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…