I can’t speak highly enough of the staff that looked after me in hospital – before, during and after my surgery. Friends and family who visited me before my operation often commented how well I was taking the whole ordeal . My response – “my choices are pretty limited and these guys know what they are doing”.
Now I’m not saying I never flipped out. There were tears and “I’m too young” and “it’s not fair, I’ve looked after myself”. However I was where was and at some point I accepted that I needed bypass surgery.
I have always felt very fortunate I didn’t have a heart attack. At worst my wife would have been without a husband and left to raise 3 children on her own, and my kids would grow up without their dad. At best I’d be taking a lot more drugs and having to manage the side effects of those. Thankfully things worked out differently for me.
Immediately after my surgery the best thing is to get moving (so they told me when I woke up from my surgery!). I was very surprised at how weak I was – barely able to stand up. This improved over the next few days but it took some determination to keep up with all the exercises at hourly intervals. Personally I found I was very focussed and resolved to recover as soon as I could. So I didn’t find it too hard to keep moving.
Dealing the the wounds and dressings was unpleasant but not painful. I hadn’t thought about that aspect of my surgery so when a nurse announced she was going to remove the chest drain tubes and the wires that had been stitched to my heart, I got a little anxious. Once again though, my choices were limited and I trusted the medical team implicitly. Yes there is some discomfort and it takes a while to get used to moving without hurting (coughing, sneezing and hiccoughing were the worst!), but it’s all absolutely bearable.
Mentally I felt great. I was alive, I had survived the surgery and my recovery (at this very early stage) was going well. I had great support from people who visited me hospital. I looked forward to company every day and probably didn’t get quite as much rest as I should have. A few truly great friends would stay on even while I was asleep so I had someone there when I woke up. I’m very grateful to those people.
On the not so great side, I have always had this little voice in some dark recess of my mind saying “but how do they know the surgery worked?” other than the usual vital stats – blood pressure and whatnot – they don’t do a before and after angiogram just to make sure they plumbed everything correctly and everything is working as it should. The fact that I was walking, talking and breathing didn’t carry much weight. After all I was walking, talking and breathing with 90% block! This continued to be a source of anxiety for me until much later in my recovery, when I had a second angiogram. This showed that only 3 of the 4 grafts were still working, but the 3 remaining grafts were working perfectly and my bloodflow was fine.
This early stage of recovery continued at home and it was increasingly difficult to stay upbeat. The gaps between visitors got longer and my wife having to continue on with the daily routine with the kids. Keeping up with the exercise regime was also difficult. It was the middle of winter which made getting out for walks challenging and mildly unpleasant.
I had periods where my levels of pain were quite high. They were usually associated with times when I had overdone things – too many visitors in a day, too much exercise and not enough rest. This is difficult to manage because people want to see you, more so than in hospital. Perhaps they think that because you are home, you’re on the mend. I remember seeing the look of deep concern on a friends face when he dropped in unannounced. I was having a bad day and had made it half way up our hall. I had to stop and lean against the wall I was so sore and out of breath. I don’t think he realised how big an operation a CABG is. At times like that the best thing I could do was rest. Shut myself in a dark bedroom and sleep for a few hours. Inevitably I’d wake up feeling much better.
Despite all this I remained focussed on recovering as quickly as possible. I had no trouble at all eating well, in fact you couldn’t have paid me to eat anything “bad”. I had no desire to eat anything that might have a negative impact on my health. I started researching the best cooking oils to use, which fruits and vegetables had the greatest benefits for people with heart disease, in short – I was obsessing! This didn’t last long and it has resulted in some long term changes to my diet
I guess, in hindsight, this is a time of extremes. Extreme highs and lows, overwhelming joy and absolute despair. The best you can do is enjoy the highs and be courageous through the lows (with a little help from your friends and family).