“Good morning, time to get up.” Sandra, my nurse for the Big Morning, had actually let me sleep for a half hour longer than the plan had called for, but now it was time to get the ball rolling and she was all business. My surgery was the first case of the day and if anything delayed me, the whole rest of the day would be thrown off as well. “Let’s get you unplugged and into the shower.”
Sandra removed my IV lines and covered both sites with plastic to keep them dry, and snatched off a half dozen EKG patches, removing a little bit more of what hair I had left. She then led me to a large shower where I scrubbed down from head to toe with some kind of special soap. After toweling off and re-gowning I was led back to my bed where more blood was drawn, more pinpricks were made in my fingertips to assess glucose, and both IV sites were declared to be too old to risk going to surgery with. I did not realize that IV sites had a useful lifespan, but it turnes out that they do and mine had outlived theirs thanks to my prolonged wait through the Forth of July holiday. In a flash both of those sites were removed and a new plastic needle, but thankfully only one of them, was inserted into one of the few veins on my arms that remained at that point untouched.
That accomplished, my new site was again covered with plastic and once again I was in the shower scrubbing myself down with the anti-microbial soap. And once again I was toweled off and re-gowned and led back to my room to await the transporters who would move me to the Operating Room. The wait wasn’t long. After double and triple checking of my name and surgical procedure I slid sideways from my bed onto the gurney.
I can’t really tell you what I thought as I rolled through those unfamiliar halls. Wait a minute: Unfamiliar? How could that be? For 26 years I had passed through those halls, looking at the linoleum or carpet, the artwork on the walls, the co-workers whom I would pass and acknowledge. This time however it was very different. This time I was looking up at the sound-deadening ceiling tiles interspersed with banks of florescent lights that passed monotonously by my vision. I probably thought of the life that I had lived up to this point, the highs and the lows, and I probably thought about what life would be like afterward, although I had no way of knowing what life would be like afterward and I knew it. One thing was clear. I have assisted with open heart surgery before and I knew exactly what that would be like, and therefore made the choice to not think about that at all.
We entered the O.R. and I did a repeat of what I had done in the cath lab four days earlier. Same freezing room, same process of identification of patient and procedure, same slide onto a hard table and same wraith-like gowned, masked, and hatted doctors and nurses and techs puttering around the room preparing their instruments and equipment for the surgery that was imminent. Soon the anesthesiologist was injecting some fluid into my IV and soon I was once again somewhere out in deep space. Somebody else was occupying that space between Alpha and Proxima Centauri so I sped by them to take a gander at what was happening out near Sirius.
My next twelve hours are pretty much lost. Surgery lasted about three hours and at some point I was rolled into my new room with my breathing still controlled by a respirator and with more tubes and hoses sticking out of me than an automobile engine. I remember very little of the rest of that day, but two events stand out. With a big, fat tube running into my lungs communication became a challenge, but I still wanted to express myself to my wife and there were several instances when I successfully did that. Two occasions which I actually remember of accomplishing that feat went this way. By engaging in creative hand signs I asked my wife not to cry, and later asked her to pray for me which she did. Shortly after that event my body remembered how to breath on its own and that really nasty tube was removed from down my throat.
The rest of the evening I can barely remember. My wife was there the whole time and my daughter arrived at near 7 PM. I don’t remember the daughter’s visit more than as a shadow but I do remember the visit by her husband which followed. He had been reading about the early Christian Church leaders and their relationship with the Roman Empire. He rattled on about Ambrose of Milan in the West and John Chrysostom in the East, and their beef with the Emperor Theodocius and so on. This is the stuff we both like to talk about, but my participation this evening was sketchy at best. I was later told that I would drift off, then return with a comment which was actually pertinent to the topic, and then drift off again. The presence of my son in law and wife, and their familiar chatter, were immensely comforting and it was around 11 PM that they left and I finally lapsed into an exhaustion and drug assisted sleep.
This concludes Part III of my story. It is a short segment because there was so little that I was consciously aware of. There has been much told to me which would flesh out my story but my interest here is to record my own sensations and perceptions. I did not live the other stuff, even if I was involved in it. My true recovery did not begin until the next day, and that tale deserves a Part IV all by itself.