Monday, April 15, 2019

Cabbage, part 2

Part One detailed my medical concerns from the end of January through the beginning of March. Now we hit the major operation (or at least what I remember about it.)


Surgery was scheduled for March 5th. Donna and I were relaxing at home, watching Jeopardy I think, when my eyes started going blurry again. I thought, "Oh, no... I want to enjoy my final night home, but am I having another stroke?"

Rather than taking a chance, I told Donna what was happening. She immediately phoned for an ambulance and I was carted off to Mount Auburn again. So much for a final restful night.

By the time we arrived, my vision was normal again. The guess was it was a TIA or Transient Ischemic Attack - a mini-stroke. I was glad it was gone but now I had to spend another night in the hospital. Folks were good. They made up a nice bed for Donna so she could stay with me and they gave me drugs to sleep.


Here's where things get fuzzy. I honestly remember very little about the day of the operation.

They must have given me very relaxing drugs. I recall a visit from the hospital chaplain, which MY WIFE arranged at my request. She was a nice woman, but that's all I remember. I think I remember being taken to the operating room, but I'm truly not sure. Many hours later, I awoke in my room in intensive care. From there, it just gets blurrier.

I recall MY WIFE visiting me and me saying "Go away..." to her because I LOVE HER and I saw no reason for her to be hanging around with me in no shape to converse or anything else useful. MY MOM and my stepsister Diane visited. I spoke to them both for about three minutes but fell asleep. MY WIFE visited again even though I apparently told the nurses not to let her in. I wanted no one, not even her, to see me in such a weak state.

Understand, this all takes place in one 24-hour period. However, I truly thought over a week had passed, at least, and maybe 10 days. My sense of time was destroyed by my waking and falling back asleep so often. I'm sure the morphine or dilaudid or other pain meds had an effect. When I finally asked someone how long it had been since the operation, I expected to hear "10 days" or even more.  When the answer came back, "Yesterday", I didn't believe it at first. I honestly thought it was a joke.


Big blur of bad sleep (always being interrupted by a nurse for some test so thus never more than 30 minutes at a pop.) Lots of medications, lots of pain. Trying to cough up phleghm under doctor's orders, painful as hell. They give you a pillow to hold against your chest to absorb some of the pain, but it still hurts like absolute Hell. When you do get some up, it's generally foul - green, gray, yellow, nasty - but you feel like you accomplished something!

I was hooked up to two or three different IVs at all times, plus oxygen. and had a hospital jonny that covered three-quarters of me. It sucked trying to get comfortable enough to sleep. Usually, I ended up just the least uncomfortable I could manage (and this despite wonderful pain killers.)

I had a huge scar; top of my chest running down to a few inches above my belly button. I wouldn't look at it unless I was forced to do so (change of clothes, sponge bath). My bones were cut through, of course, now held together by wire and tape. Coughing was incredibly painful. They knew the pain was brutal, so I was given the strongest opioid drugs available - dilaudid, morphine, oxy.

The two worst nights of my life were as follows:

1 - I had to spend one whole evening and night with no liquid whatsoever. I'm still not sure why. It was torture. My mouth and tongue and lips were swollen and cracked and I couldn't sleep more than a few minutes all night without being woken up by my dry throat and mouth and lips. When they finally allowed me some cracked ice, it was heaven

2 - The other night of torture was when they put something in my gut to try to suck up extra air/gas in there. I never saw the instrument but I think it was the size of a small ballpoint pen. It was inserted into my nose and I was told to make like I was swallowing to get it to go down into my belly. Totally unnatural and uncomfortable.

I probably came close to killing myself because of that thing. I was groggy after a few hours of it and I decided I'd had enough. I removed it myself. It was attached by some sort of cord or tube. I pulled it up and out of my stomach, then out of my mouth. When the nurse came in a few minutes later she was amazed. She scolded me for doing something so stupid. She said I could have died if it became disconnected and floated around my gut (or something like that.) I was happy as hell to be rid of it, though. That was the worst treatment I was awake for.

Everything else was just normal torture.

Did I mention that I had a catheter the whole time in ICU? Well, I did. It was fine, in that I didn't have to think about peeing, but it was creepy because I had never had one before in my life. On March 9, when I was transferred to a stepdown unit, I asked for it to be taken out. They did so and I resumed my normal life peeing.

Previous to that day, I had the most humiliating moment of my entire life. There's no easy way to say it, so... I shit myself.

I was in bed and I felt it coming. I tried to get to the toilet but I wasn't able to move fast enough (I was still only taking a few steps at a time.) It just dropped out of me onto the floor, soft and smelly. Some got on me. I was physically unable to clean it up myself - I couldn't bend down and so forth without passing out - so I had to ring for the nurse.When she came, I had to say, "I'm so ashamed. I shit myself and I need to be cleaned up."

The nurses were all magnificent and caring and NEVER made me feel belittled  no matter what I asked of them. She cleaned it up, then undressed me and sponged me down, gave me a fresh jonny and never said a word that would have made me feel bad.


I was finally moved from ICU into a regular room. Not too much had changed. I was still only taking very short walks down the corridor and back. The pain wasn't significantly less at first, though it ebbed a bit with each day. My overwhelming desire was to get the hell out of the hospital. As nice as everyone was, I wanted to be home where I could sleep hours and hours without somebody waking me up to take blood, have an x-ray, test me for other vital signs, etc.

Finally, we were told I was going to be released.  After receiving voluminous instructions on how to handle myself, what drgug to get and take daily (sometimes twice daily), follow-up tests at the hospital and other places, I got dressed (which was much more of a chore than I imagined - took me ten minutes with help from MY WIFE) was put in a wheelchair and taken downstairs. We waited for a cab, having no able driver among us.

(Home, next, in a few days. Thanks for reading.)

Friday, April 12, 2019

Chronology of Cabbage*

*CABG (pronounced "cabbage") is medical shorthand for my heart operation. I like the vegetable and resent having to think of my operation every time March 17 rolls  around.

This is the timeline, with some details, of my open heart surgery. If I leave anything out that you want to know about, just ask.

JANUARY 30 (?)

I believe this was the day I had a minor stroke that robbed me of much of my peripheral vision on the left side.

I did not think I had a stroke. Everything I heard about strokes told me to check my face, hands, lips, limb strength, etc., and not a single word about vision. So, I went about my business expecting this would clear up (I had a previous experience a couple of years earlier when something like this had happened and taking a nap allowed me to wake up refreshed and 100%. This time, I woke up still blurry on one side.)

Since I still had no idea it was a stroke, I called and made an eye appointment. I was thoroughly checked by my eye doctor and  no eye problems found (except for loss of peripheral vision in the left eye, of course) and she suggested I contact a regular doctor.


Made an emergency appointment with a doctor. MY WIFE, of course, helped with all of this since I am helpless with doctors, not having seen one for anything in at least 20 years. Doctor examined me and scheduled me for MRI on Saturday following.

Later that night, after we got home, call came from doctor re-scheduling MRI for next day instead of Saturday (which was two days away, so now I knew they thought it was serious.)


Had MRIs, which is scary. You're slid inside this tube that is very close fitting, told to lie very still and have horrible sounds bombard you for 45 minutes. First time they slid me in, I immediately rang the panic buzzer for them to slide me out. I asked them to call MY WIFE. They did. She came and put a hand on my ankle for the duration, giving me a lifeline. Thanks to her, I got through the rest of it OK.

Turns out I had a stroke. The MRI photos showed I had two of them - one recently and another a few years back possibly. Also I was shown to have had two heart attacks I was unaware of.


I was sent, by ambulance, to Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge (near Watertown) to stay overnight and have tests.


So I spent four nights in the hospital being tested and given all sorts of new meds. Since I had never been prescribed ANYTHING before, every drug they gave me was new. Lower cholesterol, regulate heartbeat, thin blood, anti-anxiety (I enjoyed that), and about five others. I went from 0 drugs to 8 or 9 overnight.

Every test anyone gave me in person - press my fingers, follow this flashlight with your eyes, smile, whistle, whatever to do with stroke symptoms - I passed magnificently. Every time, following one of these testings, I fully expected to be released the next day and sent home to live normally. However, every one of these tests was followed by CT Scan, MRI, other mechanical testing, x-rays, whatever, and EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THESE CAME BACK WITH THE WORST POSSIBLE RESULT.

I'm generally an optimist, but I knew without a doubt where this was headed. I had dreaded the possibility of open heart surgery ever since My Dad had it in the late 80s. At the time, I had been the only one to take care of him (only child, he was divorced) and it was miserable. Before and after that operation, he was two entirely different people. Before: Robust, totally self-assured, unafraid of almost anything. After: Tired, not wanting to do anything, no desire for most things.

As it turned out, I was right. As each test came back, the doctors spoke about operations until finally they said I should have open heart bypass surgery as soon as possible. I was devastated. It was my biggest fear become reality.


Released from the hospital, which was nice. I was given some fuzzy idea of when the surgery would take place. As it turned out, it was a month away, March 5. They wanted to do it as soon as possibile, since they thought I was in danger of dying, but they also wanted to be sure I wouldn't have another stroke during the operation so they had to wait.


Had some further scattered tests, kept up on new medications, tried my best to compartmentalize my life and ignore what was coming. Best thing to come of it was quitting smoking after 48 years. I did so in January and have kept it up, Thank God. I can't even imagine how horrible this would have been if I was still smoking.

(Continued with the operation itself, soon. Thanks for listening.)


Saturday, April 06, 2019

I'm Alive

Where it happened... Good folks.

The operation, so I am told, was a success. I was going to have a double coronary bypass but they liked the looks of things so much whne they got in there, they decided to make it a quadruple.


Worst thing I've ever been through, so far. If there's worse coming, I'd rather just check out.

Anyway, I'm getting better - S-L-O-W-L-Y - and maybe I'll feel normal (or better?) by May.

I could talk about all the horrible things - truly nightmarish things - that went down in hospital, but I won't for now. It was all for my good; I know that. Just wanted everyone to know I m still alive and expecting to get better. I won't be writing much - no desire at the moment.

Love all of your cards and letters and e-mails and little gifts and pleasant jokes and flowers. Hate the typos I have to go back and correct in every sentence, so I'm done for now.

Love you. God bless.