Authors: Brian Gari
The Last Day
Another night passed with very little sleep, but of course that went hand in hand with nurses being paged on the intercom system as well as checking blood sugar, injections and a bunch of pills. I was also informed that I would be having X-rays, but the time was a big secret. You can never get a definitive time out of anyone on anything. I was finishing up my newspapers when the parade of physicians arrived to let me know I would be leaving the next day. I innocently asked when that wire would be removed as well as some bandages. They said it would happen soon. As they all turned to leave, it was almost like a last minute thought when one doctor turned back, approached my chest and said he was going to take out the wire. Again, I went into panic. But he didn’t wait for even a second; he simply pulled that sucker right out of my chest. It hurt, but not like the tubes. He said it was over. I began to think what other little gifts were hiding behind my chest wall. Maybe a hula hoop? an ice skate? No, it seemed they exhausted the grocery list and I was done. He walked away as if nothing happened. I asked a nurse if some bandages had to be removed if I was going to take a shower. They literally yanked a few off (which probably hurt more than the wire that had just been removed).
I tried to get up the energy (and courage) to approach the shower. I thought it would be a really nice surprise for Jeanne if she saw me showered and dressed. What progress! I went into the bathroom and saw they had thoughtfully placed a chair in the stall. Nice move. I needed that. I looked at my body. Not a Frankenstein scar but not pretty either. There seemed to be holes in odd places (okay, keep your smart ass jokes to yourselves). I felt like a victim of Bonnie & Clyde. I have no idea why some of them were there, but they were there all the same. They also have to take a vein from your leg and transfer it to your heart area for the operation. That in itself is not pleasant. It’s gruesome to even think what they do and how they do it. All I know is you’re left with a sore (and numb) leg which they say may or may not go away. I tried to wash off some of the orange dye that was somehow covering my leg, but to no avail — that stuff is permanent! With that accomplished, I waddled back to my midget bed and rested.
Lunch arrived, and there was still no time set for my X-ray. The X-rays were important to ensure my ticket out of there. I was afraid to doze off, because that would be the time I was to get on the gurney and travel to God knows where for the photo op. I got a call near 6
it was Jeanne, and she was telling me how she didn’t feel well and asking if I would be upset if she didn’t visit this one time. My disappointment was overwhelming; I was so proud of myself for getting all cleaned up for her visit, and now she was not showing up. I tried to tell her I had a surprise for her, but it didn’t change the circumstances. She didn’t feel as if she could make it. We would see each other tomorrow when she would come to pick me up.
Jeanne’s cancellation may have been a blessing in disguise. A gurney suddenly appeared in my room at 6:30
It was time for my X-rays. I was hoping I’d be returned in time for Jeopardy at 7. My hopes were quickly squashed. I got down there quickly enough. I had a nice little ride through the hallways and the overpass that connected the two buildings where I saw deflated Get Well balloons stuck between the windows.
I finally arrived at the “tombs,” where the technicians were having a heated argument about some dumb thing. They looked at me and decided it was time for the X-rays. I said I could walk so I got off the gurney with my ass on display. I tried to hold that stupid dressing gown together, but it was a total loss…and what did I care if this guy saw my ass anyway. The first X-ray didn’t come out. I was a little weak so I wasn’t standing perfectly still — hence a blurred picture. The second time was a charm. I went right back to the gurney to await my chauffeur. The X-rays only took a matter of minutes so I thought there was a chance for Jeopardy. By 7:30 that chance had disappeared. So there I was…waiting and waiting while I lay there trying to pull at my gown so the passerbys wouldn’t get a free show. It was now close to an hour since I left my room. I asked the technicians what happened to my “ride.” They said there were only two people transporting at that hour and someone would show up eventually. After an hour and fifteen minutes, someone did arrive, and I went back to my room.
I was told if I waited until 10
they would consolidate my medications and I could sleep until 6 in the morning (where had I heard that before?) The hours dragged on and I tried not to fall asleep before 10. When it finally reached 10:00, I looked up — no one had come by. About twenty more minutes transpired and a nurse came in with all the pills and shots. I lay back and tried to fall asleep. Hour after hour went by and still nothing. For some reason, I started to recite Gerry Goffin’s (Carole King’s ex-husband & lyricist) lyrics. One song after another. I marveled at his rhyme of “trouble proof” and “up on the roof.” This went on for hours. I just couldn’t sleep. It’s that old story…if I could just fall asleep now, I’ll get six hours…five hours…three hours. Pretty soon you know you’re screwed.
Bye Bye, So Long, Farewell
Of course, no one came in at six. Sometime around seven, they showed up with breakfast and pills. I asked them for more apple juice, and I hit the jackpot — they brought me half a bottle and said it was all mine! Jeanne called and said she would be over soon. I explained that my hour of departure was not carved in stone so she could take it easy. A male nurse came in and said he could remove all remaining attachments (mind you, the ones they put on me, although I wouldn’t put that past them!) Of course, they yanked some hair off with it all. I got dressed in my own clothes and had to leave their gorgeous apparel behind (or is it my gorgeous behind that I left in their apparel?) I packed up everything including my secret notes for this book! I made absolutely sure I didn’t forget those! I also took every toiletry that was lying around. Mouthwash, toothpaste, soap…you name it, I took it! Why not? They probably billed me 100 bucks for all that junk. They even gave me a teddy bear (which you’re supposed to hug if you cough or sneeze). Problem is when you have to cough or sneeze, you can’t get the teddy bear fast enough — and believe me, you NEVER want to cough or sneeze when you’re healing from this operation.
Jeanne arrived ready to take my hand and race to the exit. The nurses did not seem to want me to utilize the wheelchair for my departure. I made it clear that that is how I was going to make my exit. I was weak and this was going to be the last bit of pampering I was going to get from this place, so let’s get the show on the road! A very nice nurse pushed me to the elevators and took me down to the lobby and outside. It was a very nice balmy day and all we needed now was a cab. Jeanne found one and I pulled myself up in the chair, thanked the nurse and got myself into the cab. I must admit I felt a little queasy, but it was a small price to pay for my freedom.
I hobbled into my lobby past my very concerned doorman and into the elevator where I propped myself up against the walls. I could barely stand. When we got into the apartment and into the bedroom, I immediately lay down on the bed. But much like my return after the herniated disc episode, I was more desperate to take a shower before lying all over my clean bed.
I had to use my old strategy for showering when weak. Gather up all the strength you have and make it quick but thorough. Have your shampoo plan in place and go for it. I did just that and landed mostly wet and naked back on the bed. I found some fresh clothes to don carefully. You can’t be too quick when you have a very raw chest and a leg that is both sore and numb.
My mother came up, but I was not much use to anyone. I had so many things to catch up on. There were close to 200 emails (mostly from Facebook). I felt a responsibility to answer most of them. They also sent us home with a million prescriptions. Jeanne had to get them filled. She called me from the pharmacy to let me know the cost of one of them — almost $200. I told her I’d rather die first. She was concerned and frightened. But I was outraged (of course not the best response for just getting home from open heart surgery). But how can they do this to someone in my position? I could barely afford the insurance and now they want almost as much in medication? They had to be nuts. When she arrived back with the prescriptions, one of them was over $100. I told her right there she had to return it. I will not pay (nor can I afford to pay) that much for medication. I called my doctor and got an alternative for the time being. Jeanne also looked up on the internet how to approach the drug companies on drugs you need but can’t afford. Letters and faxes went out right away…well, almost. My all-in-one printer/fax and scanner wouldn’t work. Why not? Because this crappy company says if you run out of one color ink, it shuts down the entire machine from any other functions. Good idea? I think not. And just the aggravation I needed upon returning home.
My mother brought some food, but my appetite was not what it once was. I ate a little, but I was getting more and more exhausted as the night drew on. Finally, Jeanne helped my mother get a cab and the evening was over. I just had to sleep. I couldn’t sleep on my stomach the way I had hoped and was used to — the pain in my chest was just too much. My only option was to sleep on my back and that I did….quite soundly for about eight hours..the most rest I’d had in a week.
Home Is Where Your New Heart Is
Waking up in your own bed is a blessing; waking up with a recently carved up chest and veinless leg is not. It all hurts like hell, but I was damned if I was going to take those constipating pain pills. Besides, I never ordered any. Jeanne stayed home from work for the first few days and deep down inside, I was kind of glad. I wasn’t an invalid, but I wasn’t in great shape. I would get tired at the drop of a hat (I hated when my hat kept dropping). I did, however, make sure I showered every day. I wasn’t about to become a disgusting recluse although I can see how you can very easily. We ordered out for dinner (usually Chinese). It was sure nice to be home, but the healing process was going to be a trial.
The most dreaded thing was about to happen. I had to sneeze. No time to grab a teddy bear. It just happened. OH, MY GOD! It feels just as if your chest has exploded. You have no idea how painful it is. I liken it to being operated on without the anesthesia. From that point on, I made it my business to NEVER allow a tickle to occur in my nostrils again. I would prefer a punch in the nose.
A friend gave us a beautiful present; she and her sister welcomed me home with a huge dinner that was delivered Sunday evening. It was an all Italian array of delicacies that was sure to please any of your taste buds. We were most grateful and had more than enough for several more meals. These people were among a handful that I could say truly cared. One thing you must be prepared for are the so called friends who may never be in touch after this major event. You can count your true friends on one hand. I have a friend who carried dozens of books up to my house just to make sure I wasn’t out of the loop on the current literature. He called almost every day, as did a few others (maybe not every day). Some emailed. But don’t be surprised if some disappear…they do.
The following day I noticed we were out of milk. Jeanne wasn’t around, and I believed it was now or never. I was going to make the pilgrimage to the local store myself. I showered and dressed and grabbed my keys for my first outing. (I even remembered to bring my dollar off coupon!) The doormen were shocked to see me as I slowly made my way out the front entrance of the building. I turned the corner and started up the hill to Broadway when this huge wave of gratitude overtook my whole being. I couldn’t believe that a little more than a week earlier I was on the operating table being rewired in the most sacred of human body parts, and now I was actually walking by myself to the store for a container of milk. I had to stop for a moment to catch my breath, but I was determined to make it there and back.
I did exactly that. I was a little exhausted when I got home, but I was also incredibly proud of myself.
The next evening I pushed the envelope just a little bit more; I told Jeanne we should walk up about seven blocks to have some sushi. She asked if I really could make it and I replied in the affirmative. It was time for a dining out experience. I had thought the manager would appreciate our return. He couldn’t have cared less. The place smelled of disinfectant, and I told them so. I guess that didn’t endear them to me. The sushi was also extremely tiny, and they didn’t take kindly to that either. Oh, well. It was still nice to be out. The walk back was a little tough for me. I had to stop a few times, but I made it.
I had a scheduled check up that Thursday, so my cardiologist said I should stop by there after the first appointment. I actually took the subway down (my motor scooter was out of the question, because if anything happened, my chest wouldn’t survive). The subway was okay, and I made it up the steps (and even stopped by the post office!) My doctor said I was doing fine (lost about ten pounds). I was too early for the cardiologist, so I stopped by a Boston Market and had a children’s menu of chicken, two sides and a drink. It was wonderful. I then headed over about another block to the cardiologist. I waited about a half hour and was finally ushered in. I told him of my aches and pains and numbness, and he said all of that was par for the course after this operation. He actually said I was looking great and ahead of schedule in my recovery. I walked over to the bus and headed home (damn — I missed the free return ride by only a few minutes!)