Matters of the Heart, Part 26

You know there’s always an extra story… nothing is ever as simple as we think. It’s always an adventure!

Friday morning started way too early. We were at the hospital at 6 am. Mind you, that’s the time I’m usually getting up! I’d told Ben several times I was going to call an Uber to take him, but I got up and took one for the team, as the saying goes!

When we arrived the waiting area for surgery check in was packed! Obviously Fridays are as heavy a surgery day as the rest of the week. We were prepared for a long day, but not nearly as long as it turned out to be.

Check in was as smooth as ever, although Ben wasn’t called back til almost 7:00 for pre-op preparation, which meant I didn’t go back with him til 7:30. Two of the nurses remembered us from our previous visits, and although they were happy to see familiar faces again, they did say they hoped it was a long time before we were back.

Yeah, we felt the same way!

Everything progressed as usual until one of the nurses came in to go over post operation procedures for pacemaker surgeries. Not a big deal, right? This wasn’t his first one.

But things had obviously changed from five years ago, because one of the first things we were told was that he couldn’t drive for four weeks!! Excuse me? That’s 90% of his job, and no one ever told us that, nor was that the protocol the last time. Of course, Ben told her that wasn’t going to happen. I was afraid he was going to cancel the surgery!

She nicely explained he would have to talk to his doctor when he came in, and that certainly was his plan! He also would have to wear a sling at night to keep his arm stabilized in order to minimize the possibility of the pacemaker wires being dislodged. Good point. And he would have a new monitoring device to take home so that the new pacemaker could transmit information at night back to the monitoring station at the doctors’ office.

I guess because the last time we went through this it was an emergency procedure, we didn’t have all these instructions beforehand. Nor would we have had very many questions, since he had no choice that time but to have the pacemaker installed.

But this was a new device, one which would not only prevent his heart from going into Afib and hopefully eliminate his fluid buildup and shortness of breath, but would also deliver a shock to his heart if it started going too far into Afib again. As the nurse told us, patients who’ve experienced such an event said it felt like a horse kicking them in the chest. And then she proceeded to give us further instructions on what to do if the device did deliver a shock, including calling 911 immediately.

We knew she had to tell us these things, but that didn’t sound promising. However, we were told that possibility was not very likely in his case, since his device would be set to only go off to shock him if his heart rate went above 180, and normal rhythm is around 70.

Ok. That sounded hopeful. Of course, I wasn’t the one having surgery…

At one point I was worried that Ben would decide not to get the new pacemaker and just leave the hospital.

But when the doctor came in to talk to us, he told us the driving restrictions were only for two weeks, and explained that was because they didn’t want to risk the wires being dislodged or pulled out due to any sudden driving moves. Or because his shoulder would likely still be sore from the surgery, and his driving reactions might be slower than usual.

That made sense.

Of course he’d have the usual restrictions on not lifting or carrying anything over ten pounds, not walking the dogs with that arm, etc. that we already knew.

The doctor also added that he would be leaving the old pacemaker in and merely disabling it, rather than making another incision and disrupting the chest again, so fortunately there would be an easier recovery and less chance of infection.

So Ben was finally more at ease, kidding around with the nurses and technicians like his normal self. Our daughter had arrived earlier with our 3 month old granddaughter and she’d put little Ryleigh on the bed beside her dad. So of course he was telling everyone he’d come in for heart surgery and had a baby instead! And a really cute one, too!

We even told the doctor how my coworker had said they should just leave the old pacemaker in and make it a USB port or a warning light that would blink if there were a problem. Funny how our minds work sometime. But it helps distract us from the stress of what’s going on around us. (And the doctor thought those comments were great!)

So after all this we were finally ready. Or as ready as we’d ever be. We were ready for Ben to be back to his normal self. To be active again. To climb stairs without getting winded. To be able to go bike riding again. And on walks with our two dogs. To play with our granddaughters and not be worn out.

When they came to get him this time we believed it was finally going to be the end of a long journey.

But suddenly I had this little feeling of unease. Nothing I could really put my finger on. I dismissed it. And after we told him goodbye, Ashley and the baby and I went to the waiting room once again while he was wheeled off to surgery.

Another two hours or so and it would be over, and all would be good! Right?

More to follow in Matters of the Heart, Part 27.

Matters of the Heart, Part 23

Spending three nights and two and a half days in the hospital hadn’t exactly been in our plans for Ben just a month after a very easy and successful heart valve replacement procedure.

But unfortunately the Afib decided it was much more dominant than a new heart valve, and if you’ve read our installment of Matters of the Heart, Part 22, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

Although we were so sure our hospital stays were over, once the Afib came back just three weeks after the cardioversion two days after the valve replacement, it was unfortunately a matter of time. At the emergency room he was hooked up to IV’s once again, given stronger meds to steady his heart rate, and IV injections of lasix to reduce the fluid buildup which had put him in a serious state of congestive heart failure.

And as nice as the new cardiac wing of that hospital was, and as friendly and caring as the nurses were, it still wasn’t the place he’d planned to be that week, and it wasn’t fun trying to get his body back to some semblance of normalcy so he could come back home and be able to function normally until the next cardiac procedure to hopefully eliminate the Afib once and for all!

Which was still over three weeks away.

When he finally came home he was somewhat better. The meds were helping the Afib a little, although it still didn’t go away, but the shortness of breath continued. Some days were worse than others, and he still didn’t have the energy to go back to work.

The next week was Fourth of July. We always had a cookout with friends over. This year it was extremely modified. Just a couple of close girlfriends and I were in the pool that afternoon, and Ben did manage to grill burgers for us, but he was mostly confined to staying inside in the air conditioning and watching baseball on TV. Not much excitement over a long holiday weekend, since he really didn’t feel like going anywhere. We even missed a birthday party for one of Ashley’s friends’ daughter, something we’ve never missed.

Increasing the lasix helped a bit, and he was able to go back to work the next week, although in the office rather than his regular courier routes. But at least he was able to feel productive and get out of the house!

For those of you who cannot really imagine what this is like, let me try to explain. For Ben, it’s a day by day ordeal, wondering each morning how he’s going to feel. If his heart rate will be jumping all over the charts, which makes him exhausted. If his blood pressure will stay in the normal range or drop dangerously low requiring another hospital visit. If the fluid accumulation will become worse which causes difficulty breathing and shortness of breath, making it a chore to go up stairs, lift anything over about 7 pounds, or even go for a walk. Some mornings he’s ok for a while, and some mornings he says he felt like he didn’t get any sleep when I know he did.

It’s no fun living like that, and he keeps saying he’s just waiting for something else to happen to cause another trip to the emergency room. He checks his heart rate 3-4 times a day as well as his blood pressure, and makes sure to text me the results.

For me…I worry. I can’t help it. I still wake up at night and listen to be sure he’s breathing. If he has to get up during the night, I immediately wake up as well and can’t help but ask if he’s ok. I take notice of the swelling in his abdomen and his feet and ankles and remind him to put his feet up every chance he gets. I watch his facial expressions and have learned to tell when he’s not feeling right, or getting short of breath again.

And yes, I probably nag him too much to take it easy when I think he’s overdoing it. He tells me he knows his limitations, but to me, it seems he stretches them a bit because he just wants to do what he normally does. Which worries me as well. But it’s difficult watching your husband go through this struggle, and not being able to fix it.

Fortunately his ablation and upgrading his pacemaker will be done shortly. All we can do now is wait, and pray it will correct this situation once and for all.

It’s a journey, although not one we chose. But we’re getting through it with the help of good friends, family, and understanding co-workers. And some excellent doctors.

More to follow, in Matters of the Heart, Part 24.

Matters of the Heart, Part 22

Sometimes our stories don’t unfold the way we think they should, the way we want them to. And with a cardiac patient, unfortunately sometimes that’s more than true.

After spending the weekend waiting for a call about what the doctors had decided to do, and no calls coming in, we could only hope that we’d hear something on Monday. And of course, each day Ben’s condition got slowly worse.

He had already called his boss Sunday afternoon and taken another week of sick time off. As tired and short of breath as he was, there was absolutely no way he could do his job on Monday which entailed driving to Williamsburg from Virginia Beach, making thirty stops at local businesses (in and out of the car twice each time)and then stopping at the Williamsburg bank branch to drop off what he had collected, and then drive back home.

Monday morning his heart rate was in the 130’s and his blood pressure was low, but still not quite low enough for concern. He stayed around the house all day, inside instead of out in the summer heat, and took a nap, but by the time I got home from work his heart rate was still high, his blood pressure was lower, and the shortness of breath was much more pronounced. Not a good combination.

He finally had gotten a call from the doctors’ office and was told that his doctors had scheduled a procedure for him on July 17, almost a month away. He would have another cardiac ablation, followed by upgrading his pacemaker to include a defibrillator, which would shock the heart back into regular rhythm when it went into Afib. This had been discussed before, but now obviously it needed to become a reality.

But waiting almost a month to have it done…that wasn’t what we wanted to hear. Unfortunately both doctors were scheduled for vacations, and the special operating room needed was booked solid.

He had asked why he couldn’t get in sooner since he was in such bad shape by now, but was repeatedly told he was not in an emergency, life threatening situation. So he would have to wait. A month. While he became worse every day. And the only other solution would be to go to the hospital if he started getting any worse.

Well, by the time we were ready for dinner that night his blood pressure was down to 90/72 and his heart rate was climbing. He could also feel his heart fluttering. So he called the after-hours number to his doctor, and it seemed to take forever to get a call back. In that shape, 45 minutes felt like forever!

And when he finally got the call, and explained his symptoms to the Physicians Assistant who called him back, we got ready to go to the hospital. As the PA said, “Ben, you’re a ticking time bomb right now. You need to go to the hospital now. Don’t wait.”

So I grabbed my keys, my ID badge, and off we went! He was walking so slow we were worried he might need to be carried, but he didn’t want an ambulance.

Fortunately we live 5 minutes from the hospital, and when I pulled up I put my emergency flashers on and ran inside to get someone with a wheelchair to bring him in. Amazing how quickly that works when you say breathing problems and cardiac patient! (And yes, if we weren’t so close, we would’ve called an ambulance!)

They took him back right away and by the time I had parked the car and run back inside, he was being wheeled into a triage room where he was hooked up to a heart monitor, IV lines started, EKG taken, blood drawn, put on oxygen, and meds given to calm his heart down. By that time it had reached 144, which was way too high, and his blood pressure was dropping.

All I could think about was the time we were there some five years ago when he’d coded in front of me. I couldn’t shake those feelings. And when you’ve been in that situation before, you tend to relive it in your mind more than once.

Fortunately that didn’t happen this time. They were able to quickly stabilize him with medication, and his heart rate went back down and actually stabilized. His blood pressure slowly came up to a normal reading.

And I breathed a sigh of relief.

I also knew he would probably be there for a few days, because we had no idea how long his symptoms would stay in the normal range without all the medications, and he still had a lot of fluid in him which was causing the shortness of breath. And when he tried to stand up, he was shaky and light headed.

Of course, in my opinion this certainly constituted an emergency situation. But I guess in the overall scheme of cardiology, since he was able to be stabilized with the medication, it still wasn’t.

And after three hours in the Emergency Room, around midnight he was transferred to a room in the new cardiac wing, a large corner room, with a view of the new garden area, and a “smart bed” that could talk to him. Three nurses were waiting for him when we got there. As nice as it was, and as wonderful as the medical staff was, this wasn’t how we wanted the week to start.

We knew he was in good hands, and he was where he needed to be, but still….

Here we were again….

More to follow in Matters of the Heart, Part 23….