Matters of the Heart, Part 20,

Boring isn’t something you normally want. Especially me. I like action, problem solving, and being busy.

However, there are times you want things to be boring.

Ben’s surgery day actually started out quite calm and uneventful. Although I didn’t sleep well at all the night before (3 hours isn’t much), Ben slept fine until the dogs woke him up about 4:00.

We were at the hospital by 6:30 am. And quite ready to get it over and done. Naturally we couldn’t help but remember the week before and how we’d been so close, but yet so far. I have to say I still wondered in the back of my mind if it could happen again.

Everything progressed along as it did the previous week. He even had the same nurse who remembered us (how could she not?!) and treated us just as great as the first time.

This time things seemed to progress more quickly. The charge nurse came in a little before 9, and then shortly thereafter his doctor and then the anesthesiologist. We even got to have a conversation with Dr. T about cardiac surgery, discussing the history of heart transplants, and talking about the growing popularity of the TAVR procedure and how there are so many more people becoming candidates for it that more of these specialized hybrid operating rooms are being constructed not only in our area, but throughout the country.

We were even more impressed by this young doctor, obviously one who really, really loved what he did. And that’s certainly just exactly the kind of doctor we wanted to perform such an exacting and complicated procedure. And to think, he and his team do five of these procedures every week!!

Ben went to the OR right around his scheduled time, and we said our quick good byes. As he was being wheeled in there and heard the classical music they were playing and asked the doctors if they couldn’t have something more upbeat, we were settling in the waiting area, checking our watches.

And yes, after we got through the first ten minutes with no one coming in to say it had been put on hold again, I was finally able to relax, realizing the procedure was actually in progress!

After about an hour, Dr. T came out and told us, “Your husband has a new valve, and it’s working just fine! It was a very uneventful and boring surgery!” Just what we wanted to hear!

However, he added, they’d noted he was in A-fib again, and they’d still have to decide what to do about that.

A-fib again??? Well, the results of the ablation had lasted 9 months…. And the heart valve has nothing to do with the A-fib. It’s a separate issue.

I couldn’t help thinking, “here we go again.”

Post-surgery care after Ben’s TAVR procedure was very different from what we’d had with the other valve replacements. Since his chest hadn’t been cut open, he was in a room in less than an hour afterwards. He was awake, although groggy, talking to the nurses and me, and eating ice chips. There were 4 IV lines running, but since he’d only been out for an hour he hadn’t been intubated.

Seventeen years in modern medicine has brought amazing advances!

He even got lunch about an hour and a half later! Of course, he was in a hospital, in cardiac ICU, so his meal was interrupted several times with technicians coming it with portable X-ray machines, echocardiogram machines, the nurse taking his vitals, checking IV’s, etc.

And I kept my eye on the heart monitor, which clearly showed he was definitely still in A-fib.

Although it can be common after this type of surgery and normally rights itself with medication, which he was already being given, because of his history, I knew that wasn’t likely going to happen.

Since his potassium level was still lower than they wanted, he had to have 4 IV bags of potassium, each taking about an hour to complete. Which meant he had to continue laying flat and wouldn’t be able to get out of bed for another 8 hours, since the potassium was being fed through a line which was still in the groin area, and he had to be still for 4 hours after that line was removed (which ended up being 9:30 that night!)

During all of this, the pacemaker team came in to check his pacemaker again, which is when they discovered he’d been back in A-fib over a month. Although his pacemaker can’t correct the A-fib it does record when it happens. Obviously his wasn’t caused from the surgery.

The next morning one of his doctors came in and was quite pleased with his well the new valve was doing, but explained they had to get the A-fib under control, and were hoping the meds he was being given would do it. So far, they hadn’t made much of a difference. Which meant he was still short of breath, even with the new valve.

When I got there later in the afternoon he was starting to get depressed already. He’d expected to feel so much better after the procedure, like everyone had told him, but because of the A-fib, he still had the shortness of breath and was still having trouble walking very far without becoming exhausted.

And as we were discussing it, a doctor walked in, saying, “Mr. Newell, we have to get this A-fib fixed up!” It was the doctor who’d done his ablation…the one who specializes in correcting electrical impulses in the heart!

I was never so glad to see him!

Before we could even begin the conversation his phone rang. He looked at it, and said, “Dr. T is calling me about you. I’ll be right back!”

And five minutes later he was. And told Ben he’d be scheduling him for a cardioversion first thing the next morning to get the A-fib corrected so he could go home!

Needless to say, we were thrilled! And he couldn’t wait til the next morning!

That next morning he waited to hear the scheduled time, but it seemed to take forever. Then the nurses told him his doctor has been called out to another hospital on an emergency, but he’d be back….

Fortunately at 1:00 he was wheeled down the hall and the short procedure was done. He was being wheeled back into his room as I arrived, literally following his bed down the hall!

The procedure had been immediately successful. His heart had been stopped and re-started and it went into perfect rhythm. He was already coming out of the light sedation and talking. And yes, I immediately looked at his monitor and saw the normal heart rhythm, a beautiful sight!

Although he wanted to come home that evening, and as nice as it would have been, because he was still tired and still got a bit winded walking up a flight of steps, we decided to have him stay at the hospital one more night so he could be monitored and get some more strength back.

Which turned out to be the right decision, because Saturday morning he felt so much better. His heart rate was just where it was supposed to be. He had no shortness of breath. No fatigue. He looked healthier than he had in months.

Finally!

I picked him up from the hospital at noon, and we arrived home, just as our granddaughter’s third birthday party was beginning!

Yes, the last five months have been stressful, long, and difficult. But at least for now, Ben is doing great. No shortness of breath. No fatigue. And getting ready to go back to work next week, which will be ten days after his heart valve replacement. After his last valve replacement he was out 6 weeks.

Our journey is still not over. That we know. There will always be follow ups and most likely a few hiccups along the way. That’s to be expected.

But for now, all is good! And of course more will be written as we continue to go through our process.

If you missed any of our installments please click on Matters of the Heart category above for all of the blog posts that are part of our story.

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