I’m back home, I’m part human, part cow and part metal wire – Moo!
Finally, after a full ten days in the hospital, I got home. I’ll explain. I had full chest-splitting open heart surgery on June 2, to have an Aortic valve replaced. It was successful and they used a cow valve to replace my own used up Aortic Valve. It turns out that two prongs of the three prong valve were also calcified so it was it was a good thing they did this now instead of later. I was fortunate. I had the same surgeon that transplanted Vice President Dick Cheney’s heart. Luck of the draw I guess.
Normally, I would have been out and home in four days, but I had to stay a full ten. There were a couple of challenges. The first was that after two days my heart stopped for a full eight seconds. This brought about some rapid movement on the part of the hospital staff. Note that hospitals don’t like to say “the heart stopped”. They prefer to say: “You had a slight pause.” So they decided to wait a few days before letting me loose on the public until all the heart chambers worked together to beat at the same rhythm. Second, there was an air leak in the chest cavity and they wouldn’t remove one of the chest tubes until it repaired itself. If they removed the tube early, it would have collapsed a lung. And third, it seems that human kidneys and artificial heart/lung machines don’t like each other, so often there will be some kidney dysfunction after they hook up your insides to the machine. Anyhow, I’ve been home a few days and they are monitoring me pretty closely with ongoing blood tests and chest X-rays and visits by a visiting nurse.
I’ll point out that the complete staff at the Inova Heart and Vascular Institute (Fairfax Hospital) , in Fairfax, Virginia was nothing short of magnificent. They did their best to keep me comfortable and happy, from check in to discharge. These folks were truly outstanding in their care and in their attitudes toward the patients. I’ll add too, that my wife, Edie, has been an absolute angel during this entire process
Now let’s make this relevant to senior health, fitness and personal energy. Just a few, short years ago, you stayed in bed for a week before you even moved to a chair. The normal hospital stay was as much as two weeks or more for a normal patient, with lengthy bed rest at home for a while after that. Exercise after that was to be done minimally and carefully. Today, you start walking your first day after surgery and walking is prescribed as the very best of all exercises for recovery for most major surgery, even knee and hip replacements. I was given a set of non-resistance lower body exercises to do for my legs, flexibility and balance. I am not allowed to do any upper body exercises and a grocery bag is the limit on weight. I am not supposed to lift anything exceeding five pounds with my arms for four to six weeks. I can’t push or pull anything and I am not supposed to lift my arms above shoulder height for the entire recovery period. I can’t drive for four to six weeks. Obviously I can’t go to the gym for a long time. The good news is that Inova Heart and Vascular Institute (Fairfax Hospital), has an outstanding outpatient cardiac rehabilitation program where exercise after heart surgery is carefully monitored in a true fitness facility with weights and treadmills. They hook you up with wires and make sure you make progress properly and quickly. I’ll be scheduling that as soon as the doctors give me the OK.
1. Don’t get cocky going in. I felt confident that I would be an exemplary example of the benefits of being fit at the start. Because of all the preliminary tests and other things they did, all the doctors felt there would be no complications and I would be home in no time. There are still complications that are unique to heart operations, no matter how healthy you are otherwise.
2. Depression sets in easily. A good attitude going in usually means a good attitude coming out. Fortunately I was able to put some of the mental exercises for improving my attitude into practice. For the most part, they worked . . . But there were times. Many people have stressed to me that depression is a common problem, and I can easily see how. Even now, two weeks after the surgery, I feel disheartened that I can’t be more active and do more things.
3. Do what the Doctors tell you to do. That’s one thing I have been adamant about. I have done every exercise and taken every precaution they said to do and take. There is nothing worse in my mind than someone who slacks off when they get home, doesn’t follow the doctor’s instructions, and then complains about the slow progress they are making. Give me a break!
4. “This too Shall Pass!” Recovery is only a maximum of eight weeks (actually, if you have diabetes, recovery is expected to take about two weeks longer). That’s just a blip on the radar screen, but it seems like forever to me. It’s worth the discomfort, pain and petty annoyances, to get it done now, rather than wait and have the valve problem show up at the autopsy.
So enough of that. I am alive and kicking. The visiting nurse tells me I am a “Poster boy” for recovery. I am part human, part cow, and part metal wires (used to put the breast bone back together). Next week the blog post will be back on track about your health, fitness and personal energy. Thank you for reading.