10 Weeks Post Heart Bypass Surgery

IMG_8801It was one of those extraordinary experiences when life just picks you up and says, “You’re going to do this”. And you can do nothing but be taken along by the tide.

What happened? Did you have a heart attack? Why did they have to do a bypass?

These are the questions I get most often about my 4 way Coronary Artery Bypass Graft (CABG) I received 10 weeks ago today.

No, I didn’t have a heart attack (whew)! They had to do a bypass because I had too many blockages for a stint to be effective.

So what did happen?

Well to start, my heat pump died.

It was late January when it was very cold. It was a very old system and it became clear that I needed to replace it. With some assistance I was able to arrange a replacement. But during the 5 or 6 days I had no heat, I started experiencing pain in my jaw that would come and go. I knew this could be the sign of something to do with my heart as my mother always told me my father complained of that pain in the weeks before he had a massive coronary at 57 years old. I also knew that it could be TMJ (Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorder). It’s a similar pain.

But once my Heat Pump was installed, and I started to get back to some normalcy, I ran into a musician friend at Food Lion on a Saturday night. We never see each other in there so it was an unusual encounter, but one I have come to be grateful for as I saw it as the universe sending me a message. It turns out my friend had recently had a heart attack which, fortunately, caused no damage to his heart and only required a stint to correct. But of course the entire time he was telling me his story, the awareness that I had been experiencing pain in my jaw and some other mild symptoms, was causing me to think maybe I’m getting a message here.

Well by the next afternoon I went on my first trip to the emergency room. They saw no evidence of a heart attack and, beyond the jaw pain, my other symptoms were somewhat vague and could be confused for other issues I deal with.

So they sent me home. I followed up with a cardiologist the following Thursday and we scheduled a stress test for the next Wednesday.

But that evening when I was carrying laundry to my laundry room, I felt what seemed to be a muscle cramp in my right pectoral muscle. It stayed tight while I was in motion but relaxed once I stopped.  (I later was informed that this is “stable angina.”)

A similar experience happened the next day as I was walking into the grocery store. My right pectoral muscle tightened and then relaxed once I stopped.

Then on Saturday it happened again and I also experienced pain down my right arm.

Well certainly all this should have been happening on the left side. Right? But it wasn’t. I later found out this is called referred pain.

Well I talked myself into going back to the ER that Saturday night. Even though they found no evidence of a “heart event” they kept me over night to talk with a cardiologist the next day about doing either a stress test or a catheterization. The cardiologist cut to the chase. There was no reason for a stress test. The catheterization would tell me what I needed to know.

So on Monday we did the Catheterization. It wasn’t very long because as soon as they saw my arteries, they said, “There are too many blockages, and you’ll need heart surgery.”

The next day when I had a chance to talk to the cardiologist, I asked him “What caused this? I’ve never had high blood pressure or high cholesterol?” He said it was my genetics. Indeed, heart disease is in my family on both my mother and father’s side. I knew at some point I would face something in my life, but that I had so many blockages was baffling to me.  He did confirm for me that I have a strong heart. So that was reassuring in having to face the upcoming surgery.

And then I spent the following days in the hospital waiting for confirmation of what day I would have the surgery. Of course there were numerous tests and personal matters to take care of.

So many of my friends were supporting me with prayers and well wishes on Facebook. Many friends came by to visit. This helped my determination to face this event.

I had every confidence in the doctors. I was in a nationally recognized heart hospital. Everyone answered my questions and gave me more reason to expect that it would go well. Of course there is always a fear with an operation like this. There is always a chance that things won’t go as intended. And I felt that. When I was taken to pre-op, I trusted I would be awakened in recovery. But I also had the thought that I may not. Fortunately all went well and I have a mountain of gratitude to all the doctors, nurses, and technicians who cared for me and repaired my heart.

But I know the strength received as I was lifted up by the power of prayer and good thought that came to my aid. Though it has it’s troublesome aspects, Facebook is an extraordinary vehicle for sending powerful energy to each other in times of crisis.

So at ten weeks post surgery I am driving again and many of the stresses of my life have come creeping back in. I drive and can do most things but still rely on a few friends to help me with heavy things.  I am still on the restriction of not being allowed to lift more than 10 lbs. There are good days and rough ones. But I certainly feel a lot better now than I did when I came home 5 days after the surgery.

There is a lot I haven’t mentioned here. So many friends who stayed with me the first week and so many who just dropped by to check in on me, help me with chores, and brought food and meals. One can only feel blessed when that kind of energy comes to your aid. Thank you all.

I am especially grateful for the concern and care from my family: my brothers, sister in law, nephews, cousins who were there for me day of the surgery and so many who were sending me strength.

My brothers set up a GoFundMe account as I really lost a lot of work over the last three months. It’s times like these that being self-employed can be extremely difficult. It’s still going to take some time to get back into the full swing of work, but I’m certain I will be making a new start with the new energy I will receive from my repaired heart.