Posts from the ‘Family’ Category

Day 12 of 100 Happy Days -Old friends who pop in

Day 12-100

Great friends. like Lou, always bring a smile.

Day 12 of 100 Happy Days

Our transition to life after the military has been pretty smooth…in fact I think we have landed on our feet given that my departure was fairly quick due to a medical release after the heart surgery.

We are well settled and enjoying life, but….

One thing we have not been able to do is crack the social code on the outside. Though I have friends here in Edmonton and area, it has been ten years since I served here and the friendships, though still intact, are not as tight as when I was with the Regiment and the Brigade. A decade creates a lot of new opportunities, a lot of new demands, a lot of new experiences.

In my military career, each new posting unearthed a new series of friends…new relationships were started or old ones rekindled. There were meet and greets, and bbqs and Happy Hours and Mess Functions to meet new people or to be introduced to new people.

That is not so much the case in my new operating environment. Sure, people are friendly enough, but the dinner parties, the spontaneous kitchen parties, the afternoon beer sessions, haven’t materialized yet. Maybe they will over time, but there not here as of yet.

So when a great friend says they are popping into town from Ottawa for a night, and makes time to come for dinner, it is a special occasion. Even if it is not the knock’em down, drag’em out kind of night because we are older and there is a long drive to the airport hotel before a morning flight, it is still great to chat, to laugh,to hug.

Good friends make for good times; great friends make for great times.

Here in Alberta, the doors are always open.

Later,

ASF

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Day 2/100 Happy Days – Parents!

2015-12-25 08.41.30Day 2/100 Happy Days.  Yesterday, I wrote of the special bond between parents and children – from the point of view of a soppy, middle-aged man bravely waving goodbye to his son at the airport, stifling a few tears in the process.  Today, I will turn the tables and write about things from the other side of the fence.

My parents have just spent the last two weeks with us over Christmas.  I do not think we could have spent time with anybody easier-going; all we needed to do was provide time and space for the twice-daily walks, and all the cereals know to humankind, and the never-ending cups of tea!

They are wonderful people  and they have accomplished wonderful things.

From humble agrarian roots in India, to hardworking merchant class in England, to demanding white collar jobs in Canada – their story is the classic tale of people seeking a better life, a 20th century version of the pioneer spirit that made this country what it is.

Frugal, hardworking, tough yet affectionate in their own way, they shared their morals, their values, their ethics, and formed the foundations for me and my siblings to  become who we are.

Now, as they and I have entered that last stage of the parent-child relationship – that of friends – I find that our discussions, our chats, our walks, our games, our times together are all special and cherished. I have had the privilege of reconnecting with my parents two years ago as they nursed me back to health after the heart bypass; and though I would never recommend a serious illness to anyone, the whole episode was an opportunity to renew our relationship as adults – to learn about each other and to appreciate what we all offered from a totally different perspective than that of child to adult and adult to child.

And as I have learned from the relationship with my children, a weekly phone call to just say, “All is good here,” is always welcome and rewarding

Time marches on; hair grays, hearing fades,eyes become cloudy, energy saps, but they are always the same, sharing the same old chestnuts of family jokes and stories and laughing those infectious laughs that seem to make everyone’s day.

I love my parents and I am also in the enviable position of liking them as well!. They are a pleasure to be with and they are one of the main reasons I am as happy a man as I am.

Love you, Mom and Dad.

Day 1/100 Happy Days – “Nothing new, Dad…”

A couple of years ago, I embarked on a little bit of narcissistic “performance art” that required a bit of introspection, a bit of creativity, and a bit of discipline, The project, 100HappyDays, was at times a chore, but I found overall it created a positive outlook as I searched each day for something that made me happy. As a result, I looked at things more positively – as opposed to negatively, avoiding focusing on things that made me unhappy. I truly did find it uplifting and judging by some of the feedback from friends, it struck a chord with them too. So starting 2 January 2016, I begin 100Days Part Deux. Indulge me! (for more info see  www.100HappyDays.com )

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Day 1/100

Just before New Year’s Eve, I hugged my daughter and watched her drive off with her lovely boyfriend to go live her life in Northern Alberta. Today, I dropped my son at the airport, knowing I will go many months without feeling a hug from that goofy Marmaduke-puppy of a man-boy. Saying goodbye to your kids is heart wrenching. It is a confusing maelstrom of emotions: on one hand, melancholy, self-pity, loneliness, trepidation, and worry as you see your “babies” challenge life head on without you. On the other, it raises a smidgen of envy, of much pride, of a sprinkle of excitement as you see them march off on their own, knowing that you have done well raising two tiny beings into confident, hard-working young adults.

Being a parent is a significant challenge. From the moment you accept the familial contract of pregnancy and child-rearing, with its evolution of roles – care-giver, teacher, coach, mentor, banker, counselor, confidant, friend – you pour your heart and soul to them and you love them more than life itself.

You feed them, you clothe them, you support them, you nurture them, you scold them, you guide them, you hold them when things go wrong, you smile the smile of a 1000 suns when things go right. You love them unconditionally with a love that is deeper than all of the earth’s crevices, and larger than all of the earth’s mountains.

I relish their every phone call, their every email, their every Skype chat, their every visit…even if the only things they yield are the contented silence of togetherness, punctuated by a brief “Nothing’s new, Dad, things are good here,” or a few lazy couch potato giggles. Just being able to talk to them, or even better, to hug them, is something you never quite get until you are a parent of older children – and something you wish you realized when you were a younger adult.

And if all goes well, the parent’s return on investment is huge – their smiles, their success, their happiness are all rewards of a job well done. As my Dad said to me when I was just starting on my adventure into adulthood, “Do whatever you want in life…just make sure you add to society and do not only take from it.” Sage words.

That is the grail, and proudly, that is just what I am watching my kids achieve.

Being a parent equals happiness; thanks Alex and Duncan!

ASF’s The Coronary Chronicles – The Final Act

Pic2

I was lying in critical care.

After five hours under the cardiac surgeon’s care, I have to say it was bliss in intensive care. The pain drugs flowed freely though the multiple number of lines entering into

Let's see...this one leads to the...ummm.....ummmm

Let’s see…this one leads to the…ummm…..ummmm

my neck and wrist.  Forget that my bed space and the area around my body looked the back of my High Definition TV set and home theatre. There were cables and lines and diodes everywhere…pain killers and beta-blockers and blood thinners and catheters and heart telemetry and blood pressure cuffs and pace maker wires and saline drips and chest drainage tubes, and who knows what else, were exiting and entering my body through a Medusa-like tangle.

I was wired for sound and without exaggeration, it took my nurse almost 20 minutes to untangle and create order from the plastic and rubber kitten’s ball of hoses and tubes. And honestly, I could care less,  I was as high as a  red-faced Metropolitan Mayor!

But eventually, Nurse Judy fought through the tangled mass and treated me to a wonderful bird bath, getting rid of the pinkish disinfectant – and the odd dried blood spot – that I was slathered with during the op.  I took stock of the 35 cm incision from collarbone to sternum and the 25cm incision down my left forearm, the IV in my neck and I chilled – a kind of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds chill – which was okay, because as you remember, Ringo Starr was supposed to be one of my surgeons (see Act VI).

babel_fish_diagramI had visitors…my wife, my brother, and my Mom and Dad came to see me and spent some time chatting. At least that is what it sounded like in my brain. I have no idea what came out of my lips…gobbledygook for all I know. But it’s okay, they had a babel fish with them – or at least they smiled at the right times. I think I lasted about 7 minutes before I was too tired to form any semblance of words. My body was telling me to shut up. And rest. So I did.

But don’t worry; even after everyone left I was never alone.  I had a new friend that I had to carry 24 and 7, and that I never wanted to be without.

No – not morphine or other opiates

I was Linus van Pelt. I had my new security blanket. It was (and still is) my chest pillow.  I hugged my “chest pillow”… a heavy flannel sheet that was folded and folded and folded and folded like an origami swan, and then tucked into a pillow case. Hugging that pillow with every ounce of my strength was the only thing that stopped me from feeling like my chest was splitting wide open when I moved, which was rare, or when I coughed – which unfortunately wasn’t as rare as I would hope.  Moving I could control. But the cough…unexpectedly and inconveniently, I coughed the weak cough of the injured, as my lungs tried to take over responsibility for providing me air and getting rid of the phlegm in my lungs – an unfortunate side

I love my pillow...

I love my pillow…

effect of intubation and having a machine breathe for you for over 5 hours.

I enjoyed my private room and around-the-clock care. I even had a great chat with one of the Veterans of the Battle of the Bypass… a blue vested cardiac volunteer (obviously wearing the smock prepares one for a future career as a Walmart Greeter).  Funnily enough, we had served together in the past and he had just recently celebrated his Depart with Dignity ceremony from the Canadian Forces – a medical release due to the operation. I had not even considered how this whole episode would likely end my Army career. Eeeek!

We talked briefly, once he overcame his shock over the fact I was a fellow member for the Zipper Club at 48 years of age. As I would find out later, once you become part of the Club, it is like you learn the “secret handshake” – there are just so many of “The Bypassed” out there. Every time I turned around, there was someone else telling me how they had blocked arteries and that a bypass had changed their lives.

Great news.  I just wish I wasn’t 20 years younger than them.

I was pretty content in my little drug-infused hamster ball.  But, sadly, nothing lasts forever – not even the super-drugged up nirvana of post-surgery opiates. And despite the wisps of hope that I would stay in Intensive Care because the cardiac post –op ward was full, it was not to be. A bed came free in “general population”’; I hope it was because someone was discharged, but no one could tell me.

So I was moved from my deluxe single accommodation to a semi-private room.

Now I have not written much about the several room-mates I had over the course of my almost two weeks in the hospital. For the record, I had five with a joint age of 324…the youngest at 45 and the oldest clocking in at 84. And save for one, the average stay together was for almost three days at a time.

I tell you, if you want to learn about people – hang around with someone who is scared to death but tries not to show it. I learned a lot about the human condition of those who face the prospect of open heart surgery. Yes it is routine – but it is complex and there are risks. And apparently you want to get a lot of your chest (no pun intended)

Firstly, there are no inhibitions or privacy…the flimsy little cotton curtain between bed spaces is not very sound proof. Whether you want to or not, you learn a lot about bodily functions, diagnoses, prognoses, family, lifestyle and a host of other things that you would never, ever, ever care to share with a stranger – unless you are a stranger sharing a hospital room and something critical in your body is not working properly.

I learned about my roomies’ relationships – as couples, with their children, with their families, with their friends. I learned about regrets and a few things that would change when the operation was all over.  I might have even shared a few thoughts myself…though I am more of a listener than a talker. It is amazing how a few well placed “tsks, tsks” and some reflective listening will calm the soul.

But back to post-operative care…

Being in general population sucked. I went from one-on-one care to one nurse caring for 8-12 patients. And at night, the ratio got worse. Funnily enough, CBC carried a

Noise...noise...noise...

Noise…noise…noise…

news-piece just after I was discharged reporting on the noise levels in a hospital ward. They reported it was terrible; hardly conducive to rest or sleep or recovery.  I can tell you it is brutal – day or night. Between alarms, call buttons, PA announcements, jovial staff, the food carts, cleaning staff, patients in pain, it was a wonder I slept at all. Add to that the sad and unnerving coughing of the post-operative smoker trying to rid their lungs of cigarette goo in their lungs, it was absolutely hellish.

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I slept on and off – more a series of three-hour cat naps between the oral doses of pain killers. Unfortunately the pain killers came every four hours. It is funny – actually, sad – how your body knows it is time for another dose. I can only imagine the pain of the junkie as the glow wears off; I became a clock-watcher – especially at night. For the last hour, I slept in fifteen minute bursts hoping for the nurse to magically appear with the little plastic pill cup that contained another three hours of pain-free sleep. During that last 45 minutes of hell, I tried shifting into a comfortable position, by raising my back, or lowering my legs, or shifting on to my side, or arching  – but as I was weak and in pain, I could not even manage that to get relief. Several times I had to call the nurses to untangle me from the absolutely tortuous positions I had managed to slide into.  I tried to be brave, but I have to tell you, it pushed me to the limit. I tried to hold out as long as I could and wait for the nurses to help me, but more often I gave in, and pushed the call-button forl help and relief. I did not feel empowered or healthier or stronger. I felt weak and vulnerable and unhappy.  And I was a young, fit, robust fellow. I can only imagine how my elder room mates were fairing.But over time, things got better. My sense of humour never left me – it thought about being snarky and mean – but that is not me.  Plus, no sense in pissing off the pain relievers! As I got better, I learned to enjoy the little things in life: peeing without a catheter, orange Jell-O, a shower, clean socks, sweatpants and a hoodie. And I walked…first just to the toilet; then 10 m, then 40, and finally being able to walk to the nurses’ station to grab an apple juice and make toast.  Like I said, the simple things – smelling burnt toast without having a seizure – made every day better.

I often thought that I was not ready to go home – I had pain, my chest bone was still healing, coughing hurt like no one’s business, I had 60cm of stitches, and I had three holes in my diaphragm from various removed hoses that were trying to patch themselves up. I couldn’t imagine being without my meds and staff to move me.  But after 72 hours in general population, I was ready. I could not stand being there – eating steamed food that tasted like cardboard, sitting among the sick and injured, listening to the pain and agony, and trying to keep up a happy face. I wanted to be in my house, with my wife and my stuff. So after showing the staff that I could climb up and down and a flight of stairs, I was granted parole.

Hallelujah!  A quick visit by my Surgeon and I was sprung free. With discharge instructions that included restrictions on how much I could do, how much I could lift, how much I should eat, I was allowed to leave. My wife helped me out of the hospital, and as I waited in the hospital lobby while she went collect the car, I was dazzled by the sheer volume of noise and activity around me: conversations and food line ups and questions to the Info Desk; the smells of Tim Horton’s coffee and muffins. Though my life had been on hold for over two weeks, for everyone else the game of Life had gone on. I was like a country farm-hand in the Big City, marvelling at the chaos and cacophony. I was no longer a patient, I was just a guy.

And off we went into uncharted territory. Armed with only a few manuals, some well-intended verbal advice, a couple of 8.5×11 sheets on post-operative issues and pain 3x5fragile-largemanagement techniques, we headed off. The ride home was nerve-wracking for both my wife and me – I had the resiliency of a raw egg. The only thing between my breast bone and the seatbelt was my “issue heart pillow/security blanket” – a cheerful, red, overstuffed pillow the size of a kids’ rugby ball, snuggled firmly in place to absorb any jostling, bumps, sighs, sneezes or coughs. I hugged that pillow like it was toilet paper from the Carnival cruise-liner Triumph.

And that was the tone for the first few days of recovery: angst, hesitation, worry…every ache and palpitation, every heavy heart beat, every sharp pain, every perceived redness or soreness around an incision was a siren call to my internal hypochondriac. I imagined misaligned grafts and an over-taxed heart or rampant infection. I was not that strong mentally or physically, despite what my external face said.

But that did not last forever. With the strong support – physically and mentally and emotionally – of my wife, my kids, my parents, my brother and sister, and the multitude of friends far and wide who sent me positive energy, I moved through the yucky bit and beyond.

And now, here I am at Surgery plus 16 days: full of vim and vigour and appetite. The strength has returned and so has the humour. I walked almost 2km today. And I am getting better.

And with that, I will sum up the Coronary Chronicles.

It has been a wild ride. I hope that my exercise in self-indulgence has entertained you as much as it has helped me. I also hope that I have been a cautionary tale for some of you – especially for you guys out there who are in my age bracket. Alpha male or not, recognise we are not invincible and immortal. Many of us have been ridden hard and put away wet.

Listen to your body…get things tested…check for bumps and discoloured moles.  Early warning will increase the odds; go into hand with pocket Kings and show the House that it can be beaten.

And now on to bigger and better things…when I write again, I will be just be a regular simple fellow…albeit a little more battle-scarred.

thats-all-folks1

Later,

ASF

ASF’s The Coronary Chronicles – Act Six: My Achey Breaky Heart…

Ground Control to Colonel Pal...

Ground Control to Mister Pal…

During heart surgery, the beating of the heart is temporarily stopped and life is maintained through a cardiopulmonary bypass (also called CPB or the heart-lung machine). The heart is stopped either through decreasing its temperature or through the injection of a preservative. The heart-lung machine then keeps the blood pumping through the body, adding the necessary oxygen and nutrients.

I guess, if you consider a beating heart as a necessity for life, I was technically dead for a few hours. I suppose my brain was alive; but if you asked me what happened between the hours of 10am and about 3pm on 2 November – I could not tell you. Those five hours did not exist for me.

But as for the hours surrounding that…

Having just been bumped due to a higher priority heart emergency on 1 November, at about 10pm I had enough of Friday. I brushed my teeth, and readied myself for bed hoping that tomorrow they would fix my heart. I was still nervous. I was also very tired. Almost 24 hours of mental preparation for the postponed operation had left me fatigued.  And though I had a verbal promissory note that Saturday would be the day, as I had experienced today, there were no guarantees when it came to affairs of the heart.

So after asking for a sleep aid – as I figured sleep might be a bit elusive otherwise –  I toddled off into bed after an iodine scrub shower, feeling very pink and very shiny.  And I slept.

I'm here for the surgery...

I’m here for the surgery…

I dreamed that night…and while I do not recall all the details, I do remember that it had a surreal quality to it. Sort of a Beatles animated movie

Clickety-clikey

Clickety-clikey

feel or a Tim Burton feel – alternating between Ringo Starr and Edward Scissorhands as my surgeon. Freaky…

I must have slept well because promptly at 0600 hrs, it was vital signs’ time  and the start of The Wait Part Deux. It was dark and the rest of the ward had not woken up yet. There was a sombre, suspenseful feel to the air  – I can only describe it as that slow motion period in The Terminator when you know Arnold Schwarzenegger is going to come around the hospital corner into the shot, but the frame continues to be empty. I knew what was coming, but I was dreading it slightly.

I contemplated what would happen next – trying to create a mental image of the words I had read and the steps that would happen, much like we are taught to mentally rehearse our actions for specific drills to prepare ourselves for the task at hand. Adding to the surrealism,  I could hear the occasional snort from my roommate who was having a lie-in. He was not on until Monday.

And soon I heard footsteps in the hallway. And no, it was not Arnold.  It’s funny, when you lie in a hospital bed for long enough, you get pretty good at discerning who is who based on their footsteps. Their gait, their strike, their pace, their footwear, the noise of the equipment they are pushing or pulling, are great clues as to whether it is the floor nurse, the ECG technician, the blood work technician, the food lady or the cleaner. In this case, it was neither. First it was my daughter, then the comforting clack-clack-clack was my wife’s, accompanied by my parents and my brother. They made it in at 0630 hrs if I was whisked off promptly at 0700 hrs.

I am glad they made it in. I can imagine nothing worse than not being able to say, “Good luck. See you later. I love you,” as you arrive too late and are faced with an empty hospital bed.

But that wasn’t the case as we settled in to wait the last call for the surgery. Before too long, Dr Payne arrived, offered his good mornings and told me that he had a quick procedure to do first and that I was on for 0930 hrs. I smiled wanly, I had heard this refrain before. But I also saw a determination in his eyes that he had no wish to leave me twisting in the wind. So we waited.

There were no new skills learned overnight that made the wait any more bearable. It was still tense and uncomfortable. We all knew it was risky and invasive. We all knew what could go wrong. But we also knew, as we did the day before, you gotta start before you can finish.

And at about 0900 hrs, a stretcher rolled down the hallway, flanked by the cardiac surgical nurse. My chariot had arrived. I had a nervous pre-game pee, and then said my

Bye Mom and Dad...see you soon...

Mom and Dad…18 hours after surgery. Benefits of a good drug program…

bye-byes to my family. Now while I am an affectionate fellow, the family has demonstrated various degrees of physical affection depending on the circumstances.

Sometimes the hugs can be in short supply.

But on this day, the hugs, kisses and “I love you”s were not held in reserve. I could see worry on my parents’ face, my daughter’s, my brother’s and most sadly, on my

wife’s. They were all being brave. We all know that not showing your fear and worries is the Unwritten Rule in such cases.  I climbed onto the gurney, ass flapping in the breeze, and after another quick round of farewells, I was wheeled to the Operating Theatres, flanked by my wife.

Now a hospital is a maze at the best of times, but I remember thinking, I hope my wife is leaving a trail of bread crumbs, because I have no idea of how to get back. And selfishly I added a personal post-script – “I don’t need to, because I’ll be out of it when I head back this way.”

As we continued the long trek into the bowels of the 2nd floor operating theatres, I couldn’t help but look at the passing fluorescent ceiling lights and hear the clickety-click of the gurney without thinking I was in some cheap grainy made-in-Canada TV special. It was like I was watching a bad movie.

We arrived in the operating waiting room and I was greeted by the Chief Surgical Nurse, Tammy, who checked my identification and files and bracelets and asked me questions to determine if I was of sound mind and right body, and briefly explained that in a few minutes we would head off to the operating room and meet the remainder of the team. When she had finished reviewing the huge red binder that was my hospital life, she left my wife and me alone for a few minutes to say bye. There were no violins, no tears – at least that I could see or feel – and with a hug and a kiss, off she went.   I hoped she could find her way back to the Family safely.

And I began another four-minute roll to the operating room where my heart would see the light of day – or at least the fluorescent lights of KGH OR.

The next five minutes were a dizzying flurry. In a rapid series of staccato 5-second introductions I met the anaesthetist, the heart-lung machine maestro, the artery harvester, the surgical resident, the head surgical nurse, the second assistant and a couple more people who I have no idea about. I was asked rapid fire questions about my health and my weight and some other general questions. I was befuddled – who do I answer first? Let me think, dammit!

We're reaaaaaaaadyyyyyy...

We’re reaaaaaaaadyyyyyy…

All these questions!

I was asked to move from the gurney to the operating table – which let me tell you – is not built for people with girth like mine. I felt like I was going to fall off at any moment. Soon my arms moved to my side in the crucifix position and I felt pokes and prods and pushes. Checklists on bodily function, equipment readings, drug solutions, IVs, telemetry outputs were being read out confidently and rapidly, and confirmed and repeated by assistants. Soon a confident reassuring voice, probably coming through a smile if I could see past the surgical mask, said,

“Pal…it is time. We’re ready. Are you?”

In that five minutes it had taken for the team to get everything ready, they had overwhelmed me and stunned me into mental paralysis. Between the sedatives to ease the anxiety, and the questions to keep me distracted, I had not even thought of what was going to happen now – man, they are going to harvest arteries from my arm, then cut my chest open, then saw through my breastbone, then crank open my ribs, then retract my chest to open the cavity, then transfer all my breathing and blood circulation to a machine, then stop my heart and then sew things to it, and then close me up. I had not had one negative thought or forgiving during that entire time that I had entered the operating room to the moment that I was going to be rendered unconscious. Man they were good!

And with a last look at those cheery eyes, I went under the knife.

Now I could jump to the post-operation recovery, but that would not be fair to my family, who had to find ways to occupy the better part of 5 hours. Thankfully it was early, so they all could while away a few hours eating a Fat-Boy special breakfast. And that they did. They also walked around Queen’s looking at preparations for the Science Formal that my daughter and her boyfriend would attend later that day. Apparently the 3-story castle the Engineer students built inside the Hall was magnificent.  But even after that they waited over another three hours…reading…napping…drinking bad coffee…making lame jokes…and mostly worrying and worrying. As for how they felt, you will have to ask them. I cannot imagine it was positive energy.

And then I surfaced. So I am told. I was wheeled into critical care, past my family, who depending on their personal desires, wanted to see me right away, or wanted to wait until I was looking more human and less machine.  My wife and my brother came in right away – I do remember playing charades, unable to talk through the intubation – and mimicking I was cold. My reward was a nice pair of winter socks. They felt grand.

Still freaks me out...

Still freaks me out…

And then I fell under the spell of the anaesthetic and the pain  killers, and drifted in and out of consciousness. I vaguely remember the intubation being removed, I foggily remember my Mom kissing my forehead, my Dad looking stunned and pleased at the same time. But these could be just things I made up because like David in the minivan, I was not sure it this was real. But, as I was in for a long day and night of slipping in and out of consciousness, the family had a last word with the Surgeon before calling it a night.

Dr Payne was extremely pleased with the surgery – it went very well – despite my stubbornness in allowing him access to my harvested artery (which he apparently had to dig for like gold) and that my rib cage was tighter than a drum. Thank goodness he was a strong man, he needed every bit of his anaerobic strength to crack me open like a walnut! And while we had known that I needed a double bypass, in the end, he decided to add 50% free, just to save us the pain of cracking me open again in 10 or 15 years.

I was good to go again, completely re-tooled with clean hoses and valves, enjoying one-on-one nursing in a quiet, clean and calm intensive care hospital room with calm lighting. One little whimper, and the nurse was at my side with pain killing support and a reassuring word.

All that was left was the recovery. And thought at the moment, life was beautiful. I should have enjoyed it more.

Because, in less than 24 hours I was going to fall off my nice, soft, fluffy cloud and realise just what trauma my body had experienced…

End of Act Six

Later,

ASF

ASF’s The Coronary Chronicles: I’m All In; Flop’em

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(Note: First post-surgery blog. Your patience is requested today, I don’t really care how well I am spelling or using grammar; save for omitting the Oxford Comma – when it comes to that, “misuse is abuse”.)

Also, despite my personal story, Please spare a moment to remember on November 11th, and always. https://asimplefellow.com/2012/11/08/the-11-hour-of-11-november/

At the end of the last installment of The Coronary Chronicles, (queue Newsworld Theme Music here…fade away from stock footage of Toronto’s Mayor’s latest media rant and inebriated stupor…), I had decided that I was All In. I had thrown all my chips against the House, holding a pair of Kings.  I am sure the more confident amongst you would say, “C’mon, it was Pocket Bullets” – taking into consideration my fitness, my age, a good surgeon, and how quickly we had caught the heart disease.

But, even Bullets can lose a hand of Texas Hold’em.  And, seriously, I was not a “poker-thlete”, playing for one of those bling WPT bracelets.

So after signing the permission papers for surgery, for transfusions, for medications, emergency measures AND donor card, etcetera, I left my fate to my very capable surgeon, the ironically named Dr. Payne, and the Hospital functionaries. And before long, I was scheduled for CABG on Friday 1 November.

My roommate, who despite his age, was holding a good pair of cards too, was also scheduled for Friday.

And with the practicalities now taken care, of, I entered in to the High Stakes World of Cardiac Arterial Bypass Surgery. Indulge me while I continue the sporty analogy –  the 1 and 2 of November (for those that have followed my case) were exactly like betting games.  Though this was 21st century medicine, my fears, my decisions, my concerns, my rationalisations were all like trying to figure out the best horses for the Trifecta, or figuring out the betting line on the NFL.

Let me explain:

So my roommate, aged 68, and I were both scheduled for Friday: one of us at 0800

OK gents, first one there gets new arteries...

OK gents, first one there gets new arteries…

and the other at 1300 hrs. So how do we, when asked by the Surgeon, decide who goes when? Do we arm wrestle, do we run to the operating room at the sound of the starter’s pistol, do we draw straws, cut a deck? There’s no real protocol in these instances.

My internal Good Samaritan said, “Do the right thing…”

Others, good Samaritans themselves, but more pragmatic than me, would say, “Go as early as you can, mate. Timetables change.”

Now the right thing and the smart thing are not necessarily exclusive, but I was loathe to lunge out with, “I’ll go at 8, thanks.” It seemed unsporting…

But more than that…was it smart?

Orb_kentuckyderby2013_615x400_origI mean, was the Doc at his best at 8am? Did he do better after a warm-up patient, like a baseball pitcher throwing a few fastballs before first inning, or a goalie after the pre-game warm up. I don’t know. Or would he be sharper, more fit, less tired at 8am? I needed a racing program to make an informed decision. I had no clue whether Dr. Payne was a “mudder” or “a sprinter.”

Booo!

Booo!

And while I knew that none of these points were relevant – as I already knew he was a brilliant surgeon with a great ability to blend fact and tact –  my mind was not there. It was in that “throw-salt-over-the shoulder”, is the “bogey-man-behind-me frame” kind of space.

Regardless of the Flop, it was decided that I would be first, with my roommate batting cleanup. For me, I’d be lying in Critical Care, sipping Demerol margaritas by noon on Friday.

It was like being told you were in the starting lineup for this week’s big game. Time for the psyche.

First went the calls to family, and then to friends, and then workmates – which in the military is like one big mixed up group. The jungle drums quickly passed the news. And as before, well wishes came from many corners of the globe – the benefits a military career.

And as  the operation marched closer, I prepared myself. I knew enough about the operation; I was not into watching You Tube videos or Google Images of actual operations. That was just too macabre. I’ll leave that to the Walking Dead fans,

I was preparing, by staying away. I did all the proper stuff – perhaps just as macabre – but necessary. I called the bank lady, and talked finances with my wife. It was unpleasant – the actual act of explaining where our money was, where it would come from if the pocket kings weren’t good enough, and how it should be dispensed so she wouldn’t be homeless or future-less – was accepting that I could lose. An unpleasant thought,  but far less unpleasant that the thought of her trying to sort it out by herself while grieving and dealing with frozen accounts as my Estate was dissolved and distributed.

And I relaxed – as best as I could knowing that I as soon going to look like a stunt-double for the movie Alien.

And then it was Friday. I was expecting to be collected at 0715hrs, so the family could make it in, congregated in my room to wish me luck. And we waited. How do you describe that feeling? Well for those in the military, it is the 4 hours you spend in the waiting area of the Base Gym or Training Facility, waiting for the bus to carry away your loved one to a deployment. For those in the military, it is the uneasy mix of wanting to spend as much time as you can with someone because sometimes Fate is cruel, and wanting it to start as soon as possible  – because it can’t end if it does not start.

And at 0800 hrs the doctor told me had an emergency case. I was not off the roster, but I was second. And my roommate third. Chances of two surgeries on Friday – good. Of three? Poor. I commiserated with him. That was a kick in the jewels – but at least he could mentally stand-down. I still had to maintain game form and keep the stiff upper lip. And I could see the strain on my loved one faces, despite the smiles and the positive words that it’ll be soon.

And the hours dragged on…1200. No word from the Operating Room. 1300 nothing. At 1330 hours, I was told that if it did not start by 1600 hrs, that my surgery would be cancelled. But this time, my sportsman’s mine started to kick in. If I was at 1600 hrs, my man would have completed almost 8 hours of complicated heart surgery. And if the surgery had been successful, he would have been lauding a couple of game –changers that he and his team executed – but he would have to have been exhausted, mentally and physically. And if it had gone poorly, would he be reliving The Sports’ Network Turning Point as he was executing mine. Rationally I knew that answer, but as a patient waiting to undergo what would probably be the biggest procedure of his life, I was not rational.

21068766-mission-aborted-grunge-rubber-stamp-vector-illustration

And disappointingly, but mercifully, at 1430 hrs, they waved me off. My surgery was postponed. To when, who knew. His next window was Thursday – six days away.

I was dashed, but after a chalk-talk with my family, I knew it was for the best. I want it done – but I wanted my Surgeon at his best too.

And so I waited to go through the whole thing again, when at about 2230 hrs that night, the Nurse walked into my room. “Dr. Payne” wants you to start fasting at midnight.”

I guess the game was back on…

End of Act V

Later,

ASF

ASF’s The Coronary Chronicles: Act Three – You have now entered the Twilight Zone…

TheTwilightZoneLogo

“There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.”

Pale yellow light bathed my hospital room as I tried to figure out in which direction my home was. Call it my training or whatever, but knowing which way is North always makes me feel better. I needed to do what I could to try to make more sense of the world because right then my personal gyroscope was malfunctioning. I had no real frame of reference to understand why I was there, and what had really happened.

I guess once they have severed and cooked and served you your perception of reality on a plate, you grasp any straw you can.

Double Big Mac Supersize Me. Nom nom nom.

Double Big Mac Supersize Me. Nom nom nom.

A heart attack. Un-buh-leave-ah-bel.  Un-f*-king-buh-leave-ah-bel. Morbidly obese people who chain-smoke and eat their Double Big Macs supersized with a barrel’o’coke have heart attacks. Frail old men who are at the end of their lives have heart attacks. And on the rare occasion, élite athletes who have doped, get heart attacks.

Yes, 48-year-old men can have heart attacks – but not this 48-year-old man.

I lay there beating myself up for almost 2 hours as I watched the sky lighten. Occasionally I became aware of my surroundings and wondered why my window provided such a shitty view of the inner bowels of the Hospital Courtyard. My only company was my new roommate’s snoring – the one I had yet to meet…no one is really friendly at 0430hrs. And as I found out later, no one even notices any noise on the floor – it is like hearing the sentry coming to wake you up for your 0200 -0300 hrs shift when deployed on manoeuvres. Your best bet is to pretend it’s a bear and play possum.

To add to the misery, I was starving, and there was no food forthcoming – I’d even take a cholesterol friendly rice cake. Breakfast may or may not show up – I was a late arrival at the starting gate so who knew.  And even though my mind was racing, I guess eventually even it had enough and so it shut down to let me doze off for a bit.

And later, after the new shift nurses took blood, my O2 levels, my temperature, my blood pressure, listened to my heart and lungs, made sure my legs weren’t swollen and I was not retaining water, I waited for someone to come and be with me. And then the day brightened and became more bearable the moment my wife walked in.

With a sheepish grin, I shrugged my shoulders and with my eyes said, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry to introduce this steaming pile of dog doo into our lives.  I wish I could take it back.”

And her eyes and body and hug said, “You’re an idiot. It’s not about what has happened it’s about how we fix it.”

Things are always better when you’re with the one you love.

After what seemed a long time, because time drags on when you are wearing one of those ill-conceived gowns and your world is upside down, the Head Honcho of the

I love the beer....

I love the beer….

cardiology ward came in and chatted. His assessment was pretty fantastic! Yes, I had contributing factors – 10-15lbs, high normal cholesterol, ex-smoker, cream ales and red meat. But I had a lot of things going for me: I was a “runner”, an active fella, relatively healthy – I mean I aced the Forces’ fitness test (those in uniform can groan now); the only unknown was my ancestry.  As many find out, you can run from a lot of things, but you can’t run from your genes. But that is Act Four…

And we spoke. He was a runner, too, and a triathlete and he saw my numbers and my history and my chart and he was fairly confident. He talked about an angiogram – an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle for your heart – and from what I gathered, an angioplasty and stent would probably be enough to take care of any nasty constrictions in my arteries. He ended with a chuckle and a grin, closing with how I might need to do things in a different way in the future and told my wife that I should be back and running in 30 days.  The angiogram was scheduled in 48 hours, on Monday, unless something changed.

So I settled in. With Wi-Fi and my laptop and Netflix, I was set for a slow but not necessarily an unpleasant weekend.  I would rather be home, enjoying a weekend with my lady, but if I had a coronary incident, it was playing out rather tamely. I realised that heart attack may be too strong a word; what I really had was a heart “skirmish”. Things were ok.

And then things got even better. Mid-afternoon, I learned someone had a critical heart attack and Team Angiogram, led by the “Interventionist” (yes, no kidding, that was the term used to describe the expert who does the angioplasty. I prefer “Master AngioPlaster”…but I keep thinking of Mr. Wolf of Pulp Fiction fame.) was coming in and that they would be able to “fit me” in immediately after. And if all went well, I would be able to catch Sunday Night Football and all would be right with world with some follow-up and good care. I felt a wee bit guilty that someone else’s critical heart attack was making me happy – but, hey, you take your small joys where you can.

This heart thing wasn’t turning out so bad after all. Not great, but not at all as dismal as I expected. The health system seemed to have responded very well to all our triglycerides and trans fats and sugars and stuff.

And not too long after I was prepared with a happy pill, locally anaesthetised and wheeled into the operating room. As is my nature, there was banter. In the space of 10 minutes the angio team and I had talked about running and half marathons and how it was surprise I was there and how it was probably going to be a quick in and out and how an angiogram worked and the steps of the angioplasty procedure and the mechanics of the stent and an overview of the anatomy of a heart. And because I had been given joy juice to ease the anxiety, I kept up with the conversation and probably even increased the revs by inserting questions to keep the conversation going because I was nervous and a little afraid of the unknown.

Well, it's a little smaller than this....

Well, it’s a little smaller than this….

The angiogram was a lot like watching a military drone fly over a target area. The heads up display board of six TV monitors provided vital stats, some sort of spatial referencing system, catheter status,  and then on one main screen, a picture of my heart.  That looked like a thermal image through a weapons system’s lens or a pregnancy ultrasound – depending on your experience you’ll get the essence. The Doc gave me an aerial tour of my heart and she explained it all.  But it was like the Enigma code to me; I could not understand any of it.  To tell the truth, I was really, really lost. The Grade 12 frog’s heart I dissected looked nothing like this.

The banter continued and then abruptly, it stopped.

“Hmmm…that’s interesting…”

Those words mean so much in so many contexts:

  • At home reading a magazine, it usually means, “Here’s an interior decorating idea we should use.”
  • About the internet it means, “we should try this restaurant”, or “let’s go see this movie.”
  • Amongst guys at the bar rail it means, “Sum up. Your story sucks.”

But in an operating room, while a cardiac interventionist is looking at your heart from inside your body, it sounds a lot like,

“Hmmm…you’re f*cked.”

And for three of four minutes she looked at my heart with all the intensity of a….of a… a….well,  with all the intensity of a heart surgeon, I guess.

And then she said, “you have a fair bit of arterial hardening.” And she showed me what can only be described as opaque lines in sea of billowing gossamer spider webs. I had no idea of scale or scope or whether it was the front of my heart of the back. I was hearing terms and references that were foreign to me. But this was my heart and I had to understand exactly what she was saying.

So I parroted back what I thought she was saying in terms in that I understood. And after that layman’s read back, I understood that while my major arteries were in fantastic shape, two smaller ones were heavily, and quite extensively, blocked.  At times all I heard was a Charlie Brown-like “bwah bwah bwah” as my mind scrambled frantically to understand what was being said.  Some words resonated, others didn’t:  heart disease, atypical, unique locations, awkward dispersion, angioplasty may not be the best option, must confer with my colleagues.

Wish mine looked this good...

Wish mine looked this good…

And all I could get was that this was now a whole lot more complicated and that I was not going to be a “quick patch and go”. There was no easy fix, no small stent, no going home quickly. No Sunday Night Football.

My heart skirmish was telling me that my heart was not just pissed at me…no, it was telling me any more bullshit and it was about ready to go on strike! I was not just a guy who suffered a scare – I had some serious heart disease. And running, or eating better, or cholesterol medicine, or happy thoughts weren’t going to fix this puppy.

I was crushed.

Again.

But much worse than before because after the first news there was hope this was might be easy. Now, as far as I knew, that easy road had been cratered. I had no idea what to tell my wife, or my kids, my family.  And I was speechless.

All I could hear was the Rod Serling voiceover “…the Twilight Zone, the Twilight Zone, the Twilight Zoen…” over and over again.

End of Act Three…

Later (like after my surgery and when my Tyrannosaurus Arms can use a keyboard again…),

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ASF