It has now been nearly six weeks since I had open heart surgery and I'm feeling better every day. There were times right after the surgery where I didn't think I'd ever feel anywhere near normal again, but slowly I've gotten stronger and am getting my energy back. There are even moments where I almost forget I had the surgery, but other moments where something will hurt or I can't do something that are stark reminders that I did.
I've been out of the hospital and home for about five weeks now and this past week was much different than the first I was home. The first, I slept all the time, watched a lot of TV, couldn't drive, and couldn't do much around the house. Now, I sleep far less (but still enjoy an afternoon cat nap here & there!) and am able to do a lot more, both around the house and outside of it.
The holidays were the first time I really did anything away from the house. My fiancé and I went to visit his family (mine lives out of state and I was just thankful to have been able to see them around the time of my surgery). While we had to skip a family function or two so that I didn't get too tired, I was still able to keep up for the most part. It felt good to be out of the house, celebrating Christmas with family. It also felt good to not be wearing a hospital gown or pajamas for the first time in weeks!
I credit healthy eating, rest, and lots of walks for my recovery. Walking is very important after you've had heart surgery. You start out walking down the hospital hallways, then move up to five 5-10 minute walks per day after you're released. From there, you start to go on longer but fewer walks. I'm now up to 1.5 miles and the distance gets easier every day. I'll also be starting a Cardiac Rehab class soon, where I'll be monitored by nurses and doctors as I begin to be more active.
It's been hard going on walks without my dogs, Murphie, a golden retriever and Hardy, a black lab. They used to be my walking/running buddies, but I have a weight lifting restriction of ten pounds for the first three months following my surgery. If the dogs were to pull on the leash for any reason, their pull could well exceed that limit. Immediately after the surgery the dogs went to stay with family and stayed there for the first few weeks so that the house was calmer when I was more fragile and first home. I missed them so much, but now they're back home with me and have been angels. Sometimes I think dogs have a 6th sense and know when they need to be calmer and more careful.
I've now had my first echocardiogram since the surgery. That test is basically an ultrasound for your heart and is the one that initially showed there was something wrong with my heart after five weeks of unexplained fevers. The test was important because I had not only a valve replacement, but also a patch put in my heart, so there were more variables, more things that could go wrong. This time, the echocardiogram was much different than the first. The surgeon told me everything looked great! It was a relief to hear that and added to my growing hope of feeling normal again.
Another thing that has added to that feeling of normalcy is being able to drive again after 4 weeks of not being able to. I got a little nervous getting behind the wheel for the first time, but took it slow and was just fine. My first trip I may have only been to a drug store three minutes down the street to pick up a prescription, but it felt liberating!
One of the hardest things for me has been that ten pound lifting restriction. Little things that used to be routine like carrying a laundry basket or picking up a stack of magazines are now off limits. I've learned to do some things one by one, like unloading the dishwasher. Instead of picking up a stack of plates, I'll lift just a two at a time. I've also learned to ask for help, which is hard for me because I'm so used to being able to do everything myself.
Through this process, I've learned how many people are there to help: my fiancé, family, friends. Even people I've never met have helped me through this, some have written me to offer words of encouragement, advice, thoughts, and prayers. Many who have also had open heart surgery have reached out to tell me that everything gets better and I'll be back to normal in no time. I am so grateful for all of this and am already feeling much better! I'm going to keep following doctor's orders and hope to be back soon!