Matters of the Heart, Part 19

Sometimes you just go through a day, through the motions, and when it’s over you think back on it and just have to say, “What in the world just happened? And why?”

The day of Ben’s scheduled heart valve replacement surgery was that kind of day. Without a doubt. We’re still shaking our heads in amazement.

Of course the night before the surgery neither of us slept well. I went to bed very early because I was so emotionally drained and almost immediately fell asleep. Ben on the other hand was fine, but woke up at 3 in the morning and couldn’t go back to sleep. He just couldn’t wait to get the surgery done so he could start feeling better.

As soon as we got to the hospital that morning things progressed quickly and quite smoothly. Everyone was wonderful and he was back and prepped ready to go within an hour. Two of our best friends were there with us and we were all joking around and laughing, waiting to get “the show on the road!”

He was supposed to be taken for the procedure at 1:00. But by that time we still hadn’t seen the doctors or the anesthesiologist, so we knew things weren’t on time. Which isn’t unusual with heart surgery, since there are so many complications that could occur, especially when a valve has to be replaced.

The nurses kept apologizing, but of course it was out of their control. Finally his main doctor cane in to let us know two of the cases before him had been more difficult than planned, which of course took longer, but they were certainly going to get his done that day and as soon as possible.

Now heart surgery is something not to be rushed, not to be taken lightly. Although we were anxious, and just ready to get it over with, we all understood that the others before us deserved the same care and precision surgery that Ben would have.

So we waited as patiently as possible. Ben had had nothing to eat or drink since 9:00 the night before and he was starving and thirsty and miserable. The nurses gave him a damp sponge swab to rub in his mouth, which he called his “lollipop.” That helped a bit, but….

By 3:30 we were truly wondering if it was going to happen that day. But they had assured us…

The anesthesia team finally came in around 4:00, explained to us about the sedation, and said it would be soon. Hooray! And at 4:40 they came and got him finally! I said my good byes at the door to the OR suite and went to the waiting room, checking my watch to see when I should be expecting an update, which I figured would be about an hour.

You can imagine how I felt when the charge nurse came into the waiting room ten minutes later asking for the Newell family.

Her first words were “your husband is fine” which calmed me down. But now what??

It turned out that just as Ben got wheeled into the OR, as they were getting ready to transfer him onto the operating table, the word “STOP” was shouted out. Which of course stopped everything. A patient already in ICU was in a life threatening situation which required members of his cardiac team to be dispatched to that patient. Which of course delayed Ben’s surgery.

The charge nurse and I had a brief conversation, and I assured her we understood. After all, if my husband were the patient in critical condition, I’d want the team to switch to his care from someone who wasn’t as critical, even though it meant Ben would have to wait even longer. Or possibly get bumped to the next week.

So it was back to the holding area, and back to waiting. By now it was after 5:00, and we knew chances of having the surgery that day weren’t good.

And we were correct. His doctor came in around 6 and apologized profusely, but explained the other case was going to take at least three hours and by then his team would be too tired to do our procedure. Since they only do them on Wednesday’s he told us he would bump someone else from next Wednesday and put us either first or second for that day. So after a very long day we were sent back home. Ben was exhausted, thirsty, and starving, after almost 24 hours without eating or drinking.

And by the time we got home he was almost too tired to eat.

So once again we’re waiting for Wednesday. This time we’re the second case. Once again he’s back on extra fluid pills and extra potassium to try and minimize the shortness of breath. And of course he’s fatigued.

Several people have asked us if we were angry over what happened, and the answer is absolutely not. Disappointed, yes, but why would we be angry? Someone’s life was at stake, and as I said before, if Ben were the one whose life was at stake, I’d want them to take care of him over someone else. That’s how it works. And hopefully the person who was in that life threatening situation is ok. We may never know, but we’re certainly going to ask.

So once again we’re seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, and this time we’re really hoping it’ll turn out to be sunshine!

More to follow in Matters of the Heart, Part 20, which will be published a few days after the procedure is successfully completed next week.

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