I went to Meriter Heart in Madison to meet with Dr. David Ende, my cardiologist. We also met with Dr. K. Adib, Meriter heart surgeon, that day. Their concern was that my aortic valve was narrowing (aortic stenosis) and only surgery can ‘fix’ that. Another echo cardiogram was done in June, and the decision was made not to wait, but to go ahead with a catheterization procedure, in late June, which revealed a nearly-blocked artery that curves around my heart. “I can fix that when I replace his valve” Dr. Adib said quite simply.
Open heart surgery was scheduled. It took a long time (8-9 hours!) but I had a new heart valve afterward. The ICU nurses—Scott and Daemon--brought me back to consciousness slowly—breathing tube, get my body temperature back up to normal, inject pain meds, measure blood pressure constantly, heart beats, everything. Don’t forget the tube which drained liquid from my chest—they also measured that flow. I spent one night in ICU then up to the 11th floor, where I had a nice single room with a great view, and a flock of guardian angels dressed as nurses to look after me. Not much appetite yet, it hurt to breath deeply & cough, but they kept asking me to do just that. Thank goodness for the red, heart-shaped pillow. My family was wonderful for standing by -- my wife and daughter were there for 2-3 days so far, my sister from Iowa came, and they in turn phoned and emailed others about me.
On the third day they removed the chest drainage tube, and started walking me around. I was able to go to the bathroom, with a nurse standing by, and later that night peed into the cup after walking into the bathroom all by myself. A small, but important, step. The nurses watched my vitals very carefully. The amount of oxygen ‘converted’, blood pressure, all the heart functioning they can think of. I said no to the narcotic pain meds that night and began taking only Tylenol and Advil. Another important step forward. My wife was with me during the days, and I began eating small amounts of eggs, toast, ham sandwich, and more normal food. Many meds were given, and they explained what each was for, so I know what I will need to take at home.
Dr. Adib and Natasha, his assistant, came to see me every day. They were very encouraging. The nurses also believed I was gaining strength well, and would be ready to go home soon. They made up a bed for my wife the last night. I was feeling better -- joked around with the nurses, took 2-3 walks each day, and even took a shower by myself.
During my final day, nurse Cloutier wheeled me down to the main floor, where my wife picked me up. It was over an hour drive back to La Valle from Madison, and I grew tired even though it was only noon-time. We stopped at the Kuik-Trip in Reedsburg for me to go potty and I got depressed at how healthy and fit everyone seemed. They were all walking briskly and I felt like I was dragging around. But that will change soon enough.
Fast-forward to October 2013. Today was my final (36th) cardio-rehab session at Mile Bluff Hospital in Mauston. I have had formal follow-up meetings with Dr. Adib, with Cris Custer (my local health care provider), and with Dr. Ende. My exercise tolerance is quite good. The last week I was on the treadmill for 45 minutes, 3 times per week going 3.3 mph and at a 3-4% incline. My blood pressure was normal and stable. We’ll re-check my cholesterol levels the end of October, hopefully they will all be within range. I have promised to the Mile Bluff staff and to myself that I will continue this exercise for a LONG time. A repeat echo cardiogram will be done in November, and a repeat visit with Dr. Ende the summer of 2014. I feel better than I have for years. Sleep well, don’t get out-of-breath. But I still need to lose 15-20 unnecessary pounds. This is my story and I can’t thank Meriter enough. You saved my life!