So What’s It Like, Recuperating From Heart Surgery?
So basically, to fix your heart, they snip through your breastbone, fling your lungs over your shoulders, strip veins from your legs, then stick tubes in your belly. How the hell do you recover from that?
Surprisingly well, as it turns out.
Like any major surgery, your body is at the whims of your healing surges; you will be feeling fine, and then your body will go, “AIGHT, TIME TO LAY DOWN,” and you can’t argue. But you can get up out of your chair, you can lift things up to eight pounds with your arms, and you can totter around.
You acquire a ton of various chest pains, since all your ribs were broken to get at your heart, a pain which reverberates in weird ways. Reaching to scratch the back of your leg can produce mild shooting pains. Twisting? Other crackly pains. You’re terrified some of these are ZOMG HEART PAINS, which you’re told are more pressure-like, but at this point all the pain is chestal since that’s where 80% of your wounds are, and so you’re continually in a mild freakout mode that maybe the heart surgery went poorly and oh hi Ativan, I love you, you calm me.
Walking is weird because, well, they’ve yoinked several large veins from your legs and everything has kinda shrunk around them, so your legs feel literally two sizes too small. Take too big a step and you feel everything go unacceptably taut, like you’re a marionette and someone’s yanking on the reins. So you totter. You’re told that about two weeks into walking suddenly it’ll all feel normal again, and you are counting the days. Until then you feel a little wobbly on your pins, even though everyone says you look fine.
Breath comes slowly, in part because if you breathe in big, oh hello, ribs. Walking around the kitchen twenty-five times will put you out of breath, huffing, your heart pounding more than a heart that’s had surgery should pound – or so you feel, even though the doctors tell you it’s fine.
You’ve had a lot of fluid put into your system, so you’ve been put on a diuretic – which means you’re peeing, copiously, once an hour, seemingly whether you drank any fluid or not. You’re peeing so much they’ve put you on additional vitamins to make up for the ones you’re whizzing into the toilet. Peeing also involves getting up, which is more exercise – except at night, when you finally give in to your body’s needs and use that stupid little plastic thing so you can pee in your sleep chair.
Recuperation: a dignity-free zone.
Truth is, though, you’re slow, and ponderous, but actually pretty functional. You can make your own meals. You can clean your own dishes. There are times when you get too tired, and puppy-dog your family into lifting the chair leg for you, but you’re like a low-weight, slow-motion version of you. You take more naps in the afternoon, and are pained in the evenings after a long day when your friends come to visit, and sleep in a chair, but it’s mostly you. You can talk. You can joke. You can wheeze a bit.
You feel like your old self knitted together by sutures. But it’s better than you thought it’d be. You’re considering to go see a movie with your Mom tomorrow, which is ZOMG OUTSIDE, and your concentration still isn’t up to writing fiction, but it’s there.
You can see the horizon. It’s far away. But you’re getting there. One laborious step at a time.
And occasionally you think: that shit really happened. It totally did. All that panic. All that love. All that pain. It’s a Thing now, an event now forever embedded in your past, and day by day as the bruises fade it’ll become reality. As it is, it’s still somehow too weird to really encompass properly. 43 and heart attacked? That shit is crazy. Impossible. Not real.
Then you get up and walk and oh, yeah, there’s the reality.