I’ve been home for sixteen days now and I keep kicking myself, metaphorically of course since I can’t actually do it for real, especially not with my mobility issues!
Five days after open heart surgery, after having my sternum sawed apart and my heart cut open, I was at home.
So after being home for so long I thought it might be worth writing about what it means and how it has, so far, been affecting me.
For the most part it hasn’t. I’m still the same bloke, with the same sense of humour – I am sorry to tell all my friends. Why would anything have changed? Except it has, and it’s taken being at home to realise what and how much.
Funnily enough the routine and pace of events at the hospital kept me from thinking about anything, it was forever keeping things moving forward. Considering all the time I had to sit around and do nothing but think about what was coming up or to deal with the operation, I never really did, there was always something else to keep me distracted.
The hospital routine didn’t just help the hospital run smoothly, but it keeps the patients focused on the next thing to do rather than the scary thing that had just happened, or was about to happen.
The nurses and doctors helped too, for them all this was routine and they’d seen it all before. They were either prepared for anything happening or dealing with it in a simple, matter of fact fashion. That too was extremely comforting and relaxing.
The other patients were an unusual source of help. In my case I felt much better off than the typically older patients around me. I felt far less able to complain as I was younger and fitter than most. I busied myself with what else was happening around me. What other people were dealing with, and never thinking beyond the surface of what I was going through.
Before the operation the routine was what kept me going, kept me focused, and kept my mind away from the negative thoughts I’d rather not have.
After the operation you carry a reminder on your chest, but the routine kicks in even harder and keeps you going forward. Most of the morning in the ward was spent dealing with breakfasts then showers. After that it wasn’t long before lunch and then visitors. The gap between the two visit slots was filled with dinner, and after the last visit it was near enough bedtime. Well, you felt like it was anyway.
When you get home that’s all stripped away, and there isn’t much left to keep your thoughts away from what’s happened or what’s happening, and there are reminders all around about what you used to do and what you can’t do now, or at least what you can’t do until you are healed.
There is a routine at home, and we have settled into one, made easier by both my wife and I having fantastic, understanding employers. Mine so that I can stay off work and nothing appears to be a problem, and hers so that she can be extremely flexible with her hours to make sure I’m okay in the mornings and evenings and even work from home for my first week back.
Plus I’ve made my own routine, filled with all the things that I’ve been putting off like writing, photography development, film and television watching and yes, video gaming.
Still that routine is filled from morning to night with things that remind you just how incapable you are. Getting in and out of bed is the first and last thing each night and it’s also the one that requires most help, still. Even though it’s part of the routine it’s not like hospital. There it wasn’t my bed that I couldn’t get out of as it was all electric, now I need my wife to help me get in and out of my sleeping position. So despite there being a clear routine, everything you do gives a direct comparison to how you did things before the operation.
Apparently being at home afterwards can become quite depressing, however I’ve not had a problem with that yet. I struggle with the speed of recovery, especially with the Atrial Fibrillation I’ve been having, and while my only rehab are the walks I’m setting myself from a hospital discharge leaflet, I think I’m doing well pushing them forward. Still, I have to be realistic, I was sent home five days after the operation compared to some of my ward compatriots who were looking at four to five weeks.
Apart from the speed of recovery the initial weeks were filled with the moments of forgetting that you’ve had an operation and trying to do something, only to be greeted with a stark warning of pain that you have had an operation and you are hurt. Pain is a great reminder that there’s something wrong and you need to take it easy, and I’ve learned quickly what I should and shouldn’t be doing. At least now I can push and pull the cinema/games room power plugs in and out by myself! Looking back across the weeks at home make you realise how well you’re progressing, and that’s something I keep doing to remind myself that I am getting better.
It’s those basics that are the most annoying though. Lifting a full kettle; getting in and out of bed; drying your back; washing your head; shaving your head (if you do such things!); bending over to pick something up; sitting up, or opening a jar or bottle top. Things are getting much easier and some of these I can do this week, but each time you do something you are rewarded with a little bit of a reminder of what you’ve been through. I remain positive though, things are getting easier and some of these will drop off the list in this coming week I’m sure, but they are all reminders of how much the nurses in hospital did for you, and how much their routine protected you.
All this, and the very fact of the operation, has caused me to be a little more emotional than normal. Many of my friends know that I can be an emotional sap at the best of times, but it’s been worse since the operation and knowing how serious it all was. I was talking to my GP on the phone the other day and when she asked how I was my voice completely broke from under me. My wife can ask me the simplest of questions and a response can mean a warbling voice. Even if there’s something on television with a sad moment I can find myself struggling to keep it together.
Of course what’s worst about this is that the heaving of the chest, as comes with emotional moments, means pain. So it’s grab the rolled up towel, press it against my chest. Which is a clear indication something is up. This last week I don’t think I’ve used the towel apart from a few coughing moments though, I’m surprised how well it feels like it’s healing. For instance yawning isn’t near as painful as it was.
Another thing about being home that you realise is the level of care – comparisons between the hospital care and post hospital care are unfair. In hospital the care was amazing, the nurses were personal, attentive and engaging. Home is a different story as the GP is stretched to provide the same level and the rehabilitation department haven’t even been in touch yet.
I went into Atrial Fibrillation again the other day, this time at home, and it was far more distressing than when it happened in hospital. Of course in hospital a nurse saw me, headed off and returned with drugs, being at home meant a much more protracted affair that ended up with a similar result but taking so much longer and involving the GP and hospital, both saying it should have been the other’s responsibility.
Overall the hardest thing at the moment, chest reminders aside, is the lack of ability to exercise. My daily walks were interrupted by my bout of AF, tiredness, and all other reasons, but I’m pushing on with them much faster than the booklet suggests. Yet seeing my running shoes and gear is a stark reminder that I used to be able to run 10km into the Pentland hills rather than slowly waddle a 0.5km walk around the block.
Time and patience I’m told, neither of which I am feeling right now.