Coronary Bypass Surgery Commonplace and Life Extending for Many.

John J. Hohn, Writer

John J. Hohn, Writer

#bypasssurgery #coronary #openheart

Coronary bypass surgery has been around for more than 50 years. Yet to the patient, most of whom experience the procedure only once, undergoing the operation can give rise to anxiety. The survival rate is actually very high. Less than 5 percent mortality in the first thirty days and less than 8 percent in the twelve months following. Survival rates increase slightly with age and depend in large part upon the general health of the patient going into the operation.

I wasn’t anxious at first. Astonished would be more to the point. I thought with my diet and aerobic workouts, I was invulnerable. As reality settled in, my feelings changed. If I was anxious at all, I feared pain. I’ve never liked pain. I’ve avoided it all of my life. I hoped that the repairs to my ticker could be performed using the newer, less invasive techniques. The thought of sawing through my sternum and spreading rib cage to access to the chest bordered on terrifying.

I had been on a been on a blood thinner (clopidogrel) since I had three stents inserted into my coronary arteries almost five years earlier. Consequently, I was hospitalized on a monitor (my left descending artery was 90% blocked) for four days before the operation. During that time, my blood was checked every four hours to see if the blood thinner had worn off and it was safe to operate. The frequent tests were a serious annoyance. Surely freshman nursing students it would take at least 48 hours for the blood thinner to wear off in a six-foot-two-inch, 210 pound male. But no! Every four hours, beginning right after admission. It helps run up the lab bill. The markup on lab procedures is probably several hundred times.

Dying didn’t really bother me. I embraced my mortality years ago. Most writers do. It’s forced upon them. I didn’t want to leave my wife and children. I wanted to hang around and enjoy loving them and time with them. I had lived a good life, certainly exciting one, perhaps more at times than I would have wished. But I was not an evil man. A fool, yes! But evil, no. I never deliberately set out to hurt anyone or deprive anyone of anything. I made mistakes. Some of them quite serious. (Don’t ask.) But mistakes are not as important as how one recovers from them. If I was about to depart  this life, I could make my good-byes with a degree of satisfaction that my life was a successful one, especially given then last 35 years, or roughly half.

Lights  out . . .

For a man who lives by his imagination, I had no idea what I was going to experience. My last hospitalization for surgery was minor when I had the stents implanted. This time, I was rolled into the operating room, a huge, overwhelming gray and white space. Several humans were milling about in light green surgical garb, the kind medical students where to Arby’s to impress others. I had to scrunch a little to get onto the operating table.

Coronary Bypass Surgery Illustration

Coronary Bypass Surgery Illustration

Then. blam! Lights out. Anesthesia for coronary bypass surgery takes a patient about as far under as one dare go. My heart was going to be stopped. A machine was going to breathe for me. I ceased to exist as I know myself. I would like to write that it was pleasant. It wasn’t! It wasn’t anything. I existed with no awareness of myself and life around me. If death is like that, it’s not to be feared.

Waking up, however, is another matter. My wife and stepson were at my bedside side with the anesthesiologist and a nurse. Apparently, I struggled and thrashed around for a couple of hours or more. I’d give thumbs up and nodded when asked, but I do not remember anything. At one point, in the darkness, I heard my wife’s voice, “John? Why are you here?”

“To know, to love and to serve God,” I responded. The answer came so readily. (Never underestimate the power of early catechism lessons.) I wanted the answer to be an honest one. As it stands, it may have been recited by rote. On the other hand, I felt an innocence flow through me in making the reply, like a babe being lifted naked from the bath. Nobody understood what I tried to say. The border between consciousness and stupor bends and sways in overcoming the anesthesia. I don’t think about serving God. It God is there, He/She knows. If He/She isn’t, what I do matters only to my fellow man. That has always been enough. I’d never deliberately avoid serving God. How foolish! The option never occurs to me. As long as what I do serves those I love and my fellow man, I figure I am on pretty good ground.

Then suddenly, I am aware. Alive! The people in the room appear as silhouettes. “I love you guys,” I proclaimed in my joy at being awake. The fact that I only knew two people present concerned me not in the least. I was in a recovery room in the intensive care unit (ICU). I was comfortable but groggy, drifting in and out of consciousness, so much so that I remember very little of the day.

Extremely Depleting . . .

When the next day rolled around, I was more myself. I was immediately challenged to stand up which was a struggle. I began to realize how much the body gives up enduring major surgery. It is extremely depleting. The nurse was impressed with my leg strength, given my age. Why not? I had been working out regularly for 40 years, but I felt horribly weak. Later, when I was asked to walk, every step required effort. I tired very quickly. Experience proves that patients who get back on their feet immediately recover much faster, and thus the effort to get one out of bed and strolling about even if it requires assistance.

All of my systems were coming back onto line. I could not get to the bathroom on my own, but I had a bottle. I hacked up a slug of sputum the size of my fist. “Oh good!” my nurse exclaimed. “Everything’s working.” My appetite returned. I had not eaten for two days. I ordered lunch, but before it arrived, I was told that I was doing so well that I was going to be moved out of ICU into a coronary care area. The lunch was directed to my new room The nurses in ICU, however, did not want me to be transferred until they had two working intravenous inserts (IV’s) established.

My arms looked like a World War I no-man’s land. Blood had been taken from the back of my hands up to my elbow on both arms. My fatty arms. I don’t have rope veins on the surface. They could not find a place to insert the new IV. I kept telling them to try above my elbow. But no, they’d rather not. Finally a doctor was called and she found a place using a sonogram locator. Guess where? Above my elbow. Lunch hour was long gone. It was 4:00 pm.

Locating the right place for the IV took so long that my lunch was returned to the kitchen. I was starving. I told the nurse on the floor to which I was transferred that I needed something eat. She insisted on completing a questionnaire on a monitor that repeated all the questions I had been asked every day for six days. What good, I thought, was a system if it didn’t retain the answers from one day to the next? When the nurse left saying nothing about my lunch, I called my wife and asked her to bring me a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich from home. We live five minutes from the hospital. It seemed the only way.  I really did not, as I feared, experience much physical pain. The only pain I experienced during for my entire stay was hunger and multiple attempts at inserting an IV. But there is more to my story . . .

To be Continued . . .

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