Operation Iron Man: The Recovery (week 1)

Well friends, here we are exactly one week post-op. It already seems like months since I was sitting in the waiting room with my sister-in-law, Jackie, waiting for the hourly reports from the operating room. Oh what a difference a week makes!

When Herb first came out of surgery, he was in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (CVICU). Jackie and I were allowed to see him right away. We were warned about the ventilator and many drainage tubes. Basically, the message was, “Don’t freak out.”

Despite all that, Herb looked surprisingly good. To me, he looked like he had fallen asleep with a big straw in his mouth. I was praising God for a successful surgery! It was easy for me to ignore all the beeping and clicking of the monitors. I guess all those weeks we spent with our daughter in the NICU taught me to be calm in these situations. Jackie, was more concerned every time she heard an alarm. I reassured her that it doesn’t matter how many alarms you hear, if no one comes running, everything is fine.

That was about 12:30pm. The nurse told us that it would take Herb between 3 and 6 hours to fully wake up and to be taken off the vent. I absolutely HAD to leave the hospital by 5:00 pm to pick up my kids from daycare. I fervently prayed that Herb would wake up and be off the vent before then. I had made a promise.

My step-sister’s boyfriend had the same operation a couple of months ago. Nancy and Mike have been an invaluable resource for us in the “what to expect” department. One thing they emphasized was that after the surgery, the doctors let you wake up naturally. They also leave in the vent tube to assist with breathing until you can breathe “over” the vent on your own. Waking up with an uncomfortable tube down your throat can be frightening. Your body will naturally fight against it and most patients (including Herb) need to be restrained to prevent them from pulling out the vent. The key is to stay calm and breathe deeply.

Nancy recounted how hard that process was for Mike and that her gentle presence helped to keep him calm. I made the same promise to Herb. I was determined not to let him go through that alone.

Jackie and I were encouraged by the nurses to talk to Herb to help him wake up. I held his hand as his eyes fluttered. He saw me and managed a smile. Yes, we could do this. For the next few hours we kept talking and comforting him. I was painfully conscience that time was ticking away and I wouldn’t be able to stay much longer. Ugh! The respiratory technician wasn’t happy with his blood oxygen levels, and wanted to re-test about 5:00 pm.

I prayed, “Oh Lord, please let Herb get off this vent before I have to leave!”

At 4:45 pm, the nurses kicked Jackie and me out of the CVICU. They needed to see if Herb could breathe over the vent without us there to stimulate him awake. Tick, tick…I was a nervous wreck!

Five o’clock clock came and went. I was pacing like and expectant father. At 5:15 pm I had waited as long as possible. I picked up the phone to the nurse’s station and asked how it was going…they had just removed the vent! I rushed to Herb’s side, gave him a quick kiss and told him I would be back that evening.

Those few hours were absolutely the most stressful of the whole process (besides the extra week we had to wait for the surgery).

Herb spent about 48 hours in the CVICU before being moved to a regular hospital room. Jackie stayed with Herb during the day while I was at home trying to keep the kids on a normal schedule. My sister, Gretchen, came to our house after she got off work. She took care of the kids and spent the night so I could be with Herb overnight. Jackie returned to the hospital about 4:30 am so I could get home to wake up the kids for school.

I am SO happy that this routine only lasted a few days because it was an exhausting schedule!

Herb’s surgery was Wednesday and Sunday morning we got the news that we were ready to hear…Herb was coming home!

That first night was pretty rough. I was nervous that he was going to fall or somehow hurt himself. Before the surgery we borrowed a recliner for Herb to sleep in (another great Nancy and Mike suggestion!). Unfortunately, we learned that it didn’t actually recline. The foot rest extended, and that was about it. Herb tried laying flat in the bed, but it was just too painful. We both ended up on the downstairs couch for the night. Herb slept sitting up.

Neither of us got much sleep and the kids still woke up at 6:30 am sharp. I was grateful that they were out of school for Martin Luther King Day–no rushing to get kids out the door!

As usual when I need to talk stuff out, I called Gretchen. Sometimes all it takes is a brief conversation with my sister to see things straight. I told her about the chair and that we were going to have to rent a recliner for Herb. She suggested we try a medical supply company instead of a rent-a-place. Her suggestion was spot-on. We found a medical supply store that rented sleep/lift chairs. Herb found one he liked (remote control, adjustable lumbar support, etc.). The best feature was the lift option. It could get him to almost a standing position without him using his arms to push up his body weight (which is a big no-no after this type of surgery). I was happy that we could rent it week-to-week. Even better, was that they could deliver that afternoon.

By 3:30 pm, he was living large! That night, we both slept a lot better.

School was closed Tuesday (yesterday) due to a pending winter storm. The snow didn’t start falling until the late afternoon, so we had plenty of opportunities for Herb to do some walking up and down our front walkway. He felt good enough to try going up the driveway to the street. It’s a pretty steep climb, but we took it slow and he did great.

We got less than and inch of snow, but the dangerous part of the storm was going to be the extreme cold. By 6:00 pm, we heard that the schools were going to be closed today as well because of potentially icy conditions. We woke to 11* with the wind chill at -4*! That is the coldest we’ve seen since we moved to Tennessee in 2015.

This morning Herb felt good and said he wanted to try sleeping in our bed tonight. I suggested that he try taking a nap in the bed first, just to see if he could get in and out without any trouble. He had no problems and had a very restful sleep. If things keep going well, we are going to return the super-recliner on Monday!

One of (the many) things Herb and I are grateful for, is that he has no pain. None. The first couple days home he had some back spasms from sitting in one position too long, but that’s it. Now his back feels fine. He also hasn’t needed the “lift” option on the recliner since the first night. He just naturally has been able to get up on his own. Also, he is able to eat meals with us at the dining room table. This family time is very important to us and I’m overjoyed that he can be a part of it so soon.

We keep reminding ourselves that it has been only a week since the surgery and it takes 3 months for the sternum to completely heal. I am making sure he doesn’t over-do it. We don’t want him to injure himself and end up back in the hospital. It will be another 3 weeks (minimum) before he will be able to drive.

We give God all the glory for this positive report.

I feel compelled to say at this point that praising God that things are going well doesn’t mean that we aren’t going to have bad days. We choose to praise God anyway. God isn’t faithful just because Herb is healing ahead of schedule, God is faithful always, no matter the circumstances.

During my time with God before the surgery, when fear was trying to win, I felt the Holy Spirit prompting me. I contemplated how as Christ-followers we are quick to say, “Praise God!” when things go our way. But, how often do we say, “Glory be to God!” when we watch a loved one die from a long, painful battle with cancer? Or when a parent has to bury a child? I’ve done both.

I did rejoice when my friend was set free from her cancer-ravaged body. I was not so grateful when standing at my baby girls’ graves.

God is either good, or He isn’t.

God is faithful, or He isn’t.

God is trustworthy, or He isn’t.

I don’t just blindly choose to say “He is.” I can read scripture and see how God gave us His best when he gave us Jesus. Trusting God does not mean that nothing bad will happen. It means that no matter what happens, Jesus is enough.

Fear says, “What if…”

What if the bypass grafts fail?

What if Herb has a heart attack?

What if I lose the love of my life and am left to raise my children on my own?

Faith says, “Even if…”

Even if the bypass grafts fail, God is good.

Even if Herb has a heart attack, Jesus is Lord.

Even if the unthinkable happens, The Holy Spirit is forever with me.

 

But for today, we are celebrating Herb’s health and recovery.

Rejoice today friends! Let’s encourage each other in Christ Jesus!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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