Road to Recovery – a diary of personal experience 7

Time to rejoice… I made it out of ICU!

As each specialist came to check on me to ensure I was fit enough to move along I smiled sweetly and implored with my eyes. It seemed to take forever for the porter to arrive to wheel me to my next station. I understand that all the checks and tests and weights and measures were for my protection and to ensure, as much as possible, that I didn’t arrive back in ICU, but my brain, full of such a cocktail of drugs, wasn’t allowing me to comprehend that info at the time.

Hubby Jim came to the Cardiothoracic ward with me as he happened to be visiting at the time. It’s not often he’s embarrassed but I managed to do that on my arrival by talking loudly to other patients and interrupting their visitors.  Gosh, I was so excited to be in a regular ward with a view  (of a courtyard) – a window with sun streaming in!

Once again, the staff were wonderful and ensured I was comfortable with everything I needed (including that darned oxygen!). Over the next three days I learned to walk again, shower, toilet myself and generally begin to function as normal.

Walking began with a frame and the first steps were very tentative as my legs were like jelly. First goal was to be able to get to the door of the ward and back again. Next step was shuffling to the main corridor.  I was really making progress when I could walk “the loop”; and final stages were walking “the loop” without the frame and climbing an 11-step flight of stairs and back down.

There is no dignity when one can’t fend for oneself and is reliant on others to help one shower.  But for the Occupational Therapists and nursing staff this is their working life, so one must accept the indignities.  And I didn’t really mind, as to have a shower and wash my hair was such a refreshing experience after 11 days I didn’t care who was helping! In fact, my daughter has pointed out that I rang her after my first shower and told her, in a very loud voice, that I had had a shower and now had clean hair. And I announced this to her and all others who could hear at least twice!

And then there was my “naughty” episode… In the middle of one night, when I was still attached to a catheter,  I decided I really wanted to go to the toilet. Now, in my “sane” mind I knew that this wasn’t necessary, but no matter how many times this was pointed out to me I was uncomfortable (due to fluid-losing pills) and determined to go to the toilet. When staff were distracted with another patient (that was a bad night with several disturbances) I climbed out of bed, grabbed my walking frame and made my way to the toilet. My plan came unstuck when my legs were not strong enough to lift me off the toilet. I fell! I landed on my derriere with a thud which brought staff running and severely bruised my tailbone! I didn’t realise at the time that my catheter had popped out which could have caused even more problems.  Back in bed, feeling quite reprimanded, I was given a bright red “bracelet” which said “Ask if I need help.” But the catheter remained out – yay!

I have learned that, when the body is filled with so many drugs, it is not just the body that takes time to recover… but more of that in my next and final blog tomorrow.


Road to Recovery – a diary of personal experience 6

As I said, time passes slowly when all one can do is watch the world, or in my case, the medical and hospital staff, go by.  Night time was especially long as I wasn’t able to sleep well.  By now I was beginning to feel the stiffness and pain in my chest that remains to a small degree even now, 6 weeks later. I have never slept on my back but I had no choice with the aforementioned drains and tubes inserted in my body. I lay in a semi-upright position and hoped for some kind soul to pay me enough attention to pop some ice into my mouth. I was a particular “pain” one night when the music my son had given me wouldn’t work; I was hungry and thirsty and really totally at the mercy of others. I wanted to cry in frustration but couldn’t; I wanted someone to come and talk to me but who could I call on in the middle of the night? This was the one time when I remember my night nurse “growling” at me. I must have asked for breakfast too many times because I recall her saying to me, “It’s only 5 o’clock, breakfast won’t be here for another 3 hours.  Now go to sleep!” I apologised to her the next night and she brushed it off – they must be used to patients coming out of sedation… !

The following day, or shortly after, I was moved further down the ward and my bed turned around so I could look out the window and truly watch the world go by. I still had trouble figuring out just where I was and, although I know that area of town well, my orientation was still partly in “la-la land”.

After a day or so of consciousness in ICU the only tubes I had left was the oxygen support going directly into my nostrils.  I found this most uncomfortable and, at every opportunity, took it out.  Naturally, any staff member, or in fact, visitor who noticed I had removed it, would come along and pop it back in. Gosh, I now feel quite embarrassed by my “naughty” behaviour!

And soon enough came the first steps towards independence and rehabilitation. Bed pans are terrible to use, both for the patient and the staff, but necessary. However, the sooner a patient can progress from the bed to a “toileting” chair, the better. This meant being assisted off the bed and onto the chair and when one has been confined to reclining on a bed for 10 days or so, this is not a simple task! But the staff, as I have mentioned before, were amazing and patient and I managed, on two consecutive days, with much help, to toilet and bathe out of my bed. I could see the “patient toilet” from my bed and I remember looking with longing at that door and almost willing myself to go there!

After what seemed like an eternity, but was actually only 4 or 5 days, Sunday morning arrived with wonderful news… I was going to Ward 10 (Cardiothoracic ward) today! Another exciting step in my recovery…

Road to Recovery – a diary of personal experience 5

Waking up from heavily-induced sedation is an odd sensation. One’s mind is saying one thing, one’s body is not able to respond as the mind requests and there seems to be many out-of-control events happening all around.

My daughter mentioned something about purple hair… “Mum, I think you should dye your hair purple once you’re out of here.” She’s not sure now why she suggested this (was it to scare me into waking me up?) but I agreed and actually looked forward to it.  …

There is purple in there – second time round!

“And we could run a marathon, too…” Now that I didn’t agree to as I may be physically active but running has never been a passion.

My son’s advice was to rest and take it easy and let nature run its course with the able help of the doctors and nurses. I don’t consider myself an impatient person but now I was awake I just wanted to get out of wherever I was and go home.  I recall the handsome young doctor mentioned previously coming to me and asking if I knew where I was. I actually had little idea – probably said “St George’s” (the hospital where I had the operation).  Another time I think I also said “ICU” but had no idea which hospital. My mind clearly was rather ‘addled’! Somewhere in the course of things I also learned that my son & daughter-in-law had been to our house and done some gardening – removed some old grasses and re-planted an area I had looked forward to transforming.  I desperately wanted to see this and my “dreams” now included my “new” garden.

Other milestones I looked forward to were the removal, one-by-one, of the various tubes and drains entering and exiting my body.  As each one was removed I was given a token explanation and my reaction each time was that I was one step closer to going home and seeing my garden!

My reformed garden – a massive improvement and the plants will grow!

Once the tubes were removed from my mouth I needed a drink. Coffee sounded good but was not an option – in fact, there was no option as I was carrying 8kgs of excess fluid which needed to go! So, because my mouth was dry I was offered small portions of ice.  My son and hubby got a small bucket of this from a machine and could now place one or two pieces in my mouth at a time.  Brad said “Just say ‘ice’ and we’ll pop some in your mouth.” My favourite word over the next few days anytime someone was close at hand was “Ice…ice!” Oh, that tasted like nectar, just to crush my teeth on something cold and wet! Unfortunately, my yearning for “Ice…ice” was curtailed as I had to limit my liquid intake in order to expel the excess 8kgs from my body.

And then there was the addition of solid food into my diet – oh, mashed potato has never tasted so good!  The diced pork that followed got stuck in my teeth and my angelic, ever-patient nurse did her best to clean my teeth for me – I couldn’t even control my hand to brush my own!

Time moves very slowly when one can’t even read, especially through the night hours… but more about that next time…

Road to Recovery – a diary of personal experience 4

After eight days of sedation I left those dreams behind.  I remember thinking “When is a nurse going to shine a light in my eyes and say, ‘Judy, wake up… Judy, Judy, can you hear me? You can wake up now.’?”

(Of course, what exactly happened next and the words spoken I cannot recount accurately…)

When I saw the light I was so pleased to respond and come out of the “Land of Nod”. I heard another voice (a male one this time) saying, “Audrey, squeeze my hand… Audrey, can you squeeze my hand?” I thought I was but it must have been so weak the owner of the voice didn’t feel it. And my daughter responded by saying, “She’s called Judy! She’ll jump out of bed and bop you one if you call her Audrey!” (Audrey is my first name on legal/official documents but has never been a name I have been addressed by.)

And then what did I see when I managed to open my eyes? My daughter standing toward the end of my bed with  beautiful smile on her face. “Hello, Mum. You can wake up now. I love you….. Look! she opened her eyes…. she’s smiling at me!” Oh, what a wonderful sight she was! I heard other voices – my son’s amongst them, and I could feel his hand in mine.

Again someone said, “Audrey, can you hear me? Squeeze my hand.”

“She’s not Audrey, she’s Judy!”  This was repeated so many times over the next few days – even after some handsome young doctor thought to write in big, bold letters ‘Judy’ across the top of my notes.

My daughter, Kyla, had flown down from Palmerston North to be with me. Just an overnight trip, so it was wonderful for her to be there when I awoke.  She had kept an account of my progress on Facebook and asked for prayers along the way. I am so grateful to all the folk who responded so thoughtfully and with prayers.

I could feel several tubes and goodness-knows-what entering and exiting my body and I have to say, I hated the feeling! I obviously couldn’t see behind me but each of the tubes was, naturally, connected to a machine of some sort. Each machine was beeping and blinking away and there was a nurse seated behind a desk at the foot of my bed watching each machine “blink” and “beep” and noting changes and progress on a computer. I wondered what she was doing and why such careful attention to just me. I had never been in this situation before – in fact, I had only been in hospitals to visit others or to deliver my own babies. Definitely a strange new world in which I was helpless to do anything but lie still and observe.

Road to Recovery – a diary of personal experience. 3

Once I had “moved on” from Bluff I experienced some more rather odd dreams. Most were all set way before my time, early in the 20th century. As time passes they become less clear but I do recall the earlier ones were in sepia colour and in each one I was trying to escape from the situation. Let me elaborate a little…

I was in a pre-WWI photo with my maternal grandfather, I think, and I was trying to get my grandfather and I and others out of the photo.  The men were all in army uniform and at one stage we were all sitting on tiered seats talking; another scene and we were trying to “escape” over a river. I remember being frustrated because I wasn’t able to get out of the picture. Maybe that was when I had to be tied down to stop me pulling out tubes!

In another dream I was fishing for eels on the Wanganui River some time in the distant past.  How do I know it was the Wanganui River? I don’t, but I do believe it was! I was sitting on the bank with some Maori women and they had dragonflies, I think, tied to what were probably strands of flax dangling over the water with which to ensnare the eels. This scene moved around quite a lot and, once again, I wasn’t comfortable being there, but there was nothing I could do about it as I went into several whare (Maori huts) for some reason.

A third vivid dream is also vague now, 6 weeks later. Here I was in a competition of sorts with people of various nationalities. The “competition” changed frequently and I couldn’t “win”. I was injured and eventually the scene (& dream?) changed to “escaping” in a small aircraft from the island on which I was being held to the coast of Australia somewhere. When I flew to this small coastal town, which I think became Christchurch (Sumner, even), or maybe Dunedin, I was dropped at a retirement village-cum-convalescent home. Once again, the scenarios changed many times as I tried to discover why I was in this place and what I should do about it.

Continuing from this dream I found myself in the setting of Christmas many years ago, before my time, but, apart from still being “trapped” I kept thinking what a lovely story this would make if I could remember it.  Quite vague now, in my memory, but it involved a church setting, a family and a Father Christmas who was a saintly old man. The story evolved over the years as I saw fashions change and children grow into adults with families of their own -but the lovely old man (Father Christmas) remained the same.

As I write this I recall one further dream that involved my son buying a house, a builder with a boat, a minor car accident, and people living during WW2. This was a real “Alice-in-Wonderland” dream  (switching from scene to scene very spasmodically) and I’m not going to attempt to explain it!

So, that’s all for dreams.  If anyone can enlighten me regarding these, I’d love to hear from you…





Road to Recovery – a diary of personal experience. 2

So what happened while physically I was in ICU and mentally I was in “The Land of Nod”? Well, physically I had goodness knows how many tubes and wires entering and exiting my body in various places; I was bloated with an excess of about 8 kilograms of fluid (quite normal); I was being tube fed what looked like chocolate milkshake and I was totally unaware of any of this. I had a nurse at the end of my bed watching all the pumps and dials and computer screens to monitor and effect any changes.

My friend arrived from Palmerston North but instead of looking after me she looked after Jim.  What  blessing that was – she cooked and cleaned and generally provided a listening and comforting ear when he needed it (& probably vice versa as well because she was very concerned for me too.)

Jim called in to see me on his way to work in the morning and returning home later in the day; my son, Brad, probably popped in each day and other family and friends came to visit and pray I believe.

But where was I in my mind? Well, first thing I remember is wondering why I had the operation in Bluff (a small town at the bottom of New Zealand about 8 hours from Christchurch) and why a particular surgeon (with a name I do remember but I have no idea if he is a surgeon or not) performed the operation when he was not the one I had been told would be in charge. The “operating theatre” was a large orange “tent” with tiered seating – I didn’t quite figure out why the seating. After the operation (in Bluff) I was moved to a pink table outside the “tent” to recover alongside other patients and went through various  vivid scenarios until Jim & my daughter arrived to drive me home in an SUV (not ours). I “remember” various people coming to “visit” me – Brenda (the friend from Palm Nth), Brad, Jim, Michelle (my daughter-in-law) and being told that I could go home as soon as they could find way to lie me down in the SUV.  Once I was loaded in that I just wanted to stop in Oamaru (a town between Bluff and Christchurch) to buy a “Goody-goody-gumdrops” ice-cream. And I remember thinking that I must ask Jim how I got to Bluff because I didn’t remember flying or driving there. I must have “heard” various conversations as I wondered how Jim would be able to go back to work (in Christchurch) and then come back and visit me later.  And similar for Brad as he was going to go home (to Chch) but Michelle would come and see me later.

When I was conscious I mentioned the bit about having the operation in Bluff and the hospital staff really didn’t know what to make of it… was I joking? did I make that up? and when I filled in a few details I think they decided I had weird sense of humour!

Enough of that for now… my next dream/hallucination/nightmare tomorrow…

Road to Recovery – a diary of personal experience

I went to the hospital prepared. I had read all the notes on what the operation involved, the recovery time-frame and what was required of me to make this as speedy and painless as possible. I packed my suitcase with clothes for three days, some toiletries, a novel, patience cards, a cryptic crossword puzzle book, notebooks for writing and diarying. After an MRI scan and yet another blood test I was escorted to my room. And what a lovely room – in a private hospital it was just like a hotel room.

Funny thing is, I don’t recall much after the occupational therapist came to see me.  I put some clothes in the wardrobe, laid toiletries on the dresser, sent a couple of texts, made a  phone call or two, believe I had some tea (no recollection of what I ate) watched a little TV and then the mind is a blank page!

I was first on the operating table the next morning but that day is erased from my memory. Obviously, I didn’t have breakfast but who dressed me? how did I get to the operating theatre? The only other time, many years ago, when I was put under general anaesthetic, I remember counting down from ten. This time the countdown must have begun the previous evening with a sedative I presume I was given to help me relax and sleep!

Apart from many dreams and hallucinations while under sedation, the next thing I remember is seeing my daughter standing in a fog by the end of my bed smiling and saying, “Hello, Mum, you can wake up now… Mum, it’s me, I love you… look, she’s smiling at me…” Then other voices… “Can you squeeze my hand?” (I thought I did.) “Audrey, squeeze my hand.” “Don’t call her Audrey! She’ll jump out of bed and bop you one! She’s called Judy.” “Hi, Mum, it’s me, Brad. I love you.”

But let me back-track a little… The operation to replace my aortic valve was successful and completed within three hours. The old valve was described by the surgeon as “tight” – in other words it was calcified and not working very efficiently. I was, most probably, born with a bi-cuspid rather than a tri-cuspid valve which caused  a heart murmur and was now leaving me quite breathless after much activity.  Until recently I have been playing tennis twice weekly and walking briskly other days, not to mention painting our house and living a varied and active life. I was advised to stop doing anything strenuous and next thing I know I am booked in for this operation!

After the operation my notes told me I would be in ICU for 24-48 hours and then transferred back to my room for three days before being sent home to 24-hour care for one to four weeks.  I had a friend booked to fly down from the North Island to be my “carer” for the first week or so.

Well, so much for well-laid plans! As happens, not infrequently apparently, things went ‘pear-shaped’ in ICU and I had my chest re-opened to stem internal bleeding, heart stoppage and fluid build-up in my lungs.  The actual details of what happened are a bit medical to go into in detail but the long-shot is that I was kept under sedation for eight days to allow the body to heal after serious trauma.

… and here I will leave this for today… 2nd instalment tomorrow as I must keep writing now I have begun…