The cardiothoracic surgeon said I could leave on Day 4 after the bypass, but I was reluctant. Having a huge incision in my sternum and not having medical people around me were two reasons I felt nervous about leaving the hospital.
I went home on Day 6 post-surgery. Almost 3 weeks after admission. And it was all right.
This post is about what it was like to return home after heart surgery.
Nobody told me there’d be days like this
My favourite place was a comfy armchair with a footstool and a throw rug over me. Here I was able to multi-task:
- Email & SMS people
- Make lists
- Talk with visitors
- Play Quiz-Up
For the first 2 weeks, it was hard to concentrate and make decisions. I was moving through molasses. Thoughts plodded heavily in my foggy skull. Even yawning was an effort.
Maybe it was the after-effects from the general anaesthetic. Those effects are worse if you are elderly – which thankfully I am not.
After a few days of this, I saw my GP. He halved the dose of the beta blocker (metoprolol) because my blood pressure was pretty low (78/56); also likely contributing to the head fog and lethargy.
Exercise, clothes and nerves (unrelated to catwalk models)
I kept up with the exercises the hospital physiotherapist gave me. They were helping and the reps were getting easier.
I walked twice a day, gradually increasing the duration/distance. Wow, that first walk! My husband walked 100 metres up the road with me. I’d never noticed the slight gradient on that pavement before, nor all the leaves, fallen twigs and gum-nuts. I was shattered.
My body hurt terribly. The incisions were sore; my soft tissues and bones were realigning. It was very difficult to get comfortable in bed. I used pillows to partially prop myself up. Lying on my side was out of the question until my sternum had healed more.
But now, let me tell you about Nerve Pain.
“Nothing” feels like nerve pain. Because it’s numb (doh!) And if it’s not numb, then the sensation is horrendously intense. I had nerve pain around the incisions (my lower leg and sternum) and in the upper left quadrant of my chest.
As for clothes? OMG, don’t talk to me!
I wondered if I’d ever wear a bra again. The sternotomy was about 20cm long and its centre would be where a bra sits. Never mind a bra, I couldn’t bear any material rubbing on my skin. I rang the Australian Heart Foundation one evening because it was driving me insane. I wanted to know if it would go away. I was also fearful I might end up with saggy boobs.
The counsellor assured me it would ease with time, and it was part of healing. I felt better after talking about it.
There was nobody my age or gender I could’ve discussed this with.
Snap, crackle, pop
While I never “snapped”, I did have moments of very sudden disbelief and shock. I was frequently hit with anxiety in the evening, I had overwhelming negative emotions in front of the TV for no reason. It was tiring and I suspect it tired my husband too.
My lungs crackled. Especially first thing in the morning. You know those sweets (candy) called “Pop Rocks”? Yeah, just like them. It must have been those little air sacs opening up in my lungs again. That’s a good thing. And an amusing – hopefully never repeated – thing.
The Start of Life Part 2.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world…
I was in a safe little home bubble, where my husband took on everything and I am extremely grateful to him.
- I couldn’t drive for a minimum of 6 weeks
- I couldn’t do any ironing or housework
- I couldn’t even fill or lift the kettle to make tea
- Forget about hanging out the washing or lifting anything more than 5kg
When I did venture out:
- The seatbelt hurt and the bumps in the roads were magnified
- In crowds or at the shops, I held my arms defensively across my chest
- I was terrified of being knocked or jostled
I looked normal (kind of) so how would anyone know I was fragile and felt vulnerable? Now have a new respect for elderly and frail people who have to deal with this feeling all the time.
Then one day my cardiothoracic surgeon called. He wanted me to go to cardiac rehabilitation.
Questions to ponder:
- Guess what I said about going to rehab?
- Have you suffered the side effects of general anaesthesia?
- Have you seen an elderly person decline after receiving general anaesthetic?
- I was unaware of Lyrica’s controversy. Do you know about it?
More detailed reading:
General anaesthesia and cognitive function