Tag Archives: Heart Surgery

Pain

It’s still Saturday, November 18th. A few hours after surgery I’m walking and sitting up. Then, the anesthesia started to wear off and my head started to clear and my chest started to hurt. I had to learn to cough to clear my lungs, which had been deflated. Part of my recovery was to work to re-inflate my lungs without catching pneumonia. There was fluid in my lungs I needed to cough out. But my sternum was broken which meant no deep coughing but a gentle action to slowly move the fluid out of my lungs.

There was a foot-long incision with staples down the center of my chest. My sternum was cut open and needed to heal. I had nerve damage. Lungs were deflated and needed to expand but had fluid in them. And I was starting to wake up completely which means I was starting to completely feel the consequences of the surgery.

Pain may be necessary but it is never liked. God gave pain to warn and inform us that something is wrong that needs making right. In the spiritual sense, physical pain is designed to drive a person to God. God’s intent is for every person to intimately know and love Him. He will not force anyone to have a relationship with Him but everyone will eventually stand before Him.

“We can rest contentedly in our sins and in our stupidities; and anyone who has watched gluttons shoveling down the most exquisite foods as if they did not know what they were eating, will admit that we can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, chapter 6, Human Pain.)  

We even accuse God of forgetting us or ignoring us in our pain. Why did He not stop the pain or the circumstance? Why did He allow my suffering? He allowed His Son to suffer pain beyond our puny understanding at the hands of the Roman while on the cross. He took upon Himself the agony we all deserve. This does not mean we will not feel pain. It means our identity with Christ includes pain and suffering as a way of preparing us for eternity with God. There will be no pain in eternity in God’s presence. There is always pain in this world.

People will do whatever is possible to avoid pain. We have good drugs. I was asked the level of pain I was in by a nurse and I said 7 out of 10. She gave me a drug that made me feel good. It took away the pain. It also convinced my wife and family there was no need to stick around because I was so loopy. No sense being with someone who is just going to sleep.

 

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Alive

I am alive.

This was the first thought I had on opening my eyes after surgery. I am alive. Considering the trauma done to my body, the possibility of death was ever present. Does it matter that the surgeon has done thousands of these procedures? Does it matter that the technology has advanced exponentially?  Yes. These factors matter. But, what matters more is God’s involvement in life.

We soon celebrate Christmas.  The birth of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Man. God decided to come in the likeness of man and experience the entire depth and breadth of being human, from conception to death. He did not do this because He did not know. He knows everything right down to the smallest detail. He came because doing so was how He decided to make Himself known to a world and people who had rejected Him. He came for the express intent of living a full life, then dying and being raised from the dead.

A living baby. No doctors. No technology. A young woman riding over 70 miles on a donkey with her new husband. No place to stay except with animals. No royal announcement except angels singing to shepherds. A baby, fully God and fully human the way God intended before sin entered. God’s gift to us.

I am alive and I will celebrate Christmas.

Attitude

It’s Friday morning and we have the results from the angiogram. I’m back in the patient staging area with Darlene and the doctor who did the test. He leans against my bed railing telling us the results. Nearby are three RNs standing around waiting for me to crash. Apparently, I am in critical condition. One of the arteries coming out of my heart is completely blocked. The doctor put in a pump to keep my heart beating.

I’m being moved from one hospital to another. I’m going from Kaiser Roseville to Mercy General, in Sacramento. Mercy General is the place to go for coronary bypass surgery, which is the only thing that will patch up my heart so it can work on its own again. They will be moving me by ambulance as soon as they can get me ready to go. Meanwhile, the three RNs are on alert in case they have to save my life.

I came in for a stress test the day before. Every previous test gave no suggestion of heart problems. But, today is different. If the bypass operation isn’t done soon, the doctors think I will not live. Within two hours I’m in an ambulance being delivered to Mercy General Hospital. Coronary bypass surgery is scheduled for the next morning. I had bumped another patient who apparently wasn’t as critical as I. They were afraid I might have to be bumped up even earlier. If I crashed, they would immediately take me into surgery.

I have never been in an ambulance before. The interior is stark, with cabinets and drawers containing stuff they might need. On one side is a low bench where the EMT and RN sit with me. I’m on a gurney.  There are windows and even lying down I can see where we are. I’ve driven the route enough to know the layout of the land.

There is an attitude that I must have to survive this ordeal. I must relinquish control of my body to the doctors and RNs who are taking care of me. If I fight them I would only make things worse. They will have to do everything for me. Up until surgery there are certain things I can still do for myself, like eat a little. But, at this point I don’t even roll over without help. I have to trust them.

Relinquishing control to someone you trust is not the same as abdicating responsibility and action. I must still decide my attitude remain positive no matter what happens. This does not just happen by an act of the will. A confident and clear attitude is a lifestyle choice and not something which can be switched on and off at will. It is either on or it is not.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11 ESV)

I do not belong to me. I belong to God. He created me for relationship with Him. This means my motivation and attitude have been directed by Him since I relinquished control to Him while continuing to shoulder responsibility for myself. Jesus Christ bought me when He died for me, giving me spiritual life. Not belonging to self is not a popular worldview. I am not interested in popular viewpoints right now. If I cannot be in control of my life, then there must be someone I can trust to be in control. I do trust the doctors. I trust God more.

 

Exercise

I am not a hard-core bicycle rider. When I ride I am not all hunched over, with the racing outfit, moving as fast as I can along the trail. My intent is not to conquer distance with speed. I started riding a bicycle several years ago because my Doctor told me I needed some sort of exercise to lower my weight and get my body in better shape. When I first started with the Library 28 years ago, I had a gym membership, going several times a week using the elliptical trainer and other stuff. For over twenty years I did this, but the gym and my motivation was doing nothing to help. A gym membership is too expensive so I finally quit. I did nothing for a long time. I was over-weight and out of shape. In 2011, I started riding a bicycle.

We live about a quarter mile from the American River Parkway and Bicycle Trail. I remember my first ride. I went about a mile. That is not far. It took over a year for me to go 2-3 miles. On one of those first rides I remember seeing some of the wildlife. Blue Heron. Kestrel. Red-shouldered Hawk. Lots of deer. A Coyote. I would see something, whip out my cell-phone and take a picture, a teeny-tiny speck of pixels lost in a slightly larger blurred image on a flip-phone screen. I knew what it was. Nobody else seemed impressed. “Oh, yeah. A Bird.” So, I started carrying a bigger camera with me. I would begin looking forward to riding. I would spend more time out on the trail, not necessarily riding, but finding and discovering. By two months ago I would ride anywhere from 6-7 miles to 15-20 miles. I have ridden every mile from the J Street-Fair Oaks Blvd bridge near Sac State to Beals Point at Folsom Lake.

I have also lost weight and kept it off. I am not thin, like most hard-core riders. I have never had a six-pack. I have a single pack surrounded by a life-preserver. I do not look like someone who rides a bicycle, let alone a great distance rider. But I do ride.

My father died from complications from triple-bypass surgery.  His heart surgery was not an emergency but came after 20+ years of heart problems.  He was told he had a 98% chance for a full recovery after this surgery but he didn’t make it out of Recovery.  He had 11 heart-attacks in nine days. They opened him three times. By the end of the ninth day I had watched his body take a battering I doubted anyone could survive. My mother died from complications of chemo treatment for leukemia. My brother died from a massive heart attack. All of the family evidence points to me having heart problems. Only a reckless person would suggest I was not a candidate for the same kind of coronary problems. I wanted the problems to happen much later, closer to the end of a long, full life. I’m 63 which, in my mind, is too young.

I will be out riding as soon as I can.