The Pericardial Window

My nurse woke us up just before 6 a.m. on Thursday, March 28th. He seemed a little panicked. Surgery had just called, and they were ready for me. I needed to shower with pre-surgery soap before I could go, so my nurse got me a towel and turned the shower on.

A knock on the door.

Surgery technicians were there to take me right then! No time for a shower! The nurse brought pre-surgery wipes to the room. It was protocol. I turned orange like a bad spray tan with each swipe, and it had to be done on my whole body. I got what I could reach, and the nurse did my back for me, tied my gown back together, then down to surgery C and I went. I got transported in a wheelchair again. Still wasn’t supposed to be walking on my compromised femur and hip, and I think that’s just what they do to get people around in the hospital. Makes it harder for someone to pull off a getaway. Haha.

When C and I got down to the pre-surgery room, curtained-off areas for patient check-in, we met with all the people who would be in the operating room. The nurse who would be taking care of me, the doctor who would be administering ketamine (oooohhhh, C got excited for me), the anesthesiologist, main surgeon, cardiologist/surgeon, and I don’t know who else, but I met them all, and they all assured me that they would take good care of me.

One of the technicians gave me a special IV that went straight into my wrist vein on the right, and I forget why. It was for administering something that couldn’t go in my regular IV. It all made sense at the time. Someone explained that they would make an incision just below my sternum, and that I would have a drain coming out of me for monitoring. Yeah, ok, let’s get this thing started! I was ready to feel better, like a new person, like the ER Cardiologist said. I was ready for some sedative and pain blockers too. I kissed C goodbye, and he said something funny, and into the operating room I went where I saw all the familiar faces I had just met.

They laid me on the operating table. The doctor who said she’d give me ketamine stroked my shoulder (so soothing) while another technician put a mask over my face to breathe in some gas. The surgical assistants pulled my gown down to my knees and told me that even though I had just done the pre-surgical wipes, they had to clean me one more time. I remember the cardiology chief coming in with a string of residents behind him and greeting everyone. Then, I was out!

I woke up in a recovery room. A nurse was helping me drink water through a straw. I couldn’t hold my eyes open very long. Eventually, C joined me. I had been talking to him. Don’t know about what. Goofy little dreams from ketamine that were more mundane than I had expected.

He later told me that he offered me crackers to eat during recovery. I said, “Did you even wash your hands?” He assured me that he had to wash his hands before he entered the recovery room. I guess I ate some crackers. Even sedated, I’m still a hygiene fanatic. I remember none of this.

Once I had shown enough stability to leave the recovery room, I got pushed in a hospital bed to the Cardiac ICU. I don’t remember this trip and had no idea where I was in relation to the hospital. I just knew I was in ICU. A stuffed bear that work had sent greeted me at my bed. C called him Delotted Bear after the intravenous painkiller that I could access with a button at my side. I know I’m spelling that drug wrong. The nurse hooked me up to a wristwatch-like monitor that showed my oxygen saturation and heart rate. It connected to a reader on my finger. I didn’t know how good I had it. A blood pressure cuff stayed on my other arm and connected to the monitor. A drain tube extended out of my upper abdomen and into a bulb to catch heart fluid.

I was hungry once I was more awake! I ordered the only thing that sounded good: a yogurt and berry parfait. It sounded like a fantastic, high-calorie thing to eat that had some protein, which I knew was important for fighting cancer. With how picky my tastebuds had become, I ate whatever I craved.

C decided that he was hungry too and headed down to the cafeteria for some dinner. As soon as he left, I got a wave of nausea. I threw up for the first time in seven years. The hospital has amazing barf bags! They have a circular frame at the opening, then a long, cylindrical bag with volume measurements on the side. The nurses note everything, like how much you throw up! So much for my dinner. I didn’t trust my tummy yet.

When C got back with his food, I told him that I’d lost my cookies.

He hugged me and said, “Aww, I’m sorry I missed it.”

Who says that??? ❤  My sweet man!

I spent the next couple of days in ICU, most of which I don’t remember. C says I mostly slept. I was on heavy painkillers. My everything still hurt, my back, my hip, my ribs, and my chest after surgery. I still coughed. My orthopedic surgeon stopped by and talked to me about femur surgery and drew me a picture on the white board in my room.

Maybe it was just one day in ICU. I thought I went to the getting better floor of the hospital on a Saturday, but that doesn’t make sense. Whatever day I got transferred, my mom and Little Guy had dropped by. I wasn’t good company and couldn’t stay awake during their visit. I was glad they came by and hoped that Little Guy wasn’t too alarmed by seeing his mama with tubes and two IVs on me. I hoped that it assured him to see me doing better.

The getting better room didn’t have an IV painkiller, nor a wireless wrist monitor. I had 5 wires connected to stickers on my chest that reported my vital signs, a blood pressure monitor, oxygen, an IV, and still the heart drain tube and bulb. To go to the bathroom took a call to the nurse’s station to unhook the monitoring wires and blood pressure. Oxygen stayed on me all the time, and the nurses turned it up any time I had to walk or sleep. My saturation level would fall those times, and then I’d have a coughing attack that would make the nurse come running back! The nurse on duty would then offer me some prescribed cough syrup that contained codeine or a Tessalon pearl, if I hadn’t taken all my doses that day.

On Saturday, C’s sister came to town early in the morning. As soon as she had heard I was in the hospital earlier that week, she had booked a flight. She took an Uber/Lyft to the hospital. C, his sister, and I had pancakes from the cafeteria together. That hospital has the best pancakes! C’s sister left to help out my mom and Little Guy at home. She came back that evening to spend the night with me. Since C’s sister is also a nurse, my nurse allowed her to unhook me from my monitor and take me to the bathroom when I needed to. My nurses still checked on me regularly, emptied my heart fluid drain bulb, and brought me medicine.

It was nice to have C’s sister there. We talked about lots of things, her girls, kids, animals, family. My oncologist stopped by that evening, so she got to meet him, too. I ordered dinner from the cafeteria. I couldn’t eat very much, and my eyes were always bigger than my tummy. We found a movie to watch on TV that we both liked, then when it ended at 9, we both agreed it was time for sleep.

C came back in the morning. He’d done laundry at home and showered. He brought me my Sonicare toothbrush, my fruity toothpaste, and gentle face wipes. Yep, fruity kid toothpaste. I had eaten so many cough drops in January and February that any minty flavor made me want to throw up. My tastebuds and stomach grew more and more finicky the sicker I became, so I had switched toothpastes and couldn’t tolerate many smells or tastes all of a sudden. I’d never been a picky eater until then. Strong smells made me cough. Candles, shower gel, perfume of others, fragranced lotion, onions, they all got me coughing and choking and in a bad mood. Life’s less fun when you struggle to breathe.

I don’t remember when C’s sister had to fly home that day. Too soon. At some point either that day or the day before, we watched UFC on C’s computer because it was on midday, rather than late at night. They stayed awake, and I didn’t. I did a lot of sleeping to make up for all the waking. Phlebotomy came in almost every morning at 3 a.m. to draw blood. Doctors started their rounds at 5 a.m., and more than one usually showed up between 5 and 6:15 from different departments. Plus, nurses came in every hour and a half to two hours. A team of residents visited every day from the oncology department.

On Monday, I started radiation on my spine, T6 through T11. I was scheduled to start the previous Thursday, but heart surgery happened instead. I would do five treatments, five days in a row. Since radiation affects all fast-moving cells and kills them, this round led to esophagus issues. My radiologist had warned me. I had a little more trouble swallowing, especially really dry food, which I already struggled with, like bread. I had acid reflux. My tummy didn’t feel great with painkillers plus radiation. The treatment would make me more tired for the next two weeks, which can be offset with activity, and that’d be great, except I was about to become fairly immobile. I was really excited to have radiation, despite side effects, because it promised pain relief in my back!

My orthopedic surgeon visited again that day too. He asked if I remembered his visit last week when I was in ICU. I told him that I remembered that he drew me a picture. Whatever he had said, he would need to please repeat it.

He drew me another picture of a hip and femur and explained that I needed a rod to stabilize my fractured femur and prevent a hip break. If I broke my hip, I would need hip replacement surgery. They would insert the rod down the middle of my femur and screw it in. He assured me that this would make my femur so strong that I could walk on it immediately after surgery. Surgery would be the next day at 4 p.m. I could eat until midnight.

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