THE BLOG
09/19/2014 01:51 pm ET Updated Nov 19, 2014

I Had a Heart Murmur (Part 5)

When I last posted, it was the evening after my surgery, and I wasn't in the mood to do an inventory of the various things inserted into or attached to my body. When I awoke the next morning in the ICU, here is what I found: an external pacemaker stuck to my upper chest to give my heart a little shock if it began to beat irregularly; a portable and wireless EKG consisting of a small controller that fit into a pocket on the front of my gown, with wires attached to several patches stuck to various locations on my upper body (like a reuglar EKG) broadcasting continuous readings to a monitor; a drainage tube inserted above my stomach, draining fluids and blood from around my heart and the incision; a catheter inserted into my penis draining urine (good news... didn't have to get up to pee; bad news... do I have to spell it out?); IV port in the back of my hand into which all IV fluids and drugs flowed; plastic oxygen tube in my nose; clip on the end of one finger to measure blood oxygen content; and, support stocking hooked up to a pump contracting and releasing to prevent blood clots from forming. Sound TERRIBLE? It really wasn't. Nothing hurt. It was mainly cumbersome to move around. I got up three times during the day to walk the halls with a physical therapist, who held a strap placed around my chest so that he could catch me if I fell. I also dragged along my IV cart. Later in the afternoon the chest tube and the catheter were removed. Let me just say that its a good thing that you are asleep when the catheter goes IN! Actually not as bad coming out as the thought of it coming out.

Day 3: I stayed in the ICU as no bed was available outside of the ICU, but the ICU protocols (around the clock vitals, etc.) stopped. I went to a "soft" diet but I really didn't have any appetite. My biggest complaint was that my lower back was really sore, I think because the bed was very soft. I guess that this is by design to prevent bed sores. One of the nurses told me that this was a common complaint and that some patients actually chose to sleep on the floor. My arms and shoulders were also sore, and this lasted a few weeks. I was told that this was from the "stretched-out" position during surgery. I had several stronger walks with Wendy without the therapist or the strap. I walked some stairs for the therapist as this was a pre-condition for release since I have stairs in my home. The highlight of the whole ordeal came that evening when one of the ICU nurses told me how amazingly fast my recovery was going. She said that one of the other nurses had commented that I was the first open-heart surgery patient she had had that "didn't have a tummy." I laughed and said that I indeed did have a tummy. She said, "that's not a tummy." Boy, I think I love this place. Had another mostly sleepless night due to back pain.

Day 4: I was moved out of the ICU and had the pacemaker and oxygen removed. I still don't have any appetite. I was moved to a "heart-healthy" diet. When I uncovered dinner, I got very nauseous. One of my doctors (Dr. Berger, I think, but not sure) gave me permission for Wendy to bring me a MacDonald's cheeseburger. The hospital staff was aghast. Another small issue that arose was that you are supposed to have a bowel movement before you are released to ensure that your systems are working. I had passed gas, but no BM. Then, one of the PAs (physician assistant) told me that many people just lie, as there is no visual inspection. It's a BM honor code. This removed all of the pressure, so, of course, I went.

Day 5: I was home by noon and went outside for a 10-minute walk. I got a little winded at 7 minutes but it felt great to be free. I actually had a pretty good night's sleep.

Day 6: I took two walks by myself, the second one about two miles. My chest is still sore, especially night, but well controlled with good codeine-based drugs. I am coughing quite a bit from irritation from the breathing tube, and I have to sleep on my back. I had asked Dr. Somers' nurse, before surgery, when I could sleep on my side. She said that when I can turn over without waking up, then its OK to do so.

Day 7: I did an hour on the exercise bike this morning and took a two-mile walk in the afternoon. I have lost eight pounds and dropping.

Three Weeks: Wendy and I took a previously planned trip to Northern Wisconsin. We took a 26-mile bike ride and I felt pretty good. I got a little light-headed walking up hills. My chest is still sore at night, especially when I overdo it during the day. Weight down 12 pounds.

Four Weeks: Cleared by Dr. Berger (cardiologist), Dr. Somers (surgeon) and Dr. Block (internist). My hemoglobin is still low so I need to eat more MEAT. YES! Dr. Berger told me that I could push my exercise more, so I moved up to my pre-surgery three hours of cardio each morning. No weight lifting or golf for another month to let my breastbone heal. I started in the cardio rehab program at the hospital, primarily to get a baseline as I exercise with the EKG attached. I know I won't stay long at the exercise level and duration is far lower than what I am doing on my own.

Five Weeks: We took a trip out West, with a lot of hiking, including a 14-mile hike in Aspen at 9000+ feet altitude. I emailed summit pictures to Drs. Berger and Somers with my thanks.

As I write this it is three months after surgery. I have no pain. I am back to weight-lifting and golf. My weight-lifting is not 100 percent pre-surgery but getting close. I gained back all of my damn weight (my fault) and I still suck at golf (I blame the surgery).

See you for a final wrap in three months.