Post-op pains, unexpected birthday destinations and the surprising medical use of pillows.
It’s an odd thing, knowing that someone is about to open up your chest and start cutting away at your heart. It might sound like the kind of thing reserved for movies starring men in masks stalking a group of teenagers but actually it really isn’t all that horrific. After all, for the people undergoing the procedure, at least when the day arrives, all we have to do is fall asleep.
That isn’t to say however that being rendered unconscious when you know you’re about to go under the knife isn’t one of the most terrifying moments you ever have to live through. You are on the bed as the anaesthetic is pushed through a line into your arm and an oxygen mask is placed over your face.
Then a nurse tells you to count back from twenty.
You start counting.
20. Those you have with you (for me it was my parents) hold your hands tightly, reassuring you that everything will be okay.
15. The world around you begins to fade away, faces to blur and you realise that you can no longer speak.
10. Voices become distant and faint, you can still hear your family and the nurses talking but they sound as if they are in a different room.
5. You don’t make it this far.
By the time you get to five you’ve started to wake up. Breathing is heavy and painful, your vision isn’t working properly yet and as soon as you try to move, firm hands hold you down in place and a voice from far away says something along the lines of “take it easy”.
After a few moments you realise why your throat hurts so much, there is a breathing tube stuck down it.
You look around frantically and as your vision begins to clear, you start to make out the faces of people you recognise.
They speak to you and although you can hear them, somehow you don’t.
After a few moments, you fall asleep again. This time though it’s a natural, restful sleep.
Coming round from my second open heart surgery was rough.
After a while the breathing tube was removed and I was able to properly wake up.
One of the first things I noticed, aside from the aching, were the three pipes emerging gracefully from my abdomen.
I looked like a character from some dystopian cyber punk movie.
These were not simply there for macabre effect though, they were to allow any buildup of fluid to drain away.
No matter the reason, they were not a pretty sight and they certainly were not comfortable.
In time a nurse, without any ceremony, simply pulled them out .
They had been inserted very cleverly so that when the drains were removed, the wound was closed by stitches already in place. One by one they were slid out of me and yes, it was as unpleasant as it sounds.
I was grateful afterwards though, because I could finally sit up and move around on the bed without the fear of prematurely yanking one out.
The thing that surprised me most about going in for such a major procedure, during which they quite literally sawed open my chest, was how quickly they were happy to let me go home.
I, of course, was delighted. It was just a day before my sixteenth birthday and that was absolutely the most important thing any of us needed to be thinking about at the time.
My parents though were not super thrilled with the idea of me being discharged so quickly. Mum almost begged the staff to keep me for another few days.
Obviously the idea of taking me the 130-odd miles to our home at the south end of Loch Ness, with a 70 mile round trip to the nearest hospital, just four days after open heart surgery was a little daunting. Their heads filled with just about every possible scenario that might occur in the absence of good doctors and nurses.
Probably all the way up to an Alien Chestburster situation…
On top of that, one of the wounds left by the drains was still weeping.
This was pointed out to doctors several times (much to my disapproval, as I wanted to get home asap) but in the end we were assured that all was fine.
So, back home it was, for one wonderful evening.
On the day I turned sixteen I woke up feeling sick and with a sky high temperature. Our local GP came to the house to check on me and immediately sent me to Inverness Raigmore Hospital for tests.
Woohoo, sixteen, yeah! Party in ward 4!
As upsetting as it was to have my sweet sixteenth tarnished like this, I have to give a shout out to the nurses who went out that day and bought me a gift. A certain brand of deodorant, named for a very warm place, that most teenage boys tended to smell of around then.
As it turned out they decided to keep me in the hospital for a few days. I had picked up an infection “somehow” (looking at you, unhealed drain wound) and was placed in isolation with regular monitoring. No antibiotics were prescribed.
Eventually, with the help of some paracetamol, my temperature came down and I was allowed home, with a warning to take good care of myself. Apparently my plans for abseiling and white water rafting as a birthday party needed to go on hold until next year.
I did have a party when I got back but it wasn’t quite the manic hurling ourselves into the pool kind from previous years. Some friends came around and we sat out in the back garden eating food that might have caused my doctors to raise an eyebrow.
In the end it didn’t really matter that I’d missed the actual date of my birthday. I had a great party with good friends anyway and at least that infection was gone.
Except, it wasn’t.
There Are Medicines Other Than Laughter
After mentioning the “Spider-Man incident” in a previous post I feel bad about once again bringing up my mum’s choice of entertainment.
Not so bad that I won’t do it though.
Open heart surgery is what you might call a traumatic event which leaves a very tangible mark. That being, a massive scar down the middle of your chest. However, beneath this surface scar there is also a bone that has been cracked open and needs to heal properly.
Any strain across the chest area can cause a sever amount of pain due to the broken bone, torn muscles and other assorted damage. The strain can come from coughing, an attack of the hiccups, yawning or, worst of all, sneezing. Trust me, whenever I felt a sneeze coming on I grabbed the nearest pillow and hugged it tightly to my chest, this went some way to dampening the pain.
It can also be caused by sharp and short exhalations of breath, such as those that come as a result of laughter.
Now obviously, as a sixteen year old who was barely able to leave the house, I was quite bored. I can’t imagine for a second that I was anything other than an absolute delight to be around but even so my parents decided I needed something like a good show to occupy my attention.
After some debate my mum came up with an out of this world suggestion.
She was sure that I would really appreciate this absolutely hilarious series and how right she was.
To this day it is still one of the funniest things I think I’ve ever seen.
I loved every episode, despite the pain that watching them brought me. It took me around three weeks curled up on the couch with a pillow permanently squashed against my chest to watch all (at the time), eight series.
It seems incredible when I look back, that such a difficult time was also full of so much laughter.
Oh and by the way, the pillow method is one I advise anyone to adopt should they have a need for it (I hope you never do but just in case).
Shameless Plugging of my Social Media
And with that we reach the end of another post.
I hope you have enjoyed what I’ve written in this one, it’s a subject close to my… No no, even I appreciate that that is a little too far.
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Thank you for looking in, I really appreciate it.
Take care and be excellent to each other.
- You would be surprised how comforting a small gesture can be.
Going in for my procedure was, at that point of my life. the absolute most terrifying thing I had ever experienced.
So many things raced through my head in those last few seconds before I drifted off.
However when I felt my parents hands grasp and squeeze my own it gave me something to, literally, hold on to and I just focused on them and pushed all other thoughts away.
You don’t always need to give someone something to physically hold. A kind phrase or a bit of good news, anything to keep in their mind and hold there can make a world of difference in a scary situation.