CORONARY BYPASS SURGERY; PATIENT POINT OF VIEW
I would like to share my experience with you, hoping that it will help you navigate through this procedure. I also intend to touch on some of the issues you might be worrying about, as well as address questions you are probably wrestling with.
Being told that I needed cardiac surgery came as a total shock to me, a non-smoker who has always been active and in good health.
None of the exams my family doctor prescribed annually, including blood tests, had ever raised any red flags relating to cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, weight issues, or any other health problem whatsoever. In short, at age 69, I had a very busy life and felt in perfect shape.
An Episode of Discomfort
Out of nowhere, a pain in my chest suddenly hit me while my wife and I were traveling in Asia. After resting for about 30 minutes, the pain subsided and then completely disappeared. Everything was back to normal, and life went on as usual.
Soon after returning to Canada, I told my doctor about that chest pain event and he decided to refer me to a cardiologist. Several in-depth tests and exams followed and the verdict was clear: I needed open-heart bypass surgery!
What horrible, frightening news! I had to process this incomprehensible finding, which turned my life upside down. It suddenly dawned on me that the life I lived until now was forever shattered, but what did that mean exactly?
How did I get there? I was to understand only much later on that I would never get a clear answer to that question.
But, from that day forward, I would have more information to help me put the odds in my favor and never find myself in that situation again.
Accepting this New Reality
It took me quite a while to come to terms with this new reality and to try to face up to the impact on my body, my life in general, my family, and my friends. More precisely, all the people I love and who are important and dear to me.
Because my wife and I have a pragmatic approach in coping with unexpected incidents, we decided to first inform our children, who live on the other side of the country, and then tell the extended family. We had to choose our words carefully as we did not want anyone to panic while we were trying to come to grasp with this new truth ourselves.
We did our utmost to avoid creating stress for all of us. So, we proceeded with a very methodical strategy, bringing people up to speed whenever new relevant details were received that we felt should be shared with our family.
Looking for Information
We researched information on the internet to help us better understand heart disease and the various types of cardiac surgeries, including stents and bypass; we consulted with friends who are in the medical profession; we read and read some more on the issue; we reassessed our life priorities, as well as our travel plans for the foreseeable future.
Everyone is a Doctor
During the days and weeks following my diagnosis, all the people we talked to had opinions based on their own experiences of what had happened to their family members and friends. They had all suddenly become heart disease experts.
Human nature being what it is, people close to me wanted to be reassuring in trying to minimize the seriousness of my health situation without really knowing anything about the specifics of my case. It all became too heavy to handle and I quickly learned to politely listen to them without paying much attention to what they were saying.
In the end, the test results are the only reference points on which specialists base the diagnoses that guide them to medical decisions and solutions.
Each of our reflections on the impact of this diagnosis on our way of life led us to foresee changes to which we would have to adapt day after day.
And, waiting for a surgery date was so agonizing!
I wanted to solve this situation/illness immediately to eliminate the risks of additional cardiac events that could be fatal and start living my life again, as normally and as quickly as possible.
I had to get used to taking medications daily and get used to their side effects. I, who resisted taking headache medicine all my life, found myself forced to gulp down several pills every single day. What a physical and psychological adjustment to make!
Finally, I was admitted to the hospital for a 5 bypasses surgery!
Were 5 bypasses absolutely necessary? It seemed to me to be so many more than I thought would be required…
Once I adjusted to the idea, I figured 1, 2, 3, or 5, do what you need to do! I will be sleeping anyway.
I was afraid of not surviving the surgery, of course, or ending up a lesser man somehow, but I knew I had to undergo this operation to go on living. There was no other option, it was as simple as that.
The risks of the procedure were pointed out to me and I was made to sign consent forms.
I kept thinking about how fortunate I was to be in good enough shape to undergo this surgery and to live in a country where access to this amazing medical care was available. I felt truly blessed!
It Was All Over, but it Was Only the Beginning
After several hours of surgery, I was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit.
I regained consciousness approximately 24 hours after entering the operating room. When I opened my eyes, I could not believe that the surgery had been done, I was so grateful to be alive! I will never remember those 24 hours of my life, but I know that the surgeon who operated on me did an excellent job and saved my life. I will be indebted to him forever.
I received outstanding care since the very start on my road to recovery. Each day, I took a small walk that lasted a little longer than the day before. And I slept a lot.
I had no appetite, I had to force myself to eat.
The medical staff nursed my chest incisions as well as those on my left arm and leg from where the surgeon had taken the arteries and veins needed to build the bypasses.
I was released home 5 days later. If that sounds fast to you, talk to my wife… she was nervous about being the main caregiver from this point onwards.
Everything seem to be difficult
Once I was home, I found I became tired very quickly and felt vulnerable. I was not allowed nor able to go up a set of stairs or take a shower by myself.
Before I left the hospital, I was taught how to hold a cushion against my chest to help me get out of bed. That helped reduce the pain and protected my rib cage incision.
You must not let go
For about 2 weeks, medical staff from provincial agencies came to our home to change my dressings.
I did my physical exercises religiously as prescribed. They improved the blood circulation throughout my body and kept my lungs and muscles as active as possible. I was completely dependent on the people who cared for me.
Then Comes the Psychological Impact
Each day, I became more and more aware of the seriousness of what had happened to me and what I had gone through in recent months.
Now that my body had been repaired and was in the process of healing and rebuilding itself, my emotions took over and I realized how sick I had been. I thought about all the complications that could have occurred when I did not know how sick I was.
I became deeply conscious of the fragility of life.
It is a state of mind that was to override all other feelings for several months, at various levels of intensity. From that point on, I would give a new look at every single day that I would be lucky enough to live.
I had the privilege of being treated by an extraordinary medical team and surrounded by a wonderful, caring, and loving family.
Everyone took turns in looking after me at various times during my recovery journey. I will owe each one of them profound gratitude for the rest of my life.
My philosophy is to accept the highs and lows of life and face them to the best of my abilities. As a realist and optimist, I truly believe that my ordeal helped me considerably in dealing with the phycological aspect of the distressing hardship I went through. That being said, I know for a fact that for some patients, this stage of the situation is just as complicated as the physical phase.
Back to Living a Normal Life
With the help of an exercise program the medical staff recommended, I felt better and better, day after day. My appetite came back little by little, and I started thinking about planning my life as I used to do. Not only did I not lose any of the capacities I once had, I now truly feel better than I did before. My body is doing well and my mind/spirits are healthier.
I am very, very lucky to have been diagnosed on time, and to have been in good enough shape to undergo this miraculous surgery in a timely manner.
I have modified my lifestyle by integrating a more intense exercise program that I do conscientiously each day. I intend to take full advantage of this second chance that was given to me.
I would love to say: “You will be fine”, but I cannot do that. Everyone navigates through this challenge at his/her own pace, in his/her way, even though the steps are pretty much the same for everyone. I simply hope that I was able to connect with you on issues of concern for which you feel more vulnerable.
The statistics for a positive outcome are very favorable, but the journey itself remains very personal for each one of us and no number can be assigned to that.
Trust, confidence, resilience, and human values are my conclusion.