Day number three after open heart surgery dawned in a fog, much as day number two had ended. My nurse had configured my bed in such a way that I was semi-upright all night, and for some reason that helped to control the pain which had run riot in my body the day before. As always I slept most soundly in the later morning period, so I slumbered pretty much right up until breakfast arrived. I was transferred to my chair and waited for my breakfast tray to be brought over to me.
I don’t remember what it was that was brought to me for breakfast but I do remember my response; I grabbed the nearest plastic bucket – they kept one within my reach at all times – and threw up explosively into it. I had hardly anything in my stomach so the volume was low, and I felt a good deal better when that was done. I had no interest in breakfast however and asked them to remove it from me. It would be several days before I would have any desire to eat again.
Nobody had arrived to visit with me yet and so I remained in my chair for a while with my eyes aimed in the direction of the television screen but with no real recognition of what channel it was on or what they were saying. Time passed in this manner as people slipped into and out of my room, some to draw blood from the central line in my neck, others to poke my fingers to monitor sugar, and still others to give me some kind of injection into the fat around my belly. Most merciful was the nurse who came in to push another syringe full of Dilaudid into my central line. More than that is only a blur and I would not be able to accurately describe it.
As the morning wore on the various doctors taking care of me stopped in to check on me. First was the Family Medicine general practitioners, usually consisting a trio of Dr. Manning and two residents who are not yet licensed to practice on their own. Dr. Manning and I have known each other for years and he is a lover of history as I am, so we usually ended his visits by giving each other a history challenge question. “What was the Beatles’ album which changed the course of rock music?” (Answer: Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band), or “Which WW II battle took place in May of 1942 and changed the course of the war?” (Answer: Battle of Midway), and so on. On this day I was in no kind of shape for such banter and Dr. Manning could sense that. A brief examination by the residents ensued and I was returned to my bed because my exhaustion was now becoming more of an issue than the pain.
My wife appeared at this point and took up her position by the bed, stroking my forehead or brushing my shoulder, completely unable to reduce the pain but communicating clearly that she would do anything in the world if she could to take it away, and there was comfort in that. We passed an hour or so I think in that way until the next group of doctors made their appearance.
Dr. Willis is with the surgical group of which Dr. Grossing, my surgeon, is a partner. He was checking on me that day along with Rachel Lenz, the physician’s assistant who was involved with my actual surgery. They examined the incision site on my chest and declared it to be infection free so far and healing nicely, and then they knelt down by the bubbling canister at the foot of my bed. “Take a breath and bear down on it Mr. Durden” said Ms. Lenz. I drew a breath and bore down on it as much as my stoned stomach muscles and screaming chest would allow. “That looks good Mr. Durden. How would you like to have your chest tubes out?”
I had been told that the tubes draining grunk from my chest could be a major source of the pain I had been experiencing for the last day and half so I jumped at the opportunity. In a flash the tubes were gone and after a little puttering around on my chest, which probably represented suturing the holes where the tubes had been, I was finally free of the tubes and the urinary catheter which they removed at the same time.
The improvement in my pain situation was almost instantaneous. There was still pain aplenty but the Dilaudid was more than adequate to keep that down to an acceptable level. I could finally lie in my bed and enjoy my wife and son, who appeared a short time after one in the afternoon, and carry on a conversation with them between naps which tended to remain on point more or less. I would describe that afternoon as pleasant, at least as pleasant as one could expect it to be under the circumstances.
A big change occurred at about five o’clock however. A gurney appeared and it was time for me to leave the CVICU and transfer to the sixth floor where less critical patients continued their recovery. I knew right away that I would miss the staff in CVICU. They had been very kind and attentive and I felt very well taken care of. I want to visit them very much when the time comes that I can walk and move about with more ease than is currently the case.
The sixth floor was an entirely different place with an entirely different mission. Once deposited (lovingly) like a sack of potatoes in my bed in room 6102 I was in the care of people who’s mission was to get me ready to function at home again. Because I arrived in the afternoon, rather close to shift change, I had a grace period where I could lie quietly in bed with my thoughts and narcotic dreams. My new nurse and her team of two assistants introduced themselves and then that was all that I saw of them that night unless somebody had to take vitals, take blood, give me pain meds or empty my urinal. The evening was passed in broken sleep, but the morning came soon enough and my new recovery plan took off in a big way.