Regaining consciousness following open-heart surgery is like returning to the here and now from some distant, unknown journey where there is absolutely no recollection of anything that transpired during the previous hours. In my case, there were about six hours I cannot account for. The first thing I experienced upon beginning to “come to” was the sound of voices, none of which I could really make out what was being said, but it was somewhat comforting all the same.
The critical care nurses and doctors who had been involved with the operation were on hand, easing my return to consciousness in a caring and comforting manner. At some point, they removed the breathing tube, and I was functioning on my own again. And through the haze of waking up, I was able to discern my wife Carolyn nearby, saying my name and some other “welcome back” banter, that I have no recall of what any of it was. Regardless, it was wonderful and uplifting. Although I was slowly coming out of anesthesia and on the brink of total consciousness, I dozed back to sleep.
So that was the beginning of my week’s stay in the hospital. I would remain in the surgical critical care unit for most of that time. One unplanned event happened the following day (Tuesday), which caused great concern for us all. Although I was alert and doing well, the monitors indicated that my heart rate was way too low. Dopamine was soon added to my IV regimen for the purpose of keeping the heart rate up.
One of the possibilities going into the surgery was that I might eventually need a pacemaker for just this very thing. And it was decided on Wednesday that I would, indeed, need one—and soon! You can figure out what I had in store for myself sometime on Thursday. Late that afternoon, I was carted to the Cath Lab and had a pacemaker implanted near my left shoulder. At least the procedure was less invasive and didn’t take too long.
My pacemaker appeared to do what it was supposed to do, and the heart rate issue was under control. The A-fib was still there, though, so I knew that I would be dealing with how best to handle that in the weeks ahead. For now, I wanted to get strong enough to be discharged from the hospital by the weekend.
On Friday, I was transferred from Critical Care to a regular room where I would be until discharge—hopefully—on Sunday. And as it turned out, that’s exactly when I “got out” and, heart surgery pillow in hand, I carefully eased myself into the passenger side of my car and journeyed home with Carolyn at the wheel. Since I wouldn’t be driving for six weeks, I knew I would be completely dependent on her for the few times I had to venture out, mostly to doctor appointments, etc. Plus, with so many restrictions due to the COVID situation, there weren’t many places I could go anyway.
Once home, I had to learn new ways to recover: Showering, getting out of chairs/couch, dressing myself, etc. I am now nearly five weeks into cardio rehab back at the hospital three days a week. It’s been great and each day I achieve something new in regards to strength and physical conditioning. There are a couple of issues to resolve at this point: Blood pressure medication adjustment and another cardioversion next week for the A-fib. Keeping my fingers crossed on this one.
I will spare the reader any further details of this ongoing piece of the adventure. Instead, I will conclude by saying that for so many weeks, I managed to heal and get strong again—physically and emotionally—through the efforts and love and care of my wife.
Thank you, Carolyn!