Note: The following is an account I had posted to Facebook years ago. I figured I might as well post it here for posterity’s sake.
On Tuesday, February 21st, we had Mexican for dinner. Everything was cool. Around 9:00 pm the girls turned in and I told Karen I was having a little indigestion. I took a couple of Tums and everything got a little better. However, I couldn’t sleep and decided to go into the office around 11:30. Everything was going fine until around 3:00 am when the “indigestion” came back. I took a couple more Tums, a Sprite Zero and a walk around the office hoping to “belch it out.” No dice. I wasn’t having pain, but it felt like someone was doing chest compressions on my sternum. So, I decided to go down to the lobby and check-in with the guard to make sure someone else knew what was going on. By the time I got there, I had decided to call 9-1-1. I walked up to the guard and said, “This may sound strange because I’m standing here talking to you, but I may need an ambulance.”. His response… “Who are you?!?” I suppose he was not prepared to have anyone in the building at 3:30 am let alone be calling 9-1-1.
The ambulance shows up and I’m not having any of the traditional symptoms. No shortness of breath, no increased pulse, no sweats, nothing. I walked myself out to the ambulance, sat down on the gurney, the EMT hooked me up to the EKG and then said, “Open your mouth and raise your tongue. I’m gonna spray this in your mouth and it’s gonna give you a headache.”. We then decided on Baptist hospital and before we got out of the parking lot at American Center, all the pressure was gone. I told the EMT as such. Her response? “That ain’t good.”. I’m sure your reaction is the same as mine was. “How can alleviating all my problems not be good?”. She said, “Because that was nitroglycerin I gave you and if that solved the problem, you’re most definitely having a cardiac issue.”
We arrive at the ER where there were apparently no other patients because approximately 137,432 people came to my assistance coupled with the normal ER accouterment… EKGs, IVs, blood draws, chest Xrays, etc. After a couple of hours, the lead doc decided that all my tests came back clear. The decision was made to admit me, wait a couple of hours and run the tests again. If everything came back clear again, we would schedule a stress test and I would probably go home that afternoon. Flash forward to about 10:00 am (a couple of hours in ER doc speak is approximately 5 hours)…
Around 10:00 am I’m in a regular room at Baptist and they run all the same tests again expecting to send me to a stress test. However, this time, the enzymes that get released into the bloodstream when there is cell damage in the cardio system, popped positive. Doc comes in my room in front of God and everybody, except of course, my wife because she had stepped out to call her mother and announces, “Well, Mr. Scott, you’ve had a heart attack.” Apparently we all had a bewildered look on our faces because just as my mom came back in the room from retrieving Karen and giving her the news, they send in a councilor. After convincing them I didn’t need one, she leaves and the doc says they are canceling the stress test and scheduling an arteriogram. Fun, fun! Now, I get a garden hose shoved through a hole in my groin to my heart and get to be awake for the whole thing. Turn the page…
So, time rolls around for the arteriogram and at least all the nurses are funny and cute (way to go HR) especially the one that gets to shave me. Anyway, they take me in and explain how things are going to work. Don’t know if you have ever had one before, but it’s pretty neat outside the fact that your ultimate mortality is in play. Everything is in 3D and you get to watch it as things go live. Pretty cool. The bottom line for me is that the cardiologist and cardiac surgeon are expecting to put in a stent while they are doing the arteriogram and send my “too young to be going through this” ass home in a few hours. BUT AW HAI-UL NAW! My blockage is in one of the main frontal arteries leading to the heart right before it forks into two others. There is not enough room between the blockage and the fork for a stent to work properly. So while I have a single blockage, I get double bypass surgery. Woo-frickin’-hoo!
I meet with the cardiac surgeon who tells us that I will go in for surgery at 8:00 am Friday morning. In the meantime, I will spend two lovely nights in the gracious confines of the Baptist Hospital Cardiac Care unit. I will be connected to every sort of machine, tube, and wire imaginable and be abruptly woken from deep slumber every two hours to drain my body of all its life-giving fluids as well as to share in the humorous and somewhat bizarre antics and life stories of each nurse assigned to my care. My time here is thankfully short-lived and fairly uneventful and the time finally comes to prep for surgery. Let me assure you that when a man in scrubs enters your room carrying only an electric razor and a roll of paper medical tape and says in a deep Southern voice, “I’m here to shave you” it’s quite disconcerting. Anyway, several minutes later I am shorn like an Australian sheep in the spring and being whisked away to surgery. This is the last memory I will have of seeing my family and friends for another 13 hours or so.
I go back to the surgery prep area which I find out later is the same as the surgery recovery area and can only be described as a place similar to the body farm in the movie “Coma.”. The anesthesia… The aneteths… The anetheseeth… Aw, hell, the good drugs dude, starts explaining to me how everything is gonna go and that he noticed that in my records there is a note about issues I have had with anethes… Anesthesissi… Crap, good drugs in the past. I responded, “Yes sir, but that was when I was younger and I am sure things have changed.”. His response? “I’m sure you won’t have any issues today.” YES! Just the good drugs dude I wanted. “He’s the GOOD MOOD DUDE!”. Arby’s would sell a lot more stuff at a higher profit margin with that slogan. Anyway, he tells me they are ready for us in the OR and says, “OK, here comes the good stuff…” as he starts to suppress the plunger on a syringe attached to my IV. Never saw him detach it.
The next thing I remember is waking up in the body farm, but instead of Michael Douglas standing over me, I have some crazy-assed weird scientist character from a 50s B movie. His name is Frederick and for the past 10 hours and for the next 14 or so, he is my best friend. He’s even better than Good Mood Dude because he doesn’t just get you high and leave. He’s there for the whole trip. He brings water, and ice chips, and Sprite. He removes respiratory tubes, monitor wires and provides the most delicious alternate consciousness that one can buy for an inordinate amount of pain, suffering and insurance premiums.
And so begins my disjointed, bizarre journey through recovery. I don’t remember much of it except flashes. What I do know is provided by the family members that were allowed to come back to see me for about 10 minutes every 2 hours except between the hours of 8:00 pm and 9:30 am the next morning.
Bizarre place where there is no sense of time or day. Where your closest friend is a strange cat who is both the most disconcerting and comforting person you have ever met. The little time I remember here is probably the most intriguing to me. The rules are such. Beginning about an hour or so after surgery, family can come back to see me for 10 minutes or so every two hours. It’s a long, torturous process for Karen. She endures it like a trooper and apparently my progress through the whole thing keeps her almost as high as I am.
Apparently, the first time she comes back to see me she is accompanied by a nurse named Jennifer that took care of me during the initial hours but of whom I have no recollection. Upon first seeing me, she is pleased with how I look despite having a respiratory tube in along with every other wire and contraption connected. I also am approximately the same color as wax paper. I’m pretty sure they did not need the monitors because they could have checked my blood flow from across the room with an LED flashlight. Karen tells me she is there and asks how I am doing. I try to respond vocally, but cannot because of the respirator. So, while she is holding my hand I start to do sign language. Not ASL, but the single-letter, Helen Keller sign language that most people learn in elementary school. The nurse asks what I’m doing and Karen responds, “I think he’s doing sign language.” “Oh, I don’t do that,” she says and walks off. Strange nurse. Didn’t really matter because apparently, I’m the only one in my family that does it either. I was signing “I hurt” which Karen eventually guessed as “pain” and I got hit with another round of delicious liquid Dilaudid. I have no memory, yet, of this encounter.
The next visiting time, Karen comes in to find me off the respirator and doing better. I’m still loopy as the fringe on your grandmother’s Afghan blanket, but much better for the wear. No particular interaction of note with Karen, but my parents come back for a few minutes. My dad asks me how I’m doing and I respond, “It’s a bitch, but I’m ok.” My Dad has been rock-solid through all this, but that statement is the one that seemingly gets to him. Go figure.
These visits go this way every two hours or so, until the last one of the evening at 8:00 pm. At that point, I am quasi-lucid and this will be the only visit I remember with any clarity. Each time, Karen has come back for 7 or 8 minutes and then let my parents come back for a couple. I have no recollection of ever seeing my parents, but this one with Karen I remember. Prior to her arrival, Frederick has asked me if I would like to sit up on the side of the bed and put my feet on the floor. Despite being hooked up like a human car battery, we accomplish this feat. So, when she comes in, I decide I want to duplicate it for her. Frederick agrees, but he has other patients he has to attend to and it will take several minutes. Karen is thrilled because she gets to spend more time with me. What she doesn’t realize is that the half-hour or so she spends back there freaks out everyone in the waiting room. However, we repeat my miraculous event and she is on cloud nine. Apparently, me sitting on the side of the bed with my feet on the floor only eight hours after open-heart surgery is a feat somewhere between a Cirque du Soleil performance and Jesus walking on water. She returns to the waiting room both thrilled and dejected because it will be 13 hours or so before she sees me again.
Now at this point, I am coming out of the fog of narcotic cocktails I have been swimming in and all has been moving forward with wonderful speed and progress. However, the darkest, most painful event of my life is about to come about and I have no warning. Sometime after Karen leaves, Frederick and I repeat my momentous bed sitting extravaganza, only this time it almost immediately brings about a fit of nausea. I start to dry heave. Frederick goes into immediate action and brings me a plastic bucket, puts it in my hands at my chin and looks at me with the most sympathetic look I have ever seen. It reminds me of the much played out scene in war flicks where one soldier holds another while the life slips out of him. Frederick just mumbles, “I am SO sorry. I can’t do anything until you’re finished, but I’ll take care of it when you’re done.”
The next couple of minutes, despite the stream of mind and body numbing drugs flowing through my system, are the most painful I have ever experienced. A freshly sawed sternum wired together, numerous muscular traumas and newly glued incisions, 12 total, coupled with chest tubes, catheters, and various medical cabling are not the things to have amidst college-hangover-style dry heaves. I cannot imagine what kind of pain it had to create for me to have a memory of such pain through the drug fog. As soon as I finish, Frederick takes the bucket and hits me with another bolt of Dilaudid that keeps me out until I wake up in my regular hospital room around 9:30 the next morning. God bless him.
I awake in my regular hospital room just as Karen and my parents are coming in. I feel exhausted but pretty good considering what I have been through. Everyone is excited to see me and are pleased to see that I look pretty good under the circumstances. The next few hours are a steady stream of dozing off and being brought back to consciousness by a nurse to draw blood, take vitals or dispense meds. At this point, I’m only taking hydrocodone and trying my best to only take it when absolutely necessary. I still have a catheter in, a PICC port in my neck, an IV and two drainage tubes sewn into my chest. Moving is uncomfortable, but I manage.
Within a few hours, one of the techs asks me if I am ready to go for a walk. “Heck yeah! Anything to get out of this bed.” So, he brings in a walker along with all the extra stuff I will need to drag along with me to accommodate the various things hooked to my carcass. I get up out of bed and start to ambulate out of the room. The floor I am on is not very big, but down one hall and back is about 350 feet. I make that trip pretty successfully without too much hassle. Everyone is quite impressed. I, on the other hand, want to be wind sprinting down the hall. Patience is not one of my better traits.
Over the next few days, I manage to make it a little further with each trip until I am completely circling the floor. Karen is ecstatic. Every day her smile gets a little bigger even when it is accompanied by a few tears, some of joy, some of relief and some of concern. But I have one more hurdle to leap before I can escape my prison. The day finally comes when the doc says they need to remove my chest drainage tubes. Now, Karen had given me a warning that this would probably be “uncomfortable.” Liar. It hurt like a sonuvabitch. For the uninitiated, the drainage tubes (actually, one tube with a “Y” split before it enters the body) are roughly the size of your index finger. They are a couple of inches apart and protrude just below my sternum. They are massively uncomfortable because they interfere with your breathing and every move you make puts pressure on them. But anyway, the doc lays me back in the bed, snips the stitches holding them in and tells me to take a deep breath. Deep breath?!? I haven’t had a deep breath in almost a week at this point, but I make a valiant attempt. At this point, he YANKS them out of my chest. Now, I’m quite sure he eased them out with the utmost care and medical know-how, but everything in my body told my brain that he YANKED. Instant pain. But just like the nausea in the recovery unit, it was immediately followed by relief. Only this time not chemically induced. Most of the pressure to which I had become accustomed, was gone. I could breathe without difficulty. I was quite pleased. He stitched the incisions back up in a few seconds and was out the door. “Aahhh, much better…”
“Mr. Scott, I also need to remove your catheter.” Crap.
Later that evening, free of all my tethers, save for the remotely monitored EKG unit I was wearing, Karen and I make several laps of the floor. We make it back to the room and I get word that I most likely will be going home the next morning. Woohoo! Everything is returning to normal. The nurse comes in and informs me that I am doing great and tells me that the monitoring lab called the nurses’ station to let her know that my heart rate rose to 130. She told them, “I don’t think that’s gonna be a problem. He and his wife just went down the hall bookin’.” Yep, that’s me, the Usain Bolt of “cabbages” (the nurses’ nickname for patients with Coronary Artery Bypass Grafts). The next morning we load up and bug out.
I’ve now been home for 10 days. I have graduated from the recliner to the sofa to sleep. I’m walking 2-3 miles every morning with additional walking in the afternoon. My incisions are healing well. Most of the swelling is gone and I feel great. I return to my cardiac surgeon on March 20th for a check-up. I think he will be quite pleased.