“Good morning Glenn. How are you feeling today?” Kim, my new daytime nurse, was smiling and active, even perky. Nothing could have been more diametrically opposite of how I felt. I had been awakened two or three times the night before by a nurse taking vital signs or a phlebotomist drawing blood or somebody sticking a needle into my belly injecting something, insulin I think. I still felt light headed, as I had since I awoke from surgery, and I was still without any appetite at all.
“Today we are going to walk a little, and if you want you can take a shower. Your urinal is in the bathroom; if you need it, call and we’ll help you walk to it. Your breakfast will be here in a few minutes. Is there anything else I can do for you now?” I assured Kim that I was all right for the moment and she left to perform other duties, leaving me in bed to ponder my new stage of recovery. I did not feel at all like eating OR walking, and even though I knew that both would be good for me my body recoiled at the thought of it. As Kim had promised, my breakfast did arrive within minutes of her departure.
Diane, a nurse assistant, brought in my breakfast tray and set it on a bedside table. “Come on, Mr. Durden. It’s time to get into the chair.” I grudgingly complied, grasping a pillow against my sundered sternum and allowing Diane to get her arms around me so that she could help me up to a sitting position on the side of the bed. Using my own arms to push myself upright was forbidden, as the muscles of the arms are leveraged against the muscles of the chest which attach, among other places, to the sternum. I did not need the muscles attached to either side of my sternum pulling in opposite directions, separating that bone which was now cut into two pieces and wired back together. One surgery was enough; I had no need of another to rewire my sternum.
“Up we go.” And up we went. I sat on the edge of the bed for a minute or two, getting my balance, and then stood up, once again using my legs instead of my arms to push me erect. The chair was only a few steps away and I carefully sat down in it, still pressing my stiff pillow tightly against my chest. “There you go” said Diane. “Now lets see what we have for breakfast.” What we had was oatmeal with raisins, a small fruit bowl, a cup of cranberry juice and something else, the memory of which escapes me now. I looked upon my feast with a relish approaching that with which a taxpayer looks upon the approach of an IRS auditor.
“You have to eat to get your strength Mr. Durden” said Diane, and I knew that she was right. So I lifted my spoon and began first to work on the chunks of canned peach and pear and a few bits of melon which might have been fresh, and washed it down with my juice. That didn’t amount to much but it added up to more than I really wanted. Now I dipped my spoon into the oatmeal and began to mechanically chew. It was like asking a T-Rex to eat tofu. I rolled each spoonful from one side of my mouth to another, chewing and chewing and finally swallowing, just to get rid of the noisome stuff. I probably ate no more than a quarter of the bowl and then pushed the button that would alert my caregiver that I was finished. Diane quickly arrived and swept away my tray.
“I’d like to get back into bed now” I said. “Since you’re already up, why don’t we get your weight and take a little walk” Diane replied. I groaned but nodded my approval. Clutching my pillow I once again arose and walked unsteadily about ten feet to where a large scales awaited me. I stepped onto it, Diane recorded my weight, and then we headed out of the doorway and into the hall. I really didn’t want to do this and so I set out to get it done as quickly as possible. I probably went thirty feet down the hall, and at a faster rate than I should. I turned around to make my return trip and the distance to my room looked like miles to me, so I quickly pushed on, wanting to get this ordeal over with and back into my bed.
At last I did get to my bed and carefully fell back into it. I could feel my heart pounding with the exertion and my nurse quickly made an appearance. Kim took my vital signs, felt pulses, listened to heart and lungs and then disappeared for a few minutes. When she returned she injected a medication into the central line that was still in my neck. It turned out that the exertion caused my heart rhythm to go into atrial fibrillation, and the result of that was a new medication taken each day to ensure that my heart stayed in what is called a ‘normal sinus rhythm’. I still take that pill every day and will probably continue to do so for another month or two to come.
This pattern of activity dominated the rest of that day and the next two and a half days to come. I finally got my shower the next day, and not a minute too soon. I had worked and hurt and sweat for four days by then and I could draw my fingernails across the back of my neck and scrape up an opaque bit of dirty oil underneath them. A chair was placed in the shower and I sat on it while I sprayed myself with a hand held shower nozzle. I have never felt better than when I emerged from that shower.
Thursday and Friday were a monotonous progression of walks and meals (which nearly made me throw up) and blood draws and finger pricks and belly injections and attempts to have a bowel movement. Anesthesia, pain medication, and even some of the heart meds that I was taking have the unpleasant side effect of causing constipation, and when you have had your chest cloven in two any sort of straining is to be discouraged. My central line was removed from my neck (a very strange sensation if I do say so myself) and a final few wires in my chest were extracted. It felt good to finally be free of all technologies which had invaded my badly beaten-up body. Friday was proposed for my discharge, but my doctors, nurse, and ultimately I felt like one more day would do the trick.
Saturday arrived and I initiated my final round of unappealing meals and walks around the hallways of the sixth floor. I took another shower and brushed my hair, and for the first time in a week and a half put my baseball cap on my head. My wife appeared at about ten thirty and we waited as a depressing series of doctors and pharmacists and dietitians made their final interviews with me. Finally a cardiologist cam into my room, spoke with me for a few minutes, and pronounced me ready to go home.
Words are inadequate to express how I felt as I rode in my wheelchair down that elevator to the first floor. My wife had moved our car to the front entrance and we rolled out to it. I rose up out of my chair, sat carefully in the back seat, said my goodbye to Diane, and my wife fired the car up and rolled away from the hospital and out onto the street. I relished seeing the blue sky and the familiar houses as we crossed the five blocks or so which separate my house from the hospital. People were out working in their yards and at one house a small child played at it’s dad’s feet while dad puttered around the garage. The beauty and rhythm of the life I watched as we drove home were healing medicines all by themselves.
In a very few minutes we rolled in front of our house. My wife pulled slowly up the driveway and I looked out of the window at the abelia and hyssop that I had planted years ago. I saw that the white, pink and coral flowers were crawling with bees, and it looked good and natural. I also saw that the hyssop needed water. Hyssop has more shallow roots than abelia and must be watered more frequently. “That’s OK” I said to myself. “It’s all right now. Daddy’s home.”