Apr 30, 2012

Adventures in Open Heart Surgery Part 4

(Warning: Pictures may be too graphic for some readers)
I drove home in a fog.  It was about 4:15am and I was exhausted.  I was in such shock.  I was replaying the events of the day in my head.  It was unreal.  I came home and couldn't seem to unlock my own door.  Christian had been sleeping downstairs, waiting for me and opened it for me.  I replayed the events and my shock to him.  We just talked for a little while.  I walked up to my room, my mom had picked it up for me and gotten my bed ready for me.  I climbed into bed and tried to sleep.  I couldn't turn off the light.  I didn't want the reality of me being alone while Mark almost dying to be real.  I prayed and heartily thanked my Heavenly Father for allowing so many to help and save Mark's life.  I also thanked him for his love and comfort as well as all of the prayers and love I had received from others that day.  I finally fell to sleep at about 6:15.
About 7:30am, my mom came in to talk to me.  I told her everything.  I started crying so hard.  She came and held me while we cried together.
"Oh honey!  I wish you didn't have to go through all this.  I have never had to experience this sort of thing at such a young age and with little kids all around.  I am so sorry.  I would go through everything with your father again if it meant you didn't have to go through this."  It felt so nice to have my mom there, to cry together. I felt so much love and validation from her in that moment, it was the best feeling I had had in a while.
The kids started to wake up and I decided to let the boys stay home from school again with all that was still up in the air.  Suddenly the phone rang, it was Dr. Mitchell.  He said that they had just brought Mark our of anesthesia and that he was responsive.  He needed me to get there quickly.  I threw on some clothes and headed out the door.
The drive to the hospital seemed like an eternity.  I couldn't get there fast enough.  Clocks by Coldplay was playing on my stereo, it was a good fast driving song.  As soon as I parked I started to speed walk as fast as I could.  It just wasn't fast enough.  I started wondering if it would be wrong to run in a hospital.
I finally got to his room.  I got right up next to him and I could tell right away that he recognized me.  It was such a relief.

"I love you," he said.
"I love you too," I responded.
The nurse approached me.  "Did he recognize you?"
"Yeah, he did," I said smiling.
She put her hand on my shoulder and smiled, "That's REALLY good!"
I felt so relieved.  Dr. Mitchell came in to talk to me and Mark.  He asked Mark if he remembered anything from last night.  Mark responded, "I remember I thought I was dying.  I was so scared.  I remember seeing my mom."
Dr. Mitchell put his hand on Mark's shoulder.  "Yeah," he said with a pained sympathetic look.  "You were in a pretty bad state last night."

Mark's hands were more swollen the night before, if you can believe it.

The rest of the day was filled with Mark's siblings visiting.  Mark received a blessing of healing and comfort from his brother Brian and brother in law Mark.  I felt so bad for Mark.  He was in so much pain.  He had four chest tubes in(2 on either lung and 2 on either side of his heart).  He was on morphine, percocet and a super anti-inflammatory, but the chest tubes rubbing on his lungs was excruciating.  He was in and out of consciousness, but only conscious because his pain was so much.  He had many kind nurses.  I sat and talked with one and she said that she had heard about me.  She said that all the nurses were amazed by how calm I was during the night before.  I figured out why they were whispering about me that night.  :)

This picture was taken about 3 or 4 days after surgeries.  Normally, things don't look so gruesome, but they ripped the tape off to do the second surgery and it ripped his skin off along with it.  The middle bandage is where is heart tubes were, they had just taken them out.
A couple of days in the ICU and Mark was ready to go to the cardiac floor of the hospital.  By this time Mark was going on 2-3 assisted walks during the day.  They had him standing his first day in the ICU.  It was so difficult and painful for him, but he pushed through.  The cardiac rehab people would come in with a wheel chair, the would put the containers with his chest tubes in the wheel chair and they would slowly walk around the hospital.  It was so important for him to get all the fluid out and walking was one of the ways that would happen.  Another way he could get the fluid out was by coughing.  He had a heart shaped pillow that he would hug every time he would cough or sneeze.  He hated it, but he had to do it in order to get his chest tubes out.
These are what the chest tubes drained into.  They would measure how much Mark was putting out every two hours.  Believe it or not, he filled these up and had filled up part of another two.

The lovely chest tubes that were by his lungs.  These were the cause of most, well, probably all of Mark's pain in the hospital.
I do have a picture of the nurses pulling these suckers out, but I will spare you.  The nurse is showing how much of the tube was inside Mark.  It was about 10 in.  Most of the time Mark had these in they had to "strip" them.  They grab the top(closest to his chest) with one hand and squeeze, then with the other hand they would squeeze while sliding their fingers down to remove any clots that might block up the tubes.
There were a lot of ups and downs in the hospital, but after over a week in there he was able to go home.  He was so glad to finally be home.  He missed the kids and the outside air.  He felt like he was going crazy in the hospital, so they let him leave a couple of days early.
 Due to the narcotics, Mark was either freezing or sweating.  This made him quite miserable and not so pleasant to be around.  :)
 He couldn't sleep much at night, but he managed many a cat nap through out the day.
He was on oxygen for all but a couple of days while he was there.  This was after his chest tubes were taken out.  It hurt to get them out, but he was feeling much better, enough to even give me a smile.

Mark has had atrial fibrillation a lot since he has been home.  They are still trying to regulate it with medication.  He struggles from time to time with pain in his chest from certain physical activities, but over all, he is a miracle.  He returned to work after about 6 weeks at home.  He graduated from cardiac rehab early. Life seems just a little more normal.  We still have to go in to see the surgeon to get his INR(coumadin, blood thinner) level checked to prevent blood clots with the mechanical valve.  Mark said the surgeon talked about me last time.  He said that I was so amazingly calm when Mark was basically dying.  He said that he was amazed because no one is ever so calm when those things happen.  I suppose that's why they never asked me to leave the room and I got to stay there the whole time until he was taken to surgery.  It made me feel good to know that I did the right thing and that I wasn't just in the background.
I am so grateful for the many, many meals that were brought to my family, even when I wasn't home to feed the.  I am grateful for all of the love and support of all my friends, family and strangers.  I am thankful for the many people who babysat my kids or offered to babysit them.  I am thankful for the people who came and helped me clean my house when I wasn't home enough to do it.  I am thankful for two of the best friends anyone could ever have asked for, Kari and Janelle who put up with my kids, my tears and my psychosis.  They knew that Mark wasn't the only one who needed visitors at the hospital and visited me.  They kept me fed.  They kidnapped me regularly to help me stay sane.  They cleaned my house more than once.  They made me feel normal.  I hope everyone can find a couple of friends that they can feel so close to.  Last, but not least, I am thankful for my Father in Heaven who took care of Mark, me and my family.  He was always there, no matter how alone I felt.

Adventures in Open Heart Surgery Part 3

It was explained to me that I would go to the same waiting area I was in before.  This time I would not have a liaison since it was after hours.  They assured me that they would send out a nurse periodically to let me know how everything was going.  I headed down to the surgical waiting area.  I was well acquainted with it.  I just stood there in the doorway and stared.  I saw a woman there.  It was about 9:30pm, so I politely asked her what brought her there.  She told me that her husband had broken his thigh bone that day so they were putting a rod in.  She asked me why I was there.  I said, "Oh, my husband is having open heart surgery...again...today."  She said she was sorry and asked his age.  "36."
"Oh wow!" she said.
It was at that moment that I realized the seriousness of what had just happened and what was currently happening.  I felt as though all the angels that were keeping me afloat in the ICU had followed Mark.  I felt like collapsing.  I went and sat down and decided I needed to tell someone.  I called my mom and explained what I could in that state.  She realized it was serious and said that they were going to go and have family prayer.  Then I called Mark's sister, Jeanette.  I was crying at this point.  I explained to her what I could and she suddenly interrupted me, "Do you want me to come over there?"
"Yeah," I said crying.
"Okay, I will be there in 15 minutes."
I knew I needed to call Kari.  I didn't want her to feel like she had to be there(even though that's what I really wanted).  I called her.  "Kari?"
She could tell I was crying, "Oh my gosh, Danielle.  What's happening?"
"They had to take him back into surgery."
She sounded upset, "Do you want me to come over there?"
"You don't have to.  You need to be with your family.  You've been gone all day."
"Danielle, they're fine.  I'm coming right now."
Jeanette arrived and I explained things in better detail.  She began calling Mark's siblings to let them know what was going on.  I posted a status on facebook so that I wouldn't have to make a lot of phone calls.
The next thing I knew, Kari was there.  She was crying.  "Danielle!  I knew I shouldn't have left.  I had a feeling that I should stay with you, but I ignored it!  I knew I shouldn't have left you.  I'm so sorry."
I assured her that it was okay.  No one knew this was going to happen.
Suddenly a male nurse came in and let us know that Mark was now on bypass.  I knew again that this meant his heart was not beating for the second time in one day.  It all still seemed surreal.
Jeanette's husband, Nate came for a little while when he got off of work.  We all chatted for a little while.  Time still seemed to drag.
Once Nate left I started to feel very tired.  I only slept 2 hours the night before.  It was about midnight.  I kept refreshing my facebook page thinking, somehow, that I would receive updates on Mark's progress.  I didn't get any updates for a long time.  As late as it was, so many people were commenting on my status.  So many of them were saying that they weren't going to sleep tonight until they knew everything would be okay.  Others said that they were praying for us and thinking about us.  I couldn't believe the outpouring of support and love from so many people.  My family members were all posting and asking for prayers on our behalf as well.  I couldn't believe the responses they were also receiving.  It was amazing.  It brought me such a peace and comfort.  I knew so much that I wasn't alone.  People on earth and in heaven were helping us and supporting us in any way possible.
Around 1am I started to feel a little drunk.  Apparently, I started saying weird things and acting really weird. I remember Jeanette and Kari laughing at me a lot.  I felt so weird and I thought I was doing a good job being normal.  I remember worrying that the Dr. would come in to talk to me and think that I was too crazy and wouldn't let me see Mark.  I vaguely remember something about corn dogs with hot tamales in them and Kari pushing me down, trying to make me sleep.  During this sleep deprivation psychosis, the nurse came back in to tell us that they were transitioning Mark off the bypass machine.  I didn't know how he was doing and the nurse didn't tell me.  A little while after that he came back to tell me that he was off of the bypass machine and his heart was beating again.  I still did not know how he was doing.
I remember talking to the nurse and him gradually getting closer to the exit.  Kari said that I was yammering on about who knows what and the whole thing seemed very awkward to the poor nurse.  I have no idea what I said, but he was nice enough to pretend like I wasn't completely out of my mind.
Around 2:30am Dr. Mitchell came out to tell me how everything went.  I was on a second wind and felt quite alert and aware of things.  I could tell his demeanor was so different compared to the first surgery.  He looked so tired, but had a very serious face.  He sat down with me to explain what happened:
"Now, you know we intubated him.  We thought that would help stabilize him, but it just wasn't working.  We had to work quickly to get him on bypass.  Normally this takes an hour to an hour and a half.  We had him on bypass within 22 minutes.  We were really having to work fast to get him on it.  Once we got him on bypass he got severe pulmonary edema.  Now, the body had a lot of fluid and our lungs are like a couple of sponges and his lungs just soaked up all that fluid.  What this means is that because of the pulmonary edema, we could not get enough oxygen to him the entire surgery.  No matter what we did, he just couldn't get enough.  You know that we went ahead and replaced the valve.  I had to use the largest size of valve and I probably could have gone larger, but they don't make them any bigger.  As soon as we got him off of the bypass machine his pulmonary edema went away and he had a good urine output, so that problem is gone.  The problem now is that he went a long time without enough oxygen.  This is very serious.  We aren't going to bring him out of anesthesia yet.  We are going to let him sleep until about 8 or 9 in the morning.  Then we will wake him up and start asking him questions like name, the year, who is the president.  Things like that.  I am going to need you there when he wakes up because we are going to need to know if he recognizes you.  They are still getting him situated in the ICU.  He's been through a lot, so it's going to be a little while still, but you can head on up to the waiting area up there."
Jeanette headed home and Kari and I headed upstairs to the ICU waiting area.  I was so anxious to see Mark again.  I knew he wouldn't be conscious for a while, but I wanted to see with my own eyes that he was okay.  There was a younger man sleeping on one of the couches in the waiting area.  I wondered who he was there for.  In places like this you realize so many people are dealing with scary situations and you get curious as to what their story is.  Kari laid down on the couch and I sat anxiously, waiting for them to tell me I could see Mark.
It was just after 3:20am.  "Kari, maybe they just forgot that I am here.  I'm going to check if I can see him yet."  I headed down the hall and saw one of Mark's nurses coming toward me.
"I was just coming to get you," she said with a smile.
I got to Mark's room and I felt so relieved to see him.  I pulled up a chair and sat next to him.  I held his hand and just looked at him.  He looked terrible.  He was so swollen that his eyelids couldn't close.  His hands were huge and he had more IVs than before.  He was still on the respirator and would be until morning.  I put my arm on the bed-rail and laid my head on it.  I just held his hand and rubbed it.  I still had a huge hurdle with the brain damage situation, but I was just happy to see that he was alive.
As I sat there, I struggled in my mind with going home and cleaning up, perhaps getting a little sleep or just staying until they woke him up.  I decided I really needed to rest a little bit and the ICU(with its evil hard chairs) was no place to do that.  I kissed his hand and went to wake up Kari in the waiting room.