Mitral Heart Valve Repair – 04/27/2020

My second scheduled day of surgery arrived. My first on March 16 was aborted because of an ill-timed ski trip to Vail on March 9, which triggered the high country self quarantine. On Thursday morning, April 16 amid unfavorable driving conditions Jane and I cautiously made our way to Boulder Community Health. When I checked Apple maps, I noted that the Boulder Turnpike was yellow from just west of I25 until the exit on Foothills Parkway. Fortunately we allocated sufficient time and arrived at our designated 6.45AM check-in. We answered questions about exposure to corona virus and travel, and then proceeded to the check-in kiosks. My number appeared on the sequential appointment screen, and I approached the registration person. After answering some basic questions she looked at me from six feet away and said I was not authorized, and would I be willing to sign a waiver stating that I would pay the cost, if my surgery was not approved by insurance. My leaking heart elevated with this surprise turn of events. I quickly rejected this concept, as thoughts of a $200,000 bill rumbled through my brain. The receptionist jumped on the phone and talked to someone, and when she hung up, she said the system was corrected, and we could proceed. I heaved a sigh of relief knowing that my surgery would not be cancelled for the second consecutive time.

Jane accompanied me, as we made our way to the cardiovascular unit on the second floor, and we were ushered into a pre-op room. As was the case on March 16, I removed my clothes and stuffed them in a bag I brought along and slipped into my hospital gown. Hospital gowns come in one size; extra large. Unlike the previous aborted trip, I knew in advance that Jane would not be able to visit me in the hospital, so my bag contained a bath robe, toiletries, an iPhone, iPad, charging cables, and three magazines. I was traveling light for this engagement. I got situated on the bed, and one nurse pushed a vaseline substance up my nostrils, while a pair of female nurses got out the tools. The tools I speak of are razors. Because I would soon be the proud bearer of an infinite number of tubes, wires and hoses; the women began to remove hair at an unprecedented clip (get it). The nurse and anesthesiologist meanwhile occupied my mind with questions, while the hair removal assault continued. This pretty much ends my recollection of the morning, as the drugs were released through the IV tubes, and the surgical staff had their way with me.

My next recollection was around 4PM on Thursday afternoon, at least I think I was told that time. I was on my back in the intensive care unit with numerous faces staring down at me. It reminded me of one of those fisheye lens photos that folks sometimes impose on the public. I think someone phoned my wife, and I uttered some incoherent gibberish, but I would not swear to it. Apparently the removal of my intubation tube was in progress. A person kept asking me a question, but it was impossible to reply with a large tube in my mouth. Can anyone explain the logic of this? It was kind of like the dentist asking you something with his hands in your mouth, only much more uncomfortable. Eventually my major hindrance to voice was removed, but my mouth and throat were an irritated mess.

My next focal point was the drainage tubes that poked me in my back. It felt like I sat on a sharp stick that had been gnawed off by a beaver, and I was forced to hold that position for twenty-four hours. If you ever get invited to such a torturous state, please decline. In an effort to encourage me the head nurse told me that I would feel much better when the tubes were removed on Friday around midday. The effect on me was not positive, as all I could think about was eighteen additional hours of pain. One positive, however, was to divert my attention away from the burning, pinching pain emanating from the groin incision, where the heart machine had been connected. You will hear more about this later.

A certain recipe for laughs in our family is to bring up Dave’s incoherent speech after undergoing anesthesia, and Thursday night was probably no exception. In our family storytelling forum I recount my version of what I was saying, and my wife or guest then refutes my thinking and reveals my actual muddled mutterings. If you have never done this, you should undergo a surgery just to engage in the fun practice. In this case, however, Jane was not allowed to be present, so I was unrestrained. I often wonder what sort of a fool I made of myself. I can only remember that my savior throughout the night was ice. The head nurse constantly dropped nugget ice in my mouth, and without it I am not sure I would be alive to tell this story. As it so happens, during my working career I was the VP- Finance of ICE-O-Matic, an ice machine manufacturing company. After one session that included three mouthfuls of ice, I decided to lecture the nurse on the various ways of making ice. I wonder how that came out? I suppose I will never know, but I swear I was perfectly lucid.

The number one goal for Friday morning was to get out of bed and into a chair. The thought of it made me queasy, but with adequate assistance from my nurses I made the move. You may be surprised to learn that hospital lounge chairs are no more comfortable than beds. While I’m on the subject of hospital beds, let me rant for a bit on that topic. The bed can be controlled by some arrow buttons along the side, and it moves in two ways. The legs can be elevated or the back can be tilted. The one section of the bed that cannot be directly controlled is the butt section. Aside from the drainage tubes, my next source of excessive pain was the two inch incision in my groin between my abdomen and the inside of my right leg. The slightest stretch or movement in my leg elicited a sharp burning, pinching sensation. When the nurse elevated my legs, my butt section sank deeper in the hole, and this placed increased pressure on my groin incision. Raising the back of the bed simply brought my abdomen forward so that my body was in a folded position with my upper body and legs raised. That hurt. I felt like a human being folded into a taco shell. The best the attending care givers could do was to stuff old fashioned pillows in various positions, until I found a point of least pain.

In order to test the mettle of hospital occupants even more, somebody came up with the idea of a hospital gown. Mine was at least five sizes too big, and it came with a small pocket on the right front. Every time I got out of bed, the nurse moved a 6″ X 4″ X 3/4″ heavy electronic module from the side of the bed into the sole pocket on the gown. Guess what? Inevitably the heavy box would sag down to my groin and rest against or bounce against my incision. There must be a better way.

After I accomplished the amazing feat of getting out of bed and dropping into my chair, I ate my first breakfast (Greek plain yogurt with honey and strawberries, a cup of black tea and an untoasted bagel with margarine that would not melt because the bagel was cold). By the noon hour someone decided that it was time to remove the drainage tubes. I looked forward to this event all night, but now I can barely recall it. I remember that some pain disappeared, but I think the groin incision and my impossible position in the bed or chair dominated my thoughts, and the tube removal boost never materialized. I would compare it to opening a Christmas gift and discovering that you already knew you were getting it.

On Friday afternoon I requested my electronic devices, so I could open up communication with friends and relatives. I Face-timed with Jane (I think I was coherent), and I sent a few text messages. I remember getting extremely frustrated, as my addled state of mind, poorly functioning digits, and predictive text and spell check were absolutely abusing me. These hindrances combined with a person, who writes every communication as though they are submitting a term paper for an A is a recipe for irritation. I can only hope that the nurses in the hallway could not hear my less than cordial language.

Friday night was a nightmare. The head nurse and assistant changed shifts, and eventually I would grow to like the new crew, I was not pleased with them on Friday night. They were professional and efficient, but for some reason my previous attendants seemed more caring. Maybe it was the preponderance of ice from the Thursday night guy that won me over. Has anyone else ever noticed the glacial progression of time during nighttime in a hospital? Can’t someone install a booster in the clocks? At any rate Friday night, April 17 was certainly the worst night of my life. Somehow I let the pain get ahead of me. I was quasi-lying/sitting in an uncomfortable position that stretched my groin incision beyond tolerance. Have you ever over inflated a football to the point that the internal bladder is visible between the seams? My groin was the bladder and the seams were the incision. The center of my chest felt like someone rammed it with a digging bar, and the right pectoral area was so sore, that it was numb. I reclined in my least painful position in the bed and counted throb after pinch. It was incessant, and I began to wonder, if a person could die from pain. The prospect of constant future pain is what really demoralizes the mind. and the clock hands seemed to be frozen in time. At one point the nurse came in to check on me, and it was dark and felt like 3AM, and they told me it was 8:30PM. I was a grumpy, stressed mental case, so I did what any red blooded man would do, I began begging for morphine. Well, I’m not sure I specified morphine, but I asked for relief. They asked my pain level, and I didn’t even lie and uttered 8. Several doses of morphine got me through the night, but it was the longest ever. What happened to the fun part of doing drugs? All I ever felt was the negation of pain, but I was thankful for that.

I made it through my low ebb, and the next installment will cover the final night and two days in Boulder Community Health.

1 thought on “Mitral Heart Valve Repair – 04/27/2020

  1. Carol Kehs

    Rough time, I’m surprised you could remember all of the details. It reminds me of my c- sections.
    Thanks for sharing.


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