The thing that hit me is called an NSTEMI. I had to look that up and I bet most of you will too. For several months previous to this collision I had been complaining of severe back and gastric pain and fatigue. And I had been convinced that my back was the problem to the point of snarling “It’s my BACK!” at the wonderful NP who was looking after me when he wanted to do heart tests. Duh. The poor guy relented and sent me for a back x-ray and it, surprise, showed a very large aortic aneurism. Had to be fixed! I was sent to the vascular surgery at the Ottawa Hospital and one day, I think, ahead of my pre-op tests the NSTEMI hit me, at home, in the evening and JG said, as he had been saying for a month, “Shall I call an ambulance?” and I finally agreed.
The next while is a blur in my mind but, when I finally was aware again, I found myself in the OHI (Ottawa Heart Institute) scheduled for bypass surgery. Also, I was hooked to oxygen, hooked to two separate bags that had to be rolled around on a pole and was entertained by a succession of smiling nurses and technicians who all wanted to stick a needle into some portion of my anatomy. A hospital is a strange place. The food was terrible. The noise is incredible. I lost a lot of weight and a lot of sleep, but did not lose my mind because of my wonderful daughters who distracted my mind with ideas for bathroom renos and because of their wonderful friends who smuggled in doughnuts and drinkable coffee.
It is disconcerting to go from a person who thinks she is healthy except for her back to a patient in a hospital with two Very Serious problems. These dismal diagnoses made me very angry. At first, I was mostly angry because I was not dead and felt completely lousy. It would, I mused, have been much easier all-round if one of the VS problems had killed me on the spot. However, as my brain came back on line and I got a little more observant, I could see the worry in my daughters’ eyes beyond the cheer and smiles; I could see the panic in my husband. Friends dropped by to visit, some to cheer me up and some because they said they needed to see me. I stuck a notice on line and was overwhelmed by how many people there were who wished me well.
It was not easy, but I stopped being angry and started to think. The decision was that I had to do this. I could not let everyone (including myself) down. Although I was not very enthused about major heart surgery and a life sentence of prescribed exercise and diet, no smoking and a lot of hassle, I could imagine these things and, except for the smoking, live with them. What I did not expect was to be punched full of holes. Even while I was still stowed in a hallway, nurses were coming at me with needles, some of them trailing student nurses and encouraging them to make their first try at establishing a cannula. At 3:00 AM.
The holes? Blood for test taken every morning, fasting, by a lovely woman in a sari whom I started to call the Butterfly Vampire. New cannula positions every couple of days. After the bypass surgery, one massive hole in my chest and four more where veins were extracted from my leg. After the vascular stent four weeks later, two more in the lower abdomen and several in my back from spinal anaesthetic, plus a few others here and there, where drugs were injected.
Other delights included being forbidden to use my arms and upper back for six to eight weeks while my breastbone, which had been sawed in half, knitted back up again. I am now trying to get the muscle back, at a snail’s pace. Restricted fluids, a heart-healthy low-calorie diet, daily weight monitoring and lots of post op tests to check on the surgery results. After I was allowed to go home, this meant trips back to the city, driven by my poor husband. And even the car trips hurt, as the various procedures had wrenched my neck and back and the muscles kept locking up. This last problem made the rehab walking and exercise a lot (not) of fun. I think I was on at least a dozen medications when I left the hospital and I only kept track of them thanks to the ED who numbered all the pill bottles and correlated them to a list and time of day.
I made it through all this. Cranky, depressed, and with a tendency to fall asleep every time I sat down, but improving anyway. I can now drive again and iron clothes and walk for over half an hour at a slow pace. I have weights to lift that JG bought for me and an assortment of wildly-coloured elastic bands to pull. Since it is local strawberry season, I am cheating like mad on my low-calorie diet but managing to do without a lot of salt, to eat plain yogurt and to (mostly) eat my fruit and vegetables. It is a life sentence alright, but it is life. It almost wasn’t.
And I have a lovely renovated bathroom.