Sunday, August 31, 2008

This May Sting a Little Bit

Wheeere Aaaaam I?

I am coming out of the deepest sleep I have ever experienced in my life...not really aware of anything...Oh yeah, I'm in the hospital.

I look around and see so many tubes coming out of my body. Neck, chest, maybe two chests, breathing, IV, a tube leading from a southern region...all coming out of my body.

I can't figure out what day we are on....seems it's now Thursday - where did Wednesday go?

Sue and others come to visit and everyone tells me I look good...I vaguely remember Gary taking my picture after the surgery - he says he has proof - and that I actually smiled!

I am now in recovery. About once an hour someone comes to take tests. I am in and out and the day passes quickly.

One of the highlights was the removal of the breathing tube. I didn't tell anyone but this was a major concern to me...maybe the most concern to me of all the concerns I could have had. Two people come in my room after a couple of hours. "Please cough" they say - the tube just literally pops out of my mouth! And I was worried about that little thing...(Sue tells me later that when she called during the night on Tuesday - Wednesday the nurses said that I was having a gag reflex issue with the tube...Sue asks what they are doing about that - they say that they simply gave me more drugs and that seems to have taken care of the issue... :))

I am eventually moved to the Fifth floor. Your progress in the hospital is judged by the floor you are assigned to. If you can just get to the Sixth floor you have a good chance to see the outside world.

I got much stronger during my time on the Fifth floor. Everyone remarked about how good I looked. On this floor they start to remove some of the tubes - A sign of progress.

While monitoring my heart, the nurses became concerned about an "irregular heartbeat". They watched me closely, tried some things. Meanwhile, I listened closely to those who had their first tubes removed. A strange mixture of relief, anxiety and quick shouts of pain came from the other, Main room. Curious.

I started to get concerned, Sue was more than concerned. The nurse just kept reassuring us that this was normal, that my heart was "quivering" and we needed more time. I also understood that I was using up Room 570 longer than I was supposed to. Let's spend another night in Room 570 - the hospital would work around that problem... :))

In the morning I awoke and felt better. It seems that during the night my heart decided to "re-program" itself into the correct sinus pattern. The human body is amazing. There was general relief and it seems that we are moving forward.

I just need to get a couple of these tubes out of me to make it to the Sixth Floor - or "heaven" it seemed to me.

The neck tube was next. Don't remember much about it - just a "freeing" feeling. No more nutrition through a straw...

Finally, the catheter from down south. I asked the practitioner if this was going to hurt. She actually told me that "it might sting a little bit"...A quick tug and the combination of unbelievable pain and back pressure swept up from the south to the north in a wave! "Sting a little bit!" I screamed out - "Sting a little bit?" I settled back in the bed to try to gather my thoughts. Remember, you are a man on a mission - the promised land - the Sixth floor.

I am assigned Room 671A...the opening by the door...coveted square footage...two a high school math teacher from Ontario, the other a Hispanic man who couldn't hear much...not to bad considering everything. The math teacher had a bypass and valve replacement at the same time - he had been in that room for some time. He was able to walk on his own whenver he wanted - Wow!

I had the coolest nurse for two days - Mary, from Zaire. She ran a tight ship. We actually had "Quiet Time" from 2 - 4 in the afternoon. Since we weren't getting any sleep during the night and morning broke early - 4:30 AM with a "Mr. Hambly - time for your blood draw" spoken in every form of broken English known to man. Sue got busted the first afternoon when she played a clip of Lennix sent by Shannon - it had sound - the volume piercing the quiet of the room. The Math Teacher's wife actually came over to scold Sue for violating one of the most sacred of times.

Mary said that she came to this country from Zaire through the political refugee system. She continued her education over here and was thankful for all that we had to offer. She wanted to go back - but that would never happen. I was so impressed with the collection of cardiac specialists that worked the hospital - every flavor, every accent you could imagine, but all on the top of their game. The hospital only has cardiac patients - a real advantage to me...

Big steps followed...I was able to start to walk (Three times, not two around the nurses station holding on to a steel wheel device)...good progress...Heh, would you like to clean yourself up? You bet! I was starting to offend myself! The hot water felt sooo good. And everyone said that I looked really good when they visited...Even Kody got to come in and see me...Shannon forgot that I had moved to the Sixth Floor - took Kody to the old Room 570 location and they were shocked to see that Papa was an elderly, bald black man. Better find out where they moved Papa...

Things were going good. The doctor came in each morning at 9:30 AM to ask how I was doing...Great...well, it looks like you are going to be able to leave Monday...Great...

I was beginning to lose it with the hospital food. I made choices from the Diabetic/Cardiac menu provided me. The menus would be marked Saturday/Thursday...but in reality the food rotated every other day. And what food! I alternated between beef tips in gravy and chicken breast in ginger sauce...over and over again. And each meal was loaded with calories! I would eat the stuff, no appetite really, only small portions...and then face the stern look of the nurse after the blood sugar test. Why is your sugar at 280? Not only that, but they asked me to get on a scale and found that I had gained ten pounds since arriving in "the system"...

Monday comes and goes - the doctor in the turban that is between you and the door (Freedom) - pats me on the shoulder and says that Tuesday is a better day to leave. Are you kidding? I am ready to bolt! The nurse immediately starts asking me why I have an attitude change? Are you kidding? Sue calls and I say - please come right now - I can't take anymore of this!

The longest day of my life made better by my best friend who probably spent the most boring day of her life playing cards, Rummy, and whatever else she could think of to pass the time.

The best part...she brings a Subway veggie sub into the hospital for me...she knows that I will never touch the beef tips tonight - or anything past breakfast for that matter! She cleverly has the sandwich loaded with Jalepeno peppers...flavor! flavor at last! After I carefully eat my fill I lay back in the bed, contented and looking forward to life without the word beef tips.

The nurses now are amazed that my blood sugars are down around 110...wonder what caused that?

Tuesday morning and I am up like a shot after mandatory testing...EKG with the Russian woman, blood draw with the Iranian, and the highlight - the Chest XRAY with the metal thing that came out of a drawer on the cart..."Could be cold" I was warned each and every time - that drawer must be a portable refrigerator unit! I clean myself up extra special this morning - I can practically see the door out.

So! You're going home! everyone greets me...I cautiously call Sue and tell her it looks like I made it! Please come as soon as possible!

You know you are out when they remove the chest tubes. The practictioner arrives and we are ready! Secretly, during the prior night, I ask Mary what this is going to feel like. She tells me that it is going to feel like they are pulling my intestines out with a bit of my ribs attached...but it is very quick. I joke with the practitioner that she should have an operation to know what this stuff feels like and she just smiles and says that her goal is to never be a patient in the hospital...funny. She gets ready, tells me to breath in deeply on the count of three - we don't want any nasty old air to get in our chest area - and she pulls. The tubes are actually flex tube, with ribs...I can feel every rib as it passes...I feel this strange sensation of my insides being moved...the tubes are out! A feeling of shock, joy, freedom and shock!

Nothing keeping me from the door now! I have no stinking tubes!

Final paperwork...things to sign...Hey! What does it take to get one of those big red heart-shaped pillows everyone else seems to have? What are those things for? You press them to your abdomen when you have to cough or roll you tell me! Up to now I had to make what seemed like a life-altering decision each time I coughed or rolled over...and these guys had relief all along? Get me the pillow!

I receive my walking papers! No driving for six weeks...shower using the anti-bacterial soap...riding in the car only in the back seat so that the air bags don't cave in my chest during the collision (Wouldn't that be ironic?)

Wheelchair comes...I'm ready!

Nice ride to freedom! I can actually smell the outdoors! Look! People walking on the street! Strange town, LA. We are in Little Thai town...three thousand restaurants - all Thai!

Home never looked so good!!!!!!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Operation

Well, to continue...

I didn't take very long for Kaiser Woodland Hills to determine that I was a heart attack any minute...cancel the nuclear stress test...and call for ambulance transport to Kaiser Sunset...

Sue arrived from Dallas sometime the night before - she doesn't even remember the conversation...but it was brief and emotional - we both knew something serious was about to happen.

The ambulance guys arrive - I'm always amused by the stereotype - the first year with no facial hair and pimples, the more mature 5 year guy with a bit of a gut who is trying to latch on with a fire department somewhere...we have a pleasant conversation on the way over to Sunset. Never been in an ambulance before, kind of shocks, bit of a bouncy ride, or maybe it is jus the driver ... :))

Sue follows and figures out where to park. Oh yeah, when we were getting ready to leave Woodland Hills, MANY of the staff told me to leave all my valuables at home - too many opportunities for me to "lose" my valuables. So off they go in a baggie - back home.

Things get a bit out of order after this...a lot of testing, a lot of needles in arms, fingers, whatever.

Big hospital, a lot of hallways, always light green. I get to a room and get myself "comfortable" - that's a funny word. I am crammed into a small space in the corner, but I have a great privacy drape which stretches all the way across the room. Another patient, Russian, is there in great abundance - fills the room. When Sue finds me she has to wedge her chair between the bed and the wall to get anywhere near me.

I am scheduled for an angiogram on Saturday morning quickly after transport. I am the only patient in the large prep room. I proceed to the angiogram and I am not kidding you - these people are pros! I remember the last one, the one while having a heart attack at the beach - the golf tee that was thrust into my groin, the geyser of blood and the cardiologist who said "Whoa" - why would a cardiologist use that word if there wasn't some sort of problem?

Anyway, it didn't hurt, was over quickly, and thanks to a wonderful tech who manipulated the blood clot area for 25 minutes precisely - no big giant bruise like last time. The young cardiologist is looking at the pictures and painted the most optimistic picture for bypass surgery that Sue and I have ever received. Sure, we could just go right there, bring it in, we have two other areas that need a bypass - should be good to go. You just have to understand - we have spent the last three years with a prognosis of "nothing we can do to bypass you - the clog extends the full length of the right coronary artery - we can give you drugs and cement the plaque down, move it along".

Now someone is actually saying that they can bypass the problems on all three areas. Hope!

Kent visits (When does he work?), Gary visits (We know that he has never worked!), the kids...not much room but welcome to see them all...Get a sweet blessing from Gary and Scott.

Have to wait until the Plavix, blood thinner medicine, runs it's course - usually five days before I can have the surgery. Took the last Plavix on Friday morning before going to work...should be good to go on Wednesday.

Just waiting for the Plavix to exit - they are testing. Kenny and Karl come to the hospital to administer the sacrament. Sweet moment.

Moving along to Monday night - very restless, hard to stay in the hospital and just wait. Well, after everyone leaves - at 8:15 PM I receive a visit from an Indian woman with a name tag with the words "Anethesiologist" on it. "Well. Mr. Hambly, you are on the surgical schedule for tomorrow afternoon." What! I was having the surgery on Wednesday, what do you mean Tuesday afternoon?

Tuesday morning. Kent visits, Sue is there, the kids arrive. Kent and the boys give me a wonderful, personal blessing - one I will always remember. I love blessings where the words and thoughts are exactly the same as the thoughts and concerns you alone are having and no one else could ever guess them. Getting closer to surgery time. I figured out that if you are the first person the surgeon is working on in the morning - you say to yourself - good thing I got him while he was fresh! If you are the second on his schedule - you say to yourself - glad he is warmed up now!

While everyone proceeds to party in my room, I am restricted to no fluids or food. The kids drag out the snacks that Shannon brought and place them over me and the bed. They are kidding each other back and forth. I ask each one if they would be willing to have this operation in my place if I could have the benefit of the results. Only Sue says yes. Figures. Didn't even take them long to think about it. Cowards!

They come in and give me a "Cocktail"...I am officially drunk for the first time in 40 years. Bye Bye!

Wheeled into the operating room. So much equipment, so many people. Everything covered in green sheeting. Look at all the machines.... Hey, there are three lights above me, not just one like in ER! I count eleven people in the room, the surgeons are not even there yet! All for me!!

A warm feeling in my IV line and lights out!

Friday, August 29, 2008

How it all began

You all know by now that I am up for almost any new adventure - any opportunity to experience first hand something that I have never experienced before...but I think I may have taken on a little bit much this time...

Our trip to Costa Rica is well-chronicled by now - the stories are already getting bigger than I remember them...:)) Well, I do remember some fairly strenuous activities that we did...I absolutely loved the canyoneering experience - combining rappeling that I love with the water and waterfalls that have long put a big smile on my face...the need to get your head together to face the first 165 foot drop...the exhiliration as you pushed through the water into the unknown - each drop different for each person as you pushed off and couldn't predict your landing spot...

Well, the part that really hurt was the 1000 foot climb out of the slot canyon...everyone else in the group was in their 20's...Kent, Gary and I have long since seen that age...

I remember several times stopping thinking that I was not going to be able to get my next breath....but if you stopped - the fire ants would light up your legs like the Fourth of I just kept climbing out...

There were numerous times we were doing physical things probably beyond what we should have been expected to do - but you just have to understand the nature of the group I am with - this is not friendly competition necessarily - this is a curiosity and sense of true adventure mixed with the mental aspects of facing challenges...

All that being said, I returned home from Costa Rica exhilirated and full of life...I thought.

Sue was watching me closely and began to observe a repeat of my behavior before the first heart attack three years ago...waking up tired...taking a nap when I came home...a general slowness in the things that I did...she talked to me, begged me to see the doctor, whatever - I think I really scared her this time...

Why not compete in the family 5K, instead of just driving the kids around the course as in past years? Why not climb up to "The Cross" at the west end of Simi Valley when the organizer calls? So what if it hurts a little? You can do it, and that's the important part!

Well, after about a month after returning from our trip a strange thing started to happen to my body. I was out of breath all the started being noticeable at work when I would climb the stairs to go to meetings, etc. I would get to the top of the stairs and my legs would be burning like they didn't have enough oxygen. My heart seemed to race a bit and my breathing would be very labored...but, if I stood there for a minute, things returned to normal. I find it somewhat ironic that the company that I work for, United Technologies, owns Otis elevator company - and yet I work in a building that does not have a working elevator...That, along with the fact that all meetings and working areas of Information Technology is located on the second floors of buildings around the plant. So stair climbing is part of everyday.

Things just got progressively worse with the breathing thing - but I never told anyone...just "monitored the situation"....

Sue goes off to Texas to be with Sharalyn for her birthday. She is really concerned because things are not adding up correctly - even while she is in Texas she has Steven checking in on me - sometimes hourly. On a Thursday night I let her know that I think that "something is not right"...she pleads with me to call my cardiologist...I've never really listened to this pleading before, and I wasn't going to start now! Not that I don't love Sue - I love her with all my heart and more...but sometimes I "just monitor the situation"...

On Friday morning I go to work - all the while seeing what happens when I go up the stairs....Well, things weren't getting better! I barely made it to the top - I knew this was more serious than I first thought...I made plans to leave work right away - put my things in order as fast as I could - appointed someone to act for me while I was gone - put my important papers from work - my things to do list - in my briefcase to work on from home... :))

I said goodbye to everyone and sent out a final email with a reference to a "medical issue" that I had to deal with...I had a feeling inside that I wouldn't be coming back for a while. At Kaiser you can't just walk in to the ER and complain of chest pains or shortness of breath and not be admitted for at least 72 hours - experienced this before...Several caring people wanted to drive me home or call the ambulance for me - but I am a good actor! I faked them out! After my laptop was carried to the car to lighten my load I waved goodbye and then leaned against the car with my chest heaving - after I was sure that they were out of sight...

Now, to just get home and deal with what I was sure was an impendign heart attack!

Sue alerted Shannon to pick me up as soon as I arrived home...She was quick - Thanks, Jared for watching the little one at that moment. Shannon appeared very calm and efficient as we took off for the hospital in Woodland Hills...I don't really remember leaning over and sucking the air conditioning air out of the Hummer vent...Later Shannon mentioned this to me and I wondered what must have been going through her head at that time...When we arrived at the Woodland Hills facility I chose to walk across the entire parking lot - don't know why, but I did...almost made it across - well, maybe made it 2/3 across the lot before I had to stop and catch my breath...again, wonder what that was like for Shannon?

Now we are at the ER entrance and Shannon is explaining the situation to the lady in the glass booth...they don't waste any time with you at this point, and so, we are now on a bed being tested by a Russian woman who explains that it is up to her whether I go back out the front door, or head into the bowels of the hospital to be processed. After a quick EKG she explains that the bowels look like a better option for me ... :))

I think I will pick this up tomorrow - but I sure what to get each wonderful detail down on paper so that I can be reminded that "monitoring the situation" should be left to trained professionals, not ego-driven macho guys who won't give - no matter what!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

It's About Time

Since we haven't blogged since the great Chicago Marathon (Shake and Bake) over a year ago I thought it might be time to take advantage of the blogger world to record my recent thoughts while I have nothing but time on my hands....

I will be catching up on the latest adventure and then would like to continue with a catalog of stories which might come in handy some day. Any claims of accuracy are subject to review - my brother and I already disagree on many of the finer and coarser points of the topics.

In any case, I will be blogging each day to get things in order.

Looking forward and backward...