Full Circle x 2?

Hello everyone! Well, it’s again been about a year since I last updated this blog,, and, what a year it’s been! After much thought and emotions I decided to make a career change last spring and moved to the Stanford cardiology department (outpatient) from the VA ICU where I spent nearly 20 incredible years. The reasons for the transfer were multiple and although I miss the ICU dearly, my back and shoulders do not as I was suffering from chronic pain daily due to some old volleyball injuries.
I spent my first 6 months at Stanford as a part time float nurse coordinator in Cardiology and had the wonderful experience of working with several different outstanding cardiologists. I’m incredibly appreciative and amazed at the expectations of excellence in patient care AND the leadership support that makes it possible at Stanford. This part time work allowed me to improve my work/life balance but also made me realize that I do better with a full plate and stay more organized the busier I am (in other words I’m a slacker at home if I don’t have a little fire under my butt). In late November, I moved to a new position within the same department as a fulltime nurse coordinator with the Transcatheter Heart Valve Clinic.
My family and I had an amazing trip to Hawaii in June but during that trip I had a hard time with the heat and staying hydrated. I also caught some viral illness that left me with nearly daily low grade fevers for about 6 weeks. A couple of weeks after our trip I landed in the ER at work with tachycardia and some concerning cardiac symptoms. The doctors ruled out a PE as I’d just been on a fairly long flight back home and after one night in the ER I was sent home with instructions to stay hydrated.
Fast forward a few weeks and I still was dealing with fatigue and some shortness of breath. I was offered a spot in a study that allowed me to have a free gated coronary CT scan with our brand new state of the art CT scanner at Stanford and I jumped at the chance. I underwent the CT scan in late July and a few days later received the shocking report.
The outstanding physicians at Stanford sat me down and reviewed my CT images with me, sharing their concern that my graft is likely closed off and that I need to start considering what my plan of action will be. I was still feeling fairly good so took this knowledge to Kaiser where I underwent a stress test and passed with flying colors and no further workup.
Over the next several months I continued to live life as usual, having a slight increase in some concerning symptoms but nothing that impacted my daily life. Then, in early December I had an episode of chest pain and profound shortness of breath while walking up the ramp at the Oakland Coliseum after a concert with my family. This is when I knew something was seriously wrong.
I’ve spent the last month or so dealing with this shortness of breath anytime I exert myself (stairs, chores, carrying groceries, etc.). It’s very disconcerting and that, coupled with the occasional episodes of chest pain that are becoming more frequent have been very worrisome.
I had already switched insurance to Stanford during open season back in November so when my new insurance became active I immediately went to see our adult congenital cardiologist who just so happens to specialize in coronary artery anomalies. I’d worked with him over the summer a few times in general cardiology and he’s a fantastic physician and person. He has specialized training in cardiovascular imaging as well.
My first appointment with him and his team was a few days ago and after reviewing my history, my CT scan from last summer, and my risks, we’ve decided my best option is for a 2nd open heart surgery. This time the surgery will be done by one of our amazing congenital heart surgeons who operates on both children and adults. Because of my very rare anomaly my best/only long term option is for translocation of the pulmonary artery and unroofing of my left anterior descending artery (on the CT they also found my LAD is covered in some heart muscle so may also be compressed). I’ve been scheduled for surgery in late April and my husband Larry and I meet with the surgeon in a week and a half. It will be done on the children’s side of the hospital and I will go to the pediatric CVICU post operatively.
While this news is terrifying, shocking, and downright crazy, I can’t help but appreciate how lucky I am to again have access to world class care and the skills of a world class surgeon. It is going to be a long wait and I”m hopeful everything will turn out ok, but, as many of you know, there is no such thing as a routine surgery.
I’m going to continue to focus on managing my stressors, blood pressure, and enjoying free time with my family. I am continuing to work fulltime and am striving to make a difference in our patient’s lives.

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Where has the time gone?

Hello everyone! It’s been over 2 years since I’ve updated this blog but I’m happy to say I’m still here and still going strong! I’m coming up on my 5-year CABG-versary on March 25, 2015 and I’m feeling great! What I’ve learned in these past years is that family and friends you can trust and cherish are the most important things in life. I try to live every day to the fullest and although my fitness isn’t quite where I want it (more due to some chronic old volleyball injuries flaring up), I still make it a point to at least walk a few times a week. My goals this year including completing a 5K in August and possibly a metric century bike ride as a fundraiser for the American Heart Association. My family and I are also going to Kona in June, my first time to the Big Island! I’m looking forward to sun, sand, and spending some quality family time with my husband and son. All in all, 2015 is shaping up to be a pretty good year! What are your goals and dreams?

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Two and a half years!

Well, it’s been almost 10 months since I last updated this blog but that’s only because I’ve been out living life! This past week (September 25th) marked my 2 1/2 year post-op anniversary. In some ways I cannot believe it’s been that long, it seems like it was just yesterday. At other times it seems almost surreal that the whole thing even happened!
2012 has been a challenging year overall but it’s also been a ton of fun! We went on vacation to Texas in June to visit friends and had a fabulous time despite the fact that our son was sick the entire time. Upon returning home we all were sick and he got sicker, finally being diagnosed with mononucleosis! I didn’t even know six year olds could get mono but we I learned the hard way. After 9 days of high fevers and the associated miserable symptoms he finally improved but was pretty much isolated all summer because of fatigue and we didn’t want him spreading it to other kids. Once August rolled around the whole family was back to normal and back in action.

I should mention that before our vacation Larry and I completed the 2012 San Jose Gladiator Rock N Roll run. It was the most fun I’ve ever had in an event and my first obstacle/mud run. It was 4 miles of torture as it was on the trails of Mt. Hamilton above San Jose and was a very challenging and hilly course. Of course I trained minimally as I’d been battling plantar fascitis since January but I got through it! I finished in 1:34 and my heart rate was pretty much maxed out the entire time with no symptoms. Upon return to work I told my cardiac surgeons what I did and showed them a few pictures. After declaring I was “crazy” one said, “well, at least we know your heart works just fine now!”

Somehow the time has flown by and it’s now almost October. My son is in 2nd grade and loving it. I’m trying to still get rid of the damn plantar fascitis and get back in shape after resting for 5 weeks. All that 5 weeks did was get me out of shape so I’m back at it at the gym. My heart is doing well and although I’m kept on a short leash by my physician as far as appointments go I have no restrictions and am enjoying every moment. I’ve learned that there are times that medications need to be adjusted, etc. and that’s just the life of a heart patient.

That’s enough chit chat for now…we are on vacation now so it’s time to get back out there and live life to the fullest!

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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone!
I can’t believe 2012 is already here! I’m coming up on my 2 year post-op anniversary and looking back I can’t believe it’s been that long! While I’ve had my ups and downs cardiac-wise I’m feeling great overall and am planning on doing (notice I said “doing” and not “racing”) a sprint triathlon in April, an obstacle course run in May (www.gladiatorrocknrun.com), and possibly an open water swim this summer. I feel blessed to have had my heart problem fixed and am gradually working my way back to fitness…it’s been a long slow climb but I’m getting there. I’ve also been constantly reminded of the importance of family, friends, and that it’s the little things in life that matter. Over New Year’s we took our son (6) to Reno, NV to spend a couple of nights at Circus Circus…while it was super crowded and exhausting nothing beat the smile on his face playing games in the Midway and winning stuffed animals. He also experienced a bit of snow for the 2nd time in his life (he was too young to remember the first time) and loved it. While I don’t think he’s the type of kid we’ll be able to get out on a snowboard at least it’ll be fun to go up and go tubing or sledding in it!
I’m asking each of you to consider what’s important in your life and what positive changes you’d like to make…for me, most of all it’s important to live life with no regrets…this was my motto 20+ years ago when playing volleyball and winning 2 National Championships and it continues now.

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Where does the time go???

Hi everyone!
Well, first of all I can’t believe Halloween has passed and the Christmas decorations are already out in Target! I came through my tonsillectomy relatively unscathed…it wasn’t a pleasant experience and I’d have thought it was even worse if I hadn’t had open heart surgery…compared to that it was a piece of cake! Three weeks after surgery, and one week after being released to exercise my hubby and I completed the 1st San Jose Firefly Run. It was a super event run at night with lots of runners in crazy glowing costumes and a DJ. All in all it made for a great, party-like atmosphere and we’ll definitely do it again! The rest of October was spent visiting a couple of pumpkin patches and a corn maze.
On my heart front everything seems fairly stable…I still get tons of PVCs but as long as I stay away from caffeine and too much chocolate they are ok. My MD has lengthened my leash and I now only have to see him every 6 months instead of every 3. Woo hoo! I’ll still be getting yearly echocardiogram’s just to track my cardiac function with all the PVCs.
I have a couple of websites I’d like to share as they have been very helpful in my recovery and return to an active life:

Don’t you all forget to take care of your hearts either!

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More surgery!

Hello everyone! It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog, almost 6 months to be precise! Why? Because I’ve been out livin life! I’m now almost 18 months post-CABG and feel fantastic. After some med adjustments we seem to have finally gotten my coronary spasms under control and I haven’t had any angina since May…woo hoo! I’m enjoying the last days of summer and my son has started 1st grade already! I did get a bit emotional at the beginning of the school year when the thought crossed my mine that I’m damn lucky to be here! I now feel almost as if I never had surgery except when I look in the mirror and see my zipper.
But…I’m having yet another surgery (I’m now joking that surgery is my hobby, not operating, but being operated on!). I’m scheduled for a tonsillectomy on Sept. 21st. I’m actually pretty nervous because I had such horrible nausea/vomiting with my heart surgery. I know this is a minor surgery compared to that but I have to admit I have a little PTSD about the thought of going under the knife yet again…this will be the 11th time in my 41 years I’ve had some sort of surgery! And, I’m hoping it’ll be my last! I hope everyone is enjoying life and remembering what’s important! Family and friends!

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1 Year Post-Op Anniversary!

Hello All,
Wow, it’s been one year post-op as of Friday, 3/25/11. This year has been one of the most challenging of my life as far as recovering from the surgery, dealing with the “why me?” aspect, and getting back to regular life. I had hoped to bring in a nice cake for our ICU staff and have a potluck on Friday but life thwarted that. Our son was admitted to the pediatric ward early Tuesday morning of last week for a bad case of strep pneumonia. It was scary as his vitals were definitely out of whack when he was first admitted and he spent almost 3 full days in the hospital. He’s better now and at home recovering but this also taught me that it’s FAR harder being on the other side of the bed watching a loved one sick than it is being sick yourself. If I could have traded places with him I would have done so in a heartbeat.
I can honestly say that at one year I feel 100% better and far better than I did before surgery. I haven’t really had any angina episodes for almost 8 weeks now and I’m now working on improving my diet and being more consistent with my exercise (I usually have trouble with this in the winter time).
As far as spreading the word about women and heart disease I’ll be making a poster on that topic for a cardiology conference at work next month and will also be speaking at that conference and sharing my experiences as a patient. I hope I’ve been able to help some of our patients who are going through the same recovery and show them that there is life after heart surgery and it can be damn good if you make it that way!

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Christmas already?

Hello everyone! I don’t know about you but I can’t believe Christmas is almost here! I’m ready though, house decorated, presents purchased and wrapped (well, most of them),and just 2 more days of work and then my first real vacation from my unplanned 3 month surgery recovery last spring!
All is going well, I can’t believe that I’ll be 9 months post-op on Christmas Day! I’ve been working on my fitness and am planning on doing a sprint triathlon next spring/summer. It’s been 6 years since I last did a tri and I don’t have a good memory of the last one I did…I had a REALLY hard time and in hindsight I think my heart issues had something to do with it. The problem with that theory is now I don’t have any excuses if I do crummy! Ha! My training starts Jan. 15th and I’ll be using beginnertriathlete.com’s 16 week beginner sprint training program.
Wishing everyone who has helped support me this year a very Merry Christmas, it’s certainly been a roller coaster of a ride and I’m hoping 2011 is less eventful!

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8 months and counting!

Wow, the season’s are changing and I can’t believe it’s almost Thanksgiving! It’s been a long and winding road this past 9 months but I can say I’m hanging in there. The past month has brought many ups and downs…one month ago I finished my 5K in 42 minutes and I was ecstatic! I ran most of the first two miles but had to do the walk/jog thing during the last mile, all in all not bad considering I was 7 1/2 months out from open heart surgery. A couple of weeks after that I had a scare however…I was at work and developed a pretty bad episode of chest pain when walking down the hall, I was very nauseated, sweating, and having palpitations. I was with two other nurses and decided to go to the ER where again I was given the usual nitroglycerin, 12 lead EKG, and lab tests to rule out a heart attack. The VA shipped me off to Kaiser via ambulance once I was stable and I continued the rule out process there for another 6+ hours. This was by far the worst episode I’ve had since surgery.
After that and consulting with the various physicians involved in my care we decided to try changing me to a calcium channel blocker and long acting nitrate. They also added a birth control pill to prevent the hormone fluctuations that seem to influence my chest pain. We stopped my beta blocker the next day and startdd on my new regimen…the next 10 days seemed like an eternity of misery. I felt horrible every day with fatigue, nausea, chest pain here and there, and progressive shortness of breath. It all culminated in another ER visit 10 days later for severe shortness of breath, I could barely walk without gasping for air. After numerous tests the physician in the ER started me back on my beta blocker and admitted me overnight for observation. Wow, what a difference once I had that medication back on board! Within 2 hours I could breathe again and was more relaxed, it seems like I went into beta blocker withdrawal by stopping the medication cold turkey (the docs all thought I was on a low enough dose but apparently I wasn’t). I’m now back on my original medication regimen from back in March and feel like a million bucks again.

We were able to take our planned trip to Palm Springs last week and had a fabulous time. I was able to hike for 40 minutes straight up a mountain, a drastic difference from 4 days prior when I could barely get up to go to the bathroom!

Again, the moral of the story is always make sure you have clean underwear on because you never know when you are going to end up in the hospital!

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And on we go!

Hello everyone,
Thank you to all who have read my story…my hope is I am able to make at least one person appreciate all they have in life! It’s now been over 6 1/2 months since my surgery and for the most part I’d say I’m 100%…I’m back to doing boot camp at De Anza with coach Schafer in the mornings and it actually feels good to push myself to the limit as far as workouts go. I still have a ways to go to get in the shape I was 20 years ago, but baby steps!

I underwent a repeat stress echo about 2 weeks ago and was told my heart respond perfectly to exercise and that I was doing “excellent”…they let my max HR get up to 181 (100% max for my age is 180) and I did 12 METS, a drastic improvement from the pathetic 5.2 METS I did back in late May.

My next challenge is that Larry and I have signed up for a 5K in mid-October…I haven’t really been running as much as I should but I have been working out regularly and think I can wing it!

They still don’t have answers for my angina but my docs are now contacting a gynecologic endocrinologist for advice. We’ll see!

While everything is looking up I did get a bit of frustrating news this week…I’m on my 2nd case of tonsillitis in the past month and my 6th or 7th episode in the past year so I’ve been told that the tonsils MUST come out next year. They won’t touch me till I’m 12 months post-CABG but it looks like I’ll be spending yet another year’s vacation recovery from surgery next year. It sucks but I can’t keep getting sick like this every time my 5 year old comes home with a cold!

I hope all of you are doing well and enjoy every moment of life, you never know when you’ll be thrown a curveball!

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The Beat Goes On

Hello all,
Well, it’s now been 5 1/2 months since my open heart surgery on March 25, 2010. I’ve been back to work for over 2 months and am feeling good overall. The first month back to work was rough as I was still struggling with some fatigue but that has improved drastically. I now feel almost normal except there are some days where I get run down when I try to overdo it.

One thing I have been trying to come to terms with is the fact that I’ve still had some angina. My physicians are attributing it to coronary vasospasm as it seems fairly predictable (comes on only at rest and lasts 5-15 minutes usually). In fact, upon researching it further with my surgeon we’ve found that it appears to be hormonal and occurs once or twice a month, always in the afternoons. I carry sublingual nitroglycerin with me to treat it, but initially I was very reluctant to “give in” and believe it was real. After one recent episdoe that occurred at work with nausea and sweating I’m out of denial and ready to move on and deal with it. Psychologically it’s been tough to come to grips with the fact that I’m 40, have had major heart surgery, and still have to deal with chest pain. But, that is the cards that were dealt to me and I can’t dwell on the negative. My doctors have made some adjustments to my medications so I’m hopeful that will help.

On a positive note, my son started kindergarten 2 weeks ago and is thriving. He was quite stressed initially when I had surgery back in March but was able to overcome it with support from family, friends, and his wonderful preschool teachers and class. Kids are so resilient and while he still mentions things related to my heart from time to time he also answered, “mom that was a long time ago” when I asked him if he was scared when I went in the hospital. Clearly he’s over it!

My focus now is just trying to lead a regular life, I’m learning to listen to my body a bit more and not overdo it like when I first returned to work. I’m going to start training for a 5K run that is in 7 weeks and I know this will give me a great goal to shoot for. My husband said, “oh honey, you can walk it too, it’s a walk-run”…well, screw that, I’ll show him that I can run it just like the next person! We’ve always enjoyed some healthy competition so this is no different!

We also took the big step this summer and got a dog. Her name is Sally and she’s now 7 months old. She’s a 35 pount pit bull mix who is all baby. She’s super sweet, gentle, and relatively calm for a puppy. My son loves playing with her and the two are best buds. She’s a lot of work but it’s all worth it when I get home from a long day at work to her wiggling and wildly wagging tail!

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Back to life…back to reality!

I am now 15 weeks post-op and have been back to work for 2 1/2 weeks. I was very nervous going back to work but after my first day I felt back in the swing of things. I still have incisional pain that is worse after being on my feet all day, but I deal with it…I’m told it will probably start improving in another month or so by someone who had the same surgery 6 weeks before me. It is awesome to see everyone at work but also a bit emotional at first. It is wonderful to know so many people care and I truly work with an amazing group of people.

In hindsight, the past 3 months have been a roller coaster…from the shock of learning that I need emergency heart surgery for a life threatening anomaly (anomalous right coronary artery) to the ups and downs associated with recovery. In hindsight, it’s all been worth it, but the first month had many challenges. There was the constant bone pain while the sternum healed, insomnia every night, and emotional ups and downs. I wasn’t able to sleep except for flat on my back for the first month and I had fevers (low grade) every afternoon and evening that would make my skin feel as if it were crawling. That and the fact that I had a sinus infection followed by a cold, and some wound healing problems and the first month was no walk in the park.

Month 2 of recovery brought some ups and downs such as my repeat angio, but also freedom once I was able to drive. I also started pushing myself more in the gym and I think that’s been the key to how I’m doing now. I’m now working out about 45 minutes per day 5 days per week. I’m up at 0500 on work days to get my gym time in and even returned to Fit Camp for the first time since last fall. My original goal was to be ready for Fit Camp in September but I thought I’d give it a try and I’m able to hang in there and complete the workouts! 3 1/2 months ago I could barely get up to a chair and now I’m doing boot camp!

Of course, none of this would have been possible without my friends and family. This includes my VA family because not only did they care for me during all this, but they have been a huge support during my time off as well. My husband and son have been incredible and have made this all possible to get through relatively unscathed!

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The Road to Recovery…after the first 5 weeks.

Experiencing a repeat angio was a terrifying experience weeks after surgery. As an ICU nurse, I am well aware that complications can occur, even after having surgery. There are no guarantees that everything will be all right, but the repeat cath showed that my graft was open and working well.
Once I recovered from the cardiac cath (a much easier recovery than from surgery I might add), I was even more determined than ever to live life to the fullest and give myself every chance to be healthy. Once my hematoma heals (about a week), I make it a priority to continue walking.
I see my VA surgeon at my 6th post-op week and am released to drive with a clean bill of health. I still have a stress echo (treadmill + echo) in late May that I am determined to get in shape for. It’s a huge relief to be able to drive again, something I definitely took for granted before. Now I have more independence and can go to the gym, etc. on my own.
Speaking of the gym…I settle in to a routine of going 4-5 times per week while gradually increasing both my exercise time and consistency. I do the elliptical, stationary bike, and even start some light jogging on the treadmill. It feels good to work out again, almost as if I finally feel alive! At first it is a bit scary because you worry about if your heart can handle it, but after a couple of weeks it feels normal again.
In fact, I actually felt better working after surgery than before surgery. In hindsight, I was clearly having symptoms while exercising (shortness of breath and fatigue), as well as occasional chest pain both at rest and when exercising. I kick myself for not recognizing it, as and ICU nurse I should have known better. But, that’s why women experience worse outcomes in cardiac disease. Our symptoms are much more vague and we often don’t report them. All I can do is thank my lucky stars again that all of this started while I was at work and that I finally told someone!
The month of May flies by! I spend lots of quality time with my husband and son. I also pass my stress test, although I’m told I need to work on my fitness (duh). With that in mind, I am more driven than ever.

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April 11-25, 2010…a routine

I returned to stay at my house after a week at my mom’s and it’s great to be home! My mother in law stayed a few more days with us to make sure I was settled. I’m getting into a routine each day and it’s fun to be able to go with Riley (our son) to school and check him in each day. It would be better if I could drive, but baby steps for that. Last week a friend and coworker, Melissa, drove me to the VA to visit with my staff and drop off treats to staff in the IICU, MSICU, cath lab, cardiac surgery, and nuclear medicine…basically all of the departments that were involved in the coordination of my care. It was awesome seeing everyone and showing off that I was doing pretty good…but, also exhausting to even walk from the car to the unit…it’s clear I still have a ways to go! I spend my days either helping get my son to school or going out to lunch with friends. I’m determined to enjoy life to the fullest!

At almost the 3rd week post-op, I noticed that the top scap of my sternal incision fell off in the shower…the problem is the incision isn’t closed underneath! Eeek! My husband looks at it and there is a hole in my chest, small, but still there. We call my surgeon and he asks me to come in to have it checked the next day. Back to the VA we go! The appointment goes well and he has to remove a suture as he thinks it’s an allergic reaction and not an infection, thank goodness. I’m put on antibiotics and told to keep it dry.

That afternoon I start feeling like the low grade fevers are coming on again, but this time more severe. I check my temp and it shot up to 100.2 in a short period of time. My husband has to call in sick and off to Kaiser we go. The fact that my incision was manipulated and now I have a fever is not a good sign. I spend an entire evening in the ER at Kaiser enduring multiple IV sticks, lab draws, blood cultures, and a CT scan with contrast. The Kaiser heart surgeon (who, ironically, used to work with my surgeons at the VA) even stops by the ER to check on me. Talk about wonderful care! I’m released with good news, there are no signs of a sternal infection but it does look like I have a bad sore throat, thus the source of the fever.

It seems that I never go through anything without some challenges and this is no different. It can get depressing at times but I’m determined to make the most of my second chance and try not to dwell on things. I’m following my medication regimen carefully and making it a priority to walk daily and improve my diet. Baby steps!

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April 26…a turning point.

Well, it’s now been about 5 weeks since my surgery and I’m feeling pretty good. I’ve had a check up with my primary care doctor and am walking up to 20+ minutes/day. One of my best friends, Jill, spent the weekend with me to help out while my husband went down to clean our condo in Palm Springs (we had recent guests stay there). We figured it’s probably a good idea to still have someone around since I haven’t been released to drive yet. Jill has twins that get along famously with my son and we have a great time. We walked to dinner and on the way home I noticed I had a weird pain between my shoulder blades. I blew it off but it was similar to the chest pain and mid-scapular pain I initially had so I make a mental note of it.

The day that Jill leaves, my mom picks me up and Riley and I stay with her. I go for another walk and noticed the pain again. It starts about 8-10 minutes into my walk and continues until I stop and rest. I’m a bit concerned now as this could be an indicator of angina. I feel ok otherwise though.

Monday, April 26th I leave my mom’s house for a walk. I have a routine of carrying my nitroglycerin and cell phone with me. At about 10 minutes into the walk the mid-scapular pain returns and now I’m worried. My heart rate is in the 130s so I stop and rest and take a nitroglycerin. Low and behold, the pain goes away. What is going on? I can’t figure out if it’s posture-related or angina. It doesn’t feel like it’s musculoskeletal so I’m concerned. I start walking again, as I’m several minutes from home, and the pain returns. I have a raging headache from the nitroglycerin and now the mid-scapular pain is back. Luckily, there is a fire station down the street from my mom’s so I call her and tell her I’m going to stop there to get an EKG. I certainly shocked the firefighters by walking in and asking for a 12-lead EKG! They were awesome though and I explained my history and symptoms. They are required to call an ambulance so they did and then they took my vital signs. My EKG wasn’t really changed but I was having more PVCs and they were pretty concerned so they talked me into going to Kaiser via ambulance.

I have to admit that I was pretty frightened, but, as an ICU nurse I knew that that was the right thing to do. I’d never been in an ambulance but I made it to the hospital without getting car sick! Luckily it was a short trip! Once in the ER at Kaiser I’m treated like every other rule out MI (myocardial infarction). An IV is started, labs are sent, 12 lead EKGs are done. I was all alone and my mom was watching my son and my husband was 450 miles away in Palm Springs. I called him to let him know and I also called my old manager and good friend who is the Director of QM at Kaiser and left her a message.

After a couple of hours in the ER my friend came over to see me as soon as she heard the message. My cardiologist came in to talk with me and let me know that I would be admitted and a repeat angiogram would be done the next day. They were concerned given my history and that was really the only test that would show what was going on. By now I’m frightened and I call my husband to tell him, he lets me know that he is packing up and driving home. I’ve also phoned my manager and friend and she comes to sit with me as well. It was pretty surreal laying in the ER wondering if something was wrong with my graft! This was probably almost scarier than when I was told I initially needed a CABG!

After almost 8 hours in the ER I am admitted to the cardiac unit and spend the night wide awake as I’m too ramped up to sleep. I’m on the schedule for a cath the next day but they don’t know what time. I’m NPO after midnight (no food or water by mouth). My husband got in at about 3 am and went to sleep for a few hours before coming in to visit. My manager also comes to visit again and stays with me most of the day until my husband comes in with our son early in the afternoon.

As I lay in the bed worrying about what’s going on I am visited by several friends that work at Kaiser. This helps take my mind off things but I also feel like a dork as I’m back in the hospital just 4 1/2 weeks after surgery. I finally get the call for my cath at about 4 pm and off I go.

My cath went pretty quickly and I definitely have a medication tolerance as I chewed through the sedation and still remember parts of the procedure. The good news is my graft looks perfect and there are no problems…the bad news is, no one knows if the pain is related to my heart working harder during exercise (and still not getting quite enough blood flow), or if it’s truly musculoskeletal. I’m hoping it’s musculoskeletal of course!

I’m discharged the following day. I developed a groin hematoma that is pressing on my femoral nerve so I’m in a lot of pain, but am told this will subside in time. It took about 5-6 days for me to be able to walk normally, but this can happen after groin punctures. I’m at higher risk due to the aspirin and Plavix I’m on so I realize that this was a risk. As soon as I can I get back to my walking…I continue to have the mid-scapular pain while exercising for another week or so after I start exercising, but eventually it goes away.

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The first week at home

Well, it seems the worst of my recovery is over when I get home. It’s exciting to be able to shower and move around without being connected to a cardiac monitor and sat monitor 24/7. That being said, there are also challenges I never imagined. The first week home was difficult both emotionally and physicially. I knew it would be challenging physically, but I underestimated the mental toll this takes on people. I’m sleep deprived and have serious insomnia. I’ll sleep for 1-2 hours, then be awake for an hour or more, this pattern continues night after night. I am in pain and can only sleep flat on my back (which I hate). Finally, on about the 4th night home I give in and take a Percocet. This is the first pain medicine I’ve had since I was in the hospital and it does help a bit. My days are spent trying to just do the basics, showering, having someone take me on an errand to get out of the house, and getting my daily walk in. It’s cold and rainy and that doesn’t help matters. By 1 pm I’m in bed for a nap every day but it’s still great to be home.

As far as the emotional recovery, I’m feeling a bit down here and there and that’s not in my personality. I know that is something that is quite common among open heart surgery patients, but I wasn’t prepared for it. In order to stay connected with family and friends I spend a great deal of time on Facebook…but, as I quickly learned this isn’t good because the wrist where my arterial line was now has a hematoma and is very painful. I had to lay off the computer for a few days to let this heal. My sternum still hurts, but gets a little better each day. The most disconcerting aspect of the whole thing is that I can feel it pop and almost shift when  I use my arms too much, or, even when doing something like opening a cap off of a drink. Eew.

 I also experience weird low grade fevers every afternoon and it feels as though my skin is crawling with these. I kept my doctors abreast of all of this information and it is perfectly normal. Speaking of doctors, on my first Monday home, I had an appointment with my new cardiologist at Kaiser. He spent over 30 minutes going over my experience and my new medication regimen with my husband. I’m also told to return in a week or so for a routine lab draw to ensure my blood count is ok. I feel confident in my new physician and all of our questions are answered.

All in all, I am making progress though! I stayed at my mom’s the first week home and that helped me to get rest and pace myself. It is so wonderful to be able to hug my family!

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Home after a 7-day shift, oops, I mean hospital stay!

Post-op Day 6, Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I just spent my 7th night in the ICU and I’m done with it…I now know why patients sometimes get kooky and/or delirious in this setting. The constant barrage of noise has gotten the best of me and I’m ready for some peace and quiet. I’ve only slept in 1-2 hour increments since my surgery and I’ve had enough of my hospital bed. Hopefully my doctor will let me go home today but it all depends on my labs. I’ve been battling a UTI since Sunday and also a sinus infection.
I’m eager to get this show on the road! But, first, I am scheduled for an echocardiogram first thing in the morning. One of my staff wheels me down to the echo lab and I run into one of our ICU doctors on the way. It sure is weird sitting in a gown in a wheelchair at my own hospital! I also run into an RT that didn’t know I had surgery and she was sure shocked! Once my echo is complete it’s back to the unit to wait and find out the plan. The cardiac clinical nurse specialist has already done my post-op teaching, as have physical therapy and occupational therapy. I’m pretty much ready to go if my surgeon gives me the go ahead.

My husband arrives mid-morning and the cardiac surgery resident comes to pull out my pacer wires. They are very thin but feel very weird coming out. Kind of like pulling through goo but they also hurt a bit. All in all, not very pleasant. My surgeon comes to see me and gives me the go-ahead to be discharged. I think if it weren’t for the fact that my husband and I are both nurses he would have kept me one night longer since I spiked a fever the night before. But, I felt pretty good and was ready to go.

Next up is my trip to the discharge pharmacy to go over all my new medications. Since I’m an ICU nurse they are all familiar, but it is definitely an eye opener being on the other side of things. I’ll now have 4 medications to take in the morning and three at night (including my allergy pills). The VA fills my presciption for 30 days and I have an appt. at Kaiser (my regular facility) the following Monday so I’m all set. It will be good to get home for Easter Sunday!

My husband drives me to my mom’s house where I’ll be staying the first week to avoid stairs. I’m also not up to taking care of my 4 year old 24/7 just yet. My mother-in-law is staying with my husband to help out on that end.

It feels really good to get home and relax, but it’s also tough being up and about. That being said, first thing is a real shower! My mom washes my hair in her big sink and then I get through a real shower! Oh boy! I almost feel human again!

The second day home I go for a walk with my husband and am able to make it around the block, about a 10 min. walk. That first weekend the weather is rainy and I just cherish the time being home with family and relaxing. I’m very thankful to have another Easter with my son as I wasn’t so sure I’d be here when I first had the chest pain over a week ago.

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The Road to Recovery…baby steps

“Wake up Sandy! Wake up!”

Why are these people trying to wake me up, can’t they see I’m trying to sleep?!

“Take a deep breath and cough”

Boom, the endotracheal tube is out, phew, that wasn’t bad at all…in fact, I don’t even remember feeling it in!

Being intubated is every ICU nurse’s worst nightmare, but, luckily, I don’t really remember it and it certainly wasn’t painful. Thank goodness they extubated me while I was still drowsy! These were my first thoughts when I was extubated about 4 hours after surgery. I first remember thinking, wow, I’m not in too much pain…boy, that would change in a few hours! I wasn’t quite sure what time of day it was, but I did remember that I had had open heart surgery today. Mmm…it must be in the evening because I recognize my nurse and she works nights. Ok, now I can take a real nap…

That first night was pretty much a haze of vomiting, taking deep breaths, and sleeping. It may have lasted 12 hours, but in my mind it’s only a few minutes. This is probably due to the anesthetic, pain meds, and a coping mechanism.

Post-op Day 1: Friday, March 26, 2010

Fast forward to early morning, bed bath time…I’m too sick to care that my co-workers are washing me down and I admit it does feel good to get cleaned up a bit and get a new gown on. When x-ray arrives that’s not so fun, they lay me flat, pull me up and put the hard plate under. Oh my God that hurts my sternum! Holy cow! I remember one of my surgeons coming to check on me at 0500 on his way to the airport (he had been scheduled to go out of town). Wow, I had the wherewithall to understand how nice this was!

Once my morning labs are drawn, my bath is done, my nurse brings “The Chair” in. What? She wants me to get up in a chair now? Hell no! Yet, the nurse side of me knows this is exactly what I’m supposed to do. I’m so nauseated there is no way I can even move without vomiting, much less get up to the chair. Yet, I know I need to make an effort so I agree to dangle on the side of the bed. Wow, that was really tough and I could barely sit up. I certainly have a new respect for what we ask our patients to do! I used to joke with one nurse that her patients had boot camp because she always had them up within an hour of extubation. Here I am 12 hours later and can barely dangle on the bed.

It’s change of shift now and I recognize my day nurse and am viewing the early morning bustle from a different perspective. I’m in room 9 in the MSICU, facing the nurses’s station, where I’m usually seated. This is odd, and, why is everyone walking around trying not to look at me? Do I look that bad? Apparently I did!

During change of shift, the cardiothoracic team rounds and checks on me. I look and feel absolutely miserable. I’m in pain and extremely nauseated. But, I’m alive, and that’s what matters. I’m doing well taking deep breaths and I know how crucial that is to prevent pneumonia. A short time later our ICU Attending comes by to discontinue my pulmonary artery catheter. I didn’t even realize it was in, along with the large IV in my neck. Mmm…those always looked so uncomfortable, but it isn’t that bad.

That first day after surgery was again a haze of pain, vomiting, and sleeping. My husband arrived in the morning to visit and stayed with me much of the day. Every now and then my coworkers would peek in on me, but I was pretty out of it.

Evening rolls around and I have a different nurse from last night. It is nice when you personally know all the nurses and trust everyone. This is a dynamic that our patients don’t usually have so I am very lucky. I’m still in room 9 and can see what’s going on but I’m too sick to care. I pretty much just lay in a haze, trying to deal with the nausea, and the excruciating pain that comes every time I have the dry heaves. It’s now late at night and I hear activity next door, a new admission. And, a loud one…he sounds confused and yells all night long. Poor guy. There is no escaping the noise and constant sounds, I try to shut my eyes to ignore it, but it’s still there.

Postop Day 2: Saturday, March 27, 2010

I’m a little more with the program this morning…I got through my bath and x-ray without too much discomfort and, oops, there it is again, “The Chair”. My night nurse brings in the chair and tells me it’s time to get up. I’ve been in bed for 48 hours now and I can’t really argue. I struggle to a dangling position with the help of 2 nurses and my heart pillow and hobble over. My chest tubes and foley are dangling but aren’t uncomfortable…yet. I sit up but feel absolutely horrible. I’m super nauseated and just lay there holding my tub in case I throw up. This is pure misery. My other surgeon stops by while I’m sitting up to check my labs, etc. I can tell he feels bad that I feel so awful. None of the antiemetics are working and the pain is horrible every time I vomit. When will this end? It is at that moment I decide to forgo any more pain medicine (narcotics) because I think that is what is causing the nausea. They have started me on Toradol, an IV anti-inflammatory, to help with the pain. That is going to have to do because I’ve come to the conclusion that I’d rather be in some pain than be nauseated and in excruciating pain.

I’m starting to come around a bit more, awareness-wise, and am forming more memories. At around 3:30 pm Saturday they move me to a different room, with a door! Yahoo! I also ask them to take my foley out so I don’t get a UTI. I’m still so weak I need to use the bedpan all evening and all night because I can’t really get up very easily. By the end of night shift I am a professional with the bedpan! I never thought I’d show up for work one day and be a patient in my own unit who cannot even go to the bathroom on my own, but there I was. And, to be honest, I didn’t care I felt so crummy.

Post-op Day 3: Sunday, March 28, 2010

I’m starting to feel like my old self this morning. I actually get up and walk through the unit a bit, telling the staff to “Look Alive”. I think it helped everyone when I came out of my cave. I was able to sit in the chair and nibble on a little food for breakfast. I still had my chest tubes and Cordis (large IV in my neck) in but those would come out today. Now they were starting to bug me. I must be feeling better! I spent the day visiting with family and co-workers. Everyone was careful not to wear me out and the staff even went and picked up Fro-Yo! Finally something that I could hold down!

That afternoon, the cardiothoracic fellow came in to discontinue my chest tubes. My nurse pre-medicated me with a little Fentanyl but it didn’t help. They don’t actually hurt coming out but the pain occurs when they pull the sutures tight. I don’t think any pain medicine would help the feeling of your skin being pinched together really tight. But, it only lasts a few seconds and I’m free of the big tubes hanging out of my chest.

The next project is to get my Cordis out and an IV in. I asked to have it out and my nurse looks at me like I’m crazy (she knows I’m a really difficult IV stick). The next 2 hours are spent trying to find a vein with several nurses coming to look but no one with the nerve to poke me except for my nurse who tried a couple of times but was unable to get an IV. Finally they call anesthesia and he was able to put in a 22 gauge (tiny) IV in my hand using the ultrasound. I have to guard this like it’s gold!

Late in the afternoon I started to notice the symptoms of a UTI…uggh. I kept having to get up to go to the bathroom but only a few drops would come out. I notified the ICU doctors and a UA was sent. A few hours later the results showed I had a big UTI and I was started on antibiotics. Uggh.

Another night in the ICU…sleep was elusive (as I would find for several weeks)…I’d sleep an hour or so and then wake up. There were constant alarms from my frequent PVCs and my blood pressure cuff would wake me up. By now I was stable enough to only have it checked every few hours at night. I was able to participate more in my AM care and was up in the chair by 6 am.

Post-op Day 4: Monday, March 29, 2010

Wow, I’m finally starting to feel human again. I can now get up to the bathroom without much assistance and spend a good portion of the day in the chair. I’m able to eat more, but I’ll admit, the VA food isn’t the tastiest. Luckily I have staff who are bringing me yogurt and fruit. I ambulate around the unit more and my hubby visits later in the day as he had stuff to do with our son and get him to school. I miss them both dearly but I know he has everything covered on the home front. His mom flew in Sunday to help and they visited that afternoon while Riley stayed with my mom. The plan for today is to keep increasing my activity level. The nausea is finally gone and I’m feeling better. My surgeons have checked in every day and are happy to see the progress I’m making.

Post-op Day 5, Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Wow, I feel a lot better this morning. I’m up super early again, which, is a relief because hospital beds just aren’t that comfortable. It’s dificult to find a position of comfort in bed and I’m ready to get the day started. I ambulate around the unit several times today, and my husband, our ICU Attending, and I even walk outside the unit and surprise my surgeon in his office. This longer walk kicks my butt a bit, but it also feels good to get out of my room more. My husband talks our son into visiting (he was scared) and it was so fantastic to see them! I finally feel like everything will be ok and seeing my son made it all worthwhile!

The day is spent visiting with many staff members, so many, that both myself and them got “in trouble” from my boss. Everyone is super protective of me and doesn’t want me to overdo it. They shut my curtains and door in the afternoon so I could take a much-needed nap. That day was also spent with a PT and OT consult to get me ready to go home. The goal is to go home Wednesday if the surgeon gives his blessing. It’s hit or miss depending on my labs, etc. but I’m hopeful.

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Understanding the Significance

Hello everyone…in my first blog entry I shared the events of that day 8+ weeks ago that would change my life forever…or, more importantly, give me clarity to be thankful that I still have a life! To understand the significance of this it’s important to understand what has defined me as a person and what I have been through.

I started competitive sports at age 7, playing soccer for my local competitive team. It was there that I found that I thrived on pushing myself to the limits. I also met many lifelong friends on those teams. I credit my second coach with instilling that deep drive and competitiveness in me as he pushed us in ways we never thought possible. We ran and trained for hours on end to the point of exhaustion yet we kept coming back for more. I was at my happiest when I was testing just how far I could push myself.

I took this drive and discipline with me throughout my athletic career enjoying a successful soccer, softball, and later volleyball career. It was in high school that I discovered volleyball, our high school coach had seen me at a softball all-star game the summer before and suggested to my brother I try out for the team (he had coached my brother in water polo many years before). I was flattered so I thought I’d give it a try. I was hooked. I played every chance I got and started playing year round my freshman year. I made varsity as a sophomore and had an amazing time playing on both my high school and club teams, again, making many lifelong friends. I wasn’t highly recruited out of high school so I decided to continue playing for our local community college which was one of the top-ranked teams in California at the time. This is where I really feel I blossomed as a player.

Another life changing event also occurred shortly after my freshman year, the loss of my father to a ruptured cerebral aneurysm. My father had been a huge part of my athletic life, having helped coach many of my softball teams, etc. It was at that moment I was determined to never have to rely on someone else after I saw what my mom had to go through trying to pick up the pieces financially and otherwise.

Again, we were tested mentally and physically in ways I never thought possible. We endured 8-hour practice during double days, hours of being pushed and yelled at to be our best, yet we kept coming back for more. It takes a special type of athlete to handle this stress and my teammates and I thrived on it. We went on to finish as state runner-ups both years, and, although we didn’t win state championships we still proved to ourselves that we could do almost anything we set out to do! I was recruited by several schools after my two years at De Anza and chose West Texas A&M University to continue my volleyball career at.

I arrived in the grassy high plains of West Texas in early August to meet my coach and teammates. I remember driving into the Panhandle and thinking, “this certainly isn’t like California”. I was excited about the possibilities but also frightened as I’d never been away from home. Once my teammates and I stepped on the court and started to mesh as a team and as friends it was clear we had great potential. Each and every one of us set aside our individual needs to become part of something bigger, a team. We endured hours upon hours of practice, weight training, studying films, etc. But, in the end, it was all worth it as we walked away with West Texas’ first Div. II National Volleyball Championship in December of 1990.

We had an amazing run that year and the feeling of accomplishing a dream is like no other. Once the shock and awe started to wear off I think each of us understood that we had accomplished something very special and that we may never experience anything like that again.

The summer after that first year at WT brought many changes…we found out while on summer break that our beloved coach was moving on to a Div. I job and we were devastated. We arrived at campus in July to work camps but still didn’t have a new coach lined up. In fact, here we were, National Champions and we didn’t get a new coach until two weeks before the season started. Also, because our school dropped the football program for that year due to financial constraints we were forced to become independent and were not affiliiated with any league. We already had two strikes against us yet we were determined to make the most of it. We had lost our senior leadership and now there were only two seniors, myself, and another.

In many ways, I look upon that season as an even bigger accomplishment because it seems we had so many strikes against us starting out. But, again, we put in countless hours of hard work and it paid of as we went on to win a second National Championship with our new coaching staff.

After those two wonderful years at WT, I continued to fuel my competitive drive by moving back to California to attend nursing school while playing on a competitive women’s club team and trying new sports like triathlons and running. I am not a natural runner or swimmer but I enjoyed doing both sprint and Olympic triathlons for many summers during my 20s.

In 1999 I married my husband and also started graduate school for nursing. Another challenge. It was at this time that I stopped playing volleyball due to time constraints and the physical toll it was taking on my body due to chronic injuries (back, shoulder, knees). Thus, I began a decade of new and different challenges.

On October 1st, 2000, I went to work after spending the weekend moving with a “side cramp”. After working all day with progressively worsening pain my coworker and other assistant manager drove me to Kaiser where it was determined I had appendicitis. Later that night, after working a full shift at the VA I was taking to what would become my first of many surgeries over the past 10 years. My husband dubbed me a “lemon” jokingly, but, boy he had no idea at that time!

Six months later I underwent bilateral fasciotomies for compartment syndrome in both calves caused by running. This is a very rare condition but can be caused when the muscles grow beyond what the fascia can handle. Go figure, it happened to me. But, once this was fixed I was able to begin working out again and even ran a 5K 10 days post-op! I had my active life back, or so I thought.

A year later, as I was walking up the stairs to work, I felt a pop in my knee and it gave out. Another injury. This was the knee that I had torn my posterior cruciate ligament in during my volleyball days at De Anza. A few months of limping around with a brace and I was back in for arthroscopic knee surgery. Three years, three surgeries…this decade wasn’t looking too good!

I was finally back on track and even did a triathlon in the summer of ’04, although, I had a poor performance. I chalked it up to inadequate training, although in hindsight there were other factors.

I became a mother in 2005, a life changing moment that I am so thankful for. On Sept. 15, 2005 my husband and I welcomed our son into this world. He has been our joy ever since. I endured a very difficult pregnancy and birth and after seeing just how difficult it is to raise a child we both decided one was enough.

During my pregnancy I had several episodes of severe chest pain and mid-scapular pain. My doctor and NP chalked it up to GERD and possibly gall bladder disease. I was told to re-evaluate it after my son was born if it returned. We were on vacation at our condo in Palm Springs when my son was 8 months old when it returned with a vengeance. We had eaten at one of our favorite BBQ restaurants there and about 4 hours after dinner the pain and vomiting started. Luckily my mom was with us and she drove me to the hospital in the middle of the night. They worked up my heart but everything was negative so they sent me on my way.

Two days later, when we were home, I had another episode and this time drove myself to Kaiser in the middle of the night. They did an ultrasound and found that I had an inflamed gallbladder. I was scheduled for surgery six weeks later (they wanted to give it time to calm down). Now I really was looking like a lemon…in six years I was on my fourth surgery!

The next four years went by with various challenges of balancing work, raising a child, as well as some weird health symptoms (“heartburn”, frequent sinus infections, etc.). It seemed I could never get fit and no matter how hard I tried working out was always difficult. I chalked it up to being overweight, out of shape, whatever. Little did I know it was probably my heart all along. As you read my first entry, on March 24, 2010, it became glaringly clear it was my heart. And, as you can see from my past athletic history it is truly a miracle I am still alive. My type of anomaly (anomalous right coronary artery) often causes sudden death among athletes…but, for some reason I’m still here. And, boy, am I thankful!

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How’d this happen to me?

I’m writing this blog to share my experiences of the last couple of months. During this time, my life has drastically changed as I’ve undergone emergency open heart surgery in the unit where I work. Never in a million years did I think this could happen to me, yet it did. Here’s a look back on that day and how I started my full circle journey. I am the assistant nurse manager in a very busy ICU at a large VA Hospital.

The date was Wednesday, March 24, 2010…it started out as any other workday early in the morning. I remember waking up, showering, but feeling completely wiped out, absolutely exhausted. I’d just turned 40 12 days prior and was chalking the exhaustion up to a busy schedule. What else could it be? Aren’t all moms who work full-time exhausted? More on that later. I had even posted on my Facebook page that I felt like a zombie. As fate would have it, it’s a good thing I went into work.

It was another busy day in the ICU when I arrived at work at 0720, we had a full house and were expecting one open heart surgery patient at around noon. Odd in that we don’t usually have heart’s scheduled on Wednesdays so that means this case was fairly urgent. After report, I started on my usual charge nurse paperwork and the unit was running smoothly. As the assistant nurse manager, it’s usually my role to be in charge and I also have admin time each week to complete other responsibilities such as scheduling, meetings, audits, etc. It makes for a busy job but at least I don’t get bored!

Each morning we have a bed meeting at 0900 with all the charge nurses and the bed control nurse to ensure the patients flow through the hospital smoothly. This is our time to let everyone know how many patients can transfer out of our unit and how many beds we have available. On this particular morning we started off with only a code bed but had several patients ready for transfer. This is pretty typical for us. After the meeting I started having chest pain, or “heartburn” as I thought it was. I told my manager I was having heartburn and had my morning snack, figuring it would help if I had some food in my stomach. It didn’t.

I went back to the unit and continued to work for the next hour and a half, progressively feeling worse. I don’t know how to describe it except I was wiped out and had chest pain. I finally told one of my coworkers and she checked my pulse and immediately told me to go lay down in our empty room, the code bed. She’s a very experienced nurse so I figured I better listen to her. She told me my HR was irregular and the next thing I know is I’m being hooked up to an EKG and our ICU Attending is in the room with me, along with a couple of nurses. I was feeling progressively worse, sweating, nauseated, and the pain was getting worse so they gave me a nitro tablet for under my tongue. Woo wee what a feeling that was, I got very lightheaded and had a bad headache…but…it helped the chest pain so I knew this was real. At first we were talking about me driving to Kaiser (where my insurance is), but I knew at that point it wasn’t safe to be in a car. Our doctor started an IV on me and got our cardiologist in to see me. She took one look at the EKG and told me this was real and I was not going to Kaiser but that I needed to get a cardiac cath ASAP.

Holy Shit! A cardiac cath? A zillion thoughts were going through my mind…I’m 40 years old with a 4 year old at home, this can’t be happening! I was terrified and started to cry. By now there were three of our doctors in with me all working on stabilizing me, along with my own nurses. “Ok” I said, let’s do it. I then figured I better go pee because I was going to have to be flat on my back for several hours and God forbid I use a bedpan! As it turns out, that was the least of my worries, but more on that later!

I got up to pee and at this point I didn’t even care who saw me or that there was a camera watching my every move. On the way back to bed I started feeling even worse and started vomiting. My staff were preparing me for transport to the cath lab while I was puking my brains out. Once I got to the cath lab I was given Compazine for the vomiting, Fentanyl, and Versed to calm down. I’d also had several nitro tabs by now. I was happy to see two of my friends as my cath lab nurses and I know the doctor is one of the best. I think I slept through most of my cath and woke up to find my husband and the cardiologist showing me the video and explaining how I had an extremely rare coronary artery anomaly. My right coronary artery was just a branch of my left anterior descending artery and was kinked and stenosed. At first the cardiologist thought it was something that could be treated with medications, but the next thing I knew is our cardiac surgeon was in the room telling me I needed coronary artery bypass surgery and quickly! What???? Holy Shit! I told him, “you are bullshitting me”. But, he clearly wasn’t. He looked very stressed and had me sign the consent right on the cath table. He explained that it wasn’t safe for me to go by ambulance and asked if I minded if he did the surgery. Minded? Of course not! I know he is one of the best and I couldn’t think of a better place to be with familiar faces everywhere.

After that they decided to do a 3D CT scan of my heart to verify that the coronary artery was, indeed, running under the aorta and pulmonary artery (essentially causing mechanical obstruction). I had received a lot of medications by this time and I don’t know how long we had to wait for the CT scanner but it was a while. They also gave me several doses of beta blockers to try and slow my HR down as it was too fast to get a good scan.

Finally, the CT scan was completed and I was wheeled up to the Intermediate ICU where my husband works (he’s a nurse also). I remember seeing my son in the elevator and daddy holding him and he looked very frightened. They checked me into my room and the cath lab nurse who had stayed by my side all day took out my sheath. She had to apply pressure on my groin for quite some time but I’m not sure how long.

That night in the IICU was pretty much a fog…I didn’t sleep much but I also don’t remember much until my husband came back at 0600 to visit. He hadn’t slept much either in anticipation of my surgery. I do remember borrowing a laptop computer and posting on Facebook that I was taking my last sip of Gatorade before being NPO after midnight.

My surgery was scheduled for around 10:30-11 am, they had to do a case before me and then the OR would be ready. Our wonderful anesthesiologist came in to see me and told me he was assigned to the case and would I mind? Of course not, he is awesome and very experienced. Another anesthesiologist friend was also going to stay in the room and help. Wow, who gets two Attending anesthesiologists? I knew I was in good hands with people I trusted and that are like family.

The cardiac fellow also came to see me and asked how I was doing. “Nervous” I replied while trying to keep a brave face. He laughed and said he was probably more nervous because there were 50+ nurses upstairs that would kill him if anything happened to me! Ha! Two more of my best friends and coworkers stopped by right before their shift started and they were clearly upset but were trying to be brave. By this point I was mentally prepared for what needed to be done.

A few more hours went by and the OR staff showed up to wheel me to the OR…haven’t I seen this with patients a hundred times? Now it was me! I kissed my husband good bye and into the OR holding area I went. More familiar faces, my friend, a CRNA was starting an IV across the room and the OR nurse checking me in is an old friend as well. My anesthesiologist came to see me and that’s all I really remember until later that night!

I was in surgery for about four hours and had a one vessel bypass. Of course I don’t remember anything but I do remember waking up to people cheering for me and encouraging me to “open my eyes”. All I remember thinking is…”leave me alone, can’t you see I’m sleeping?”. When I finally did open my eyes I saw a large group of our nursing staff standing around me and they were about to extubate me. The RT told me to take a deep breath and the next thing I know the tube is out. No pain, no discomfort, not what I had imagined at all after seeing it hundreds of times! Phew! I also remember thinking, “gee, my chest doesn’t hurt too bad”…well, that thought was short lived once the anesthetic and pain meds wore off!

More on my journey to follow…

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