No, not that kind of rehab.
And besides, go set up shop in Intensive Care for a week and see if you can’t shake the urge for a drink or a smoke. Being hooked up to a wall of machines and covered in tubes should be enough to wake most people up to the dangers of excess
My rehab is of the cardiac nature, if you haven’t figured that out yet have another drink, on me. Despite a lifetime spent avoiding places like hospitals and gyms, I was surprisingly calm a few Mondays ago when I walked across a frozen parking lot and up the stairs into a gym, that was located inside a hospital.
The room is basic. Some weights, a few treadmills, one elliptical machine (yes, I knew what that was, I’m not a total idiot), a stationary bike and several other machines that you sit on and, well, I haven’t figured out what those do yet.
There was a small group gathered in the middle of the room when I arrived for my first session. They started to check me out, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do and the entire situation started to make me uncomfortable. It was no fault of the three nurses running the program or my fellow patients, but I have always felt like I was on the outside of whatever side there was. Ever since I was a kid I felt that everyone around me was in on some inside joke while I either wasn’t cool enough to be included, or they just thought I wouldn’t be interested so they didn’t bother.
“Good morning, are you the new doctor,” said a sweet voice coming from an older woman that was in the midst of testing her blood sugar.
“Good morning, no ma’am, I’m not a doctor, I’m the new patient,” I answered softly.
You could tell that this particular group and been together for at least a few weeks and I could sense some of them wanted to follow up with more questions. The group of seven was much older than I am, and older people are noisy, but in this medical setting it seems people respect your privacy more than they would at a cocktail party so I figured it would take them a few sessions to resume the interview.
There was a weigh in and a check of blood pressure before you hooked yourself up to a heart monitor. The monitor is about the size of a cigarette pack but much heavier and clips to your pants or shirt. There are three wires attached to different parts of your chest via super strong sticky patches. After realizing that I was going to have to bribe my wife to shave my chest, we got to work.
A little warm up, some time on the treadmill, some time on the sitting down machine I have not yet named and that was it. Then we sit around until our heart rate reduces enough that we are safe to enter the outside world.
Just like that, it was over. I drove home that first day wondering if I needed to go back and began talking to myself. “I barely broke a sweat.” “I can do that at home.” “I drove a half hour to walk with a group of seniors? I live in the Berkshires, I can do that anywhere.” I’m not proud of that last thought but I promised honesty when we started this project.
The rehab goes for 12 weeks, so by the time I got home I promised myself to give it two weeks. I am glad I did. The exercise is important. But cardiac rehab is much more than that. I soon learned that this rehab is not just for bypass grafting survivors. After of some conversations at rehab I learned that my fellow patients are in the program for a variety of heart issues. We have a few stent holders, some heart attack survivors, some heart attack at riskers and then there is me.
By virtue of my age and my scars I seem to attract a minor amount of attention and I am starting to be okay with that. Talking about my experience has been a great way to heal and talking to some of these older patients helps me realize once again that I am not alone. It is only one hour three times a week but I already look forward to the rehab sessions more than anything outside of my home life.
It has taken me a few weeks to realize that I am not just rehabbing my heart, I am rehabbing my life, and that is hard to explain to those people in my generation that haven’t had a similar setback. It seems easier to relate to the older people in my rehab, perhaps because they are that much closer to death, or maybe they just listen better, or remember worse. Either way I am glad I get to keep going.
There are going to be good days and there are going to be bad days. But at least I still have days.
It doesn’t have to be bypass surgery. There are many other surgeries, disabilities and special needs that cause us to spend time away from our jobs and the people that make our daily routine so rewarding.
Work is a great source of stimulation, be it physical, emotional or psychological, and we miss it when it is taken away from us. For a child those same feelings occur when they miss a portion of school due to an illness or disability.
In most cases we are not looking for sympathy or special treatment, just a chance to get back what we lost when we were thrown a curveball that we grounded meekly back to the pitcher.
There are big things in this life and there are little things. Each has its place and its level of importance in our daily lives. And for most of us, a large percentage of our daily lives include work or school. The social circle that work creates is a valuable piece to our life balance and the camaraderie we feel as part of a team is something not easily replaced when we are at home healing or in a hospital getting treatment.
When the surgical team finished sewing me up after bypass surgery I wasn’t included in the rounds of fist bumps and high fives. They were my team, but I wasn’t on the team (I’m pretty sure surgeons fist bump, or possibly head butt in celebration of an artery well grafted).
Most people enjoy the aspects of being a team member and the workplace gives them the opportunity for that. You may be the guy at work that knows how to fix the copy machine. Or the lady that always remembers every co-workers birthday and passes around a card for everyone to sign. Those people are special. And when they aren’t around you notice. The company is not going to crumble if they are out sick, but your work day got worse because of their absence. And you can bet they missed work as much as you missed having that special person in your office that always hands you a cup of coffee as you are fading into that afternoon post lunch coma.
The work environment is a microcosm of life. We experience success, failure, joy, pain and a myriad of other emotions that shape us as human beings. We feel pressure and we bask in the sweet candy of success after a job well done. We learn from each other and have the ability to try new things and grow not only as people, but as role models.
Remember this when you go to work. So many of you in my circle of friends and past colleagues, through hard work and determination are in positions to effect change. You have risen to the levels that come along with important titles like Director, Vice President, Partner, or in some cases Owner.
You my friends, can lead this effort to allowing for an easy transition not only back to work for those that have suffered a severe bump in the road, but you can open the doors to a new employee and give an opportunity to someone that has been ignored due to preconceived notions or prejudices from the less evolved.
Don’t be the person that just walks past when you see someone struggling. Please don’t just pass on a prospective employee or client because they don’t act or look like everyone else. Don’t ignore someone that is lost and can’t find their way. Smile, say “good morning” and “thank you,” and so help me if I see you sitting comfortably on a bus, subway or Metro North while a little old lady is standing and losing her balance every time time we brake.
Imagine the impact your acts of kindness and respect to those of us with disabilities will have on your children. You all work so hard to raise your children right and by them witnessing magnanimous acts from their parents will have a lasting effect on everything they do. Real change doesn’t happen overnight but the more goodness they see in you the better chance we all have to help the neighborhood and raise the level of kindness for generations to come.
Our living years are finite, but our actions and impact are not. Work is only one piece of the puzzle but there are lessons between the walls of your office or the great expanses of your business that can change someone’s life, even if you don’t think it will. Step out of your shoes once and awhile and I promise good things will happen.
“A life is not important except in the impact is has on other lives,” said number 42 after his historic career in Brooklyn had come to an end.
The decisions we make, the people we help, will undoubtedly end up impacting more lives than you can possibly imagine.
Let’s face it, there are things that are good for us and things that are bad for us. By the time we reach adulthood most of us know what they are, but even so we constantly act in ways that are detrimental to our health.
Take the seat belt. Put your damn belt on and you have a better chance of living, in fact seat belts save 15,000 of us every year, yet some rebels out there still refuse to buckle up.
The list goes on, not drinking enough water, sleeping four hours a night, working too much, skipping breakfast and refusing to floss. These are things we all have been guilty of doing while at the same time we know that they are bad for our health.
In our infinite wisdom we have risen to the top of the food chain and yet continue to sabotage our health and wellness. Maybe we think we need a new challenge, I’m not exactly sure why but we always seem to find new ways to sabatoge our well being.
When it comes to eating can someone explain to me while so many of us turn our backs on what we know is good for us and go for the quick fix or the lazy alternative?
It has been proven time and time again that a plant based diet will have overwhelmingly better results than a meat based diet, yet the line at the McDonald’s drive thru is never empty, ever.
We have all heard that all things in moderation are good for us. I think that philosophy is crap. I do take heat for being too literal but that is part of who I am. So when I hear “all things in moderation,” I cringe. How about heroin in moderation? Probably not the best life choice. Fast food in moderation is also dangerous. Choose another option.
As I continue my road to recovery the path of the vegetarians and vegans has come my way. It has been five weeks since the surgery and I am feeling well enough to take a walk almost every day, and more importantly, cook dinner for my sweetheart without worrying about bleeding to death when my knife slips.
So this vegan thing. It’s going to take some getting used to. I have read books, searched online and even ordered from one of those meal delivery companies. The results, well, I am still a vegan in progress. A pimple-faced, awkward vegan virgin if you will.
Let’s start with tofu. After my first two attempts at tofu I was ready to give up. Tofu tastes like chicken if chicken didn’t have any taste. I felt bad for the soybean farmer that was responsible for the tofu I purchased because their hard work was in vain.
But then I found some five spiced braised tofu (pictured) that turned everything around. I browned it and got it very crispy, added a drop of tabasco and now there is nothing stopping me.
Just don’t give up when it comes to new things, especially in the kitchen. It just takes one or two dishes to turn your thoughts on something around, no need to have your fourth steak of the month, your body will thank you.
On to my chipotle “sausage” from a company called Field Roast Grain Meat Co. I asked one of the only vegetarians I knew about Field Roast and she claimed to never have heard of it. After buying some I wish I could have said the same. The field roast I purchased tastes like what I would imagine the inside of a battery tastes like. Yum.
They have different kinds so I bought a less intense flavor but haven’t had the stomach to try it again. I will keep you posted. For now I’ll eat fruit.
The winner so far has been seitan. It looks absolutely disgusting but it is made from wheat that can be used a substitute for your regular animal protein. If you can get past the dog poop qualities in its appearance I promise you seitan tacos will make your weekly dinner rotation.
As I hone my vegan cooking skills I hope to bring you some tips and maybe even a recipe or two. Until then, skip the chicken and just add black beans and avocado to that burrito.
I don’t expect you to go all in and turn vegan overnight. After all you don’t have a 10-inch gash in your chest or a pair of reconstructed arteries, so how about one vegan meal a week? One small step toward ridding the animal products from your body can turn into a full out vegetarian sprint before you know it.
Your taste buds may not thank me, but your heart will.
The road to recovery after major open heart surgery is different for everyone. Tell a patient that they had minor surgery or a mild heart attack and I’ll show you a patient preparing to shove their call button up your nose.
There are degrees of surgery, but we should never assume that people heal and recover the same way. Our doctors and nurses immediate focus is on keeping us alive. They monitor our bodies and make sure we have what we need to survive and begin to recover. As patients we are in survival mode as well, and regardless of the severity of your surgery your body is working very hard to help you get through this.
My doctors informed me that I had veins extending themselves from the back side of my heart toward the front and near my left anterior descending artery. These veins had begun creeping around to the front of my heart for some time and brought relief to my battery when I exerted myself. In non-fancy terms, these veins sensed an artery was about to die and decided to help it out despite any disagreements they may have had over the past four decades. Read that again and then pick your jaw off the floor, what the human body is capable of is amazing, and in my case, life saving.
But who is monitoring our minds? What is feeding our souls? And who helping us find our smile?
From all the pep talks, visitors saying how great I looked (liars) and nurses remarking on my progress, you know what would have really made me smile during my tentative time in the Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit?
Of course you don’t, how could you?
From my experience and through conversations I have had with medical professionals there could be a better program for healing the aspects of a patient’s progress that do not include the physical pains. Now remember I am just one guy with one experience, but the more I read and reach out to others the more I have found my experiences are shared ones.
As it stands now we get to talk to some professionals and they let us know about resources in the community and where to reach out to if we have any questions. The issue is that we don’t have a few questions, we have a few hundred questions, and when you have a few hundred questions it is hard to know where to start.
The process can be daunting for some people and being handed a bunch of papers to read doesn’t make it easier. Breaking the situation down to the skin would help. Instead of a vast picture of my recovery I would have been better served with some tips on how to shower, or some ideas regarding what foods to eat. Maybe even some ideas on how to deal with friends and family wanting to visit and how to limit time spent in stressful situations.
I realize this can all be found online, but sometimes I ask questions because I want to engage in a conversation. I want to hear what you have to say, when I ask you a question it is because I value your opinion and feel that together we can come up with something useful, something real.
I’m still new to this life, but I think a network of former heart patients would be valuable not only in the recovery rooms, but once we get home. Even if it is just an email now and then or a face to face support group for those that need it. Recovery should not be limited to prescriptions and internet searches. And if you have a fellow recoverer in your family please remember this; we are all scared, even those of us that don’t show it.
Embracing reality is a good thing. Crying because you almost died is ok. But you survived, and now you have to move forward, because if you don’t take advantage of the second chance and the good health your doctors and nurses gave you then you might as well never got up off the hospital bed in the first place.
If your depression lingers for more than a week you should see a professional. About 20 percent of us that have bypass surgery end up suffering from severe depression. That is not only hard to deal with, but it can be extremely dangerous to your health.
So far I have been lucky. I shed some tears in the hospital when my family showed up in the early stages of my stay, but overall I haven’t hit any major emotional hiccups since returning home. They may come or they may not. But if they do I know how to handle it, and if I needed it in the CTICU, the answer would have been simple.
When I need a grin, fire up the Jerry Garcia Band, late show from March 3, 1980, Capitol Theatre, pour me a club soda with a lime and hand me a pretzel. Done. Grin.
Then again, I’m a simple guy.
I had no idea what to expect as my wife and I walked into Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington to begin the next phase of my recovery. We said goodbye to crew at Vassar Brothers and entered the cardiac rehab and recovery phase a little closer to home.
“My goal for you, is to make you an exerciser,” said my cardiologist toward the end of our first visit.
An exerciser. Yeah, I am not really sure what that means. My doctor explained how people that are into exercising are in tune with their bodies and tend to address health issues before they become serious. I nodded and thought it was refreshing that after medical school and a couple of decades taking care of patients that this doctor was still setting goals, the fact that her goals were now infringing on me was my only concern.
I’ve never been a joiner. Outside of baseball teams in my younger days I have never felt like joining a group or a class, or any outfit that includes more than three people. The idea of being in a club makes my armpits itch.
Despite my reluctance I realized I had already joined a large group, one that includes heart attack and open heart surgery survivors. I can now join one of two factions of that group. The one that takes their doctor’s advice and works toward a healthy future or the one that goes back to their old habits and dies fast and hard.
While I was recovering in the CTICU a friend gave me a book titled “Born to Run.” Thankfully it was not about Bruce Springsteen, it chronicled the Tarahumara Indian tribe that live in the Copper Canyons of Mexico.
The story was interesting, but ditching my life here to go chase some super human runners in remote mountains crawling with snakes and cartel soldiers is not in the cards. But what I did latch on to was the aspect of trail running, or cross country running as those skinny dudes in high school used to call it.
Back in 2009, the last time I can claim to being in shape I would hit the trails at Nickerson State Park on Cape Cod. After walking them for a few months I mixed in some higher impact pacing. I would sprint the inclines and then walk the flats. I would sprint across the sand then walk through the mud. I found the stairs leading to campsites and would sprint up and down until it felt like I was going to pass out.
I looked and felt great back then, my weight was down to 206 and cut most of the evil demons from my daily routine. The stakes are much higher now, fitting into a suit for my sister’s wedding was one thing, but now I have to fit into a body that will carry me into old age.
The idea of trail running excites me. I realize that trail running is just another way to say hiking with a purpose, but I like it. Getting closer to nature, the sights, the sounds, the smells. A new journey each time out, beats circling a track over and over again in my eyes.
We have endured 20 inches of snow this week and more is coming. So braving the trails will have to wait, but I am going to do what I can to prepare my body for the road ahead.
When they slice your sternum open they forbid you from lifting weights, google “how to reduce love handles,” and you can follow along with my current at home exercise program. My somewhat funny wife refers to the area around my waist as my “side chunk.” My workouts and diet need to improve in order to get rid of the extra pounds that I have carried with me since I was a child.
The cardiac rehab starts soon, that will be three times a week for at least an hour so when we add that to my walking schedule I will be off to a great start, and we have the Appalachian trail in our backyard. But that comes with bears, snakes, and heights, all things I don’t particularly enjoy. At first I was thinking about getting a gun for protection, but after some thought I figured I would end up plugging myself in the foot, so I scratched that idea.
Maybe a flare gun? At close range a flare gun could blind a bear, and if I fall down a cliff running from said bear at least the gun could be used to alert the search party. I love things with dual purposes. As for the snakes, I’ll just keep my head up and pretend they are large, angry worms.
I can visualize these improvements taking place and am looking forward to the journey. I too believe in second acts, green lights and going against the current.
Here we go.
I had my follow up visit at Vassar Brothers today. I got a check up and was able to spend time with the man that saved my life, Doctor Rohit Shahani, who for awhile I thought was a spirit that appeared just to bail me out, turned out he is real, a genius wrapped in a shaman. More about that later.
Today I would like to talk about something else, the fact that we are killing our children, every day.
In America, 1 in 5 children are obese while 1 in 5 children go hungry. We have an epidemic of childhood hunger and childhood obesity, at the same time. W---T---F?
It is baffling to me that in this country we have one hungry child, let alone 20 million. The shame is that we have the tools. There are countless organizations addressing this problem, yet we are still falling short. Where are the gaps, what can we do to fill those?
As I listened to Doctor Shahani speak I started to think of how I can join his effort in saving people from heart disease. I thought to myself, while the doctors treat the disease, the rest of us can treat the cause. We can save more lives by treating the cause then any one surgeon can do in their lifetime by treating the disease, and besides, I’m far too old and far too confused by science to go to medical school now.
Childhood obesity will lead to heart disease. Overweight children can suffer from low self esteem and a myriad of other health issues. As if growing up in today’s world isn’t challenging enough, we are putting our children at a greater disadvantage when we take the easy way out. When we hit the drive thru, when we turn the TV on, when we look the other way.
The rationalizations of poor nutrition hold no water.
Too expensive? Nonsense.
We are surrounded by items in our grocery stores with no nutritional value whatsoever that find their way into our carts every week. We all can’t afford grass fed beef or organic fruit but this is not an all or nothing proposition. Just because you can’t buy a Heritage breed turkey that spent the last 10 months getting massages by candlelight doesn’t mean it’s time for a bag of Doritos washed down by a Diet Coke. We don’t need a calculator to determine that a can of tuna, glass of water and a apple would cost less than the soda and Doritos. And the daily cost savings is nothing compared to the long term savings of a healthy diet. Pay now or pay later. Heart attacks, if you survive, are not cheap. If you add up all the supposed savings you think are gaining by purchasing fast food or frozen pizzas and put that money into a savings account, you will still need a six-figure check to cover the bill if you or a loved one is struck with a heart issue down the line.
Not enough time. Nonsense.
Did you have to watch that episode of Friends for the 19th time? I didn’t think so, and be honest, Seasons 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 weren’t that good anyway. In that half hour you could have prepped tomorrow’s meals, made a grocery list and walked to the backyard to snag a squash from your garden to serve with dinner.
One of the goals of every generation should be to give the next generation the tools to improve on the success we have had. We have done a number of good things, but we can do better. This is an issue that won’t be solved in my lifetime, and that is ok, we need to think larger quantities than lifetimes.
Oh, every foe that ever I faced
The cause was there before we came
And every cause that ever I fought
I fought it full without regret or shame
The foe is heart disease. I have a lot to do in these first 100 days. I better get cracking.
The time of transition is underway. Ironically the 100 days will end on my birthday, May 11, so there will be another reason to celebrate this year.
Before we get into where I am going, it might help to touch on where I came from. There are several reasons our hearts attack us, you can read about them online at your leisure as this is not medical blog. Breaking it down to the skin, it’s family history and lifestyle. One you can control, the other you can not.
My family history with regards to heart disease is enough to depress a staff meeting at Disney World. Heart disease took my paternal grandfather at 49, my maternal grandmother at 59 and my father at 55. So the heart stuff was on my radar, but figured I had some time before we had to put serious focus on this potential disaster.
As far as my lifestyle goes mine was not perfect, but it wasn’t as if I was rolling into the McDonald’s drive thru on a daily basis. We eat well at home, but I am not always at home.
I smoked cigars, not cigarettes, and I did not exercise nearly as much as I should have. And for as long as I remember some form of booze miraculously found its way into my left palm. I rarely drank too much, but I drank just enough to where the body got used to it, and missed it when it was gone.
Spending a week in the ICU is a great way to kick most bad habits. I understood why there wasn’t a cigar lounge but figured a bar would be just down the hall. I was mistaken. So check cigars and beer off the list. That was easy.
On to the food. At some point during the last decade I got the reputation of being a “foodie.” I’m not, seriously, in no practical understanding of that term am I a foodie. Yes, I can cook. Yes, I have worked in restaurants. Yes, my wife is a graduate of the Natural Gourmet. And yes, I have certain quirks when it comes to what I eat, but I swear I am just like you, unless of course you are a foodie, in that case we are drastically different.
During these first 100 days my meals will be getting the most significant overhaul. Exercise will come next but right now the doctors what that to go slow, apparently the sternum gets cranky when it is sliced open for half a day.
Back to the food. Meat is out. Glad we got that out of the way. At some point we can talk about health benefits, animal cruelty, environmental impacts, but I promised to make these posts no more than five minutes of your day, so moving on.
Yes, all meat, not just red meat. I can hear pigs and chickens from all over the Berkshires exhaling. As for now fish is still in, on a limited basis. I am also eliminating any animal by-products, I’ve never tried this before so that will be challenging. And I’m not counting out a move to an all out vegan diet but one step at a time people.
My wife has also had me reading about a Brown Rice Fast. It seems that if I was ever to attempt a fast it would be now. With the beer and cigars kicked, my body is ready for a complete jump start. So the fast will be coming soon and be reported on here.
I wouldn’t say I am excited for these changes in my diet. You rarely see people making signs or writing songs about eating sprouts or tempeh. And when was the last time you heard a friend or loved one say, “I am so pumped, going to soak the shit out of these beans so we can have them 24 hours from now.”
What excites me is reducing the potential for another massive heart attack and spending 40 years with my wife instead of just the four months we had before the first hiccup. So it begins, feel free to toast me tonight with a glass of wine, I’ll be having 100 proof grape juice.
There are other parts of my first 100 day plan. Come back soon, we have to go over how I am going to handle exercise, going back to work, bigger picture items and more.
Food on foodies.
As exciting as it was to be allowed to leave the hospital, the ride home was somber. We left behind all the great doctors and nurses we had come to know over the past 10 days and were now on our own.
My brother and mother were planning on staying a few days with my wife and I to get me settled but none of us were trained in medicine. My chest and back were sore, my left leg was torn up and I had 20 pounds of extra fluid in my body, but overall we were all happy that I was home.
We picked up my medicine, went food shopping and rearranged the furniture. I could feel six eyes watching me at all times, every time I made a noise, moved an inch or tried to do something on my own, all three of my home nurses came to my aid.
The first night was brutal. We tried using pillows and blankets to prop my body up but nothing worked. By no fault of the pillows, it was my body trying to find a comfortable spot. Which after several hours I realized was not likely considering what I had just put my body through.
Pain free was a term I reconciled to do without so we focused on managing the pain and making each day better than the one before. Surprisingly, that simple philosophy worked, for the most part. I wanted to try and figure this out without the aid of too many pain meds or medical supplies. The nights were rough but each day was better than the last, and that gave me hope.
My first full day at home also happened to be the same day our country inaugurated a new president. A day of transition both in Washington D.C. and in Northwest Connecticut. One just slightly more significant than the other.
It got me thinking, what am I going to do to change. Every president attempts to put their own stamp on the country and lead in the way they see fit. They use the council of their advisors and then set new policies to help the country prosper. Sometimes it works, most times it doesn’t, but at least they try, and so can I.
My inauguration speech will be short, because as with presidents and open heart surgery patients, actions will always speak louder than words. I will simply say this, from this day forward I will do whatever it takes to be a better husband, son, brother and friend.
You often hear about the first 100 days when it comes to a new administration taking over the White House. I am not sure why they picked 100 days, but there are many things that don’t make sense, so I will go with it.
I started to think what I should focus on accomplishing in my first 100 days and came across a note online that February was American Heart Month. Did you know that?
As the recent recipient of a cleaned up chest vessel I am glad that we are spreading awareness of heart disease in this country. Apparently we are supposed to wear red. I don’t own anything red. I am already off to a crappy start as an advocate for heart disease awareness.
I realize how lucky I am, believe me I do. I hear stories about people that are given a second chance and do nothing with it. People that swear up and down that they will live a cleaner life, be a better person, and then a few years later they are back in the hospital, or worse.
Words have to lead to actions. And we need to hold each other accountable. We can’t fix all our problems overnight, but we can try. We can’t save the world, but I am pretty sure we can help the neighborhood.
That is what I am going to do. Starting with the first 100 days. Listening to my body will be essential. I already want to go back to work but am told most people wait four to six weeks. And I have an active job, so I have to be careful not to push it too much. However, I can’t stand sitting around all day, so there has to be a happy, healthy medium.
The plan will be rolled out in my next post, in prime time of course. Stay tuned.
It was late Wednesday night, everyone was tired. My brother and mother had retired to the hotel while my wife and I quietly waited in my room. She wasn’t leaving until they took the giant hunk of plastic out of my neck. I couldn’t blame her, I’m sure, despite my best efforts to hide it, she could see the pain every time I moved my head.
After some delay my nurse swapped the neck apparatus for an IV line in my left arm and we could all exhale. We had now had all the elements assisting my insides removed, I junked the oxygen tubes that were living in my nostrils that afternoon.
I woke up early the next morning. I felt good. I got up on my own and walked around the room. Had breakfast and watched the news. Nurses popped in from time to time and seemed surprised I was up and in good spirits. The lightheadedness never appeared, I never got dizzy and when my family arrived I told them that I thought today was the day.
“Ok, before you get too excited we have a lot of things to check,” a nurse from the doorway.
I slumped into my chair, somewhat defeated before a second nurse came in and told me that I had no time for sitting down. I was off to get x-rays just after she was finished removing more blood from my body.
After a couple of chest x-rays and an electrocardiogram I was wheeled back into the hallway to wait for someone to push me back to the Step Down unit. I was tired, my voice was weak but my spirits were high --- speaking of spirits.
“What are you doing down here?”
My eyes opened, his voice was unmistakable and his presence was a balm for my soul.
“Doctor Shahani. I was getting x-rays.”
“How do you feel?”
“Are you ready to go home?”
“I think so.”
He told me he was going to go check the ECG and x-rays and let me know how they looked before we could make any decisions about going home. I waited on the bed, staring at the ceiling tiles.
After a few minutes I felt a hand on my shoulder. One of the hands responsible for fixing my dying heart, think about that for a second, the hands that saved my life were now resting on my shoulder. That is just one of the many things I have yet to process.
“Unbelievable, your heart is already functioning at 50 percent, a healthy heart operates at 60 percent, and you are already at 50 percent. Amazing.”
The doctor smiled, he looked just as tired as I felt, but his smile told me all I needed to know.
“You should be grateful that you had some Angels from above watching over you.”
“Nevermind the angels, I’m grateful I had you,” I answered.
I almost teared up as he walked away. Someone wheeled me back into the room and I shared the news with the family. I needed to sleep, but just as I was fading away the nurse came in and told me that they were beginning the release procedures.
We were all excited. The procedures included another walk, a few pills, the signing of some forms, and a shower. After being confined to a bed for over a week you can imagine how badly I needed a shower. Add the sweating, fluid intake and outtake and all those other glorious smells the human body produces and you can imagine the stench permeating from my pores. That, my dear friends, are why hospitals smell. It’s not the smell of death as most like to surmise, it is the smell of decay.
After the shower my wife helped me get dressed, we talked to some doctors, some nurses, signed some forms and just like that, they told us we could go home.
A nurse said to me, “We can bring you a wheelchair if you would like.”
I looked around the room, by now my wife, my mom, my brother and my uncle were all standing looking at me.
“Thanks, but I’m walking out of here.”
Everyone, including the nurse, smiled..
We will get to the setbacks in a minute. But as the week progressed things did get better. After a few nights and a few less tubes in my body, I was told that I was doing too well to stay in the CTICU and that I was being moved to the “Step Down,” unit.
I was familiar with the Step Down unit as that was where I spent a day and a half before all hell broke loose and balloons and surgeons and bypasses become a major part of my life. Leaving the ICU means you are getting better, but it was bittersweet as I had to leave the most amazing group of nurses behind in the ICU.
Having been in the Step Down unit prior to the surgery I recognized a few faces upon my return. One thing I love about nurses is that in addition to all their knowledge and care they give, is that they are human. They have emotions just like the rest of us, some show it more than others, and some patients are better at bringing those emotions out.
As I was being brought to the Step Down unit I can remember the faces on every nurse that I encountered. The ones that didn’t remember me just smiled and went on their way but there were a handful that recognized me with a face that read, “Holy shit, you’re alive?”
My wife, mother and brother were there to help move me into my new room. I still had my yellow “Fall Risk” bracelet and my yellow socks on and set about getting rid of those immediately. For those of you that don’t know the yellow means that a patient can’t walk around by themselves or even get out of bed without the aid of a nurse. The beds even have alarms, which I learned the hard way when I tried to stand up without permission and was greeted by a loud noise which had nurses running to see if I had escaped. I had not, I was just trying to pick the underwear out of my buttcrack.
At the first sight of the physical therapist I hatched my plan to get that bracelet off and move on from the shackles of the yellow socks.
“Would you like to try and walk?”
I answered in the affirmative before she could finish her sentence. We took a loop around the Step Down wing, then another. When she came back hours later we did it again, and we even did a few stairs. When we returned to the room I asked her about the socks and bracelet, and while she didn’t take them off, she said that I did great and she didn’t see why I couldn’t move on to the coveted “blue socks.”
So she didn’t say no. So when the nurse arrived I informed her of the good news. Asked her to cut off the bracelet and take these yellow weights off of my feet. She looked a bit puzzled but I was convincing, and away they went.
The alarms were deactivated from the chair and bed and I felt great. Another nurse brought me the blue socks, which were actually gray, but whatever, I was free to move around and that felt great. Next step, home.
Not so fast. I was only able to sleep two hours a night, so to fill that time the next morning I was starting to pack my stuff as I was sure they were releasing me. Just then I felt light headed, dizzy and not in the fun way. The nurses checked up on me and it was clear. I needed blood, and a lot of it. So a blood transfusion was ordered.
It took awhile for the blood transfusion to take effect, it is an odd feeling to have other human being’s blood travel through your veins. I had the same issue the next morning. More blood had to be transfused into my body and we had to wait. When my wife and family left that night I was feeling a bit defeated.
Will I ever get out of this place?