About the 4th or 5th day post surgery, my husband started to come out of some of his heavier medications, and we were able to finally talk to each other. Our first conversation went like this:
He: “Why am I here?”
Me: “You had a heart attack and they had to do a triple bypass”
He: “A HEART attack?!? Oh my….oh no! OH NO!! I am so stressed!! I’m having chest pains!! Oh NO!!!”
Very. Long. Pause…….
He: “Now, why am I here?”
Over time his doctors began to be concerned that he couldn’t seem to absorb what had happened. A certain amount of retention failure is normal due to the medications, but his seemed out of the ordinary. He was taken in for an MRI, and a psychologist was called in to evaluate him. Nothing was found, and eventually he began to improve.
During this time I discovered that the combination of pain medications, the residual anesthesia and general trauma of surgery would turn my normally agreeable husband into a belligerent Man-Toddler. One night, in his delirium, he decided that he no longer needed his central line…and so he removed it. Himself. The combination of blood thinners and his layman’s removal technique had caused quite a stir in the ICU that night.
Like the mother of a toddler at preschool pick-up time, I was regularly met with stories of his misadventures of the night before. He was not a willing participant in the use of the spirometer, and developed pneumonia as a result. I felt horrible that I had not pushed him enough to use it, and now we had another hurdle to overcome because of that.
Despite all of the challenges, around the 7th or 8th day, he seemed strong enough for a regular room. It was a proud moment for us, and we were giddy with excitement as we waited for someone from the Transport team to take him to the cardiac floor.
As he got settled into his new room, the nurse came in and took report from his ICU nurse. It was during this time that he began having difficulty keeping his oxygen levels up, and I could see the fear in his eyes as he began to be in some distress. Suddenly the room filled with people as they prepared to take him back to ICU. They weren’t going to wait for Transport to take him…..he needed to go back…..immediately. They began yanking tubes out of the wall and flew down the hall with my husband.
This episode bought him some time with a large oxygen mask that fit over his nose and mouth. He did not like it, not one bit. As long as he was calm, all was well. If he got agitated, one quick swipe of his hand and he’d have that mask off faster than a Major League catcher. His nurses were constantly watching him out of the corner of their eyes….when they saw that hand go up, they would say….”Mr. Purnell…..” He would then smile sweetly…..and scratch the side of his face.
One day we had a showdown: I had fought him all morning to keep that mask on. He kept taking it off. One of his nurses had come in to adjust his oxygen, just as my husband had thrown off the mask for the hundredth time. The nurse held out his hand. My husband gave him the mask. The nurse put a nasal canula on him and left the room. My 47 year old belligerent Man-Toddler husband looked me square in the eye and stuck his tongue out at me.
We graduated to a regular room a few days later, with no complication. We were still dealing with some of the effects of the medicines and he would often test his boundaries, but each day got better.
Near the end of this hospital stay I got some news that would let me know that our journey was far from over: tests showed one of the grafts hadn’t taken.