Posts Tagged With: cardiothoracic surgery

My heart will go on: my heart surgery experience and my continuing recovery

67 days ago, I underwent heart surgery to repair a leaky mitral valve. It was the first surgery of any kind that my body had ever been subjected to. This is the story of my experience on the operating table; during my ensuing stay in the hospital; and during my recuperation after I was sent home — a recuperation that’s still ongoing. For background covering the time period from the diagnosis that I needed the surgery, through the initial pre-operative procedures that I underwent, go here, here, and here.

Prelude: my heart catheterization and the night before the operation

The catheterization: not as bad as I’d feared?

On Wednesday, September 9, I arrived at the hospital for my final pre-operative procedure: the heart catheterization, alternatively referred to as a coronary angiogram. This procedure consisted of a doctor inserting a tube into my wrist and running that tube through my radial artery, and adjoining arteries, all the way to my heart. A thinner tube, the catheter, was then run through the initial tube; attached to the catheter was a tiny video camera. At some point, a special dye was also injected into me to assist the doctor with the imaging of my arteries. The purpose of all of this was to check for arterial blockages.

As the catheterization was getting underway, when a painful needle (separate from the IV port that was already affixed to me by then) was being inserted into my wrist to forge a pathway for the tubes, I sang “My Favorite Things” (from the film The Sound of Music) in an attempt to overcome the pain. 🙂

The procedure was performed under sedation, with the sedative agent being fed into me via the IV port. I’d previously been informed that being sedated would feel “like twilight”; but I experienced no sensation out of the ordinary while the catheterization was ongoing. Any effect that the sedative may have had on me was very subtle; I was able to engage in a conversation with the doctor during the entire procedure.

As I’ve previously written, I’d been reluctant to agree to the catheterization and had to be talked into it by the surgeon; I feared that the tube could accidentally puncture one of my arteries while passing through it, causing me to bleed to death in 30 seconds. Fortunately, that worst-case scenario didn’t materialize. The catheterization didn’t kill me. 🙂

Still, I wonder how essential it was. Not surprisingly in light of my relatively young age for a heart surgery patient, the catheterization didn’t find any blockages. I could have told the doctor he wouldn’t find any; we could have just skipped the whole thing and gone straight to my surgery. 🙂

Following the procedure, I was taken to a recovery room where I was started on an intravenous drip to help wash out the imaging dye from my body. I was also told that due to the trauma to the point in my artery (at my wrist) where the catheter had been inserted, for the following three days I would be required to avoid bending my wrist excessively. No one told me what would happen if I did engage in such bending, but I suspect the answer probably would have involved dangerous amounts of blood gushing out of my wrist.

Me in the recovery room after my heart catheterization.

Me in the recovery room after my heart catheterization.

On the eve of my operation

Before all the dye had been flushed from my system, I was removed from the recovery room, admitted to the hospital as an inpatient, and brought to a regular hospital room. Continue reading

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Today I had my pre-operative procedures at the hospital

What with my heart surgery scheduled for next Thursday, today I went in to the hospital for some “pre-admission” procedures and consultations in anticipation of that upcoming operation. The more minor of the procedures that I experienced today included a chest X-ray; an EKG (electrocardiogram); and bloodwork. Although I normally hate having blood taken, and although my heart sank when I saw how many vials the nurse was going to fill (which would mean that the needle would be in for a relatively long time), this morning’s bloodwork barely hurt at all. So that was an unexpected bonus.

My consultation regarding the anesthesia

It probably helped that I was distracted while the blood was being extracted from my vein; because while that was going on, a nurse was simultaneously briefing me on some details regarding the anesthesia that I’ll be given at the outset of my surgery. That hospital is nothing if not efficient. 🙂 Anyway, I did have a lot of questions for the nurse, in light of the fact that I’ve never been under general anesthesia before. She also gave me some instructions to help prepare my body for the anesthesia. (In addition to the standard requirement of fasting from midnight the night before the surgery, an example of those instructions was that from now until after the surgery, I shouldn’t taken any anti-inflammatory pain medications, commonly referred to as NSAIDs, which is an abbreviation for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. In the United States, among the popular painkillers that are classified as NSAIDs are Advil and Motrin.)

Also during my colloquy with the nurse, I mentioned that I’m a singer and that I therefore hoped the anesthesiologists would go easy with the breathing tube that will be jammed down my throat during the surgery, in order to avoid damaging my vocal cords. (Yes, I told the nurse about my World Karaoke Tour. :)) Relatedly, we discussed how, as is standard in heart surgery, I’ll still be “intubated” (that is, the breathing tube will still be inserted down my throat) when I wake up in the operating room. While my surgeon believes in “extubating” (removing the tube) very quickly after the patient regains consciousness, I expressed concern that until the extubation occurs, I may feel like I’m choking. The nurse offered that if I want to minimize the risk of harm to my vocal cords, I should refrain from struggling with the breathing tube before it’s removed. Sound advice, I’m sure; but how will I have the presence of mind to remember it when I’ve just been knocked out for four hours and I’m feeling groggy and disoriented?

My CT-scan and a missed photographic opportunity

After all of that was finished, I had to walk several blocks to another of the hospital’s buildings, where I underwent a computed tomography scan, usually abbreviated as a CT-scan. My CT-scan involved the following steps:

• I drank several cups of water.

• An intravenous (IV) tube was attached to one of my veins.

• While lying on my back, I was slid into a cool machine with the appearance of a vertical donut. Via some blasts of radiation, images were taken of my chest, abdomen, and pelvis areas.

• A “contrast dye” was then injected into me through the intravenous tube, and more images were taken inside the donut-esque machine. You may have heard that when such a dye is pumped into a patient’s vein, the patient experiences a warm, tingly feeling throughout his body for a couple of minutes. That proved to be the case with me.

Here I am with the IV tube in my arm immediately after the completion of the CT-scan.

Here I am with the IV tube attached to my arm immediately after the completion of the CT-scan.

Things didn’t go completely smoothly during my CT-scan. Continue reading

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