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The Days Before & After Open Heart Surgery

Angiogram, Heart Surgery, Open Heart Surgery

In mid-December of 2008 – exactly two weeks before Christmas Day, I had unexpected open heart surgery – a triple bypass. I am a female and at the time I was 53 years old.

Of course before I had the very unexpected open heart surgery I thought I felt great.

I thought I just had high cholesterol and was managing it with a prescription – when I remembered to take the pill.

Little did I know that my heart had much more problems than just that.

It all happened so fast and hindsight is 20/20.

I was already scheduled for an angiogram to make sure my heart was in tip-top shape, after being concerned about slight pains which I thought were just indigestion. Normally I seldom go to a doctor unless I really have to and I don’t know what it was, but something told me to keep that angiogram appointment.

Ironically the night before the angiogram I had my most prevalent uncomfortable symptom, which was a bad chest pain after I ate dinner that I walked off and rubbed away.

I thought the worst I could hear after the angiogram was that I needed a stent and had to stay in the hospital overnight. Since I am an overall optimistic person I thought that chance was slim and that I was fine.

The next morning I arrived at the Heart Hospital to have the angiogram. Immediately after the procedure, I was told I needed a triple bypass.

When the news finally set in I cried for a few minutes, as I felt sorry for myself and felt it was because of what I didn’t do, which was to take my cholesterol lowering pills regularly and watch my diet more seriously. I must admit, I love cakes and cookies.

Then my brevity came back with my usual attitude, “Let’s do what we have to do to fix it.” I’m ‘Johnny-on-the-spot’ and have the personality of wanting to tackle a problem as soon as it starts.

I had confidence in everything – the doctors, the staff, etc. as I felt I was in the best place in Tucson to have heart surgery, Tucson Heart Hospital.

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The hospital staff kept me so busy during the next 24 hours as they prepared me for the surgery and along with my positive attitude, fear never had the chance to set in.

The next morning I had the triple bypass.

The surgery went well and I recuperated so quickly.

I was supposed to stay in intensive care for at least 2 days after the surgery and within less than a half-day after the surgery I was too alert for that ICU section and was already walking on my own. I asked to be moved back to my regular room and the cardiologist did so by noon that same day.

I did stay in the heart hospital for 5 days after the surgery because the removal of the draining tubes and IVs had to be done according to their usual post-operative schedule.

During my post-operative recovery in the hospital, I never needed a pain-killer. The nurses kept wanting to give me one as they said to me often, “Let me give you something for the pain. You have a high tolerance of pain.” I would always respond with, “How can I have a high tolerance of pain if I don’t feel any pain?”

During my five days in the hospital I was so bored and couldn’t wait to go home. I couldn’t wait to take a normal shower and get back to my regular routine.

On the day I left the hospital I took my hospital menu home with me, to always remember the foods they allowed me to eat and drink. I promised myself to be a new ‘me’ to prevent my arteries from ever becoming blocked again.

Extremely surprising to everyone who heard this…I stopped at the food store on my home from the hospital to buy the foods and liquids I wanted to eat at home as I recuperated from the surgery. I kept the items on the hospital menu in mind, as I shopped.

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My recovery at home was great and rapid. The only discomfort I had was shoulder pain and upper back pain while I slept.

How-to solve the shoulder-upper back pain discomfort after triple bypass surgery.

To solve the shoulder-upper back pain, I elevated my head with an extra pillow and placed another pillow behind my back while I laid down and/or slept.

I also took ibuprofen, or acetaminophen to lessen the pain.

Within a week these pains dissipated.

My regime during the two weeks after open heart surgery – a triple bypass was:

*I feared eating anything more than was on the hospital menu, so I strictly kept loyal to their suggested diet.

*I refused to wear the ugly compression stockings they suggested, so I elevated my legs as often as possible. (Leg swelling was because that’s where they took the veins from to use for the bypass surgery.) Crossing my legs hurt, so I didn’t do it.

*I VERY loyally took all the prescriptions I was given. (Remember before I knew I had blocked arteries I was a big slacker in this area.)

*I was unable to scrub the surgical areas as I washed myself, but taking a full shower at home felt terrific.

*My body told me what I could and couldn’t do if I tried even a little. Such as:

A). I was told not to raise my arms above shoulder level and my body told me I couldn’t, so I didn’t.

B). I was told not to do any activities that required pushing or pulling and my body told me I couldn’t, so I didn’t.

C). I couldn’t sit up or use my arms to get myself up out of bed, so I didn’t. I was told to use the log roll method to get in and out of bed so I did. The log roll method is: turning on your side, bending your legs and putting your feet down first to get in and out of bed.

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D). I was told not to lift anything over 5 pounds and my body told me I couldn’t, so I didn’t. (Can you believe a gallon of milk is 8 pounds?)

E). If I had to cough I did it lightly and sometimes hugged the heart shaped pillow they gave me for that purpose, to decrease pressure on my chest and the incision.

*I had to increase the capacity of my lungs by breathing into the incentive spiro meter. The goal was to make the ball go all the way to the top of the inner tube. Within days, I had it mastered.

*I walked the suggested 5 minutes 3X each day during week one and 10-15 minutes each day during week two.

*I felt happy.

*I felt very healthy.

Exactly two weeks after my triple bypass – on Christmas Day – I resumed driving. I did great. I went to a family open house and stayed for about 7 hours.

I had my health back – even better than before.

If you need open heart surgery stay positive and in good spirits. Have faith and hope in your doctors and the hospital staff. Everything will be fine and you will feel much better than you did before.

My sources are my personal life, my memory and the Tucson Heart Hospital handbook I was given titled, Patient Education Preparing for Surgery.

Tucson Heart Hospital’s website is: http://www.carondelet.org/home/hospitals-locations/tucson-heart-hospital.aspx