Very early the next morning, as the week began, I realized with that new day, things would necessarily be different from here on out. Triple bypass surgery meant that, in many ways, life forever changed. It dawned on me that through the many years of our marriage, when one of us was ill with a cold or the flu or pneumonia, we rested, took the prescribed medication and got better — that illness, whatever it was, subsided, we got better; health returned. Not so with heart disease. And although my husband’s life isn’t defined by this, it is a fact and from now on it’s his reality. It’s my reality.
I notice that whenever someone goes through a medical ordeal, they take on a whole new mindset, new language, new conversation. Heart stuff’s no different. When a new nurse would come in, the usual line of questions would invariably include what procedure was done and what progress had been made. Cabbage. Three grafts. Nstemi. Rising troponin. I’d soon get all this jargon and even start using some of it in conversation — you know, like I knew what I was talking about, like it was totally normal for me. Like I talked about it every day… just casually mentioning an MI and going on to say it was a non stemi. So in case you want to get this lingo down, I’ll tell you…
If your husband has an MI and it’s non stemi, it’ll mean he had a heart attack, a myocardial infarction and the nstemi part? That means it was less severe than a stemi… a non-ST segment elevation myocardial infarction, meaning that a blood clot or blockage partly occluded an artery, and that that portion of the heart muscle was affected and died. Yep, serious still, but by degrees, not so much as a total occlusion. And, well, not sudden death, which is very often the first sign of coronary artery disease. Then if you’re sitting there and a nurse comes in and the attending nurse tells her he’s cabbage, she’s not calling him some ridiculous name, she’s just conveying that he needs or he’s had a coronary artery bypass graft… maybe she’ll say cabbage or a triple.
Over the next few days after my husband’s surgery, we would have visits from different cardiac docs — incredibly gifted professionals. Only one of them seemed to have a light sense of humour, but I thought it mattered not so much that they had a sense of humour since what really mattered was that they were highly skilled and saved lives. We have enough humour around here.
The next round of professionals we would meet had to do with recuperative or rehabilitative care or instruction. The respiratory therapist was instantly not a friend… or so it seemed. In time, the breathing exercises would become easier — not easy, but with more pain meds: easier. The puffy heart pillow would also ease some of the incredible pain. With heart bypass surgery, the sternum is cut, the ribs are pulled apart and the bypass grafts are made to the heart and then the sternum is wired together and the long incision is closed with dissolving sutures and surgical glue — drain tubes beside and behind the heart relieve fluids and pressure but the combination of the drain tubes and the sutured sternum causes intense pain — especially with deep breathing or with dreaded coughing. The incisions on the leg where they remove veins for the grafts also cause immense pain.
I wish I’d had more mental preparation for the first walk with the physical therapist… it was brief, but it was quite an emotional experience. On the first trip to the hallway, this strong, independent, competent and confident husband was in a gown, taking measured steps, a gate-belt around his waist, grimacing at each jarring step.
That first day post-op seemed eternally long. Though forever changed, I’m glad the next day demonstrated to me that life would go on…
And very late that night, it was time for me to go home again. Pressing the down arrow at the elevator, I would leave the 7th floor again. As I walked down that long corridor and out to the parking garage I realized how alone I was. But as I drove back home across the trestle, I realized I wasn’t alone at all for the Lord was with me — had been with me all along. I marveled yet again, over and over…”the only thing I know of tomorrow is that Providence will rise before the sun.”