So, dear bloggists, the time has come for me to let you know what’s been happening for the past 4 weeks. I will try to be brief, but a lot has happened. If you read my previous bloggage you’ll know that I went into hospital on 12th February for an aortic root replacement operation. If you don’t like medical dramas you may like to skip to the bottom of the bloggage and read the conclusion after the heading below. And as you read bear in mind that I am writing this at home so it ends well. And one final warning – this is quite a long bloggage and while it doesn’t mention everything that happened or everyone who visited, it contains the ‘highlights’ of my three weeks in hospital.
The surgeon had told me that they considered it to be serious but routine and I went in feeling confident that I would be back home and beginning my convalescence within the 7-10 days that are usual. I have no memory at all beyond having to shave myself all over (yes, there was more hair on my head than on my body, which hasn’t happened for many years!) and put on a gown the night before. The next thing I can remember is being in intensive care after the operation and it was Wednesday. The operation had gone very well and I had the expected number of tubes, wires and apparatus attached to me, including an external pacemaker to help my heart regain its rhythm after having been stopped during the operation.
Over the next few days I improved enough to be able to go to the critical care section and the number of attachments slowly reduced. But there were a couple of occasions when, without warning, I blacked out. The doctors felt that the external pacemaker was not talking properly to my heart and talked about me perhaps needing an internal pacemaker because half of my heart was not returning to normal without a pacemaker’s help.
I enjoyed my birthday in hospital (although I was still a little spaced out on painkillers) and was thrilled that my wife and both children had come to see me. That meant so much. On the following day (19th Feb) I was sat in the chair beside my bed ready to eat my breakfast. The next thing I remember is waking up on the floor with an anxious-looking nurse about 6 inches from my face asking if I could hear her.
“Hello,” I said, wondering what had happened to breakfast. Apparently I had pitched forward from my chair, hitting the breakfast table on the way down and had ended up unconscious on the floor. After a lengthy period of time as the doctors checked me out they declared that I was ready to go back to bed and told me that I must remain there. They also said that this episode confirmed to them that the external pacemaker was not doing its job and that I would almost certainly have to have an internal, permanent pacemaker fitted. I spent the rest of the day in bed, being checked on regularly by nurses. In the middle of the afternoon another patient I knew well came around to see me.
As I looked at him I felt very woozy and said, “Sorry, I don’t think I’m up for a visit at the moment…”
The next thing I remember is being flat on my back on the bed surrounded by very concerned doctors and nurses who sounded very relieved that I was conscious again. This time had been really serious and I had gone into cardiac arrest. Only the quick thinking and actions of a doctor who shocked me back to life with a defibrillator had saved my life!
As I slowly came to the doctors were saying that they wanted me back in intensive care immediately with a view to having a permanent pacemaker fitted as soon as was possible. My wife, children and my Mum and her husband were all coming to see me and were somewhat surprised that I was not on the ward. I was able to chat with them very briefly and tell them that they were fitting a permanent pacemaker, but had asked that they weren’t told about the cardiac arrest as I didn’t want them to worry even more. Astonishingly the pacemaker was installed under local anaesthetic, although while I was conscious for the operation I have no memory of it. I was back in intensive care within an hour and a half and able to tell my family what an eventful day I had had.
Over the next few days as I recovered from the second surgery I was moved back upstairs to critical care (only one floor but felt like significant progress). On 21st I was finding myself feeling really breathless and a scan revealed that my left lung had filled with fluid. Apparently this often happens as the body’s defence mechanism against physical trauma so off I went for a drain to be fitted. Back on the ward I was feeling fine and looking forward to my visitors that afternoon as my dad, my sister and her daughter were coming to see me in addition to the ever-faithful Sally and Hannah.
One of the incredible privileges I had was meeting the doctor who saved my life with the defibrillator and being able to thank him personally. It’s an incredible experience being able to shake the hand and thank the person who saved you – I still get goosebumps thinking about it!
Just as my visitors arrived the pain levels from the drain increased massively. Every breath felt like I was being stabbed and oral morphine was not helping. It can’t have been an easy visit for those who had travelled so far to see me because I was not good company at all. Unknown to me my sister, who is a nurse, went and had a word with the nurses and suggested that they increase the pain relief, which they did, and for which I am so grateful. It became bearable once again.
Over the next few days the number of wires and tubes in me reduced until on Saturday afternoon a couple of nurses interrupted Sally and Hannah’s visit to say that they were going to remove the last couple of connections. Sally and Hannah went off to the patient lounge to wait and one of the highlights of my time in hospital was being able to walk unaided to the patient lounge to get them. The look of joy on Hannah’s face will remain with me for a very long time.
On the next day I threw myself into my exercise regime, determined to be fit enough to go home very soon. On the Monday I felt tired but put it down to having perhaps overdone things on the Sunday. But when the doctors came around on their normal ward rounds they used some words I didn’t understand and said that they wanted me to have a scan to make sure everything was okay. The operator came around later that morning and gave me a form of ultrasound scan. She told me that once the doctors had seen it they would come and speak with me. I wasn’t worried. I was wireless and ready to go home. By now I had progressed along the corridor from critical care to the more general care, and the expectation was that from there patients headed out of the ward and went home.
In the afternoon a doctor came to see me and said that the sac around my heart had filled with fluid after the operations, which is a usual defence mechanism, but that instead of slowly draining away it was still filling up. It was going to need an operation to drain it and they wanted to do it sooner rather than later as my heart was struggling in all the fluid. Sally came in at her usual time and while she was with me a selection of different anaethsetists and doctors came to see us to talk about what has going to happen. It was incredibly reassuring to hear one of them say that this was the simplest procedure that they do. But it did mean another general anasthetic and as it came close to the time for the operation there was a lengthy discussion about the implications of me having both a pacemaker and an occipital nerve stimulator inside me. Because by now it was evening all of the people they needed to consult had gone home and they made the decision to wait until the next morning so that they could be certain. I was VERY happy with that plan.
So, the next morning (26th February) I had a third operation and ended back in intensive care. Someone described it as feeling like a game of snakes and ladders where you almost make it to the finish and then land on a long snake that takes you almost back to the beginning. And I’d landed there twice! This time my stay in intensive care was measured in hours not days and I was soon heading back upstairs to critical care, complete with two buckets to collect the fluid. Over the next couple of days the amount of fluid was monitored (you would not believe how much was collected) and when there was negligible change over 24 hours they decided that the drains had done they job and could be removed. I won’t describe that process other than to say, “Ouch!”
With the drains out it wasn’t long before I was back at the low care end of the corridor and beginning to anticipate going home. There were various blood parameters to get right and another scan to check that the fluid really had gone (and stayed gone) but on Tuesday 6th March, just over 3 weeks since I was admitted, I finally came home.
I don’t know if you feel slightly strange when you come home after having been away on holiday, but it felt like that – only magnified considerably. I wandered around looking at what was familiar yet unfamiliar. It felt incredibly surreal. There was a brief moment when I wondered whether this was a wonderful dream, but that I would wake up back in my hospital bed. Thankfully that sensation receded and slowly but surely it started to feel ‘normal’ again. Sally cooked me a wonderful roast beef dinner followed by blackberry and apple pie (she’d asked me what I fancied) and each mouthful felt like a privilege (particularly bearing in mind how awful the hospital food was).
Start here if you’re squeamish
So how do I reflect on all that has happened?
- I feel an immense sense of privilege at all of the time, effort, expertise and expense that was given on my behalf to bring me to this place.
- I am humbled at the level of support, care and love that I have experienced from the hospital staff, from my family and friends. I am also blessed beyond measure by the number of people who have been praying for me. It was almost tangible to me!
- When I think about all that has happened to me I feel great joy that I am still here.
- I want to praise the NHS from the rooftops. Everyone I met was so amazing. There were little moments, like the lady who brought our fresh water jugs and wiped the bottom of them so that the tables were not flooded, and massive moments, like thanking the doctor who saved my life! Let’s make sure this incredible service is never taken for granted or undermined.
- I have experienced the depth and breadth of my family’s love for me in ways I could never have imagined beforehand. They are amazing people and I love them so much.
- My faith in Jesus Christ has only been enhanced by all that has happened. I have known a sense of peace about everything that has never wavered, even in the most difficult of moments. And it’s the peace from God that the Bible talks about that defies human understanding. I have a greatly enhanced attitude of gratitude and know the One to whom I am most grateful!
- I have gained a greater appreciation of the blessings of life, and indeed of life itself. I intend to make the most of what I have been given, and receive what lies ahead as a gift to be cherished, and life as something in which to flourish and bless as many others as I can.
If you have prayed for me, thought of me, sent me a card or facebook message (even just ‘liking’ one of my occasional posts), if you have supported my family and friends, if you are someone who has been taking care of me in hospital, however you have offered some encouragement, THANK YOU. It means so much to me.
There is still a lot of recuperating to do. I have ten significant new wounds in my body that will take time to heal; my stamina will need rebuilding gradually, and then it’s a process of cardiac rehab exercises once I have seen my surgeon in the middle of April. But I am determined to make the most of it! If you are interested in coming for a visit please phone in advance to check that I will be around (rather than at one of the many appointments) and allow us to space things out so it’s not too tiring (and if you call in an evening to make arrangements with Sally that would bless me).