The amount of foreign objects placed in your body during and after this surgery is astounding. One of the first things I tried to do was understand what exactly was attached to my body and what its purpose was, and whether or not I could yank it out on my own.
My only medical knowledge consists of how to administer an epipen to my thigh after someone tries to kill me with peanuts so I will likely get some of the names wrong, but I will do my best. What I will do is try and give you a complete rundown of what appears on and in your body after heart surgery. Let me be your guide, it’s way better than you finding out for yourself:
Type - Breathing Tube
Hardware - Large plastic tube inserted into my mouth and down my throat
Function - Connected to a respirator to help me breathe
Pain Level - Mild, higher if you enjoy breathing
Type - IV Tubes
Hardware - Your basic plastic tubes attached to a line in my left arm
Function - Delivering fluids, medicines and blood when needed
Pain Level - None, in fact they were glorious distributors of medicinal bliss
Type - EKG Machine
Hardware - Six tiny wires attached to plastic sheets taped to your chest
Function - Constantly monitors your heart
Pain Level - Minimal, unless your chest resembles that of a bear, which mine did. These little stickers were often ripped off and replaced, taking skin and chunks of chest hair with them.
Type - Arterial Line
Hardware - Catheter placed in an artery, in my case the right wrist
Function - Monitors blood pressure, oxygen in the blood and draws blood when needed
Pain Level - Kind of annoying, but they don’t want you to use your arms at all in recovery so it’s not like it’s holding you back
Type - Chest Tubes
Hardware - A pair of thick plastic tubes
Function - Inserted into my chest to drain fluid from my heart
Pain Level - Only painful when you move around a lot or when your night nurse accidently drops her clipboard on your stomach
Type - Lung Tubes
Hardware - Similar to chest tubes
Function - Drain fluid from lungs
Pain Level - Mild until it comes time to remove them, then it feels like like a white hot wire is being pulled from your body until you scream in agony that suddenly turns to overwhelming bliss, it’s weird
Type - Stomach Tube
Hardware - Thick tube inserted through my nose that went down into my stomach
Function - To prevent nausea and keep air out of my stomach
Pain Level - Discomfort in the right nostril, all - the - time
Type - Carotid Artery Line
Hardware - Tube inserted into my neck with outside IV line
Function - Used to give blood or meds to my heart
Pain Level - Extreme. A large piece of plastic attached to my neck tugging at my skin, any movement virtually eliminated any chance of sleep, constant pain, the single most annoying part of this entire experience, outside of the whole heart failing scenario
Type - Bladder Catheter
Hardware - Plastic tube attached to a long drainage tube
Function - Monitors urine and drains bladder
Pain Level - What do you think? I had a plastic tube shoved up my penis hole for a week
Those were the artificial things used to keep me alive during and after surgery. In combination with, you know, the actual human being miracle workers that were at my side made for a pretty fierce team that if had not existed, neither would I.
As we started the week off with the Monday removal of the balloon in my chest I realized that each removal represented a milestone in my recovery and an indication that my body was now capable of doing on its own, what the machines and tubes were doing for it.
During the week, the tubes were removed, I stood up, I walked in place, took a few steps and eventually walked on my own around the hospital. Things were improving and everyone was excited. By the middle of the week my doctor said that as long as there weren’t any setbacks I would be going home soon.
But setbacks are a part of life.