Those of you who have been following the “from the heart” series may have assumed that I had finished the recounting of my heart surgery experience since I haven’t written another installment in a while. I’ve just been busy and on vacation but I’m back now and it’s time to finish the story. Parts 1 – 9 told the story from my first appearance in the emergency room through just after my open heart surgery. I have just awakened in the private room and checked out all the damage done to my body. Having determined as previously stated that my goal is to get out of the hospital and go home as quickly as possible the next few days I focus on just that.My surgery took place on September 6, 2001 and the next few days would be pivotal for me, but not for the reasons I expected.To read from the heart parts 1 – 9 go here
The next few days of recovery in the hospital are somewhat a blur to me. The doctors have warned me that short term memory loss and confusion are both common side effects that patients experience after being on a heart-lung machine such as I was during the surgery. Something about oxygen going to the brain. I find I can remember most everything that happened during those days but rarely in the chronological order they actually occurred. It took a few “arguments” with Sheri before I resigned myself to the fact I would never remember the actual order in which things happened. So, I am going to gloss over those few days and ask you the reader to understand.These days were spent trying to get out of the hospital- not breaking out, mind you, rather in conditioning myself so the doctors would let me go home. The day after my surgery I got out of bed, and very slowly made it to the visitor’s chair. I sat there for a good 30 – 45 minutes before pain and fatigue forced me back into bed. I really can’t describe just how tired I was. It seemed the slightest exertion could tire me out. But over the next 3 days I was able to start walking in the halls. This was quite a spectacle since I was hooked up to an IV, and still had the two drain hoses in my abdomen that drained into a plastic bag which was hung on the IV “tree”. I wasn’t fast walking around the halls pushing my tree but I pushed myself as far as I could and soon was wheeling all around the floor. I walked and I walked until I felt faint, returned to the room and rested, and then walked some more. I REALLY wanted to go home. One time I walked down a tunnel leading off the floor and it took me out of range of the wireless heart monitor I’d been wearing since the surgery. The nurses didn’t find it funny, but I did.A few days after the surgery Dr. Lawrie, the surgeon, came in for his daily visit and said it was time to remove the two tubes in my abdomen. He told me the first one would be the most “uncomfortable” to remove and he would count to 3 so I could be brace myself for the removal. It wasn’t bad when he pulled it out, in fact it felt kind of weird, like something being pulled inside my gut. He said he’d count to 3 again for the other tube but that it wouldn’t be as bad as the first. He counted 1, 2, and yanked the tube out before I expected it. It was quickly apparent he lied about which tube would be the worst. From the way the tube felt coming out it was in my abdomen quite deeply and all I can say is it really hurt coming out and almost made me faint. But then it was done and I had another tether removed on the road to home.On the fifth day after the surgery I was sitting in the chair watching Good Morning America with Sheri and hoping the doctor would come by this morning and send me home. He had seemed less positive about that the day before but I was keeping my hopes up. Whether I got to go home that day or not I would remember the events with utmost clarity. The TV show broke for a special report from New York and both Sheri and I turned our attention to the tube. Her sister lives and works in New York so our concern was immediate. Live video was showing the aftermath of a plane that had flown into the side of one of the World Trade Towers. With both of us glued to the TV I remember we talked about how tragic an accident this was and how spooky to be watching it on TV. We watched as the camera rolled on and a second jumbo jet flew directly into the side of the Tower. I turned to Sheri and remember clearly saying these words: “My God, it’s deliberate!” And in those few seconds of horror my own troubles were far away as the tragedy unfolded in front of the entire country. September 11, 2001 would forever change the United States and all who live here.I got to go home that day, 9/11. Not because I was ready to be released but because all hospitals in the Houston Medical Center were put on alert for possible terrorist activities in the Houston area. Houston is considered a prime target for the cowards that do these dastardly deeds and the hospitals had been told to release all patients not considered to be in a life threatened state. So the one thing I had been shooting for all week finally happened, but it was bittersweet having witnessed the unnecessary suffering and death in New York. Like everyone else in the US I was forever changed by that day. I remember it felt like my soul hurt and my own troubles were so insignificant.Looking back on that day and returning to my wonderful home, I know now I wasn’t ready to come home. The trip home was very difficult and tiring, and made me realize I was not recovered as fully as I led myself to believe. But I survived it and grew stronger over the next few weeks. Sheri admitted to me much later that I was so pale when I came home that she was scared to death I was going to have trouble. The next few weeks were difficult, especially at night. The trauma to the breastbone was severe and I could not lie down on my back or side, and sleeping was very difficult. I was taking heavy diuretics during the recovery which made me go the bathroom several times during the middle of the night and I came to dread it. Getting back in bed hurt like hell, and trying to get to sleep was hard. But when we have to endure we do, that’s the human spirit, and so it was with me. I started a new job six weeks after my surgery. The pain in my breastbone went away about a year after the operation.I have recovered fully due to the excellent medical care I received, the love of my wife and family, and the oversight of someone above. I now know the likely cause of my heart problems was diabetes. I had apparently been an undiagnosed Type 2 diabetic for who knows how long before my trouble brought it to light. I had been given insulin the entire time I was in the hospital (I found out later) as my glucose level was way too high. I now take oral medication for that and to keep my blood pressure and cholesterol levels down. A normal glucose level is between 80 and 120- the day I saw the endocrinologist the first time a few weeks after my surgery my glucose level was 480. 600 is coma. Undiagnosed diabetes is the number one cause of heart attacks in the United States.I hope this account is helpful to anyone who might be confronted with a similar situation. Trust your doctors and ask lots of questions- it’s the unknown we tend to fear most. Please ask your doctor to check your glucose level occasionally. It’s very treatable with medication now but also deadly when left unchecked. I would like to thank Dr. Cyril Tawa, Dr. Gerald Lawrie, and the countless staff and nurses at CyFair and Methodist Hospitals. Finally, I would like to thank my wonderful wife Sheri. The care she gave me is the reason I made it through this trying time, as surely as the fine medical care I received. She was my eyes and ears with the doctors when I couldn’t do it myself and I wouldn’t have come through this without her. I love you, baby!