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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Homeward Bound - Surgery Adventure Part 5

This was March 8, 4 days after my surgery. After getting back 45% of my blood, I felt much better. Later during the day I was able to walk around my room, go to the bathroom by myself, and slept less. My mom and brother landed in Toronto on Monday night. They dropped by for a quick visit at around 1am and said they'd be back the next afternoon with some home made food. YUM.

Dr. Degen was very happy to see that I was doing much better on Tuesday morning, thanks to the two units of blood. He said I could leave in a couple days max. I couldn't wait… Later, he saw the results of yet another painful set of blood tests (they do it every morning) and came to deliver good news. I could go home that very day, or the next day, whenever I felt ready. The final test was whether I could walk to the atrium and back without any problem. WHAT? OF COURSE I WANT TO GO TODAY! So I went for a walk and discovered the beautiful atrium that overlooks University Avenue. There were plants and sofas, and a grand piano! I wasn't surprised but quite disappointed that it was locked. On my way back, Dr. Degen said I could go home!

My mom, who had been getting ready to stay over at the hospital that night was slightly worried that it was too early. Merely 4 days after this big heart surgery. However, the doctor made it clear that there was no reason to keep me on observation anymore. My HB level, oxygen level, blood pressure and temperature were all back to normal. My heartbeat was still a bit high but within normal range. The only thing was a little fluid in my heart following the surgery, revealed by an x-ray but it wasn't a major concern. I just had to come back for an echo the following week. The doctor added that the night sweats were probably just because the mattress was plastic. It would probably stop once I sleep on a real bed. YAY! I was good to go!

The nurse gave me a booklet titled "Homeward Bound" with instructions on what to do once I get home. A bunch of exercises and health recommendations. Then the pharmacist came to explain to me each one of the 8 different types of pills I had to take several times a day for the next week or so and their possible side effects. I was just so excited to be going home. It felt like I had been in the hospital for a while. An hour later, my concerned mother and brother came to help me pack up everything to leave. We donated most of the flowers to the hospital for patients who don't get a lot of visits to enjoy.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Glitter In The Air (Pink cover)

Pink is one of those artists that blows my mind, especially her live performances. If you haven't seen her perform this song at the grammys last year, you HAVE to check it out. You really do!

This song reminds me of last summer when I performed this at a contest. I have a lot of good memories associated with it. And no matter where things are today, I'm grateful for these happy moments. Thanks to those who came to support me, and a special thank you to RSD for everything.




Lyrics:
Have you ever fed a lover with just your hands?
Closed your eyes and trusted, just trusted?
Have you ever thrown a fist full of glitter in the air?
Have you ever looked fear in the face and said, "I just don't care"?

It's only half past the point of no return
The tip of the iceberg
The sun before the burn
The thunder before the lightning
The breath before the phrase
Have you ever felt this way?

Have you ever hated yourself for staring at the phone?
You're whole life waiting on the ring to prove you're not alone
Have you ever been touched so gently you had to cry?
Have you ever invited a stranger to come inside?

It's only half past the point of oblivion
The hourglass on the table
The walk before the run
The breath before the kiss
And the fear before the flames
Have you ever felt this way?

La La La La La La La La

There you are, sitting in the garden
Clutching my coffee,
Calling me sugar
You called me sugar

Have you ever wished for an endless night?
Lassoed the moon and the stars and pulled that rope tight?
Have you ever held your breath and asked yourself will it ever get better than tonight?
Tonight

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Bloody Pricks and Pills - Surgery Adventure Part 4



The second day after surgery, I received more visits and more flowers. I remember still feeling crappy and weak. My hair was greasier than it has ever been. I was craving for a shower but wasn't sure that was physically possible at that point. Yeah that's another thing about hospital living. Showers are a treat. I tried not to think about how many of my pores were getting blocked. Later during the day, the nurse offered to help me shower and boy did it feel good to be fresh again. I usually wash my hair every single day, so imagine… They were giving me normal food again but were still very conservative about the fluid intake. Ice chips were my best friends. Apart from the pretty flowers that soon filled up the space, people brought me books and magazines but my brain didn't want to process anything. Apart from my phone, I had no distractions. Not that I needed any. I slept most of the time. Again the cycles of sleep, sweat, feel cold, wake up, dry up, sleep. All day, all night. No fun. And I was still somewhere between 66-68 kg.

When the blood technician came after breakfast, I panicked again. They never find my vein the first time… Mary convinced me that this guy was good. Indeed he was. Got it the first time. Dried up my tears. Too bad it's a different technician everyday... The needles were much more emotionally draining than the idea of surgery itself. At least to me. They told me that most heart surgery patients are older, their skin isn't as tight, and their veins are more visible. Surgery ain't for youngsters… Blood work is done every morning when you're in the hospital. Sometimes, they would try one spot: the nurse pricks the needle in, taps it and gets no blood. She'd then move it around prowling under my skin trying to find a vein. No luck. She'd take it out and try another spot. At some point they ran out of spots and tried near my wrists instead. It felt like the needles were poking holes in my bones. I was traumatized. If there was one reason why I wanted to leave the hospital ASAP, it was my dread for blood work every morning, and my dread for the belly injection every afternoon.

On Monday, Dr. Degen came to see how I was doing. He said that I had lost about 45% of my blood during the surgery and my HB was at 70. I would feel better if they gave me two units of blood. The only thing is there's a tiny risk of HIV. In my mind I said "wth are you waiting for?!". I was given two units of blood and sure enough, I started feeling better. However , I was still nauseous from all the medication. At each meal I had a cocktail of 4-7 pills to ingest. Pain killers, blood thinners, diuretics, and a whole bunch of others to counter the side effects of the above. It seemed all I did was sleep, eat, take pills and munch on ice checking facebook and messages. Thank god for smartphones. Keeping in touch with the outer world somehow made me feel a bit better.

As I wondered whether I would be depressed and hate the world post-surgery, I thought about how it would have been if this had all happened in Mauritius instead. The hospital stay would have been much more depressing. Or the clinic stay would have been ridiculously expensive and just as depressing as a result. I was lucky to have landed at TGH instead, yay OHIP. Any consolation is good. As much as possible, I do try to see the brighter side of things in each situation. Being negative brings us down, makes us unproductive and causes us harm in so many ways. Sometimes, it's easier to be negative. It's tempting. But resisting is usually worth it (from personal experience). So I try, I try. Needles hurt, but they're making sure I get better. I can do this. Not without tears and momentary hatred for the nurse but I can do this. I kept telling myself that every time I closed my eyes, turned away making a face as someone attempted to find a vein under my skin.

The Irony of Fluids - Surgery Adventure Part 3

I'm gonna be bold and just say it. My average weight is about 60 kg (+/- 2) and that's what it was on Feb 26. When I arrived at the hospital on March 1, I weighed 66 kg. I secretly hoped their scale was not well calibrated but it was true. I learned later that, because of my heart problem, my whole body has been accumulating fluid all over. I was a giant water balloon. A day after surgery, I was at 68 kg. I gained 8 kilos within a couple days, that's INSANE! I felt fat and horrible. But I guess after surgery, with a long scar from the bottom of my neck all the way down my cleavage, with 8 kg of fluid inflating me, that was pretty normal.

In the evening of Friday March 4th, I woke up in the ICU feeling like I had been hiking the desert or something. My first word was "thirsty". My relatives were there. The nurse said that they had just removed tubes from my throat and that I should wait two hours or so before swallowing anything. Instead of water, she gave me a foam cup full of ice chips. My cousin fed me some ice chips. All I kept saying was "more" and "thirsty". They mentioned people coming to see me and motioned to a plant and a flower pot on the ground next to my bed. The ICU is not very roomy. There were no tables to put flowers or anything. After they left, the nurse kept my foam cup full of ice chips that I greedily munched on. Two hours in I finally got a cup of water, but nothing seemed to quench my thirst. More ice chips please.

As I became more aware of my surroundings, I looked around myself. I was on oxygen, I had an IV in each arm (one for pain killers, the other might've been empty, can't remember). I also had a tube for urine and there were wires sticking out of my stomach. There was also something taped to my neck and my sutures were also all taped up. I could move my arms and feed myself ice but apart from that, it didn't seem like mobile was an option. I just lay there phasing in and out, dying for water. I pressed the pain killer button every 5-10 minutes as the nurse had advised me. I'm not sure if I felt any pain at the time. I don't remember.

At one point, the nurse took a break. I ran out of ice. That made it the longest break ever taken by any human being on the planet to me. I pressed the button trying to call the nurse next door, who could see me through the glass pane. I called out to her too. She completely ignored me. I continued to press the button frantically and she finally gave up and came to get me some ice. She then explained that her patient is really sick and I should wait for my nurse to come back. I spent the night in the ICU and then towards the afternoon on Saturday, I was moved to the 4th floor where my two best friends from the university were waiting for me with a bouquet. I was told I looked in pain and weak that day. I don't remember.

I was lucky to have a room to myself. It had a large window and was very bright. I also had my own bathroom and lots of space, which was soon to be filled with flowers from visitors. They had removed the urine tube at some point. The nurse asked me to try and go pee whenever I was ready. When I felt like I could go, I sat there trying really hard. Nothing. One nurse came and said they should probably put the tube back in. That sounded painful. Another nurse came behind her and encouraged me to try again to avoid the tube. She was right. I didn't need it. So relieved… They gave me a diuretic to get rid of all the excess fluid accumulated in my body. So much fluid in my body, and yet I was so thirsty.

My aunt, uncle and two cousins dropped by to see me. I don't remember much of what happened. I remember three of them leaving and Nicolas stayed behind chatting a bit. Then my nurse Mary asked him to leave coz I needed an injection. Another one of those belly injections. I didn't want it. I remembered how painful the last one was and started crying. She took my hand and tried to reassure me. Finally I gave in. Surprisingly, it didn't hurt quite as much. I was tired. Food came in. It was just soup and jello. My throat was still recovering I guess. My cousin came back in and, after seeing me struggle a bit, fed me soup.

Later that day, a colleague came to visit me. I remember him dropping by, but don't remember much of the visit. When we talked about it later, I vaguely remembered that the nurse came in and did some checks on me and she dropped something on my leg that hurt but I can't remember what it was or what she was doing or even which nurse it was. I totally forgot a nurse had interrupted his visit until he mentioned it to me later. The first two days after my surgery are kinda fuzzy. Even as I write this, I'm doing a lot of thinking to try and sort events chronologically. Woah alzheimer must suck so bad.

I woke up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat. It wasn't the first time. It was quite customary since my admission to hospital. The first time they told me it was because of the Tylenol I took for fever. I had no fever anymore but I was literally soaked, and I was cold from the wet hospital gowns and sheets sticking to my skin. It was kind of like getting rained on and having no clothes to change into. It was uncomfortable. I was still thirsty as ever. Ice chips were still my most common option. I only had water to swallow pills and on rare occasions when they felt sorry for me. I dried up and I fell back asleep. I woke up again, drenched in sweat and craving for H2O like a lost traveler of the desert. Fell back asleep. Woke up again in a few hours, drenched in sweat and thirsty. After a few cycles, it was 7 am and I woke up for good. I was gonna say I woke up for breakfast but I don't remember if I had any.

Photo credit: Desert Water by Chris Ribbon (MaidenHead Camera Club)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Thought of the Day

So far, 2011 hasn't been lucky but I still think it's gonna be the best year ever. It's not about what this year takes away from you, but what you take away from this year, what you make of it all :)

The Colour of Surgery Is Blue - Surgery Adventure Part 2

Image by Francis Vachon, a photographer from Quebec. His blog: http://www.francisvachon.com/blog/

With my sparkling new blue wristband, I watched movies and waited for surgery in the Coronary ICU. The idea of being cut open, having my heart patched, then closing the rib cage again, and being sowed back up did not bother me. The only things that I dreaded were the scar and how long it would take to recover. I just felt bad for my coworkers who would have to take up my work for who knows how long. I wondered how painful waking up would be. I talked to my nurse Kim about it in the CICU. She said the scar goes away pretty nicely these days with vitamin E, and that I will be able to recover fully, and will have pain killers. Problem solved. I wasn't worried at all going into surgery.

Another reason why I stayed so calm is because I knew that, if I panicked, my inner circle wouldn't know how to deal with it. So they would freak out. And then it would be panic-snowballing and unnecessary stress on everyone. This way, they were curious about how I could remain so zen about it and they tried their best to do the same. No stress, no heart attacks, better atmosphere and environment for recovery. I hate it when people freak out. Freaking out makes you annoying, agitated, paranoid, irrational, and most importantly (and sadly) makes you do dumb things sometimes. So next time you wanna freak out, please don't. For the sake of those around you :)

So on March 4th I took a picture of my scarless chest (my phone saved me from boredom and beyond, you have no idea), disinfected the area they were about to cut, then got ready for surgery. My relatives came and kept me company until I was taken in. My parents emailed me a document from my previous cardiologist at the last minute. I printed it off at the nurse station computers, joking around with Dr. Thomas. He's cool. "How come you never told me there's free internet here?!?!" I asked. I was so chipper the whole time the team probably thought I was weird. They said we should hang out. I'm probably a welcome change from their usually panicked and gloomy patients.

12:45 finally came. In my blue hospital gown and Dr. Edward's blue pen initial at the bottom of my neck, I was wheeled in on a stretcher to the surgery room. It was a very large, cold room with bright lights. Lots of blue everywhere. The uniforms and all their protective wear, the disposable drapes hanging around all their huge machines, they were all blue.

They aligned my stretcher with a very narrow metal operating table and asked me to move onto it. I recognized one of the students who visited me earlier during my stay at the hospital, as well as a few other faces. The cardiac surgeon wasn't there yet. They asked me if I was okay, and after that I don't remember much. They shot the anaesthesia through my intravenous and I was out before I knew it. The surgery lasted about 4 hours, after which they let me sleep another 5 hours or so to recover. I woke up in the CICU in a dimly lit room, thirsty like I've never been before. Guess what colour the nurse was wearing?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Diagnosis of my Obnoxious Heart - Surgery Adventure Part 1

On March 1st at around 2am, I was admitted at Toronto General Hospital. I was coughing pretty bad, had just fainted in my apartment, was having trouble breathing and had a ridiculously high heart rate (118 bpm at rest). Also, whenever I put my finger about 10cm below my collar bone, I could feel my heartbeat, or rather heart murmur. Instead of a regular "doop, doop, doop", I could feel an obnoxious "VROUP, VROUP, VROUP". I always had a heart murmur but it could never be heard without stethoscope. For any med/cardio student out there, I later learned it was a 5/6, meaning it could be heard with the stethoscope about 1cm away from my skin.

I had to wait hours for tests but the x-ray revealed some spots on my lungs. Doctors diagnosed a pneumonia and gave me Tamiflu and antibiotics while they tried to figure out if it was bacterial or viral infection. How in hell did I get pneumonia? I was worried I was starting a bronchitis, but that's skipping a step there! Oh well, lucky me. I was subject to a myriad of tests, many involving needles shoved down my arm as the nurse vainly tried to find my vein. Ha. Blood work had me begging for mercy every day. Apparently young girly skin is no good for finding your vein to prick a needle in it and get 3 tubes of blood. Then they gave me an intravenous blood thinner… in my belly! That was the most painful injection of my life.

On March 2nd, all sorts of cardio people came to listen to my heart and ask me to recount my story all over again. Then they spoke cardiologese before saying "We'll discuss it and we'll be back". A bunch of newbies and students also came in for "educational purposes". In fact, it seems the entire cardiology team must have dropped by at some point. I joked about charging $500 per person for the "educational value". Man I'd be rich by now. I felt like I was in an episode of House M.D. My case was "interesting" and no one had a definite idea of what the heck was going on with me. Suddenly (Finally), they were focusing on that weird "vroup vroup" instead of the pneumonia.

I was moved to the Coronary ICU during the night. There, they cut off my horrible yellow wristband for a shiny plastic blue one. I told my nurse Kim that it looked better anyway. They were so nice and fun there. She asked me if I wanted a radio and when she couldn't find one, she brought me a small flat-screen TV with a DVD player, for free! How awesome is THAT.


On March 3rd, after a test involving a tube down my throat, they finally knew that the spots on my lungs in the x-ray were not signs of pneumonia. They were actually fluid accumulating in there due to my heart murmur problem. Turns out the little 3mm hole in my heart dilated "somehow" and became the size of a dime. That caused blood to flow in places it wasn't supposed to, and my right ventricle pressure was about 70 when the normal range is 30-40. Surgery was the only option. Dr Ralph-Edwards came to announce their findings to me. He said he wanted to perform the operation the next day. I was cool with that.

Strangely enough, I was very calm and even chipper throughout this whole thing. I was joking with the doctors and wasn't really scared or panicked when they announced surgery. As I expected, my close friends and relatives started to freak out when I told them what was going on. I tried to reassure them, telling them it's okay, I'm not scared, it's gonna be fine, don't worry. It seemed to have worked, but I'm not sure if they were just faking it so I don't worry about them. I personally felt that, at TGH, they had the best team I could possibly get and I trusted their experience. In my mind, this was mere routine for them. Dunno if it's true but who cares. The last thing you want on your mind when you're not healthy is more worry. For all I knew, the next day, I'd have a heart healthier than it has ever been :)