soon. (more…)

My Own March Madness – part 3 March 29, 2006

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The next few days are a bit of a blur. I returned to work for a few hours that Thursday, and work a more-or-less full day on Friday. Breaking the news to executive management at work was much easier than telling Lara.

Really, though, at that point there was not a lot to tell: relate what little I knew about the results of the MPS, describe the Cardiac Cath procedure upcoming (acknowledge the risks, and emphasize the possibility that perhaps with "balloons" and stents whatever problems there were could perhaps be fixed while I was on the table). Lara held herself together pretty well. I'm fairly certain she just didn't want me to see how scared she was.

Monday morning arrived much too soon.

I waited in an outpatient room for about an hour, then was taken to the room where the procedure was to be done. There was some pain initially, but I had been pretty thoroughly medicated and by the time I was moved off the table I was mostly feeling veeeery drowwwsy. I remember returning to the room where I'd waited, but then drifted off to sleep.

After a rather nice nap of perhaps an hour, I gradually awoke as a nurse took my "vitals." Minutes later, a doctor I had not met previously entered. Cardiovascular surgeon Dr. James Counce was the one who delivered the bad news. The problems revealed by the cardiac catheterization were so severe that bypass surgery was the only option.

"Bypass. O.K., how many?"

"We won't know for certain until we see things firsthand. At least three, possibly as many as five." (more…)

My Own March Madness – part 2 March 28, 2006

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Washington Regional Medical Center tops a gentle hill that not so many years ago was graced by a sizeable walnut grove. The hospital is a pleasant-enough looking complex, I'm sure. Yet, on March 9th as I followed the nurse to Nuclear Medicine it was as if a thin antiseptic veneer was barely obscuring images of ancient subterranean chambers of torture.

The procedure I was to undergo involves the injection of a small amount of radioisotope which circulates in the bloodstream and shows if ones heart muscle is receiving adequate blood supply under stress (exercise) and/or rest conditions. Sounds innocuous enough from a distance. But as I faced it that day, visions danced in my head — visions of being jabbed with pitchforks while running for my very life on a treadmill of evil as litres of radioactive waste struggled slowly through my veins.

It wasn't really too bad.

But….

When it was over, the Nuclear Medicine staff requested an on-call cardiologist to evaluate what appeared to be "multiple abnormalities" present in the yards of my EKG printouts. Their call brought cardiologist, Dr. Ted Fish, who I've since learned is also "Chairman of Medicine" at WRMC.

I was allowed to dress, and wait while he perused the acres of squiggly lines. About an hour later a rather grim Dr. Fish was telling me that he was virtually sure my ordeal 11 days earlier had, in fact, been a heart attack. Further he said I needed to undergo a Cardiac Catheterization, and that it needed to happen NOW. (more…)

My Own March Madness – part 1 March 27, 2006

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O.K., so it actually started in late February, but I couldn't readily think of a clever title to accomdate that. Really it began long, long before that. That's digressing too much, though. The thread of my thoughts here should become evident directly.

On Saturday, February 25, 2006, I had a heart attack. I awoke at about 5:00 a.m. with the most severe chest pain I had ever experienced — a squeezing, crushing sensation centered in the middle of my rib cage.

Yes, I was frightened. I've been asked scores of times since then why I didn't call 911. There's no simple answer. In part, my symptoms were odd enough that I wasn't sure it was a heart attack. In addition to the chest pain, I had intense pain in both wrists. It felt as if huge spikes had been driven through each of them. Also, my forearms hurt. Ached. Were so sensitive to touch that I could hardly bear to let them rest on my lap as I sat on the couch.

Oh yes, the couch, where I had fallen asleep late Friday night while watching TV well after Lara had gone to bed. Which meant that it took a while before my groaning and gasping awakened her at the opposite end of the apartment. During those so very long minutes of solitary agony, the inner debate continued.

"It's bad, but there are all these crazy other symptoms. It's probably not a heart attack. I'll just wait it out."

"If it's not better in five, no, ten minutes I'll call for an ambulance."

"I can't afford a trip to the ER and days in the hospital! Unless it gets worse, I just grit it out."

And so on. Ultimately, Lara did hear me and came to see what was wrong, but I was not particularly communicative. I was able to make her understand which parts of me were hurting, but I don't think I really conveyed how excrutiating the pain was. This may have been at least somewhat volitional on my part. In spite of everything else, I did not want her to be as frightened as I was. (more…)