As you might recall from the last installment in from the heart I have just arrived at Methodist Hospital at about 1 am on September 6, 2001. I am scheduled to have a triple coronary bypass at 3 pm this afternoon and my wife Sheri and I have been up for almost 24 hours, the last 10 of which were in the emergency room at Cy Fair Hospital. I am scared, tired, hungry, and have a jumble of emotions that dance around in my head like a bad dream. Sheri is not faring much better than I and to complicate things for her our three kids are at home alone awaiting word from Sheri. The oldest one is 12 so there’s no problem leaving them home alone but it worries her just the same on top of everything else going on. They are at home scared stiff because they’re too young to understand exactly what’s going on- they just know that it’s bad. Part of my decision to write this chronicle is for them to have an account to read when they’re older so they will be able to comprehend this dark period.This part of the story is the one I have been dreading the most- it’s the most painful for me and I have been putting off the telling of it. But if it can help someone it’s worth it and it’s important for me to confront it.To read from the heart- parts 1 through 6 go here
Methodist Hospital is one of the most advanced hospitals in the world and the cardiac care facility they have is second to none. I am so fortunate to live in Houston, the center of the medical world for many years. Upon arrival at Methodist it is only a few minutes before I am in my private room. We decided to spring for a private room anticipating the many long hours Sheri would be sitting with me and it was a good decision. It was a very good thing the company that had laid me off a few months before had a policy that employees over 40 received free family health insurance for six months after being laid off. That policy would end up costing them in six figures in my case. Serves them right.The morning of the surgery is kind of a blur for me. So many emotions running rampant in my mind. To try and describe them would seem trite, let’s just say I was terrified, and leave it at that. Late in the morning an orderly was sent in to prepare me for the operation. He was a very nice older gentleman and I wish I remembered his name. His job was to shave me so all possible surgical sites were hairless. They usually take the veins from the legs but they can’t tell in advance how easy it will be to find good candidates so I was shaved from my neck to my feet. I have never been so smooth in my life and it felt, well, strange.In the middle of the afternoon they came to take me to surgery. I thought Sheri was going to faint or something and I wasn’t feeling too well myself. They whisked me to the surgical preparation room where I was at the beginning of this story- part 1. I don’t remember the operating room at all so I was either already drugged when they took me in or I just can’t recall it. The next thing I knew it was very early in the morning.I’m sure I came out of the anesthesia over time but it felt like I wakened all at once. I remember distinctly being totally aware of the area I was lying in. Hospital bed, ICU open all around me, lots of noise from the many monitors hooked up to me and the other patients. I couldn’t move and that concerned me. At first I thought I was tucked into the bed so tightly so I wouldn’t move but I found at later my hands were restrained. I was miserable because I had a big tube down my throat and it was gagging me. I felt like I was drowning, and the tube was slamming against my vocal cords which hurt like hell. I couldn’t stand it, constant choking and gagging which made me move around and that hurt like hell, too. The ICU nurse that was assigned to me was instantly at my side talking soothingly, telling me where I was and that I was doing well. Like I’m going to believe her with this constant choking. It made me reflexively swallow continually and that hurt even more as the ventilation tube jammed my vocal cords.In spite of the pain I asked the nurse to please take the tube out- “I’m choking, I can’t stand it!” She told me I would only have to have the tube for a little while longer but it couldn’t come out yet. I remember crying for a couple of hours, it hurt so bad and the feeling of constant gagging and choking was just too much on top of everything else. I couldn’t speak above a hoarse whisper because of the tube and I just begged her over and over to take the tube out. Finally she said “Mr. Kendrick, one of your lungs collapsed during the surgery and we have to leave the tube in just in case it happens again. Believe me, you don’t want us to entubate you while awake so you’ll just have to wait a while longer.” I’ll never forget that statement as long as I live. I had never heard the term “entubate” before but I’d never forget it now.Sheri had finally gone home when I got out of surgery around midnight the night before. They told her I did really well and since I was going to ICU she couldn’t visit me anyway so they sent her home. She would have stayed anyway but the kids had been alone so long and were so worried that she decided to go and return early the next morning. She called and asked the ICU nurse how I was doing first thing in the morning. The nurse told her I had a very restless night and kept trying to take the ventilation tube out so they restrained my arms. This is why I couldn’t move in the bed even a little. Sheri asked the nurse when they would take the tube out- she didn’t think she could handle seeing me on the ventilator. They told her it would be coming out soon so she should come on in.This was the worst time of the entire ordeal for me- helpless, scared, and the choking. I literally thought I would lose my mind- I just couldn’t take it anymore. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, she came in and said “All right Mr. Kendrick. The doctor said we can take the tube out now.” Bless him, bless him, bless him. A little discomfort when they pulled the tube out but, oh wow, such instant relief! My throat was so dry and so sore from the tube and I quickly found I still could only whisper when I asked for water. I felt sure my voice would come back soon. Actually it would be another five weeks before I could speak.