Saturday, December 08, 2012

Heart Ablation and the Election: Part II

It is one month and a day since I left Memorial Hermann Hospital, after a five hour atrial fib ablation procedure, followed by a night of prescribed near motionlessness. Today, I'll pick up where I left off in an earlier blog post.
If you haven't already read the beginning of this saga, click here.
It is 8:30 p.m. and my brother just left. It is quiet and I am sore all over. This morning, I arrived at the hospital just before 5:00 a.m. for what turned out to be a five hour atrial fib procedure, followed by recovery time and then a move from gurney to this overnight hospital bed. I think it must have been that bumpy move to the bed that precipitated the bleeding which lengthened the time I must remain motionless.
My eye is on the clock, counting off the five hours before 1:30 a.m. when body movements will be 'safe.' The evening nurse is solicitous. She checks on me every 30 minutes, looks at my groin for signs of new bleeding, adjusts the blanket that covers my head because I am cold all over.
I brought a six-pack of Whole Foods organic apple sauce with me and twice, this kind nurse feeds me from these small containers. I am thirsty, so water tastes good, too. Neither the applesauce or water are easy to swallow while lying flat with a nasal drip in my throat. I wonder if inadvertent throat clearing involves too much movement too close to my heart?
Several hours ago, the resident doc stood over my bed to check on the staunched bleeding and pronounced the situation under control. "This bleeding is nothing. If your artery were punctured, blood would spray across the room." He gestured toward the walls.
Were his words a very masculine way of reassuring me?
I forget to ask the nurse to hand me my cell phone, which sits on the table/tray next to my bed. After she leaves, I realize that there is no way I can touch my iPhone, inches away, yet inaccessible. I try, but cannot reach over the bed railings while remaining flat. So, instead, I look at the clock and once again, count the hours before I can move. Counting minutes and hours becomes my primary activity. I am tired, yet wide awake.
My lower back is stiff and every so often, I fudge an infinitesimal movement of pelvis or hips. I wiggle my toes, always wary of too much movement. I wouldn't call what I am feeling pain, exactly.  Pain is a late labor contraction, a bad toothache, a severe headache. I simply feel intense soreness, as if flattened by a truck.
The nurse returns and this time I remember to ask for my phone. My lower back is now locked. I know I cannot move my pelvis if I tried. But I do move my arms, cradling my iPhone on my chest in order to read election results and commentary on Huffington Post, AlterNet, CNN. I watch replays of Karl Rove in meltdown on FOX, he who was suddenly wrapped in his own karma.
My youngest daughter Mary B calls from Portland. We have a meandering conversation and she says her sisters will be calling from Seattle after grandchildren are put to bed. Near midnight, Houston time, Jeanne calls bubbling with news about both the election and Rat City Rollergirls. She is on the Rat City Rollergirls lab team again this year. Soon, she may be called to try out for a spot on one of four teams. I cannot believe that a daughter of mine might actually play in a rollergirls league. Good for her.
Eldest daughter Caroline calls next, also happy as a clam about election results. "I've been stressed all fall about the election," she says."I wish I'd known about Nat Silver sooner."
I wish I'd known about NYT blogger Nat Silver sooner too. His very accurate election result predictions would have spared me an autumn of worry.
Caroline then tells me I can probably see an actual heart ablation procedure on YouTube. She herself has seen a YouTube clip of a procedure she had several years ago to remove a benign tumor from her pituitary gland. She says, "It was scary and pretty gross, because they pull part of your face up over itself."
Then she adds, "Your procedure is all inside your heart, so it probably won't be so gross to watch."
I just searched YouTube and found over a dozen videos of an ablation procedure. Here's one. 
As the evening settles in, I become more and more aware of the creases in the blankets underneath my shoulders, the wrinkles in the sheets, the weight of too many blankets. With each motionless hour, I develop more empathy for the old, bedridden and infirm. No caregiver should ever take lightly a request to plump a pillow or straighten a blanket. Small adjustments are a big deal. The thought of living one's life in an iron lung flashes through my mind.
I have late night abdominal cramps. Lack of food? Or aftermath of the procedure? I am still altogether uncomfortable. I look at the clock, again. Sixteen hours of flat-on-my-back-stillness is almost over. Why is watching time pass on an old fashioned wall clock so reassuring?
Throughout this night of body flat stillness, I think intermittently about Vipassana meditation.  Years ago, I took a ten day Vipassana meditation course in which we sat still for twelve hours each day, in 50 minute increments. We were instructed to clear our minds (which was very hard) and if an itch or twitch occurred, we were to silently recite, "Anicha, anicha," which means "This will pass. This will pass." After 50 minutes, a little bell rang and we stood to stretch. What had felt stiff was instantly not stiff. I am hoping that at 1:30 a.m., after these sixteen hours of flat-on-the-back stillness, I will shake myself and be just fine.
At 1:30 a.m., I hear the magic words, "You may move now. Try turning over on your side." The nurse stands by my bed as I attempt movement. There is no movement. None. My arms and shoulders are useless as leverage. I am stiff as a board and quite amazed at my inability to shift positions. I think again of the old and infirm. How quickly we lose strength. How earnestly we must work to gain it back. With her assistance, I can turn slightly. First on one side and then the other. Suddenly I feel the sheets and blankets in even more disarray.
I smell sweaty, in need of a shower, a toothbrush. I curl up on my side and request that sheets and blankets be straightened. They and I are a mess.
It is nearly 3:00 a.m. before I fall asleep. The needles in my arm and hand sting. I suspect they'll not be removed until the moment I leave the hospital.
At 7:00 a.m. I call room service for breakfast, am put on hold and then told that my doctor has not yet sent orders. My morning nurse asks if I can wait until my primary doctor arrives to give 'orders'. Do I have a choice? Later, when I phone food services a second time, I am told my selections are not heart healthy, so I end up with a banana and V-8 juice. I also open another container of Whole Foods organic applesauce.
At last, I sit up on the edge of my bed, feeling like my mom looked at 93 years of age. I am facing away from the door, so whomever enters my room will see my naked backside. I think of Jack Nickolson in "Something's Gotta Give."
The bed sheets are totally scrunched. I have a headache and I feel more than irritable. There is still dried blood on my fingers from that moment I discovered bleeding on my groin. I am bitchy and stiff. How can I possibly be sent home? How can I possibly walk into my house from Martha's car? A nurse's aide walks into the room and says, "The TV isn't working?"
"I feel sure it works," I say, as she positions a chair for me to sit.
Moving from bed to chair seemed like a big feat. I sit and make a list of questions for Dr. Dougherty. When she arrives, she herself sits on the bed, which I like. She tells me that not only did they take care of the atrial fib, but they found atrial flutter and "while we were in there, we took care of that, too."
I ask her about flutter and she takes my notebook and draws a picture and describes the process. I am appreciative as I really want to know what she and Dr. Kantharia did.
At 9:00 a.m., I have another EKG. My bed is a shambles and I am back in the chair. Dr. Kantharia arrives and discusses medications that I will take for 90 days. A lower dose of Propafenone, a blood thinner and a tablet for acid reflux.
"I've never had acid reflux in my life," I say."Can you tell me why I need it now?"
"It's protocol," he says, as if that was an answer. Fortunately, when I see Dr. Doughtery a week later, I ask again and she tells me how close my esophagus is to my heart and how they had a tube down my throat during the entire procedure and thus, do not want any commotion (my word) near my heart as it heals/rebuilds.
Of course, I'll take the tablets. I just wanted to know why.
It takes all morning to check out of the hospital. Fortunately, there is another really great young nurse who works through the process. The one thing she will not do, however, is remove the needles from my hand and arm. Until the last minute. In case, something goes totally awry? I'd write more about this nurse, because I really liked her, but after four weeks time, I've forgotten the small details that made her stand out, except that she gave me a big hug as I left. We'd bonded.
Just after noon, I am wheeled down the hall into the elevator. Martha is there and I can actually walk to and sit in her car. And wonder or wonders, I can actually walk into my house and sit at my kitchen table for a short visit before falling into my own bed. I've done all the things I thought would be impossible just hours earlier. I am amazed at my body's resiliency. Still mightily stiff, uncomfortably sore, yet mobile and not in what I would call pain.
Soon ES arrives with flowers and a grin. And bless his heart, Obama won the election.

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