“Go and enjoy the rest of your life.”
It was one week after my successful open-heart surgery, when my first-time pacemaker, and my new aortic valve (courtesy of a bovine), were working together in harmony. My pacemaker was a new mechanical addition to my physical body. It was implanted in less than 24 hours after my open heart surgery, checked again a couple days after surgery, and then ‘tweaked’ again by the surgeon two days after my final discharge. It was pronounced that the pacemaker had a 9 year battery life. The scar at my pacemaker and the sensation of it in my body was even more difficult to get used to than the scar on my chest from open-heart surgery.
Upon seeing my cardiac surgeon in that week after surgery, he said he was passing my care over to my cardiologist and that 'I should go and enjoy the rest of your life.' It was a very successful operation and one month later he marveled that I was healing so well after my surgery.
I am writing this follow-up after my previous essay to tell you that after heart surgery the hard work begins. Rehabilitation at the hospital where I had my open-heart surgery was very intense. 3x a day for 1 hr. sessions. There was occupational therapy sessions where I learned how to dress myself using certain implements and even how to shower. The other 2 sessions were devoted to gaining strength in arms and legs. Walking, going up and down stairs. Using the walker. Even how to correctly roll out of bed. After my heart surgery, I did not just get up and leave the hospital.
My female occupational therapist would arrive at 7:30 in the morning to get me started on showering by myself, and then dressing myself. The other days the nurses’ aides would come and help me into the bathroom. At this time I wasn't allowed to go anywhere on my own. I always picked the earliest shower time...7:30 am. The main reason is that I shared that shower/bathroom with 2 other ladies who weren't the neatest.
My male physical therapist was a funny guy. We would talk sports and music. He would play Credence Clearwater Revival songs for me. Sometimes my sister Carol and brother-in-law Pete would be allowed to sit in on my rehab sessions. I would go on walks the length of the rehab room....simply walking around to build up strength and endurance.
Finally, when I got out of medical facilities, I had to start a follow-up rehab program at my house. A nurse checked up on me once a week. This went on for a few weeks. I was doing well but then my gall bladder suddenly became acutely diseased, and I was immediately back into surgery again, and back to a rehab unit where I had to once again regain strength in my legs. It was another physical and emotional ordeal, but they did help me walk, and to climb up and down stairs. These basic daily routines that we all take for granted where stripped away from me.
After a month I was finally allowed to drive my car, as long as someone rode along with me. I still needed the use of a walker as I walked in to my regular medical appointments, the grocery store and the bank. The first time I went into the bank, using my walker, I learned what indifference was to a handicapped person. A woman coming into the bank pushed ahead of me and did not hold the door open. My legs were like jelly and I was getting the sweats...from nerves I guess. Coming out of the building, a man in front of me actually closed the door in front of me as he left the bank. However, my faith in humankind was saved when a man helped me get to my car, and waited until my sister got my walker into the trunk of my car. I will not forget those incidents in the bank my first time out. I am more aware and sensitive to people using walkers or wheelchairs because of my own experiences.
That one excursion was so tiring that I slept when I got home. I was once given and remembering the caveat...do only one thing or chore a day while you build up your strength. Even today, a year after the surgery, if I do too many chores I feel it. There are days I feel fantastic. There are other days I feel like just vegging out.
But, as I would say to family and friends, "The surgery and rehab was the easy part." Getting on with my life, because of restrictions after surgery, would be harder. I couldn't lift anything over my head. I couldn't lift anything more than 5 lbs. I couldn't drive. I couldn't wear my normal bra but a surgical bra for support so the incision would heal faster without strain. I was told to get 7-8 hrs. of sleep a night. I could not have a radio or cell phone near my pacemaker. The recovery of my daily life routine was a difficult challenge for me, because I was a woman who always took on all tasks easily on her own. The reader or potential patient needs to be aware that open-heart surgery is not a simple revolving door in and out of the hospital. I, for instance, did not think I would end up needing a pacemaker, even though it was considered a possibility for patients after this surgery.
I have since resumed most of my former life style. Meet friends for lunch and dinner. Pick up books from the library. Joined a news event discussion group. Food shopping, banking, family get togethers.
I have put away my walker...but I do need a cane. Not because of the heart surgery but because I have a bad back and sometime my sciatica acts up.
But the best thing of all is that when I lie in bed I no longer hear my heart trying to beat itself out of my chest, as it did prior to the valve replacement. I now hear a quiet heart, functioning with the pacemaker.
Yes, it has been a long year, but with my cardiologist arranging a cardio rehab session for me, I can and do feel stronger. I went 3x a week for 72 sessions (24 weeks). I loved it so much that I signed up for another 24 sessions at 2 times a week. For those of you who want to know, my insurance only paid the first 72 sessions. I paid out of pocket for the next 24 sessions at $150.
I require an EKG every 4 months and an echo-cardiogram every 6 months. I do take medication as well: 50mg Lopressor, 20mg Lisinopril, 10mg Lipitor, and 325mg of Bayer aspirin. Luckily, I do not take a prescribed blood thinner. The aspirin is enough.
Progress for me is that I was seeing my cardiologist every 3 months, now it is extended to every 4 months. I was seeing a technician to regulate the pacemaker every 2 months...now every 3 months. Eventually it'll be a once a year checkup. I know the pacemaker battery will have to be replaced in time, but for now I am taking my cardiac surgeons advice, 'Victoria, go and enjoy the rest of your life.'