The Odyssey & Full Contact Shuffleboard – Part 4

I woke up the next morning and things weren’t too bad, as long as I remained perfectly still. After an hour or so, around 7, I received my first breakfast, or food of any kind for that matter. I had been fed intravenously thus far. Time for solid food, well solid-ish. I had cream of wheat and Jello and a small container of Milk. I was only able to get down a little bit, didn’t feel hungry in the slightest. Later in the morning the Physio stopped by, interesting – but I wasn’t aware the daughter of Satan worked at VGH – I had to get out of bed and eventually I learned that everyone dreaded see the Physio coming – it meant you were in for a tasty pain sandwich. I needed to take my first tentative steps, apparently the faster you get up and moving the quicker the recovery. BUT, the quicker you get up – the more intense the pain. Even with the bed raised to maximum angle, I still needed two nurses and the Physio to help me up, legs were super weak and shaky, core strength was non-existent, I didn’t even have the power through my chest or abdomen to raise my head so the pillow could be adjusted. I’m a pretty big guy, so the sight of me in my gown, tubes and wires every which way and 3 little nurse tug-boats guiding the Titanic around the room must have been pretty darned funny.

Getting up was pretty high on the pain scale – as was the universal gauge for how you are doing after chest surgery, coughing, they make you cough. Now, I’m not trying to be elitist or anything – but unless you have had you chest opened, breastbone sawed in half and tried to function with partially collapsed lungs and all the attendant goodies that go along with that wonderfulness, not to mention the heart doing aerobics all on its own….. there is no way I can relay how completely & utterly sucky coughing is. Maybe taking a full-on Major League Baseball bat swing to the chest would be in the neighborhood. They ask you to cough a lot. It’s the only way to make the chest tube work properly and expel all the junk from your lungs and eventually they re-inflate. If it just sits there, you are guaranteed infection or, pneumonia or the lungs could further collapse and slowly the collapse could spread. These were all sufficiently scary enough to encourage you to keep coughing despite the tear inducing pain.

Everywhere, people were doubled over and grimacing in pain while coughing. I’m not talking great heaving coughs – I’m talking the smallest amount of breath you could suck in and cough out, think of a cough you’d expect from the queen… ahem, more of a teeny tiny throat clear than a cough… still supremely sucky.

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So after about 20 steps or so around the room, I was wiped out – time to maneuver me back into my berth. Nothing much funny happened unless watching me squirm  and cringe just cracks you up, then it was hilarious.

One interesting thing that happened – they continuously ask you to rate your pain and then they tailor your pain medication to your rating – I kept giving pretty high 8’s or 9’s… and it seemed like they were kind of thinking I was some kind of wimp, like come on – how can you keep rating your pain so high, you have a very low threshold for pain pathetic little girly-man. Well later in the day, some special SWAT pain management team came by to see what was going on. Turns out the epidural hadn’t really taken and I was only receiving very spotty relief from between T4 and T7 in the spine. One of the ways they checked this was a bag of Ice on my chest – they moved it around and asked me to tell them when I felt the cold…. I felt the cold almost everywhere. So I was basically flying solo with no pain relief, only a small pill every few hours. So in those couple of minutes I went from being perceived as having a very low threshold for pain (because they assumed the epidural was fully working) to having a very high tolerance for pain – with hardly any relief from the epidural – thank god I wasn’t really passing the honey glazed ham. Then they suddenly got much more sympathetic and realized my complaints were legit and upped the dose and it got better.

Hopefully I can get used to the painkillers and maybe come to depend on them, start taking more and more to feel the effects, get addicted, and then star on some future episode of Intervention… get your seats now folks. Basically the whole time, I had been in heaps more pain than I should have been if the epidural had been fully working…. Oh well.

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Not like I can return the operation and get my money back…. earlier I mentioned being in the ICU and hearing a LOT of very deep, very bone rattling coughing, guess who my neighbor was in the Step Down…YEP! What I thought must have been a 6 foot 6 giant of a lumberjack, turned out to be a 4 foot 9, 75-year-old lady. Her coughs were coming from deep down, from the bottom of her soul, I can’t imagine how much it must have hurt to cough like that. Her lungs were filled with fluid, she couldn’t sleep and was up several times a night throwing up, choking and coughing, she cried often and woke up at night with some kind of hallucinations – I decided then and there to stop threatening & scaring her for vending machine money.

In the Step Down unit, I was only separated from her by a curtain, so I had a front row seat. Eventually she got better but those first few days were rough. At one point we were the only two left in the step down, everyone else had graduated to their own rooms NOT me and the 75-year-old. Which was telling, because as I walked around it became evident that I was, by far, the kid on the whole ward. Worried they might sign me up for shuffleboard or something, I asked the charge nurse who was next closest to me in age, 20 years, the next closest person was 20 years older than me. It was kind of funny, we’d all slowly amble by each other, with me just as weak, sore and slow as they were.

That night I developed a fever and my heart went sproing…. fever hit 103 and heart was beating at 150 just lying in bed, with an attending arrhythmia. It was a bad night. Next morning it broke, the fever not my heart and a cardiac team came to the rescue and managed to get me somewhat under control with my pulse hovering around 100 while totally at rest. Not great, but better than 150. It was still a neck and neck race to see who was worse off, me or the 75-year-old woman.

That’s pretty much it for the day, tomorrow we’re going to meet the people who came in and removed the huge plastic tube sticking out of my chest. OH I know one more thing that was pretty cool. All this time, the time after the operation my eyes, were perfect, my speech was perfect – I had not taken any Mestinon and everything was awesome, so we held off taking any until I needed it. They told me to not get my hopes up too high as most likely this was just the effects of the Transfusion/Plex treatment working it’s magic – but it sure was fun to imagine I was in total remission. I wasn’t.

So tomorrow, removing the chest tube, great shuddering waves of Nausea and my new invention – the hum-cough…. don’t miss it….

Have a Great Day.

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