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post #383
bio: stu

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Five Years, My Brain Hurts A Lot
 It's been five years to the day since I had my heart surgery.

I've covered my illness and surgery in some detail at other places, so I'll give an abbreviated version here: Five years ago, due to my Lupus treatment, I got an opportunistic infection called infective endocarditis that nearly killed me. I had heart surgery to "remove the vegetation" which is how they term going in there and scraping off all the bacterial growth on my heart valve.

Apparently I had an infection in a particular manner that almost exclusively afflicts people who use needles to inject drugs. So frequently when I tell people I had endocarditis, I get people who assume that I'm a heroin user. One of my doctors was one of those people. She would come up to my bedside and ask me, trying to catch me off guard, how often I would shoot up, or what types of drugs I liked. It was very confusing, though ironically, I was on morphine all the time when she was asking me this, through the IV she was sitting next to. Other than my hospital-provided bags of morphine, I was not taking pain medication recreationally (though there were some nights where my strategy for dealing with insomnia was to hit the button that gave me 1mg of morphine every 8 minutes until I managed to fall asleep--in my defense, my insomnia was pain related, and morphine is a bit of a painkiller).

Now, five years later and removed from all that, I still forget that, to a person with a certain type of education, the subtext of my saying, "I had an endocarditis," is "I was a drug user!" I'm not too worried about that. Some of my favorite people were drug users.

Anyway, I had an endocarditis. It nearly killed me, but it didn't. I was in bad shape, and they opened me up and removed the stuff that was killing me, and then sewed me back up again. I woke up to people shouting my name. That's less disturbing than it sounds; apparently its standard procedure for a bunch of people to stand around you after surgery and shout your name to try to wake you up. Apparently they were yelling "Chris" until my girlfriend told me that I go by "Stu," and then they switched to that. I remember being confused, but happy to be awake and not dead.

I held on to that happiness for awhile, because the next hours were really rough. I wasn't allowed to go to sleep, because I'd had a bunch of anesthesia, and now that I was no longer on a machine that was breathing for me, I needed to stay awake enough to consciously keep my normally unconscious reflexes going. And I wasn't allowed to eat anything, because you can throw up. So I stayed up and talked to my girlfriend for awhile, and occasionally managed to convince the meanest nurse on the planet to let me have ice chips, here or there.

I had a device called the Powerheart CRM attached to me. CRM stands for "Cardiac Rhythm Management." What it was is electrodes attached to my heart. It would detect if my heart stopped beating and automatically deliver electrical shocks to jump the heart, while at the same time alerting the nurses to that fact so they could come in and take control. That was not necessary, though a couple of days later a trainee doctor had to come in and yank the wires--which, as I said, were touching my heart--out of my chest. The trainee was more nervous about it than I was, but in my defense, I was on morphine and he, presumably, wasn't.

Powerheart CRM can be seen in the bottom left corner of the image.

There's not much else to say. I was on the cardio/thorasic ward for about a week, before moving elsewhere in the hospital. I don't remember watching any TV, or reading there. I remember getting visitors here or there. I remember being horrifically constipated, which was really one of the worst days I had in the hospital, horrifying in its discomfort and its simplicity. My days consisted of boredom, constipation, and physical therapy, which at this point consisted largely of sitting up, and occasionally seeing if I could take a couple of steps. It was tremendous pain to sit up for too long. One physical therapist moved me to a chair, and said it would be good for me to sit there for a half an hour. He said he'd be back to put me back in the bed.

Two hours later I was still sitting there, in tremendous pain. I summoned a nurse, who wouldn't put me back in bed without a doctor or therapist's say-so. They tried calling the physical therapist, only to find he'd left for the weekend. Eventually, one of the nice nurses moved me back into bed on her own authority. I've never forgiven that physical therapist. I never worked with him again, though I saw him from time to time, and occasionally called him a lazy asshole.

I was in the hospital about a month and a half after that. They'd cleared out the endocarditis; everything after that was just recovery, and shaking off the opportunistic super-bugs you get just from being in a hospital too long. I dealt with terrible roommates and grueling physical therapy to rebuild my muscles from nothing--I wasn't strong to begin with, and had dwindled from 180 pounds to 119 pounds, at my lowest. I needed to learn how to sit up, how to walk, how to support myself, how to dress myself. By the end of my time, I was just barely able to handle stairs, with lots of help and time. It would be months before I stopped walking with walker, and months longer than that that I finally got rid of a cane.

As far as experiences go, my heart surgery was one. I'm glad it worked out. I'm glad my insurance covered it. Ultimately, I'm glad that it happened, but I never ever want to repeat it again.

It's been five years since I had my heart surgery. It feels like a lifetime ago; it's a lifetime I have because of it.

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