When I sprung it on relatives, colleagues and friends that I was planning to have bypass surgery, the first response tended to be reassurances as to how healthy I looked, and questions as to how long I was ill. Funny, because I never considered myself ill at all. After all, all I had experienced was a bit of breathlessness and a little tightness in my chest when I exerted myself. I could swim laps indefinitely, as long as I used commonsense and didn’t try to break records. And after all, I was sixty-nine, no spring chicken in anyone’s language. How was that to be equated with illness, I was never ill a day in my life. Never missed a day of school or university or work. Ill indeed, I thought indignantly! In fact, quite honestly, I was really only proceeding with surgery prophetically, because the genetic scales were so heavily weighted against me. Was I just going to sit around and wait for those obstructed coronaries that I had looked at on the angiogram to totally plug and kill a huge chunk of my myocardium, or even me. I was determined to get those obstructed coronaries before they got me. So I carried on going to work every day, waiting to hear from my surgeon’s office as to when I would be having my surgery. Meanwhile, I was daily fielding a litany of phone calls from relatives and other well wishers, including dutiful nephews and nieces who no doubt were responding to their parents exhortations and gracefully did their duty.
Thursday was a fairly normal day at work although I did finish a little early in order to complete my paper work as Friday was 'coronary artery bypass surgery day'. I had my martini (of course) and a light supper and a visit from David, a great support as always.
11/19 /04 up at 5 am And David picked Irene and I up at 5.30 for our morning apt. In more civilized times patients were admitted the night before surgery to get acclimatized to the hospital environment and to get rested up before the surgery. "The system" (i.e. the administridiots who have destroyed it) no longer concerns itself with such things as long as it saves a few bucks.
At 6 am I was through the admitting area hardly noticing all those other poor souls with their problems small and great but none I was sure, as great as mine.
A kiss goodbye to my wife. A word of encouragement: clothes deposited in a plastic bag; then on to the stretcher in to the OR .
The Anesthesiologist greeted me at the door
So you are Davids dad?'' he smiled effortlessly sliding the IV needle into my vein.
"Yes, that's me,” I managed to smile back, trying to think of some smart answer.
The lights went out.
I opened my eyes. The lights came on! The anesthesiologist was gone. The operation was over and I was surprised at how little pain I had. Just like my niece Maureen had said describing some recent surgery - 'lights off, lights on.'
Now I had to get the damn breathing tube out of my throat. My God, I couldn't talk! I made as much noise as I could to attract attention and look as though I was really suffering, - maybe that way I could get rid of it! The Nurse leaned over me.
“Are you having a lot of pain?” she asked sympathetically.
I shook my head - no, but harrumphed and coughed as much as I could to make it quite clear I wanted this tube out of my throat. Maybe if I coughed hard enough I'd manage to propel the thing across the room.
I could hear the machine behind me, but couldn't see anything. Where the hell was I anyway? Alive, at least, and no sign of any stroke or paralysis or anything else horrible as far as I could determine. I seemed as sharp as ever! I tried to cough up the tube. The nurse injected something into the IV tubing and I drifted into some pleasant place.
I woke up with vague pain everywhere, and a horrible nauseated feeling. A nurse strolled by. “Something for the pain?” she said, deftly depositing a little cardboard container with two pills in it, into my hand, and launching the whole shoulder, arm, hand unit in the right direction. I swallowed them and soon dozed off again.
“Are you on these pills too?” I politely asked the woman just to the right of my shoulder when I woke up. I couldn't figure out why she was wearing the pretty bonnet right in the ICU. I managed to twist my neck around, to get a better look at her and saw this was an electric fan that somehow looked like a woman's face, framed in a bonnet. I gave a little chuckle to myself, as I realized my delusion- no wonder the poor old geriatrics got wingy after a few days on narcotics. I had at least one other similar episode. I looked at the clock, 11.10, must be at night, I thought. I drifted off to sleep again, and had a long deep sleep. I woke up again, and looked at the clock. 11.20!
Maybe I had slept right around the clock and it was twenty four hours later. Then I noticed people all hustling around and going somewhere! It looked like some sort of a set from the movies, something funny was going on here. Everyone was leaving. Nevertheless, someone was offering me pills again.
“I think I'm going to throw up,” I said.
“Hold on a minute,” the nurse said, a large basin appearing from nowhere.
I felt horrible, retched and threw up a large amount. The relief was immediate and wonderful. I closed his eyes and drifted into a deep sleep. When I looked at the clock a long time later, it was 11.30.
Somehow, the night crept by, a nanosecond at a time, but at least I could see that the morning would come eventually.
Two days later I was back on the ward.
Two days later I was back on the ward.
Note to myself on Dec 2. 2004
Apropos of nothing, but in the light of some of my recent thoughts, I was interested in this paragraph I just read in the NY Times Review of Books, from the review of the book by Harold Bloom entitled " Where shall wisdom be found?"
Bloom: "It reminds me of the experience of a friend years ago, when, awakening from major surgery, she heard in the recovery room a faint voice reciting the Easter soliloquy in which Goethe's Faust comes back from the brink of suicide to the joy of life. Through her anesthetic haze, she wondered to whom the voice belonged until she recognized it as her own; speaking a poem she had known by heart in childhood and somehow retrieved from deep memory during induced sleep."
Now if only I had known Goethe's Faust so well........
My notes from a few days later:
A bath! Oh, what a pleasure, oh what a joy! And, oh, how much muscle power it takes to get in, wash yourself and to get out! Amazing how much leverage, torsion and other forces involved in just sitting up, pushing yourself on to your feet, while praying that your feet don't slip away from under you, cracking your cracked thorax on the side of the tub, and ending back in the hospital.
And where does all that disgusting dirt in the water come from, when you haven't been out of your house and barely out of your bed since the last bath? Anyway, it confirms that the simple joys are great!