I had open heart surgery on September 18. I still can’t quite wrap my head around what happened, because… open.heart.surgery. Eesh.
I wanted to document the experience for myself and I’ll warn you that it got quite long.
I’ll going to rewind back to where I left off…
THURSDAY-FRIDAY: MEETINGS AT MAYO
I flew into Minneapolis on Thursday afternoon. My mom picked me up from the airport and we headed straight to Mayo (with a quick stop for lunch!) to meet with my surgeon. I was feeling anxious all day. Things were starting to get real.
Fortunately, the meeting with my surgeon gave me a huge piece of mind. He confirmed that everything with the surgery will go smoothly and that I’ll probably be up and jogging in two weeks. Ummm… yeahhhh. I doubt that’s accurate, but I appreciated his air of nonchalance about the whole thing.
On Friday, I went back to Mayo to do some blood work, chat with a PA about pre-op, and meet with my cardiologist. Again, this meeting gave me a lot of relief. She echoed what my surgeon said and confirmed that I should be able to make a full recovery. I should be back to hiking, running, and doing the things that I love within a few months. Not only that, but theoretically I should be able to feel better doing those things than I did before. I was so happy to hear this! Hopefully what they said is true.
Afterwards Mom and I headed back to Hutchinson for a paint night with some old friends.
SATURDAY-SUNDAY: FUN DISTRACTIONS
The rest of the weekend was a blur of activities and the most wonderful distractions.
Saturday was spent hanging around Hutchinson with my mom and sister. We had lunch, popped into a few local stores, walked around the craft fair, and bought matching scarves (obviously we’re not wearing them in the picture below).
On Sunday, I picked up Michael from the airport and we headed to Surly to have lunch with Kristin, Jordan, and Preston. Later a few friends met up with us and we spent the afternoon outside catching up in the sun.
Afterwards Michael and I went for a walk along the Stone Arch Bridge and then had the most amazing dinner at The Bachelor Farmer. Seriously, so good.
We drove down to Rochester to meet up with Dad, Mom, Jaci, and Jordan at our Airbnb. The remainder of the night was spent chatting away.
I got to spend all of Saturday and Sunday spending quality time with some of my favorite people. I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend. I was so distracted that I didn’t have time to stress or worry about the upcoming heart surgery.
Until, of course, I tried to go to sleep.
MONDAY: HEART SURGERY DAY
I needed to be to Mayo by 6:15am. Miraculously all 5 of us made it there on time. We were all a little bit tired, a little bit awkward, and a little bit nervous.
I was called into a room to change into a hospital gown and to answer some pre-op questions. Then the rest of the crew was allowed to hang out with me until I was brought down to pre-op. We actually had a lot of fun crammed in that tiny room goofing around and taking selfies. I did not at all feel like I was about to go under the knife for major surgery and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
They came to pick me up to bring me down to pre-op around 7:45. Down in pre-op I was all prepped for surgery and talked with the anesthesiologist and PAs regarding what would be going down in the operating room. Everyone was incredibly kind, which kept me at ease.
I was brought into the operating room around 8:15 and was surrounded by people. Everyone talked about what they were doing and continued to make sure I was feeling comfortable. Then it was time for the anesthesiologists to get to business. After two unsuccessful pokes for an IV (I have tiny veins) they decided to give me gas first. They put on a mask and started asking me questions about where I was staying in Rochestser. I mentioned we had rented an Airbnb and then……….
………it was 2:30 and I was awake in the ICU surrounded by Mom, Dad, Jaci, Jordan, and Michael. It was kind of amazing.
Apparently, I had been brought back to the ICU at 12:30, but was still completely out of it. The surgeon had visited my family after he was done in the OR and mentioned that everything went very well. They had broke open my sternum and cut away at the part of the heart muscle that was covering my artery. This type of surgery (unroofing of the LAD) is not nearly as common as a bypass or other heart surgeries. There are only two surgeons that do it at Mayo and each of them have probably only performed this specific procedure 30-50 times. Obviously, my family was very relieved to hear that everything was successful and sat in the waiting room until they were allowed to come see me.
I was pretty groggy when I woke up and it took me about 2 hours until I was slightly more present. I had a breathing tube in (along with two chest drainage tubes, 4 IVs, a catheter, a wound vac, and heart monitors), so I couldn’t talk. I tried to do some one-handed signing and everyone else had a good time trying to interpret what I meant. When Jordan had to leave to head back to Minneapolis to teach piano lessons I tried to tell him I loved him by holding up half of a heart with my right hand. My mom thought I wanted her coffee, but eventually Jordan and Jaci figured it out and we all had a good chuckle.
I was still in and out of sleep after Jordan left. Sleep just felt sooooo good, but the doctor said that if I wanted to get my breathing tube taken out I would have to stay awake and work on breathing and filling up my lungs. This was motivation to stay awake. However, it’s awkward to try to breathe on your own while you have a machine doing it for you too. Eventually, I got the go ahead to get it taken out, which isn’t the most comfortable process.
My dad and Jaci needed to head back to Hutchinson, so it was nice to be able to talk with them for a bit before they had to leave. Then it was just down to Mom and Michael.
I struggled with low blood pressure, pain, and a little bit of nausea the rest of the evening. My nurses helped me stay as relaxed as possible and did a wonderful job. My surgeon stopped by to visit and let me know how well things went. Then my cardiologist came in to check on me. Unfortunately, they both came by after a fresh dose of pain killers that made me pretty out of it. I’m not sure how coherent I sounded, but I’m sure both of them are used to seeing their patients like that?
Mom and Michael left later that evening. It had been a long and exhausting day for them too and they definitely needed (and deserved) some rest.
I’m still in awe at how great the day was. Everyone kept me calm and relaxed the entire day. I was surrounded by people I love and by the talented Mayo staff. Most importantly, the surgery went as planned. I am so thankful for all of these things!
TUESDAY-THURSDAY: RECOVERY IN THE HOPITAL
You never get much sleep in the ICU since you get woken up about every hour for vitals or medication or x-rays or blood work. I was tired enough that I would fall immediately back to sleep, but it still isn’t a super restful experience. I was glad once it was morning, so that I could just stay awake.
The morning in the ICU was spent getting out of bed (!), eating (!), and going for a walk (!) – all small wins! I was moved out of the ICU later that day.
I spend the next 3 days in the hospital. Some days and nights were easier than others.
- Going into Atrial Fibrillation (afib), which is basically heart palpitations. It’s not uncommon after heart surgery, since the heart muscle is still very aggravated.
- Feeling so hot all the time, despite my room set at a very cold temperature. My mom and Michael were freezing!
- Not being in a great mood. When I didn’t feel well I wasn’t in the brightest of moods, which made me feel even worse, because then I was terrible company to Mom and Michael who were stuck in the hospital with me.
- Interrupted sleep.
- Food tasted weird. My taste buds were off for the first few days – everything was heightened! It went away, but it was still hard to eat and I never had an appetite.
- Flower deliveries. (Thank you Jenn, Pete, and Remy; my noosa family; Cindy, Lynn, and Patty; Terry, Linda, and Misha!)
- A massage.
- Getting my catheter and chest tubes taken out.
- All the nurses telling me that I looked great and was healing really well.
- People signing my heart pillow.
- The amazing nurses that took care of me. I had about 12 nurses between Monday and Thursday and all over them were so kind and so wonderful.
- Having my mom and Michael with me (obviously Dad, Jaci, and Jordan too, but Mom and Michael were with me the entire time).
- A successful surgery.
- Getting out of the hospital 3 days after surgery.
The highs outweighed the lows.
I was surprised when they told me that I could leave the hospital. I couldn’t get out of bed without someone helping me yet and could barely walk on my own, was I really ready to leave? I guess I was.
My nurse let me shower by myself, which was a glorious, yet slightly terrifying experience. They went through all of my dismissal papers – how to take care of my scar, how to deal with my broken sternum, what medications to take, etc. One man stated, “It’s time to get your own beer now”, meaning that I’d have to start learning to be a little more independent.
Side note: I haven’t had any beer/alcohol while on oxy.
I was released from the hospital at about 12:30 on Thursday afternoon. I started crying. I don’t know why, but I did. I wasn’t sad or in pain, but I had tears streaming down my face. I really don’t know what was going on. Emotions catching up with me maybe? Who knows.
We had just enough time to go back to the Airbnb for a little bit before having to drop Michael off at the airport in Rochester.
I was sad to see him go back to Denver, but was grateful that he was there with me. He hung out in the hospital with my family. He slept in my freezing hospital room on a recliner that was too short for his 6’4” frame. He watched chick flicks with me. He encouraged me when I was doing well and lifted up my spirits when I wasn’t. Needless to say, I am extremely lucky to call him my boyfriend.
FRIDAY-TUESDAY: RECOVERY IN ROCHESTER
I spent the next few days in Rochester at an Airbnb with my mom.
My mom is the most amazing person. She was constantly cheerful, pushed me to go for walks and do my breathing exercises, cooked meals, adjusted pillows, took me on outings, watched Hallmark Movies & Mysteries with me, made sure I was comfortable, and kept me laughing (even though laughing really hurts with a broken sternum). She never complained or was in a bad mood. Seriously, she’s the best. I’m happy to have been able to spend so much time with her these last few months, despite the shitty circumstances.
Besides just spending time with each other, we were lucky to get visits from friends and family: Kenny, Megan, and Nyla brought us dinner on Friday night; Justine and Breanne brought us coffee, cookies, and scones on Saturday morning and then we had a Facetime session with Megan; my dad came to visit to watch the Vikings, go out to lunch, and walk around the mall; Donna and Glen took us out for ice cream; my godmother, Marguerite joined us for dinner.
Between the visitors, naps, movies, and walks the days flew by pretty quickly!
During this time I felt pretty good. I increased my walking distances and cut back on my pain meds. I was fairly independent, but still counted on my mom for quite a bit.
We went to Mayo on Monday for a follow up appointment and was happy to hear that everything was looking good – my scar, the chest tube sites, my vitals (aside from slightly low blood pressure)! I figured there wouldn’t be any issues, but it’s nice to hear positive feedback from a professional.
Since everything went well at my follow up appointment, we decided to head back to Hutchinson.
I fly back to Denver on Monday and will be spending the next few days in Hutchinson with my parents. It feels nice to be home, especially during these beautiful Minnesota fall days.
I feel surprisingly well. My limitations are that I can’t drive (3 weeks to go) and that I can’t lift anything above 5-10 pounds due to my broken sternum (5 weeks to go). Aside from that I’m not in too much pain. I try to stay on top of it with Tylenol throughout the day, but will add ½ of an oxycodone depending on what’s going on.
I’m grateful for friends and family who sent messages, who prayed, who sent flowers, who visited, who sent cards, who sent money, who sent care packages, who called. I’m overwhelmed by everyone’s kindness and am so lucky to have such amazing people in my life.
I’m thankful for the wonderful doctors and nurses at Mayo Clinic, who were all extremely talented and kind. There were a lot of patients at Mayo who were worse off than I was. I pray for them and their families and hope for health.
I’m proud of my body for going through surgery and healing fast. I have bruises and marks from IVs on my neck and both arms along with a pretty gnarly scar down the middle of my chest with two marks from my chest tubes below it. It doesn’t look pretty, but I’m still proud of it.
And now I’m well on the way to recovery! It’ll be a long journey ahead, but I have the determination and support system to make it happen.
LOVE YOU ALL!!!!!!