from the heart- part 8


heart_logoIntensive Care Unit at Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas, approximately 8 am on September 7, 2001. Having finally gotten the ventilator tube removed from my throat I am finally able to breathe and concentrate on my body after the surgery. I am recovering from a triple coronary bypass surgery that ended late the previous evening. I am able to move a little as the restraints that held me motionless have been removed by the nurse. I would find out later that I had been trying to remove the ventilation tube from my throat during the night and had to be restrained to prevent that from happening. I am coming out of the anesthesia and my awareness of the surroundings is surprisingly good. At this point I am very thirsty and my throat is totally dry, no doubt from the tube. My throat is hurting worse than anything else and I’d love a drink of water. The ICU nurse is hovering around me, constantly checking the monitors I’m hooked up to, checking my blood pressure and making sure I’m comfortable. I’m lying in the bed, mentally assessing what’s going on around me, watching the other patients in the large open room.To read “from the heart- parts 1 – 7” go here

The ICU is basically a very large open room, with beds in a circle around the outer wall and the nurse’s hub in the middle. Each bed contains a patient and all beds seem to be occupied. Each patient has a nurse assigned so there is a lot of activity in the room all the time. Most of the patients are critically ill, that’s why they call it Intensive Care. I saw one patient die, and several apparent close calls. It’s not a pleasant place to be but I can’t tell you how thankful I am that I am there. There are no visitors- visitation is strictly enforced and only one family member at a time can come in and only at preset times so most of the time it’s just patients and nurses. I remember noticing that none of the patients were speaking- the only voices in the room were doctors and nurses.I should give a little background on me so you can understand my mentality in the recovery process I am beginning. I have always been healthy, seldom sick and have always been able to recover quickly from illness and injury. I’m just lucky that way. I have recovered from back surgery on two separate occasions, difficult recoveries normally but my body rebounded very well. The hospital experience I gained from those surgeries is coming into play already now, and as I lay in the bed I am mentally mapping out my strategy. That sounds strange but hey, I didn’t have anything else to do.The ultimate goal for me right now is to get out of the hospital. Hospitals are not nice places to be, it’s impossible to truly rest there, and it’s just so much more comfortable to be in my own home. It’s amazing but I remember this thought process so clearly even now, to say I was focused would be an understatement. I start by trying out my body- I want to know how messed up I am by the surgery. I know I’m obviously pumped full of pain killers so how bad can moving a little be? Very dumb question, as I find out by stirring in the bed a little. I feel like I’ve been hit by a Mack truck. The bed sheets are pulled up almost to my neck as they’ve tucked me in really tightly to minimize my movement and as a result I can’t see what they’ve done to me. I want to see my chest, and I want to see my legs. I remember my uncle showing me his scars on his legs from his similar surgery a few months before and I really want to see how badly they cut my legs to get the veins for grafting. He had scars all the way from his upper thighs to his ankles and it was the worst part of his recovery, at least the way he told it. I’m trying to get mentally prepared for what I’m going to endure and to be fore-warned is to be fore-armed, at least that’s my mindset at this early stage.I gradually get myself worked out from under the bed covers, it takes a while and hurts like hell but I do it. Such a sense of accomplishment for this minor success but I have to take it a baby step at a time. I really need water now, I’m so dry and my throat’s really hurting and irritated. I call out to the nurse but nothing comes out. I mean, not even a sound. My vocal cords are just not working at all. Maybe it’s just that I’m so dry. I finally get her attention by waving my right arm around and she comes over and I finally get out my request for water in a very low, hoarse whisper. She tells me I can’t have water yet, something about possible nausea from the anesthesia. Of course. No water for me. It takes me a long time as I can only whisper for a few words at a time but I must have made a strong enough case as she brings me a Styrofoam cup with a teaspoonful of ice chips in it. I remember looking at it and thinking- how am I supposed to be satisfied with THAT? She tells me I have to take it slow and just dissolve them in my mouth a little at a time because I can’t have any more. But I’m so thirsty it lasts all of 30 seconds. I literally badger her for a good while until she finally brings me a half cup of ice chips but again tells me not to take too much or I’ll be sick. What she doesn’t know that I do is that I’ve had surgery before and never had problems with anesthesia after-affects. So wisely or not I’m not worried about it. Those ice chips last maybe two minutes, I can’t gulp them down quickly enough. And swallowing really hurts but the truth of the matter I am focused on the ice as the first part of my recovery. One step at a time.My wife Sheri comes in to visit at some point and I’m eating ice chips and totally coherent which surprises her. It’s literally been just a few short hours since my heart was stopped on the operating table and repaired and yet here I am moving around a little, talking to her and eating ice. Doctors come in and say everything is going very well and I’m promised I’ll be up in a room soon so I can rest. I fell asleep and don’t remember much else of the ICU. I vaguely remember being moved to a regular room and promptly falling back asleep. My wife is there and my Mom and brother, and as I drift in and out of awareness someone says “that’s what he needs is sleep”. It would be later before I could take stock of exactly what they’ve done to my body.


Jacqueline King

Thanks so much for your post James. As Bruce said, I have found reading your experience gave me comfort and understanding as my father passed away in hospital from a heart attack 2 months ago. Thanks for sharing your experience.


Thanks Bruce! I am really enjoying this site as a forum for whatever catches my fancy and it’s a lot of fun for me. That is coincidental about the timing of my heart problems and your loss. The world is truly a small place sometimes.

Thanks for the kind words.

Bruce Keener


I never realized until today the coincidence between your life-changing event and my wife’s passing: She passed away in the early morning hours of September 7, 2001!

It must be difficult for you to share as much of your personal experience as you are sharing, but I can tell you that others will benefit from it and I think it’s great that you are doing it.

Your blog is really impressive – I had not visited it for about the past month, and I am literally AMAZED at the amount and quality of information you are providing herein. Great Work!


Very descriptive. I can picture the whole scene while reading this. Can’t wait for part 9!

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