I promised a photo today of the scar on my chest, and here it is in all its glory:
Back home again, things seem pretty stable, and I am spending my waking hours in recuperation. I have to admit, nearly two weeks in the hospital along with open heart surgery has whupped me good. I am not "sick" per se, but many things are tiring. Showers take a while, walking feels great but then takes some time to recover, and beyond that is terra incognita. I am told this is absolutely normal and par for the course, and when I think over the last two weeks, I am actually making good progress, all things considered.
I promised a photo today of the scar on my chest, and here it is in all its glory:
Tomorrow I'll post some information about my hospital playlist which was created during some strange late night music binges which I did not expect. If I had had a fever, I might have named it "fever dreams." But I found some great music that I had never heard before and I'll share that tomorrow. See you then --
Last hospital photo above, with my two companions: Intestine (I've Got Guts!) and Heart (Feel the Beat).
I'm home now, the situation from last week has past, and I thought I would share a bit about what that was all about. For many folks, the assumption was probably somenthing around constipation, but that wasn't the issue. As noted before, sometimes what you get is different that what you prepared for.
What I actually had was a pseudoileus, which is when your colon acts like it has an obstruction, but may not actually have an obstruction. Everything gets bloated, and I had an "acute, marked distention of the transverse colon." Interestingly, the colon itself can't be seen on an Xray, but the air blockage can be seen. Leslie and I had the chance to see the Xrays and it was, well, dramatic. Apparently my intestines were swollen by 50-60%, and if that was to continue to grow, there are more dangerous effects and high risks.
There is a standard treatment for conditions like these, but that that was "contra-indicated" by my recent heart surgery as the treatment interferes with the heart rhythm in a major way. And for sure we did not want any emergency surgery at this point.
The good news is that the condition does usually go away on its own. In my case, it lasted through Thanksgiving weekend, but on Monday it was gone. Literally disappeared off the Xray. They of course kept me through the whole time in the hospital under observation, and in the end it really just meant a rather long hospital stay and that a lot of holiday events happened in the hospital instead of at home. Diet was not really restricted, and my sister brought in a wonderful orzo chicken pasta with turmeric, which has anti-inflammatory properties. Whether it was the turmeric, Andrew's transverse colon dance, a cup of coffee, or the two buttons the kids bought for me in the photo above, something worked and I am back to normal rehab.
Tomorrow, more fun as I will post a picture of my scar. Trust me, you will laugh. See you then!
Hi everyone, thanks for continuing to check on me. This is Dale, back from surgery, and I wanted to give a more recent update on my progress. Short answer: the heart repair has been shockingly good, but my GI tract is still not happy. I am in the hospital still; there is not a critical issue, but until I get something in the digestive system to restart completely, they are continuing to watch me.
We in the hospital have been reflecting that sometimes what you THINK will be difficult, often doesn't turn out to be as bad as you might have thought. And sometimes you prepare for one thing, you are all set, and then the hard thing was something that you did not expect. Pretty much how this is working for me right now.
Leslie has been right here with me through all and everything; she is the greatest blessing. The kids have also been here and spent lots of time with me, and that helps tremendously. They are giving up so much of their holiday and I appreciate them all. My sister Doris flew out and is staying for a few days, and it is lovely to have her here too. All the many, many comments on FB and here are reassuring and give me the "home team advantage", and I thank your for that. The nursing team here at UW is FANTASTIC! Not only are they supportive and interesting individuals, but I have also gotten to observe their teamwork and processes over time and I am very impressed.
So I am in a good place and being well cared for, but time will have to take its course and we will get this figured out. Thanks!
While walking this morning, Dad had a very controlled fall. The good news is that he did not damage his chest incision or sternum and he did not hit his head! The bad news was that this lightheaded-ness and general GI discomfort meant that he had to head back to the hospital. After a quick ride to the hospital, the ER staff ran some blood tests, X-rays, and a CT scan and determined that his initial atrial fibrillation (afib) had returned and he had an ileus, which was contributing to the GI discomfort.
The afib is tricky because it makes him feel generally nauseous and tired. The doctors and nurses told us that afib is decently common after surgery, but that they wanted to admit him back to the cardiac unit so that they could monitor for a few days and make sure that it stabilized back into sinus (normal) rhythm. After a couple hours in the ED, his heart returned to its normal rhythm and he feels a little better. Hopefully, it will continue to stay that way for the next few days.
The ileus basically means that his intestine is not properly moving things through his digestive system. He's had some improvement in that area over the last few days, but they did move him back to no food or liquids for the next 24 hours while they medicate "from the top and bottom" to get his GI tract back on track. Hopefully in a day or so, he'll be able to eat and drink again, and return back to normal.
None of the medical team seems hugely concerned, but certainly the symptoms are worth monitoring and we are thankful that he has such a good staff to help him over the next few days. We wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving tomorrow. We as a family are so thankful for his progress so far, for the excellent staff at UW hospital, and for my parents' recent move to Wisconsin that allows Abby, John, Grace, and I to be so close so we can be there with him. Within the next few days, we anticipate being thankful to have Dad back home with us again. Until then, please keep the prayers and positive thoughts coming!
Andrew, Abby, and Leslie
Abby and John visited dad this morning, and Grace and I stopped by this afternoon to see how he was doing. It's so amazing to see the positive steps that Dad is making, from eating three cups of mandarin oranges (and some blueberry pancakes!), to getting his chest tubes removed, to doing his first solo walk with no nurse. When Grace and I walked in to the cardiac floor, we saw dad walking around the fishbowl on the tail end of the first of two solo loops. It's hard to think that he's only 3 days from having his surgery! While he's in his room, he's keeping himself entertained with his incentive spirometer (now with a 1500mL goal), crossword puzzles with mom, a MASH marathon, and the Packers game - though I'm not sure you could really call it a game today...
The doctors and nurses are hoping to have him discharged either Monday or Tuesday. At this point, they are still working with him on managing his fluid levels, and they are monitoring both his phosphorus and potassium levels. Once those things stabilize, then he's homeward bound! We're all overjoyed at the prospect of getting to spend Thanksgiving together at home - what a blessing!
Dad said that his pain levels are actually much less than he expected. He was expecting some sharp pain around the incision or where they cut through his sternum, but he says that it isn't so bad as long as he is not coughing. The main "pain" at this point is a general ache, much like you feel when you have the flu, though the pain meds are generally doing their job. He told us that getting his chest tubes removed was pretty interesting, apparently they had tied his sutures during surgery such that they were ready to be pulled tight as the tube was removed. I think it's a lot like when you need someone's finger to help tie a proper bow on a present -- as the finger gets pulled out the knot just cinches right up!
Thank you everyone for your continued support! I know it means a lot to dad and it certainly means the world to us to hear that everyone is rooting for him. We all know there are lots of steps to go, but we know that dad is going to dominate every one of them!
Andrew, Abby, and Leslie
Andrew, Grace, John and I all came to see Dad today, and to watch the Wisconsin-Michigan game on his room TV. Mom had already received an update from the nurse this morning that Dad was feeling good about his pain management, and he told us that he was able to get some good sleep last night. Mom of course was here for the Badger game, too. Dad did a pre-game lap around the "fish bowl" and then two victory laps after the Badgers put up win #11 for the season!
Dad's heart did move from a sinus rhythm (normal) to atrial fibrillation (also known as AFib) overnight, which is very common and something that the nurses and doctors were watching for. The doctor said that 60-70% of heart surgery patients will experience AFib post-op, but it should resolve with some medication and should not be a long-term issue. After surgery, it's normal to have some swelling around the aorta, which puts some pressure on the electrical bits and can cause the AFib temporarily.
We actually celebrated Dad exceeding 1000 mL on the incentive spirometer AND his heart rhythm moving back from AFib to a sinus rhythm at the same moment! Nurse April confirmed that the deep breathing exercises can help to relieve pressure on a big nerve that runs all the way to his heart, so all the work that Dad has been doing is definitely paying off.
The AFib can mean that the heart is pumping less efficiently, doctor says perhaps sending 30% less oxygen to the blood, so Dad still reports feeling "whomped" today, especially after walking. Walking still feels better than it feels bad (moving around = worth it!) but we are hopeful that the regular heart rhythm will help him start to feel less just-hit-by-a-train and more like himself.
The doctors did move him from a Clear Liquid diet to a Heart Healthy diet this morning, which means Dad was able to order his own lunch from the room service menu! Not all his normal faves (like walleye or mac-and-cheese) sound appetizing yet, but we ordered exactly zero Jell-O and instead asked for orange juice, raspberry sherbet, applesauce, and toast. A magical Diet 7UP arrived on his tray as well (unprompted) which turned out to sound very appealing, too. His last blood sugar check this morning was in the normal range, which means they don't have to do any more finger sticks. Every thing that comes out, turns off, or drops off the schedule is a big W for Dad.
The kids are saying goodbye now to give Dad a chance to nap, but it was great to watch the game together and we are encouraged by Dad's continued progress. We are also comforted by the excellent staff that we meet here at UW Hospital, everyone who has come in to walk with Dad or administer medications has been outstanding.
Perhaps lemonade with dinner? One of Dad's favorites!
From all of us here in Wisconsin, thank you for the continued love and support!
Dad officially stepped-down from intensive care to general care sometime last night, which was very quick and demonstrated excellent progress. Happily, here in the cardiac rehab unit at UW, patients don't have to switch rooms when they change between levels of care, so this morning we found Dad right where we left him but with fewer tubes and much more natural color in his face.
Just like yesterday, we are able to see changes and improvements each hour. He just finished walking his 4th lap around the "fish bowl" today; he did 2 laps in a row, which is already double his first walk this morning.
Dad's definitely with it and present with us today, but he is also more aware of his pain. Coughing brings on the worst of it, but his pain at rest is manageable such that he has been able to take several good naps today while we work on crossword puzzles. He is willing to take pain meds (>tylenol) to stay ahead of the pain, which he definitely deserves after pushing himself on his walks and with his incentive spirometer. It hurts now, but all his efforts will be great for his recovery. His courage and resolve is so impressive!
We enjoyed a visit from Pastor Mark today, who agrees that Dad looks great for someone 24-hours past open heart surgery. Mark suggested that instead of focusing on the mirror, Dad should look at his reflection in the faces of his family members to see his progress... hopefully when he does that, he can see that Mom and Andrew and I are beaming! We are so proud of him. We continue to be grateful for all of the people who care for Dad and for our family.
Thank you to everyone!
Abby, Andrew, and Leslie
We got to the hospital this morning around 10am and Dad continues to improve. He's had most of his lines removed, and he is now sitting up in a recliner chair. He's alert and chatting with us, and we were able to fill him in on everything that happened yesterday. A lot of swelling has subsided, and he ate his first popsicle this morning!
The biggest news is that he just completed his first walking lap around the "fish bowl" which is the main desk in the cardiac unit. The loop is around 150ft, which we decided means he hit a long single, rounded first base thinking double, but had to head back to first. But yay base hit! He said being up and walking around actually feels even better than sitting down. Because he was able to do his walk, they were able to remove his power compression socks which help to circulate his blood. Dad was very happy about this since the compression socks feel a little "creepy" as they turn on/off to push blood up from your extremities.
Dad has also started using his incentive spirometry machine. This helps him test and improve his breathing capacity. Right now, his goal is 750mL, and he has to try and hit it 10x per hour. That goal will go up over time as he continues to recover.
Overall, lots of great news to share. We read the blog and Facebook comments to him and he was so happy to hear all the messages that you have been sharing. He really feels the support and love, so thank you!
Andrew, Abby, and Leslie
Hello everyone, we have some good updates to share with you! At around 230, we got to see dad after he was brought up to his room. Even though his eyes were closed, he could tell we were there and was able to squeeze our hands and nod to answer questions - awesome progress.
Over the next few hours, he wrote a few messages to us (and cracked a joke!). His breathing numbers got to a point where they were comfortable removing his breathing tube, which is a big relief to him. He is now able to speak quietly and seems alert. He said he feels like he got hit by a train ("wham" was the word he used). Probably a fair description. We are doing our best to help him combat dry mouth and throat from the breathing tube and liquid restrictions using ice chips. He says the pain when he's resting is a 1 of 10, but the pain when coughing or moving his arms is higher. He's in and out a bit as he dozes off, sleep and rest is the best thing so we are happy when that is possible. Nurse Francesca is taking good care of him.
He was super thrilled to hear all the comments and well wishes. The three of us are so happy and thankful he is progressing well - he is a rockstar! Please keep praying for a successful recovery as we keep checking off the milestones.
Love to all,
Andrew, Abby, and Leslie
We're really happy to share that he is officially off bypass and "all is well!" For the past few hours, he's been on a machine that's been pumping his blood for him while they completed the surgery. Now, his heart is officially back beating on its own! The next status that we'll receive is "Closing," so it sounds like things are going well.
Much rejoicing in the waiting room! Thank you for all the support and prayers so far -- keep them coming!