It was six days after my open heart surgery and getting to go home was an exciting prospect. It meant I was healing, making progress, getting better, and at the time most excitingly, it meant my own bed. However, not exciting and rather scary, was the realization that I'd be on my own. After nine total days in the hospital, I had grown rather accustomed to being surround by nurses, doctors, and life saving technology. I felt safe there, but knew that they wouldn't discharge me if I wasn't ready.
Before I left the hospital, I got several prescriptions to take at home, was taught how to walk up stairs, and given a long list of do's and don'ts. Some were musts like going on five 5-10 minute walks per day and continuing my breathing exercises. Others were definite no-can do's like driving for the next several weeks, lifting more than three pounds for the next three months, and shoveling snow (oh shucks about the last one!)
The list went on, but most things were only temporary. It was still a stark realization that life wasn't going to be quite the same. I was going to have to think about things I had never thought about before.
That already started as I was getting ready to leave the hospital. As protocol, I had to be pushed down to the car in a wheelchair. When the transporter arrived I realized I had one bag of belongings left to bring down with me. I looked at the bag, and realized I couldn't pick it up, it might be over my ten-pound weight limit, not to mention I was still pretty sore and scared to pick up pretty much anything. I'm not used to asking for help, but fortunately the transporter was no stranger to these situations and smiled, had me sit in the wheelchair, then put the bag on my lap for me.
Riding home in the car was probably the scariest part of that Saturday. With an incision down the middle of my chest and my sternum wired together, I was vulnerable. All I could think about was a car accident or the air bag going off, but I clutched onto my pink heart-shaped pillow and made it home just fine.
Home seemed surreal. I felt like I was gone much longer than nine days. It was almost as if I left one person and came back another, especially since the surgery was not what I expected when I left the house.
My fiancé had rearranged the living room and moved the guest bed downstairs so I didn't have to go up and down very much at first. Doctors and everyone else I talked to said rest was the key to recovery, so what could be better than a bed in the living room?
While help was no longer a nurse call button away, I was lucky to be surrounded that first week by my fiancé and family to help out with whatever I needed. I also had visiting nurses who stopped by the first few days to check on me and teach me about my new medicines and medical technology. The whole process fascinated me.
While I was in the hospital, I had what's called a "PICC line" inserted. That stands for Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter and is essentially a permanent IV/port inserted in my arm with a line directly to my heart. It's through this that I receive antibiotics. When I first came home, I was hooked up to a small machine called a "CADD Pump" which fit in a fanny pack and automatically administered the antibiotics every six hours. I had to remain hooked up to it pretty much 24 hours a day and change the bag of antibiotics once a day. After about two weeks, I had to switch antibiotics and now just have to get an injection once a day through the PICC line.
Also fascinating was an in-home monitoring system that the nurses installed in my house. Every day I can weigh myself, take my blood pressure, and heart rate and transmit it wirelessly back to the nurses so they can keep an eye on my vital signs.
Other than the medical musings and a few friends stopping by, the first week at home was pretty quiet and full of lots of sleep. I would go on one of my 5-10 minute walks, then need to take a nap. I would eat lunch, then need to take a nap. Do pretty much anything, then I'd need to take a nap. So, I got a lot of sleep and did a lot of healing. I also was trying to get used to not being able to do much around the house. Something as simple as carrying a full laundry basket to the washer, I couldn't do. It was frustrating at times, but fortunately I had help to do those things.
As the weeks have gone by, I've gotten stronger and been able to do more every day. My walks have gotten longer and my naps fewer. My energy is up and I'm feeling better every day. I know I've still got a long road ahead of me and will have to see a cardiologist for the rest of my life. I will also need to get my new valve replaced someday, but I'm just thankful to be alive and recovering well!