I remember before surgery began that I was being wheeled from pre-op to the operating room. They had given me anesthesia in order to insert a Swan Ganz catheter (IV) into my neck and several IVs and catheters in other places. Apparently I was supposed to stay asleep, but I woke up and actually got to see the operating room. I was struck by the fact that it looked exactly like it does on TV: very bright lights, everyone wearing surgical greens, and it was freezing cold.
I must have surprised the anesthesiologist, who looked down at me once I was in place and said, “Oh, hello there!” He asked how I felt and I told him that I felt ok. He said, “Well we will see you later.” The last thing I saw was a mask coming to my mouth and maybe in two seconds, I was out.
I don’t remember if I dreamed anything during the time or not. Perhaps I did. Perhaps I dreamed of my family and the other 19 people (consisting of aunts, uncles, cousins and friends of my parents) who had come to sit the 6-hour vigil in the waiting room. Perhaps I dreamed of my new life in Chicago when all this would be over. Perhaps I dreamed of good times with Kelly, Jeff, Jon, Poodle, Jug, Ash, Aaron, and all my other friends whom I love and enjoy. Or perhaps I dreamed of Kevin, a man who inspires me to rise above, challenge myself, eschew materialism, and do it all with a warm smile and loving heart. I hope I dreamed of one or all of these things. But I can’t remember.
I was taken to pre-op at 12:30pm. It took the team three hours to sedate me, insert all the necessary IVs and catheters, and hook me up to the appropriate monitors, crack my chest open and separate my breastbone. At 3:30pm, the cardiac surgeon entered the operating room to begin removing veins from my leg, and an artery from my chest wall to give me the four bypasses that I needed. During this time, blood was being pumped through my body by a machine, and two tubes each inserted into a lung through my mouth did my breathing.
I came out of surgery at 6:30pm. I was taken to recovery where I ended up coming out of anesthesia too early and had to be sedated again. After surgery, normal time for extubation (being taken off of the ventilator) is 6-8 hours. I was removed in 4 hours and 15 minutes (I am an overachiever, what can I tell you?). I woke up long enough to have the two breathing tubes removed from down my throat. I was told to breathe in, breathe out, breathe in and cough. With that, and an accompanied gagging noise, they pulled the tubes out of my mouth. My family then finally got a chance to see and talk to me.
I remember seeing my mom and dad. I remember asking what happened – as in how many bypasses (because we originally thought it would be five but it turned out to be four), I asked how long it had taken, and I asked what time it was. When my mom said, “It’s 11 PM”, I remember responding, “Go home.” I passed out and awoke in the room that would be my new home for the next 4 days.
I heard a woman’s voice and recall it being soft and soothing. She said her name was Rhonda and that she would be with me throughout the night. She fed me ice chips and gave me water. I don’t remember if I felt any pain or not, but I do remember wondering why I was awake and not sleeping. I took a moment and acknowledged that since I woke up, there must be more for me in this life. And I was certain I knew what that was. Eventually I passed out again.
I lay there for the rest of the night, drifting in and out of conciousness, listening to a sweet voice in the dark room, with the following accessories:
1. Oxygen tube up my nose;
2. An IV access line in my neck that went directly to my heart;
3. An IV access line in my left arm;
4. An IV line in my left wrist to drain blood;
5. Two chest tubes, one on either side, that were inserted into my chest to drain excess fluid from my lungs that ran down my legs and into a container on the floor;
6. A drainage tubes, between the chest tubes that drained excess fluid from around the heart. This tube was about 6 inches long with a ball cup on the end that would be emptied every 6 hours;
7. Six “pace wires” that were just below the chest tubes that would be used to hook me up to a pace maker should my heart stop;
8. An IV tube in my right arm;
9. A catheter in my upper right leg that monitored my blood pressure during surgery;
10. A catheter into my bladder that emptied into a container on the floor;
11. Three incisions down the inside of my right calf from where the veins were harvested;
12. And, of course, a 9” incision down the center of my chest.