March 1, 2007

Hey all, this will be a short post (sitting on my butt in front of the computer is not exactly recommended for me right now), but I wanted to express my deep thanks to everyone who has sent support, love, and energy (in whatever form) to Debbie and I over the last week. We are truly grateful to all of you, and I am particularly thankful that Debbie has had the support she needed.

Today is seven days since my surgery, and my first full day home. I am feeling pretty good, overall, and looking forward to feeling even better. Stanford sent me home with a remarkably busy recovery schedule, so much so that I remarked to Debbie today that I wasn’t sure there were enough hours in the day to get everything done. Of course, “things to get done” include lying down about three times a day for twenty minutes each, so don’t think I’m too busy. 🙂

I am taking so many pills that Debbie bought me one of those old-people pill grids, with days of the week across the top and times of day down the side. The bulk of pills are in the morning, so much so that after gulping down a startling number this morning I glanced down to notice I still had five left to swallow! (I wasn’t paying much attention to how many the nurses handed me in the hospital.) The number and variety of these magic beans will decrease over the next several weeks.

What can I say? The whole experience washes over like a tsunami. I’ll describe more as time, energy, and Stanford’s recovery schedule allows.


Where you hang your hat

March 1, 2007

Hurrah!  Shawn has returned home as of this morning.  All of his tests came back with good results and Stanford released him very soon after I arrived at the hospital.

We experienced a bit of chaos and drama at the end of the day yesterday.  Shawn was supposed to go for a CT scan (a super x-ray) on Tuesday, but could not because of some heart arrhythmia the previous night.  Each time they decide to do a CT, the patient is put on a clear liquid diet.  So on Tuesday, Shawn had broth for breakfast and then broth for lunch before they decided to cancel the scan and let him have solid food.  “We’ll schedule you for early tomorrow,” they said, “but we can’t be sure when it will happen, because we only have two scanners, and one breaks down a lot.  Traumas and outpatient scheduled appointments have priority over inpatient scans, so we just don’t know when.”  Wednesday’s broth for breakfast rolled into broth for lunch as we waited.  And waited.  One of the scanners had, indeed, broken down.  At around 5pm, before the dinner tray of broth was scheduled to arrive, we were told that they would scan him soon (before 7pm) and then maybe send him home.

This is where the chaos ensued.  My guess is that someone was under the impression that Shawn wanted to be out of the hospital that night, no matter what, when in fact he was willing to wait another day so that everything would be checked out and nothing rushed.  Besides the scan, he needed to have the IV in his neck and arm removed, practice climbing stairs with a physical therapist, and get a few other items (prescriptions, in particular).

There is another CT scanner in one of the clinics associated with Stanford, and it had little bits of time available for inpatients.  The nursing team and someone from the surgical team began to talk about releasing Shawn from the hospital, then sending him to this clinic on his way out of Palo Alto.  At this point, it was about 7pm, Shawn was actually hungry for the first time in a week, and I was trying to wrap my head around getting the scan, having the IVs removed, finding the PT, getting the prescriptions (and where to fill them at the late hour we would be arriving home).  It just wasn’t working for either of us, particularly the part where he was released from the hospital before the CT scan had been read.  The surgeon himself came in to assure us that this was an okay plan, but it still felt a bit rushed and last-minute, and this was one of those times when I wanted to be clear about everything.

Shawn and I asked a few of these questions of the nursing team, and they sent in Judi, the cardiac nurse coordinator who had explained much to us on Shawn’s pre-op day.  She was wonderful– she asked us what we wanted to do, and found a way to make it work.  He ended up getting the scan at this clinic (probably about 8pm), then came back to his room and had his neck IV removed and slept there.  In the morning, the doc was able to read the scan, Shawn met with the PT, and generally we were able to get all of the exit procedures finished at a reasonable pace.  And he did get some solid food that night!
Again, I think that all of this mishigas was the result of some kind of miscommunication about our relative eagerness to leave the hospital vs. getting all the ducks in a row.  The whole thing was straightened out quickly, and we got what we wanted and needed.  And now Shawn is home, has his meds, and has been able to shower and relax, eat a good meal.  A fortunate ending for all, in my opinion.

Another short update, I’m afraid.  Shawn walked around 4-5 times today, and should be going in for his last scans (from Stanford’s point of view, anyway) tomorrow.  He’s probably leaving the hospital on Wednesday, although there is a slight chance that he’ll be home tomorrow.  From what I understand about the timing of these tests, it’s pretty unlikely that they’ll be done early in the day, so methinks that Wednesday is a better bet.

He’s in good spirits and coping with his recovery with as much good humor and will as possible.  It’s tough– he’s constantly tired and can’t use his arms for much– no pushing himself up out of bed (or chairs), no lifting >5 lbs.  He can’t put any pressure on his sternum right now until the bone heals, and that means no pushing or pulling with his arms.  It’s a whole new world of body awareness for him.

ICU is history

February 26, 2007

Shawn got out of the ICU this afternoon, and is now in the intermediate ICU.  The visiting hours are more relaxed and he has a private room, plus it shows more progress (e.g. his blood pressure and heart rhythms are normal and stable).  Overally, this is very much an improvement.

He walked today, about 20 yards, which is a great start.  I mean, people had their hands inside his ribcage only three days ago, and now he’s walking.  Modern medicine is just amazing to me sometimes.

He had some more visitors today, which made him happy.  They removed the tube that drained his chest wound, as well as some of the lines for medicines.  He doesn’t seem to be in much pain, just some tightness  in his chest.

I apologize somewhat for the short posts, but my days are very full and I’m doing this at the end.  Now I’m going to eat some dinner and get some sleep.

Improvement continues

February 25, 2007

Another quick update (apologies, tired).  Shawn was in a lot less pain today, although still extremely tired.  He sat up in a chair again and even stood for a couple of minutes, which definitely qualifies as progress.  He’s still in the ICU, waiting for his blood pressure to stabilize before he can be transferred to the intermediate ICU.  This should happen tomorrow, but it seems that we are still subject to larger forces than his or my will, unfortunately, so there are no guarantees.

He had quite a few visitors today, to the point that the  ICU nurse had to kick some of us out– the rule is two visitors in the room, and at one point we had five, so this was understandable.  Still, he was happy to see our friends and was pretty animated while they were there.  He asked me to tell our readers “Hi” and “Thanks.”

That’s all for tonight– it’s dinner and sleep for me, and soon.

Let the healing begin

February 24, 2007

Just a quick note: Today, I could see Shawn’s improvement as the day passed.  He seemed a bit stronger each time I visited him.  The increments were understandably small (this is open heart surgery, after all), but by the end of the day he had been able to sit up for a while and even ate some food.  He was in some pain, of course, but that was remedied with modern analgesics great and small.  There is a chance that he will be out of the ICU tomorrow, but we’ll see how things progress.


February 23, 2007

Shawn’s surgery was successful. The surgeon was able to spare his aortic valve, so he will not need a mechanical valve with its attendant lifelong blood-thinning issues. The rest of his tissues look good, and the surgeon was impressed with the size of his coronary arteries (this is healthy, not related to the aortic dilation).

The surgery was long, about seven to seven and a half hours, which is normal for a valve-sparing aortic replacement. It was a long day, since we had to be at the hospital at 5:15am for the pre-op procedures.

His parents and I saw Shawn after the nurses settled him in the ICU. The team at Stanford had done a great job preparing us for the post-operative visit (more on this later), and so the various tubes, hanging bags of fluid, and machines that go “beep” were not a surprise. For the first couple of hours, Shawn was still sedated and intubated, so, although we talked to him and told him we loved him, I get the feeling that those first visits were more our well-being than his. Just a guess, and Shawn may have more to say more about this when he returns to Blogtown.

During our last visit, at 8pm, the doctor and nurses were bringing him out of sedation so that they could remove the breathing tube. He was conscious, though a bit groggy, and seemed very happy to see us. He held my hand and responded to yes/no questions by nodding/shaking his head. I asked him if he was comfortable (or as much as possible), and he nodded. We left after a few minutes so that he could rest and have the tube removed; he had said previously that he wanted the tube out as soon as possible, so I imagine that he felt better last night.

A word about the staff at Stanford: It’s easy to see why this is a top medical facility. Sure, they do the big research and the fancy procedures, but the fact is that the staff (nurses, PAs, desk workers, everyone, really) is fantastic. During the pre-op visit on Wednesday, the process was efficient and gave us ample opportunity to ask questions. We were told, in quite a bit of detail, what to expect for the next 24-48 hours, and this included not just visiting hours and “You’ll see a lot of tubes,” but why our visits were restricted and why the tube was there. We received updates during Shawn’s procedure from the nurse-coordinator for surgery and the ICU (not sure of her exact title, but this seemed to be her function), letting us know how things were progressing and how much longer it might take. When we had a question, someone was able and willing to answer it. I was just really impressed with the experience so far, as a family member. They do good work, and it’s at all of the levels I’ve seen so far.

Now I’m getting ready to see Shawn this morning. It will be my first time seeing (and hopefully hearing) him without intubation, and I’m quite looking forward to it.