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,┬áMelissa, 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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