Thursday, March 7, 2019

Heart Of The Matter - The Last Chapter?

The following is hopefully the last in my series: The Heart Of The Matter. (Warning: potentially embarrassing details ahead! For me, I mean.)

Well.

Hit by a truck comes close. Okay, I've never been hit by a truck, and my apologies in making that comparison to those who actually have. But the other day when I came out of the anesthesia after a cryo-ablation to treat my atrial fibrillation, something certainly hit me. I told myself when I first got to the Cardiac Short Stay unit at Royal Jubilee Hospital, that I should be prepared for things to be different from my last procedure. I was right.

I was lucky this time, however, that I was the very first patient taken in at 7 a.m., compared to last time when I had to wait pretty much all day for my procedure. Being first meant a flurry of activity to get me prepped before they took me to the electrophisiology lab. My husband was not allowed in with me this time. But since I was first, there wouldn't have been much time to hang out anyway. I got out of my clothes and into the gown. And those weird booties. Who invented those?

Once I was in the bed, I was told that the blood tests that had been taken on Friday showed high potassium levels, and high INR levels. High INR means that your blood doesn't coagulate, or clot, quickly enough. Not really a good thing.

The high potassium I could explain. I was taking a potassium supplement. I quickly learned from the nurse that this was not a great idea. Stupidly, I didn't consult with anyone before taking them. I read something on an A-Fib forum that potassium could be helpful, and I went by that. But potassium, when it's at high levels in your body, can actually CREATE arrhythmia!

Idiot. No more potassium. Trust the doctor.

The high INR levels I couldn't explain. I was on a blood thinner, but it shouldn't have made the levels so high. So they took blood tests again. Fortunately, the new reading was much lower and within range. The only explanation, they said, was a glitch in the original findings. So thank goodness for that!

A technician came in and gave me an EKG. Then there was the shave and the washing part, which I will spare you.

Pretty soon it was time for me to put on the little blue hat and walk to the electrophysiology lab. There were two young male nurses (why did they have to be young and male?) who took my arms and lead me into the lab, one of them holding the back of my hospital gown together as we walked, saying to the other "Don't peek! Don't peek!" Yeah, he actually said that. Like there was anything worth seeing anyway. Groan.

I've described the electrophysiology lab before, but it is basically a very high tech room with numerous machines and a wall of various monitors. I was handed off to two other nurses and I got up on the edge of the gurney. One of the nurses, (another male) started placing large, rectangular stickers that would be hooked up to different monitors and machines, all over my back and sides and chest. By this time, there was no point in assuming even the slightest modesty. All was revealed.

He warned me that the stickers were cold. In fact, the whole room was kept cold because of all of the equipment. He said that some male patients actually scream when he puts the stickers on them. I laughed. Men.

"You aren't even flinching!" he said with great respect.

With a gazillion stickers and patches all over me, it was time to lie down. The anesthesiologist came into the room and I was hooked up to an IV. She told me that she was going to give me something to relax me. The other nurse placed an oxygen mask on my face. I felt the medication go in, and then I felt a little stoned. And then I felt REALLY stoned. I guess I wasss ajkkru kfja bbbbbbb  ....................

Two seconds later, I heard my name, I opened my eyes, and realized I was being wheeled back to my spot in bed #3. I had actually been out for about three hours. My chest was burning and sore, my mouth was dried out and my throat felt like someone had stuck a tree branch down it.

And then it was five hours of lying flat and barely moving. No lifting your head, no moving your legs. It used to be that they kept you flat for 3 to 4 hours, but it was discovered that the extra hour made for fewer "bleeds" as they called them. Stopping the bleeding is everything.

The five hours of lying flat is really eight when you add onto that the length of the procedure. Time enough for your back to get pretty sore. Every half hour, my nurse Ruth would cheerily come in and lift off the 20 pound weight that was kept on the incision, check out the "area", check my vitals and tell me I was doing great. I would ask for another swallow of ginger ale...I've never had such a dry mouth in my life!

I wanted to keep track of the time so I could tell when the five hours was up, and I knew that my blood pressure monitor went on automatically every half hour, so that's how I attempted to calculate it. I thought I was so clever. Near the end of my bed rest, I discovered there was a clock hanging from the ceiling just a few beds away. Duh.

They tried to get me to eat, first offering me a cookie and then a sandwich. I honestly had no appetite whatsoever, but they weren't going to let me out of there without eating something, so I tried the sandwich. Egg salad, kind of bland, on whole wheat. Eating dry bread while flat on your back is a different experience. The crust wasn't going down too well. I should've gone for the cookie.

Then, joy of joys, I was allowed to sit up. Slowly. And, finally, I was unhooked from the monitors and the IV, and allowed to walk around the ward, but only at a snail's pace. I made my way straight to the bathroom, of course. It had been awhile.

On my return, I passed the nurse's station. There were three or four nurses there, and one of them said I should check my "area". So I whipped up my gown and showed them. One of them giggled. "Oh!" exclaimed another. They all smiled at me. Maybe it was the lingering effects of the anesthesia, maybe I just didn't care anymore. It wasn't until their reaction that I realized that I had just exposed myelf in front of everyone. Including other patients.

I was encouraged to keep walking. Movement is good. Not long after, my husband returned to take me home, and we met with the doctor who did my procedure. He described everything they did, told me that it all went well, and that while they were up inside my heart, they also checked the ablation they performed on my atrial flutter almost three years ago, and found that it was in good shape.

I was given a lot of instructions and more prescriptions, I got dressed, and my husband and I walked (well, I waddled) out of the unit and down to the front entrance of the hospital. He got the car and we drove to the pharmacy to get the prescriptions filled.

A plethora of pills, information and instructions...


I was home by 7pm. Not bad for a day's work.

So. What did I learn from this latest experience?

1. Surgical procedures can take a lot out of you.
2. The nurse holding your ginger ale for you to drink from is your best friend.
3. Don't take supplements without asking your doctor. Idiot.
4. Lying flat for 5 hours gets you to thinking. A lot. About how lucky you are that it's only 5 hours.
5. I have no more dignity left. Yep. Nope.

I'm now at day 4 post-op. Still a little slow and sore, but really happy it's all done.
No a-fib yet :-)

IJ

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