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.