Recovering From Open Heart Surgery

Leslie Lafayette Health Guide
  • For a few weeks, I have been sharing my personal experience with open heart surgery.  I promised myself I would be entirely honest about what the experience was like for me. Last time, I recalled the elation of the night after my surgery - the peace and reasonable quiet of the private room in the ICU, the glimmering lights in the darkness, the constant presence of a comforting nurse, the relief that such a big surgery was behind me. The gratitude I had to be alive.


    And then came the dawn.


    With the light, I began to really take in the surgery I had just come through. From 7 AM the day before I had been in a hospital gown on a gurney, and either in the OR or in ICU. I had not had any water until an hour before, I had been given copious amounts of anesthesia and drugs, I had had my heart stopped and a machine breathe for me and pump my blood. I had been chilled down to 60 degrees. I had my mitral valve repaired with five parachute style stitches which were tied down and an annuplasty ring placed in the valve. And somewhere along the way, my surgeon discovered a hole in my heart (an atrial septal defect) and put a patch on that as well. In other words, my doctors fussed around in my heart for quite awhile and had to enter all the way from my right side through my rib cage to do it.

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    And now, I was feeling it.


    I was sore in places I didn't know you could be sore. I couldn't take a deep breath without it really hurting, so I didn't take a deep breath, which was to cause concern and problems later.


    I was actually hungry, but no one would feed me. Instead, my nurse (who was far less friendly than the one during the night) sent in two orderlies who proceeded to "help" me sit up with the bedsheet behind me wrapped around me, and plopped me into a chair. For someone who had walked briskly and confidently into the hospital the morning before, I felt like a 90 year old invalid with her shoes on the wrong feet.


    Someone took pity on me and gave me some morphine. Now I felt like an 90 year old invalid who was nodding off and drooling.


    And that's when my surgeon decided to show up with his entourage of assistants, to say hello, let me know how I was doing, and cheer me up. 


    Let's just say I wasn't at my best. I liked my surgeon, Dr. Richard Shemin, very much and trusted him implicitly. I wanted to be sitting across a desk from him, dressed for success, engaging in witty repartee. Instead, I kept dozing and winking. I was actually trying to focus my eyes.


    First, he told me that the surgery had been more complicated than he had anticipated. My mitral valve was thickened, and required a lot of work in order to save it, rather than take it out and replace it.  He was determined to save it, and said that without the Da Vinci robot this would have been impossible.


    Then he threw in the surprise about the hole in my heart, asked if I had any questions, wished me a speedy recovery, told me several doctors would be visiting, and before I knew it, he was gone. I was to sit in that chair for another two hours before someone helped me get back into bed and actually fed me the worst tasting jello I ever had, and some - what else? chicken broth.  What is the old joke? It couldn't hurt.


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    (Next week, Leslie's recovery continues.)

Published On: May 17, 2011