The days leading up to open heart surgery #2 were not always easy, but we made it. My surgery was on Monday, November 6, but the Saturday and Sunday leading up to it were exactly what I needed. I remember telling Dan the Thursday before that I just wanted a few good days to get somewhat healthy, so that I could go into my second surgery with some sort of strength. Some sort of will power. I felt I had lost all of that prior too. I feared any sort of pain because I wasn’t sure I could get through it. But God granted those thoughts to me of optimism and gave me Saturday and Sunday to recuperate and rest.
Dan was even able to go to the Minnesota vs. Michigan football game at the Big House on Saturday! A former youth group kid of ours had an extra ticket and asked Dan if he would like to go. Dan started asking me and before he finished I said “GO! You have to GO! I’d be upset if you didn’t!” In fact, it would make me feel good knowing that someone was representing us! During all of our time there, we kept saying how cool it would be if we could go to a game! Well course that meant Dan, but we always said we. So Dan accepted and I was SO THANKFUL Zach asked Dan to go! It was so good for him to get out and have some fun. Thankfully Michigan won too. The game was actually delayed an hour, but in a way it was a good thing because the guys could get something to eat and didn’t have to sit in the rain the whole time! Meanwhile, I just rested and relaxed (which I suppose I was doing before that anyways, but a little alone time in the ICU wasn’t a bad thing either). It was a good night for the both of us!
Monday, November 6 rolled around, and surprisingly, I slept pretty well. I honestly don’t remember much, except once again, lying on that operating table. As I was being wheeled into the operating room, I asked how long the surgery would be and he said about 6-8 hours and that the surgeon had a lot to do. Though I don’t remember his exact words, he said that it was a bit more risky. I didn’t have much to say, as my mind went somber. Was I again entering a room, where I would have to think about this being my last moments? Lying on that table, I truly couldn’t believe this was happening again, but it seemed so normal. Everything was the same. Though this time, my body didn’t want to go under. I had this mask on me for what seemed like minutes, as I tried to take the deepest breaths I could, but I just wasn’t going under. I remember thinking about God, my family, and now just wishing that my body would just succumb to the sedation they were giving me. The longer it took, the more I started to panic in a way mentally, but finally, my body gave in.
Apparently when a second surgery through the sternum is done, it can bleed more, causing them to have to leave me open and sedated, until the bleeding was under control. Thankfully that was not the case! I was able to be laced up and stitched up.
About 6 hours later, Dan and his parents were able to come and see me. I was pretty fresh out of surgery and back in the ICU. The surgeon replaced my mitral valve with a cow’s valve that should last about 12 years, and also repaired my tricuspid valve. Like Dan said, it’s only fitting that as a daughter of a farmer, that I would receive a cow’s valve! It really was a again, a perfect surgery. The hope is that when I will need my valve replaced, that I can get a pig’s valve inserted inside the cow’s valve, which by then, canhopefully be done with a cath, through the groin.
I was about 20 minutes away from getting the vent out and not having come to, when a PA came in and said that I needed to get some pain meds. Even though the nurse disagreed, the PA was determined to get me some, but unfortunately, the meds slowed my respiratory rates and vitals, which then caused me to have to be on the vent 3 hours LONGER, which meant I was fully out of sedation and remember it all. That is my nemesis – the vent. Dan even warned the nurse that I don’t come out of sedation well with the vent in (I mean who does…) so the nurse did everything she could to ensure I didn’t remember the vent, until the PA unfortunately changed her plans. I had so much phlegm as I tried to clear it from my throat, all while trying to breath with this foreign object in my mouth. I was in so much pain though, that I started to hyperventilate, but the nurse was able to give me the write concoction of pain meds and I was able to fall asleep, after she realized I wasn’t coming off of it anytime soon. I even wrote messages to Dan and his parents, telling them what I needed, as I begged them to take it out. At one point, Dan couldn’t take it anymore, and stepped out, which I am thankful he did. It was tough and I can’t imagine watching someone go through it myself. Though through their playing of music, singing, and holding of my hands, I once again, made it through.
Fresh out of surgery with the vent in
That night, they tried to have me stand up, but unfortunately, the blood clot that I developed while being on bed rest the week prior, prevented me from being able to put any weight on it, as it would just give out. Though, the next day, I was up and walking! It was slow and it wasn’t far, but I was WALKING, less than 24 hours after my second surgery. I was also able to get my neck tubes out, which was a HUGE relief. It was quite the contraption to have hanging off your neck, which caused quite the neck pain, but it was also a pain in the neck to sleep with! Needless to say, getting rid of it was sleep-changing!
Then 2 days later, I got my chest tubes out! Just imagine having two tubes circling around in your chest cavity. Every time you moved, they would move too. By now I know you are cringing because so am I, so yes, I was so excited to get those out too! Some say it’s immediate relief, but for me it takes about 12 hours to recover from because everything else has to settle back in place after having them removed. Even 2 days after, my walks seemed to have slowed down, but it was all part of the process. Some days I could barely make it out of the room, while others I could almost circle the floor. It was all part of being a cardiac patient.
Thursday, November 9, I was moved from the ICU to the step down unit, also known as 4C. The day before, I cried many tears with my parents, as I felt so weak, though many saw me as strong. It was so hard to believe that in my head and heart that I was strong, when I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do – like walk or just not be in pain. I felt so weak in every way, but it was those around me and God’s hands, that made me strong. But Wednesday night, I turned a corner. My nurse that night, Xihua, helped me control my pain and for the first time in over a week, I was finally less than a #5 on the pain scale. I slept AWESOME and I was ready for the move to the step down unit. It’s hard to leave the quiiet and peacefulness of the ICU, especially since my roommate experiences in the step down were quite interesting (so interesting that a blog post will be written about them). It was even hard to say goodbye to the people we had grown a relationship with up there, after being there for not only 2 surgeries, but my time leading up to the second as well. Though I hope one day we will meet again, just not this side of heaven (unless it’s on the streets of course!)
Moving down to the step down unit
My journey in the step down unit was very up and down, but the first few days went well. My sister and mom had visited and we had a wonderful time! I was walking well, eating well, and felt like I found “Kristin” back. Before, I was very lethargic, in a lot of pain, and just not myself. Dan and I’s mission while in the hospital was to be witnesses of who God is and what He was doing in our life – even in the difficult situations too. Trust me, that is not easy to do. And I’m sure I had missed opportunities! It’s usually after you make it through those hard times that you can then testify to His faithfulness. During the situation though, I found myself just focusing on making it through. But we just wanted to talk about God when it was appropriate or just use kindness and encouraging words to spread His love. We found that there is a lot of power in kind words, a kind attitude, and a kind demeanor. Being in the hospital, obviously no patient wants to be there. It amazed me at how amazed the staff was at our attitudes. To me, I’m like okay, you are helping ME get better, the least I can do is treat you right! Well, I have learned that goes against the grain, which is sad. The nurses sure taught us a lot about how they are treated, which made us want to love them all the more and thank them for their faithful service and kindness to us!
On Sunday, I hit a wall. That morning I was so teary. I think I just had to cry. I was homesick, I wanted to go to church with my church family, I missed Mazy, I was becoming more and more with it mentally, which meant I thought a lot more clearly and realized what had all just happened, I was in a lot of pain, and I felt like it just all came to head. I also realized how long of a road I had ahead of me. I was hurting physically in all aspects I felt, and that day I also had some physical setbacks too. Walking became so tiring and I didn’t understand why.
One thing we actually did not know is that I had 3 broken ribs from the first surgery. With the second surgery, I was just in so much pain, that I could not keep it under control. I would often be doubled over in pain and if anyone moved me in the wrong way, I would just crumble. I couldn’t explain it and I just kept apologizing and saying “I don’t know why it hurts so bad” as I was just succumbed to tears. Until one PA came in and said well of COURSE you are going to hurt! You have 4 broken bones! FOUR? 3 ribs and a sternum, Kristin. After showing us the x-ray, my eyes couldn’t believe it. So 3 ribs is one thing, but after they pry apart your ribs for the sternotomy, those 3 ribs are just hanging there and are moving all over again. And then when it’s put back together, they are misplaced even more. So when she showed us the x-ray an how mangled they were, I started to tear up b/c finally I had an explanation as to why I was in so much pain. Maybe they had told us, but I seriously had NO CLUE. I finally had answers and it all made sense. I finally gave myself some grace.
Hard to see on this picture, but on the left side there is a complete split with a gap, another is on top of another and another one is cracked in half.
What I also learned is that as a cardiac patient, up and down days are completely normal and expected. If they don’t happen, you are not “normal.” I think in the healing race, you so badly want to get to the end line, so when an obstacle gets in your way, you just want to throw it to the side, but you have no strength to do so. In fact, you just tire even more. Those are hard pills to swallow. But if there is one thing I learned, it is that – that no matter where you are in the healing process, whether fresh out of surgery or weeks out, those bad days will happen. And there is not much you can do about them, but listen to your body and accept them.
By Tuesday, I was feeling quite well, but wanted just one more good day before heading home. Monday brought on a few setbacks with my blood tests and so I didn’t want to go home with uneasiness. I wanted to go home confident knowing that I wouldn’t have to come back! And Tuesday was that good day. I was able to walk a lot, I slept well, and by the time Wednesday rolled around…
WE WERE READY TO GO HOME!
Wednesday morning we knew it was going home day, but we told ourselves that we would not prepare to leave by a certain time. We’ve learned that when you set an expectation in a hospital setting, it’s likely to fail, unfortunately for various reasons. And good thing we didn’t b/c I had low magnesium, so I had to be on an IV for at least 2 hours. Though by the time noon or one came around, we were on our way!
As Dan wheeled me out, I wasn’t sure if I’d cry with fear or almost a bittersweetness of leaving our home for the past 16 days and all the people who God used to keep me alive and bring me to this point in my life, or with shouts of joy. I actually found myself doing neither. I found myself feeling incredible peace. Peace knowing that God had carried us through the storm. Peace knowing that I can do this at home. Peace knowing God’s got this and so do I.
The drive home went very well, being that I slept through most of it once again! By the time we were close to home though, I was ready to get out as the pain started to increase. But we made it! That’s all that mattered and…
WE WERE HOME.
Dan right away left to get Mazy and you can only imagine how joyous that reunion was.
These past few posts have been more on the “factual” side of the journey, but I’m eager to share how God used people too, in our journey at the hospital to change our lives. Our prayer is that we encouraged them too and hopefully left an impact on their lives as well.
So stay tuned!
The hospital had traveling therapy, such as dogs, guitars, singing groups, guitar and singing, which were such a blessing to listen to, especially after being so cooped up for so long! It was refreshing and rejuvenating!
The meals were actually pretty good, even after eating them for 3 weeks! The menu was QUITE extensive actually and the portions MUCH larger than I could ever eat! Lemon ice was always a guarantee!
This is what I “drank” all of the time, being on a fluid restriction! It was my life saver because water I would down too quickly, but ice was long lasting. Oh the things you learn!
I blew so many IVs – no joke, I had about 15 different IVs inserted throughout my time there between the two because something would always happen. This is actually a “kind” picture of my arm – it actually looked much worse in person!