Friday, May 17, 2013

An Unexpected (and Unwanted) Journey

   A little over 14 years ago, we started on an unplanned journey when the woodworker had a heart attack at quite a young age.  Over the years he has had 3 surgeries to put stents in his heart.  Just 6 months after his first stent, he was proud to run successfully in the local 5k heart run.  Still, changes in exercise, diet, etc. have not been able to stop the progress of his heart disease in spite of his best efforts.
   After his most recent stent about a year ago, we discovered that his  particular heart condition is presumed to be caused by exposure to Agent Orange, an herbicide used during the Vietnam War.  He served just a few miles from where the stuff was mixed during that war.  One of his best friends from that time died less than a year ago from ALS which is also Agent Orange presumptive.
   It was about 3 weeks ago that he started to experience some familiar symptoms, so we headed for the ER.  Although his EKG was normal and the pain only came during exertion, because of his history, he was admitted with plans for a trip to the cath lab the next morning.  We were not even sure if his symptoms indicated a heart problem, but had confidence that if there was a problem, they would insert another stent and have us back home in short order.
   The cath went quickly....too quickly.  The news was not good and required transfer to a different hospital where open heart surgery is done.  We were told he'd need 2-5 bypasses.
   Both hospitals did a great job of taking care of him and educating us about cardiac issues.  For various reasons, once he was transferred via ambulance to the other hospital, he had to wait 4-5 days before the surgery could safely take place.  The waiting was hard as there was way too much time to just think.

   The surgery seemed long to those of us who were waiting, but after 5 hours, we were relieved to hear that the surgeon thought all had gone well and told us he was in ICU.  I was glad they had told us about what to expect when we saw him as there was a lot of swelling and he was on a ventilator.  He had his own nurse during that night to care for him.  We went to see him about an hour after the surgery but of course he couldn't talk because of the tubes.  Still he clearly understood what we were saying to him.
   The following morning we visited him again in the ICU shortly before he was moved upstairs to the cardiac area.  The ventilator was gone and he was already sitting up in a chair holding his special pillow.  He really grew to love that pillow which was to be used to hold tightly to his chest when he coughed to help reduce the pain.

   The surgery was on a Monday, and by Saturday we were amazed to find ourselves on our way back home.  We never thought it possible he could recover  enough to be sent home so quickly.
    Now we have embarked on the rest of the recovery process with hope that life will soon be back to normal.  We are so grateful for all the family, friends and neighbors who  have made this difficult journey easier for us.

As a side note, we found that some of the staff called him a 'CABG' (pronounced cabbage) which is the hospital acronym for his surgery.  Since he had 2 bypasses, he is a CABG x 2.  He told the grandchildren that the problem was that his heart was clearly 2 sizes too small, so they had to give him a larger heart.

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