Hello to all!
I just wanted to send out an update about the happenings around here. Some of you are obviously aware of what has been going on around here but I will apologize to any of you that we did not manage to let know in a timely fashion. I will also apologize for the lengthy note here. It has been a bumpy ride that reminds me why I never really liked roller coasters!! I also do not remember who I have told what as the days seem to melt together.
First off, let me say that Tom is at home and recovering from his open heart surgery on 9-18-08.
I will write a short synopsis of how we came to Tom being a member of the “mended hearts club.” (Let me assure you that he did NOT want to be a member of this club, but they inducted him anyway.)
We went to visit Jeffrey and Jessie at Virginia Tech on Sat, 9-13-08. There are 5 of them renting a big, older house in Blacksburg and we wanted to see their new living arrangements. We attended the Tech game on Sat. It was scorching hot and we climbed several hills, stadium stairs and sweated like pigs! It was neat to see the Hokie spirit in action and the fighter jets flying over. We left Blacksburg around 9:15 Am on Sun and were traveling interstate 81 to home. (It takes about 4 hours to get home.)
All was well until Tom started feeling “lightheaded and flushed” while driving 70 miles an hour down the interstate. Being the stoic guy that he is, he changed lanes in front of a tracker-trailer truck (as he says “I did it safely” and “I did the right thing”), and waited a few more minutes before telling me he was having problems. He decided a few yards past the exit to let me drive, so we had to drive to the next exit. The whole time I am driving to find the next exit, I am asking a million medical questions and he answered them all with “No”, except he “felt lightheaded.” At this point, we drive about 5 more minutes and pull off at some hole in the wall gas station and Tom says “we need gas”. While I am getting gas, going to the ladies room, buying aspirin for him (at his suggestion ---go figure, the nurse is so upset she doesn’t even remember this recommendation!) I do remember to ask about the nearest hospital. They tell me the nearest one is 20 min. the way we just came, or 1 ½ hours going forward, closer to home. After I told the info to Tom, and he agreed to going BACK…then, I was a REAL basket case. It was a wonder I didn’t cause him to have a heart attack….. with me driving 75 miles an hour, with no idea where we were going. It is a real miracle that I even found the hospital in the first place!! Let me be the first to tell you that they need more posted “H” signs for hospital locations!!!
Once we got to Roanoke Memorial Hospital, (with two dogs in the car no less), we waited 30 minutes before anyone even took his blood pressure! After they assessed him and he again answered “No” to all their questions, his blood pressure was only slightly elevated, and he was having no pain, they then proceeded to having us sit and wait 2 ½ hours more. In the process, I am calling Jeffrey to come get the dogs since he is 45 minutes away and the closest one to being able to help. Tom starts feeling better, and says “this is BS…I’m leaving… I feel better.” I proceeded to the desk and told them that we are traveling, my husband wants to leave because he “feels better”, and how long before he will be seen. They get him pretty quick after that and that was the beginning of all the “fun”. As the little gal who finally checked us in the ER said, “you are more significant than most of those out there, so we don’t want you to leave”.
Anyway, we end up spending the night in the “chest pain center” for observation. They do the nuclear stress test on Monday morning at 6 AM. They came and told us he “had some changes” on that test and that he needs a cardiac cath. All along Tom is thinking these symptoms are due to dehydration from the Hokies game and too much caffeine …or maybe even low potassium since he had a similar episode about 1 year ago. (This was the story we told them but in reality, we have found out that it was in April of 2006 that he had the previous episode.) The cardiac cath showed some blockages and that open heart surgery was the only surgery that would help.
One of our hardest decisions was transferring him closer to home. They wanted to do the surgery on Tuesday 9-15 down in Roanoke, but it was a logistical nightmare with no family nearby, follow-ups that would take a 3 hour drive, etc… Unfortunately, the doctor indicated he would not discharge Tom to drive home but wanted him transferred by ambulance. Because Roanoke is a level one trauma hospital and Fairfax Hospital (the hospital closer to home with a huge heart center) is also a level one trauma hospital, our insurance would not cover the ambulance ride to an equal care level hospital. (So that made it optional, based on patient request…go figure.)
Anyway, it took a full day delay to get all arranged and we ended leaving Roanoke at 10 PM via ambulance, and arrived at FFX Hospital at 2: 30 AM. Tom said that was the worst trip ever…bumping down 81, strapped to a gurney, with all the road work being done at night. By the time we saw a new cardiologist, and talked to the cardiac vascular surgeon, it was too late to have the sugery done on Wed…so we had another delay. Let me just say that waiting in a hospital with a hospital phobe, an uptight, stressed wife/nurse that only knows enough to be dangerous was MISERY!
They took Tom in for his surgery Thursday, 9-18-08 at 5:00AM. I thought waiting before surgery was bad but the actual surgery day was AGONY! They told us that he should be out around 11 AM and when we got the call at 10:30AM that they “had some trouble with the grafts” and were just then putting him on the heart pump, it was until 1:45 when they called to say he was off the pump. It was about 2:30 when we spoke with the doctor. To tell you the truth, I am not sure what all he said because I was just glad Tom made it out. He was on a ventilator when we got to see him, (this was expected) and he started breathing on his own fairly quickly (Thank God!) They took out all the millions of tubes and drains pretty quickly and began the process of moving him to the step down unit…as the ICU nurse said, “a patient’s level of importance is due to his “connections”.
He stayed in ICU about 24 hours, then moved to the step down unit on Fri, 9-19-08.
I will admit that I was a little out of control when we got to his new room because it was not a private room. Just our luck that there are only 3 rooms that aren’t private and we got one of them. IF there had been room to turn around in that little room that was originally designed as a single occupancy, I would have been fine but there was not even a chair for me to sit in! I took a lesson from my “let me be blunt sister” (she would have been proud of me), and threw a fit and got us moved to a private room. I was upset about throwing a little fit when I calmed down, but in this case, it was a good thing. (Becky made bread for the staff to “make amends”.) Tom was totally glad I could stay with him. All in all, the nursing care was really good. We had a little delay in getting him up to walk due to our nurse being overwhelmed with more patients than she could handle. I will be eternally grateful to Emme Paradise (friend of Michal’s that is an occupational therapist working at FFX) for coming after her work day and getting Tom up to walk.
By Sunday, (4 days after the surgery) they were saying we were going home. I will say I was a little concerned about taking the boy home then because he really had only been up and walking about 2-3 times. We were gearing up for discharge and the doctor pops his head in long enough to say, “Well, we are keeping him tonight because he had a period of fast heart rate (SVT for the medical junkies), this is not unusual, and if all is well, he will go home tomorrow.” The doctor then left before we could even catch our breath. I would say the doctor was in the room tops, 3 minutes, if that!
Tom did really well and we came home on Mon 9-22-08.
The patient is doing really well. He is up walking, not doing stairs just yet but we hope to do those today. If you asked him about the worst part of this, (other than the obvious change in life style from “healthy person” to cardiac patient), he would probably tell you that he hated the blood draws and changing the IV site on our last day there. He really hates needles and gets really uptight about those. They stuck him hourly for blood sugar checks for the first night in step down and he is one big bruise!! He also has named his breathing exercise machine as “Mr. Pain”. We are trying to reach a delicate balance between using “Mr. Pain” like Tom wants to vs how his wife/nurse wants him to do it! He really has been super in all that he has had to go thru and says that he only has pain basically when he does the breathing exercises. He is doing really well with the not smoking stuff right now and we hope that continues!! As the cardiologist told him when they were talking, “you WERE a smoker, right?”
Anyway, we are blessed that he is home, doing well. We are in the process of scheduling appointments, having the home health nurse check on him, and trying to move forward.
He has been on his computer some, checking his facebook account and trying to keep moving.
We both want to thank everyone that has helped us through this difficult time and for all your prayers, gifts, calls, and the million other things everyone has done for us. We both realize what great friends and family we are blessed to have and we can’t thank you all enough. The boys and their gals have really been unbelievable through this all. We love them very much and are so proud of them!
Tom has kept the teddy bear that Teddy gave him prior to surgery as his good luck charm.
Anyway, here is a picture of the patient up and about!!