Shortly after leaving surgery. Hurray! The wrist guard is to protect the arterial IV from any damage or pulling.
( Squicky pictures through here ... )
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The surgery to repair my sternum on January 14th went off without a hitch. Not only do I feel better than when I went in, but the pain and discomfort is tremendously less than I experienced after the surgery in October.
A few interesting tidbits:
The original wires did not break. Instead, the wires actually pulled through the bone. No wonder it hurt so badly!
Before this surgery, not only was I able to feel my heart through the gaps in my sternum, but I could actually see it beating beneath the skin. As the surgery date neared, I was puzzled, because it was lower than I expected my heart to be. Also, it had developed into a baseball-sized lump pressing against my skin. After the surgery I learned that what I had been seeing was actually the build up of fluid around my heart. A tube was kept in place in my chest to drain away this fluid until Friday the 16th. (And it was a really weird feeling when they pulled that out!)
My cardiologist said it was a mess in there when he opened me up. Sadly, even though I told him it was ok, no pictures were taken.
All of the old wires were removed, and new wires were put in place, as well as three sternal plates. They're shaped like a butterfly bandage, and are place vertically on my sternum. It's hard to get an idea of their size from the x-ray I saw, but at a guess I'd say they're 1"x2.5".
I had an IV placed in the jugular vein on the right side of my neck. It caused a great deal of pain in the muscles in my neck and across the back of my skull; however, in addition to being able to accept IV fluids, it also allowed blood draws. And there were many. Without the IV, the blood would have been collected by needle puncture every time. So it was worth the pain. When it was removed, it also felt very strange and painful ... because the IV lead went all the way to my heart!
I had an arterial IV placed in my left forearm. It had a sensor inserted that was able to measure my blood pressure. Pretty cool.
The catheter was really convenient; I was almost sad to see it go.
Not only is my pain level significantly lower this time, but there has also not been any mental fogginess or confusion, or memory loss. I spoke with the anesthesiologist before the surgery about the amnesiac drugs I was given last time, intending to ask for a lower dose in hopes of not losing so much temporal memory. He said that I didn't need to have them at all if I didn't want them! So that's what we did, and I am able to remember right up to the moment he started gassing me on the OR table, and then nothing until I came to in the Cardiac Critical Care unit.
I'm also recovering my strength and mobility much more quickly as well. For the first few days, I was given a walker to use while making laps around the hospital unit. After the catheter, arterial IV, and chest tube were removed, I used the IV pole to support me as I walked. Now, I'm not using anything. I have my cane handy just in case, but I feel so good I'm going to try to walk a mile this afternoon.
One of the best feelings I have is that this should be the end - this time my recovery is going to end in being recovered- six to eight weeks from now, I'll be returning to work and my old life.
When I was discharged, the hospital insisted on wheeling me out in a chair, of course. The elevator was empty when we got in at the 7th floor, but quickly filled as we descended. One man and his family cheerfully said to me that I must be very happy I was leaving, the other occupants smiling and nodding as they gazed down at me, as I managed a tired but grateful smile in return ...
The look on their faces when I quietly said, "They're sending me home to die," was simply priceless.
(Don't worry, I quickly let them off the hook, but it was awesome!)**
The kitties are happy to see me again, but I do have to be wary of Akoya, as she doesn't realize she can't pounce on my chest like she loves to do, and I have to watch her closely when she even walks across me, light as she is. Last night, she stepped on the bandage over the wound from the chest tube, and I nearly screamed in pain (I settled instead for a manly bellow.)
The well-wishes and kind thoughts I received, as well as the number of people praying for me*, were very much appreciated, and really did help me feel better. I thank every one of you.
*No, I do not believe in the power or point of prayer. However, the person praying does, and as such, it means they are, in their own way, keeping me in their thoughts and hoping for the best for me. Why would I ever want to turn that kindness away? (Granted, it's a little annoying when they think their prayers were answered and it was their God that healed me, but whatever gets them through their life. It causes me no harm.)***
**That I was able to come up with this instantly on the spot really gives me hope that I'll soon be able to write my columns again soon. It's also nice to see my wit was survived and returned.
***That being said, there was one woman that I came close to snapping at during my original recovery. Shortly after being revived from sedation, I was on one of my difficult walks around the unit, when yet another hospital employee came up to me and gushed excitedly how happy she was to see my recovering when she thought I was going to die, and how I really must have someone watching over me. I thanked her, but said that my recovery was all due to my surgeon and the staff caring for me. She shook her head no, and as I tried to reiterate that I felt my surgeon deserved the credit, she said I was definitely being watched over, while casting her gaze upwards and clutching at my hands. She had the vapid look of a true believer, so I just thanked her again and returned to my walk.)
So, I met with the hematologist yesterday. He was a little hard to understand, but he told me I tested positive for Lupus-Like Inhibitor, explaining that the antibodies in my blood are attacking the blood vessel walls, making them rough and causing blood to stick to them and clot. There's no cure, and I'll be on blood thinners for life.
Good news though is that this should never happen again, he said. _Should_.
What I forgot to ask him was why it happened in the first place. I'm scheduled for another blood test in February that's going to be done to make sure this is what is really going on. I'll try to remember to ask him then what triggered this after never having any clotting problems before.
He said there's no test for this, unfortunately. It's not hereditary, but it is genetic (that seems contraindicative). He also referred me to a Coumadin clinic in December.
The hematologist said I had the worst case of blood clots he has ever seen.
I told him I wasn't sure if that should make me happy or not.
Annoyingly, these test results are dated October 2nd. So apparently they've known all along what was causing the clotting and just didn't bother to tell me. Granted, it's possible the information was buried so deeply in my chart that it was missed.
He also very soberly told me how very serious this had been and that people die from blood clots all the time, and that this really should have killed me as well. He is glad I'm doing as well as I am.
And to be honest, I almost feel like I'm back to my old self again, at least mentally (There's still some memory issues.) Once my chest finishes healing, I think I'll be fine (It still hurts, a lot at times, but not like it did before. Sneezing and coughing still terrifies me though, because it feels like I'm splitting in half every time.) Especially once I get some more cardiac rehab sessions done as well, and my strength and stamina return to normal.
He told me that I'm still restricted on the weight I can lift, because my sternum is still somewhat soft. I think I made the right decision to wait to return to work until January. I want to be as close to 100% recovered as possible when I go back, especially since I know that I'll end up pushing myself to show that I can still do the job just as well as, if not better than, I did before the surgery. And I definitely don't want to be coddled.
So that's that. Looks like I have some lifestyle changes to consider, but if the only thing I need to do to treat this is taking one pill a day, I can live with that. Well, I have to, I guess. But I know it could have been a lot worse.
*This is the title of an actual movie shown to us in school. It was from the fifties, but showed an impressive mix of live action and animation. As well as cigarette smoking doctors! And bible passages!
(And it turns out it's totally on YouTube.)