Monday, May 10, 2010

Hey Barbara - Use the Pillow!

So I just finished watching The View and found out that Barbara Walters is having heart surgery in a few weeks days to replace a heart valve.  Having been through this surgery 12 years ago, I'd like to offer her a few tips and a heads up on a couple of things.

I don't know the reason why Barbara is having the surgery but I had mine as a result of a wicked case of Rheumatic Fever as a child that left my mitral valve damaged.  Now the doctors will give you all the info you need to make intelligent medical decisions but, let's face it, doctors can't tell you what it's really like.  So from one heart patient to another here's a couple of little things Barbara needs to know.
  1. Artificial or "Pig"?  WTH?  You read it right -- artificial or "pig" valve.  I'm sure Barbara has already decided if she has the choice, medically.  One big advantage of a pig valve is that it's more like your own valve and you won't have to take blood thinners to prevent clotting which is very dangerous with an artificial valve.  A major disadvantage of the pig valve is that you're more likely to need it replaced again in some years because they will wear out.  That's what it was like 12 years ago ... they might have some super-pig valve now that eliminates that disadvantage.  I chose the artificial.  Barbara, if you choose the artificial, you need to know that sucker sounds like a big old Timex -- the old fashioned ones -- in certain positions.  It took me a while after surgery to find the right position to minimize the ticking.   I never will forget being in a meeting after I returned to work and our Director asked who had the loud watch.  She was totally red in the face when I told her it was me.  I told her it was no problem and that if she was ever sitting next to me and did NOT hear the ticking to call 911 with the quickness.   You'll get used to the ticking but you really need to know you'll sound like a Timex commercial in a quiet room until you find the positions that minimize the sound.  If you choose artificial, don't lean into the mic.  Just sayin. 
  2. The nurses are going to make you get up the next day.  You've just had your chest cracked open and you think you're going to rest a little while to recoup.  NOT.  As soon as you get back to your regular room, and quit throwing up, they're going to make you sit up in a chair and begin your coughing exercises.  It hurts.  But it's also necessary.  You've got to keep fluid from settling in your lungs and one of the ways to accomplish that is to cough.  They're going to give you a cute little heart-shaped pillow for you to hold to your chest as you cough.  Of course, yours will be silk and stuffed with something fancy.  Regardless, USE IT!  Don't try to be a bad ass and think you can do this by yourself.  That little pillow will become your best friend for a few weeks and you will threaten death to anyone who moves it and you have to search for it.  Of course, you won't have a little girl at home who will want to play with it so you should be good.
  3. After you start coughing you'll have to start walking.  You'll think why in the hell are they making me walk around the floor?  You'll be tempted to scream, I JUST HAD HEART SURGERY -- do you people not realize this?  Doesn't matter -- you've got to walk.  You will most likely be scared to move more than 10 steps outside of your room, but that's okay.  You'll hold onto to that IV pole like it's George Clooney, and walk like a little toddler just doing it for the first time.  The nurses will make you track your progress by making a little check mark per lap on the white board outside of their station.  Believe me, in a couple of days you'll be wanting to beat the show-off down the hall who has got 15 checks to your 2 and you'll be race walking around that floor like a champ.  Besides, they won't let you go home until you've got a certain number of laps next to your name.  No matter how cute your male nurse is (yeah I remember you) you'll be wanting to go home as soon as possible.
  4.  The food sucks.  Just because you're on the cardiac ward they'll treat you like they took your taste buds away.  Sorry, no tips for that.  You might have a friend who will sneak you up a little salt packet from McDonalds but other than that I've got nothing.
  5. Once you've walked enough and your cardiologist has determined you can go home, you'll want to stay.  I was in the hospital for five days.  Did you hear me FIVE DAYS! Again, you'll say, I just had heart surgery why are you sending me home? But as long as you're doing okay there's no reason for you to be there.  It's scary and you'll wonder what ifs all day long on the day of your discharge but you'll be fine.  Of course, you can't wear a seat belt and you'll be scared to death of a car crash before you get home and the air bag deploying but I sat in the back seat as a precaution.  Odds are it won't happen to you but doesn't stop you from wondering.  
  6. When you get home, you'll have a strict walking schedule.  Don't think you've beat it because you've walked enough to get out of the hospital.  You'll most likely have someone there with you to help you out at home.  In my case it was my mom.  I thought my male nurse was tough.  Nope.  Momma had him beat.  I got tired of walking.  Four or five times a day she would say it's time and she'd push me out the door and lock it so I couldn't get back in and watch All My Children or Judge Judy.  That first walk will scare the pee out of you but after a few times you'll just accept it and look forward to your walks.  You're a health conscious individual anyway and I imagine you exercise quite a bit so this will probably be easier for you. 
  7. Your scar will depress you.  It's not pretty.  The doctor made mine as low as possible so I could still show my sexy cleavage but your first instinct will be to buy all the turtle necks you can find.  You'll get over it and you will accept your scar as the battle scar that it is and wear it proudly.  Believe it or not, I forget about and I'm genuinely surprised when a fellow cardiac patient asks me "when did you have your surgery?".
  8. You can still have sex.  Yes it will be scary and you'll be afraid it'll kill you but it's really okay.  The key is to have a partner that understands what you've been through and take it slow and find a position that's comfortable for you.  That's only in the beginning.  Once you've healed completely you'll feel so damn good that your partner will think you're 20 again. 
  9. Oh that feeling good thing.  You will fluctuate.  Your emotions are going to be all over the place.  Menopause has got nothing on the emotional roller coaster you'll go riding on.  I broke down in Walmart after being home a couple of days.  I got tired and had to get that little electric chair to finish shopping.  I never thought of it until now but that might play a big part of why I despise Walmart to this day.  You will most likely have those up and down feelings for a while but they will pass. 
  10. Let your friends and family help you.  No matter how good you think you feel, you did just come though a major surgery.  Let your friends and family help you around the house and with meals.  Of course, you're Barbara Walters and have probably had help around the house for years but for us "regular people" accepting help can be a little hard to deal with.  It's okay if you don't feel like entertaining or washing the dishes before you go to bed. 
  11. Appreciate the little things.  Notice how pretty the blue sky is.  Notice how cute the squirrels are.  Plant flowers and really enjoy them -- just because they're so beautiful.   Smile at little children who are discovering the world around them.  Enjoy your dog.  Let her sit in your lap and just be.  Recognize that there is something bigger than you in this world.  Of course, you're Barbara Walters and with your great accomplishments you might find this hard to believe.   Trust me. 
    Barbara, these are just a few of the little things the doctor can't prepare you for.  While they may seem minor and trite, they do play a big part in your recovery.  You're Barbara Walters and I know you're going to come through this like the champ you are.  If I did it I know you can.  If you ever want to talk, tweet me and I'll call you.  Much success to you!  Oh yeah -- USE THE PILLOW.

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