[media-credit name=”Creative Commons” align=”alignleft” width=”240″][/media-credit]On March 23, 2009, at the age of 38, I underwent open heart surgery due to a heart infection that damaged my aortic valve. This is an excerpt of my book, “Love Recycled, A Memoir”, a three year account where I share our experience of foster care adoption of our two children and then my heart issue.
The anesthesiologist came back and started wheeling me out of the pre-op room. The surgical wing was so busy with surgeons, nurses, residents, patients everywhere getting ready to start surgeries, or just completing them. I didn’t really know and to be honest I didn’t care. I was sort focused on the reality of my own life.
In the movies, the leading lady heads off to surgery feeling frightened and alone, thinking of her loved ones, remembering key points of her life, realizing her regrets. Her loved ones are off in a waiting room somewhere praying, worrying and also feeling alone.
This is also the point of the story when most characters find religion of some sort and start praying to God to let them make it through. Well, not me. I suppose I do believe in an afterlife of sorts. But living in that second I was hit with an unbelievable clarity.
I thought about my friends, my parents, my children and Jake. I knew my husband and my Dad were sitting somewhere close thinking about me. Then for a brief few moments I didn’t think about anyone but me and what was about to happen. Finally, I knew this script. This wasn’t just like someone else’s movie. This was my movie.
The anesthesiologist pulled me into an ante room after a brief course down the hallway. She then switched me to a narrow gurney, got me hooked up to an IV, then gave me a sedative. It started working slowly, and was unlike any other sedative I had had before. Once I was all hooked up she pulled me into the brightly lit and very large operating room.
Then the only real fear I had hit me like a ton of bricks: Jake and the kids. I had no fear of dying myself because I honestly didn’t believe that it would happen. But when it came to my family, just the possibility that it might happen filled my mind with worry. I have never understood why Jake loves me so much but he does. And my kids needed me. For them, I had to survive: they needed their forever mom.
My last few moments there I recall a few people walking in and out, and thinking this is nothing like a Grey’s Anatomy OR … or should I say I hoped it wasn’t. OK, people, let’s try and refrain from dramatic arguments about who is sleeping with whom or whatever, OK? But my thoughts became jumbled and then I was out.
I woke up, I don’t know when. I was in the ICU. My eyelids were extremely heavy; I decided they were too heavy so I closed my eyes again.
Minutes or hours passed, I really didn’t know how long it took me to wake up again. My eyes slowly blinked open and then I noticed that I had the trach tube still in my throat and I started gagging. Waving my hands, I tried grabbing the attention of the nurse. He came over. I wanted the tube out and I started spelling with my right hand GAG and I had to try it several times since my motor skills weren’t quite functional at that point. Hello, recovering bulimic here! Gagging is very easy for me and throwing up right now would be way too painful. PULL IT OUT NOW!! He finally figured it out and said he couldn’t take it out until I was fully awake. DAMN!! I closed my eyes in disgust… and fell back asleep immediately.
I awoke again maybe 15 minutes later, maybe two hours later, I have no idea. And I spelled GAG again over and over again until they agreed to remove the tube. OK, this was gross and I never want one of those things down my throat again, especially after heart surgery. The nurse pulled the long clear tube out of my throat, I coughed and then screamed. My chest, my body, was in agony. I fell asleep again, most likely from all the pain.
Jake and my dad were standing next to me when I woke up again this time, looking more relieved than the last time I had seen them. It must have been a success. My dad leaned down to kiss me. “No, don’t touch me!” I said, because of how much my body hurt. Usually I would have felt some guilt at a reaction like that but I was in too much pain to care. Jake and my dad stared at me but soon left after my nurse said it would best to let me rest. That hadn’t been their first visit that evening, she told me.
“Evening?” I asked clearing my throat.
“Yes, it is around 7:00 pm.” She answered back in a thick Jamaican accent. Then I heard some music. My nurse had a small radio at her station which was not six feet from my bed and I thought how strange to have music playing in a recovery room. Then I turned my head to the right and saw a curtain pulled closed. There was another patient in here, a man, and he wasn’t sounding very good. Lots of moaning. Did I sound like that at all when I was coming in and out of consciousness? Then I thought how am I going to sleep with this noise? And I was out before it had a chance to bother me.
Again, time passed and I didn’t know how much. When I woke again, my throat was dry. I lifted my left arm to get the nurse’s attention, but that slight movement sent searing, excruciating pain through my entire body. She didn’t hear me above her music so I whispered again, this time a little louder, to obtain the nurse’s attention but even that was only slightly less than agonizing. Anything I did like move my arm, lift my head, or even blink hurt like, like….um. Now I don’t want to be cliché and say “it felt like I was run over by a truck” because that wouldn’t be correct at all. Honestly? It felt more like someone had sliced through my skin and muscle and then used a power saw to slice open my ribs and then pull them apart far enough to expose my heart…. Oh wait! That’s what happened. And that’s what it felt like.
After another painful request for something to drink the nurse acknowledged me and gave me some ice chips. The thirst was immense and I consumed the ice quickly in spite of her strict rules of placing only one ice chip at a time in my mouth. Soon after the consumption, however, I don’t know if it was the coolness of the ice, the amount of chips or the lack of anything on my stomach mixed with tons of chemicals in my body but I suddenly had to vomit. The nurse must have foreshadowed this moment because I noticed a mauve, rectangular bucket at my hip. I lifted my head and grabbed it quickly. I was already in agony with those movements but no amount of torture was going to stop what needed to come out of my body. I leaned forward a bit, screaming and then puking up the nastiest green bile I have ever seen. The level of pain in my chest, my body, was torture. I hoped this was the worst of it.
Eventually I laid my head back down and the nurse took the bucket away and replaced it with a new one. I looked at her and said “No more,” trying to smile but it probably looked more like a sneer. She nodded her head but didn’t say a word. Did she know something I didn’t? She turned around and went back to her desk working away at her paperwork and listening to her music.
Dr. Cooper came in a few minutes later to check on me. He stood at the foot of my bed. “Hello, Catherine. How do you feel?” He asked.
I don’t think I was completely off the sedative or the other chemicals they put in me because my normal verbal filtering was off.
“Oh, the cute doctor. Did you enjoy the surgery?” I said not realizing what I had just come out of my mouth. Honestly, I had to be reminded of it later.
He smiled and started talking, “Everything went well but your valve was worse than we originally thought. It was torn.”
Not really hearing all the words or processing what he said exactly, I asked, “Did you preform the Ross or did I get the mechanical valve?” Yes, I didn’t even know if I had a ticking in my chest or all natural parts.
Dr. Cooper gave a slight smile (or perhaps I am making this up—this conversation is still a little fuzzy) and said, “We were able to perform the Ross.” I was happy for him because I know this is a fairly rare procedure and mostly done on children; I was glad he was able to work on a surgery that wasn’t typical or boring (if you ask me) but I was even happier for me. But as I was reveling in my own joy Dr. Cooper spoke again, “It is time to take one of those out.” and he pointed at my chest tubes. I didn’t think he was cute anymore!
One of my biggest fears was about to come true. I was scared, offended and downright angry at this point. Not now, please! Finding out I had gotten the Ross and that everything was OK was the first positive feeling I’d had since waking up from the surgery in excruciating pain. This was the one thing, the one BIG thing that I was afraid of, getting the chest tube removed. Does it really have to be done now? And does the good-looking doctor have to be the one to do it? I grabbed the sides of my hospital bed and waited.
I said nothing.
About the Author: Katy Kern
Movie reviews that won’t spoil the story with the critique. Movies are my passion and I want to share my opinion on the movies I see to give you more insight on what to see next.