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Of CABGs And Kin part 3
"On a scale of one to ten, how much pain are you in?"
That has got to be one of the weirdest questions I'd ever been asked. I got accustomed to it, but it never got less weird.
The first time I was asked, it was the EMT preparing to get me in the ambulance. I told him I wasn't actually in any pain, and really didn't understand what was going on, since I could walk perfectly fine.
"You're not having chest pains?"
"Nope. I'd had been having some discomfort when I do some physical stuff, but I'm fine right now."
"So on a scale of one to ten, how would you rate that pain?"
I explained that it really wasn't pain, but discomfort. Pretty severe discomfort, but still, it was discomfort and not pain.
"Could we just simplify things and call it pain?"
(When I told this story to my dad, he interjected, "I've had that conversation.")
Throughout my week-long hospital stay, at least a few times a day a conversation with a nurse or doctor would begin by asking how my pain was on a scale of one to ten. I wanted to describe it. They wanted to quantify it.
"How's your pain today?"
"Kind of a sharpness starting just below my shoulder, radiating into a dull but potent force." or "It's like being whacked on the back of the head with one of those tiny memento novelty baseball bats, but steady - not like getting hit repeatedly, but that the feeling is continuous" or simply "gnaaaaaaaaah."
They just wanted a number.
Usually it was zero. When I had a non-zero response, I tended to give it a number under five (not really knowing how to quantify this stuff), hoping it was clear that this is largely not-groovy situation, but I didn't want to come off as whiny.
While I was drifting in and out of consciousness after the actual surgery, I preferred the "out" side of it. I had a breathing tube in my throat. I really didn't like being aware of that.
The nurse attending to me for that twelve-or-so hour period seemed to have the primary job of keeping me from yanking the tube out anytime I regained consciousness. I wasn't trying to do it. I knew intellectually that the tube was there for a good reason - if it wasn't, I'd probably stop breathing. My understanding of the did not prevent me from trying to pull the thing out, just out of reflex, every time I drifted back to consciousness.
At one point, he asked me how I'd rate my pain. I don't remember what I was feeling that first time, but I'm pretty sure my response was, "hwaaak." Having a tube in your throat makes it difficult to be descriptive.
I kept that in mind the next time he asked (presumably several hours later, but I really had no sense of time). My hands were laying across my stomach. On my left hand I retracted my thumb, ring-finger and pinky. He asked, "Two?" I lifted and vibrated both hands. He realized he didn't add the five from my right hand.
Considering what he had to do, I'm really impressed by how patient and careful he was every time I'd instinctively reach for the tube. Quietly, gently, each time: "You need to relax - the tube in your throat is helping you breathe, it needs to be there," and I would settle my hands, and allow myself to drift back toward anesthesia.
Now, by contrast, I have discovered the most broken phrase in the English language is, "The tube in your throat is helping you breathe and is keeping you alive; you need to relax." Absorb that for a few seconds. Now imagine it being said repeatedly, at increasing volume, by several people. Yeah.
That wasn't directed at me, but at a roommate while I was in the intensive care unit. He seemed to be having a bit rougher time than me. He would occasionally try to remove whatever tubes and wires were attached to him so he could leave. I'm not sure exactly what the deal with him was, but I got the idea that if he were to do such a thing, he wouldn't be doing it for long. He often had a team of people (half dozen or more) to control him, and some kind of sedation after the first couple instances of escape attempts.
Christa, the nurse for our room, was almost large enough to be an actual person. She may have cleared five feet, and was generally what you'd call petite. Conversely, my roommate was closer to six feet, but not necessarily of large frame.
While the roommate was being sedate, Christa was doing some paperwork at the computer in the middle of the room - I assumed filled out reports or some such thing. I noticed the roommate begin to stir, and sit up, then start to make other movements. Christa launched herself from her seat to tackle the guy. And succeeded. Then called for help to restrain him.
After the commotion dissipated, she went back to work at her computer, but not before turning to me to ask, "did you see that?" I told her I was pretty impressed.
I knew that if I was to get out of the ICU and back to a normal room (and considering the company, that was something I wanted), I'd have to do something. Sit in a chair. That's it. Get out of bed and sit in the adjacent chair.
So I carefully, slowly, rolled onto my side. Used the bed's safety rail to turn myself to face the edge of the bed. Negotiated all the wires and tubes draping like vines from beneath my gown (I had yet to see what they were or what they were connected to), getting my feet to the ground. The nurse braced me as a I stood. I stepped to turn my back to the chair, she helped lower me to it.
I made horrible, whining puppy sounds, escalating into... something. I didn't scream, but it was apparent what was going on.
"What's your pain like?"
I could not imagine any greater pain. Starting from my back, just below my left shoulder, radiating to everything, but felt mostly in my abdomen. Horrible. Not being able to imagine any greater pain did not rule out the possibility, though.
They got me back into the bed. I stayed in the ICU another day.
I gradually began to be aware of what all the wires and tubes under my gown were for. There were the usual heart monitor, the drainage tubes and the catheter. There may have been other things, but that's what I understood.
The heart monitor I was getting accustomed to. Wires stuck to places around my torso with some kind of adhesive patch. The drainage tubes were apparently what was causing the pain when I tried to sit; they were three plastic tubes about half an inch across, stuck into my abdomen just below my ribcage and attached to some kind of pump to get out whatever of my own crud had to be removed from me. And the catheter.
I was coming to the conclusion that the catheter didn't seem to be as bad as I'd been lead to understand. In fact, I thought it was pretty useful. I never had to get up to use the restroom, I was looking forward to a life of increased laziness. Since I was having some trouble walking, this was an especially good idea. I was going to recommend it to everyone.
Until it had to be removed. Removal probably took less than a quarter of a second; but during that time, every swear word ever and in every language exploded with white glare inside my head. I'm pretty sure I didn't actually make any noise, but I'm not positive. In my head though? All of World War One played out in that quarter of a second. I reversed my opinion on the goodness of having a catheter.
The next morning, I was able to get out of bed, step over to the chair, sit down and eat breakfast, with only some discomfort. That night all the tubes and cables were disconneted from the wall and reconnected to various mobile devices piled on my bed with me, and my bed was wheeled upstairs to one of the regular rooms, where all my tubes and wired were reconnected to the wall.
The rest of my stay was pretty much spent laying in bed and intending to walk. And answering questions from the nurses. Not all of them were weirdly invasive. I am still a bit unsettled by how much interest another person could have in my bowel activity.
When I was asked if I was eating my entire meal, I lied because I didn't want them to think there was something wrong with my appetite. The longer I stayed there, the more inedible the food became. The only thing I could count on was the yogurt.
If all they did was ask questions when they came in it wouldn't be so bad, but they tended to bring stuff with them. The meds, thermometer and blood-pressure cuff every few hours weren't too bad. The needles, though... I never really had a problem with needles. I've had blood tests before as well as vaccines. But the quantity involved, sheesh - a few times a day I'd get poked. Nurses were having trouble finding new places to take blood samples. Up and down both arms, from my elbow to my knuckles, many dozen pokes.
One night, a nurse turned on the bed alarm, which bothered me. See, the bed alarm triggers an audible alarm in the patient's room and at the nurses' station if the patient tries to get out of bed. This is for patients who need assistance getting out of bed, and might attempt to do so on their own. I realized I was exactly the sort of person the bed-alarm was made for, but didn't stop being bothered by it.
Outside of that particular nurse, I really liked the rest of the staff. They were all great at what they do, and each one had an impossibly fantastic attitude doing it. Always friendly, answering my dopey questions, and doing things like helping me walk again.
You may have noticed by now that I haven't really talked about the actual surgery. The reason is pretty simple: anesthesia works. Monday morning I was shaved, brought toward the area where I was to be operated on, my wife and parents were there to say, "Good morning" to me, I went through another set of doors where I talked to a guy named Chai, who told me he was the anesthesiologist. I don't remember much after that until the breathing-tube thing. According to my wife, many relatives came passing through the waiting room during the day that I pretty much skipped.
Not to say I don't have some pretty serious mementos. Of course, there is the vertical line in the middle of my chest and the three dashes beneath it where the drainage tubes were removed (my sister-in-law pointed out that together it looked like a really lousy game of Hangman). The many colors along my leg are disappearing, but I still have the small wounds from the angiogram and the vain harvesting, and some flexibility is returning. I can now lean forward without getting a ridiculous pain in the back of my head. I can walk around the block, but afterward I'm more worn out than I think is absolutely necessary. I barely have a voice. But I was able to sit long enough to type this up.
So I really don't recommend the experience to anyone. If my wife wasn't with me in the hospital every day, and if I didn't see how well my dad is doing after he had his bypass surgery, I wouldn't have been able to handle it. Considering the alternative though? This was probably for the best.
One more thing that's much too important to not mention. Earlier this week, I got a call from my dad. His sister Adelle died that morning. Remember in part 1 when I mentioned an aunt that survived a heart attack at 27? Yeah. Heart failure is what I know right now. That and she was the grandmother to three beautiful girls, and had a son who grew up to be a good guy and great father.
Since this whole thing has started, I've heard from some people saying that they got their husband/wife/father/mother/whatever to get checked for cholesterol (and other things). But what about themselves? Take care of loved ones, but take care of yourself as well. That is what your parent/signifcnt other/children would want.