Robert Talbert

@rtalbert

Math professor, Dad, Catholic, cat herder.

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Home life

This is my third day since arriving back home from the hospital. Keeping in mind that my primary responsibility right now is to take it easy and let my body heal, there's still a lot of things that I need to do during the day, along with some challenges to normal activities and an emerging routine to how the day is going.

A typical day so far looks a little like this:

  • Get up around 6:00am as the girls get ready for school. (It's noisy.)
  • Have a single cup of strong black coffee. Well before the surgery, even before we knew exactly what was wrong with my heart, my doctor ordered me to cut way back on caffeine. So ever since around September, rather than downing 5-6 cups a day as I used to, I've been having one very strong cup of coffee, black, in the morning and then tea or decaf the rest of the day. During the hospital I was basically able to purge myself of all caffeine. So now when I have my one cup in the morning, it's like rocket fuel! (Yes, the newly upgraded heart can handle it.)
  • Check email (not much of that these days thankfully) and see the kids off to school.
  • Cathy is home with me for the next few days thanks to her own FMLA leave. While she takes a shower, I will usually pray the Rosary. Praying the Rosary daily has been one of my goals for this recovery period.
  • Also during this time, and then once each hour while I am awake, I do deep breathing exercises using an incentive sperometer affectionately known as "my bong". While I was in surgery, I was on a heart-lung bypass machine and my lungs were completely deflated. I do these breathing exercises to continue to re-inflate the far corners of my lungs and clear out any gunk that might have accumulated there.
  • I'll usually then have some breakfast. (See below for more info on my diet.) Then at 9:00am I take a cocktail of meds for heart functioning, potassium, a diuretic to help me drain fluids, etc.

Throughout the day I have nothing planned, but I do have to keep track of a few important things: Doing my breathing exercises once an hour, making sure I am taking my painkillers on time, and doing physical exercise.

It turns out that having your chest cut open and then glued back together makes you incredibly sore afterwards. I've been dealing with that deep aching pain since February 7. It gets easier to deal with every day, but I couldn't do it without the major-league painkillers that were prescribed for me. One is Tramadol and the other is Hydrocodone with acetaminophen a.k.a. Norco. I am alternating these once every three hours. If I'm late on that schedule, I will absolutely feel it over the next three hours. When I first came home I wasn't clear on this schedule and was waiting 4-5 hours between doses, and I could barely move some of the time. Once I got the schedule corrected, the pain, while still pretty strong, has been very manageable. But for example when I sleep for longer than 3 hours and then wake up, it's like I have pulled every muscle between my groin and my head. Even with the right amount of pain meds in my system, right now my back is very sore and the incision site is sensitive.

The physical exercise is in the form of brisk walks around the house. In our house, that means up and down the main hallway. I started out with five 3-minute walks per day and am working up to fewer walks but of longer time periods. Today for example I'm on two 8-minute walks. Eventually this will become a single 10-minute, then a single 12-minute, etc. until I can walk for 30 minutes at a time without getting dizzy. Going up and down the hallway is boring but I do have audiobooks to help with that. Occasionally I will throw in a trip down to the basement and then back up. Doing stairs was hard earlier in the week --- I practiced at the hospital with a nurse, and it was very slow going. Now I can go up and down our stairs with little problem as long as I take it slow, because I can still definitely feel it. I can even tell a difference between a 5-minute walk and an 8-minute walk. At least for now, the former are easy but the latter get me to the limits of what I can do.

I'm also supposed to be eating, especially getting proteins in my system to help the healing process. This is tricky, though, because I'm restricted to fewer than 2000mg of sodium per day. That is not a lot of sodium and it makes getting enough protein difficult. (Forget about grabbing some sliced deli turkey for instance -- that's 490mg sodium per 2 ounces of turkey.) Add to this the fact that my appetite is diminished and I just don't really want to eat as much as normal. But, the doctors have said that whatever I normally conceive of eating, eat a little more, because I need calories to rebuild the bone and muscle that were cut apart during the surgery. So I'm in the weird position of being told to eat more than I really feel like.

When I'm not eating, walking, doing breathing exercises, or taking meds, here's what I've been doing during the day:

  • Reading books. I have way too many of these to catch up on. Also audiobooks for my walking spells.
  • Re-watching the entire MCU in chronological order. I finished Guardians of the Galaxy last night.
  • Visiting with friends. It's been great to have people over at the house who want to stop in and check up and I encourage this if you're in the area and have wondered if that would be helpful.
  • Writing, e.g. this post.
  • I am a productivity nerd and am taking this recovery time to think carefully about how I manage my time and tasks and projects. I just set up a completely reconfigured GTD system and have been tinkering around with it in all this spare time.
  • I'll be doing a few more DataCamp courses on Python soon.

So I'm trying to keep my mind active but I am not doing what I would call "work", nor am I trying to "keep busy". I just like to have 1-2 things that have been on the back burner for a while that I like to try to accomplish each day.

We'll spend family time together in the evenings and then crash around 9:00pm. The first two nights I was home, it was too hard to sleep in my bed, so I slept in the amazing new recliner that Cathy bought for me. Last night was the first time I was able to get into and out of bed unassisted and without too much pain, although I still don't think I'm following the directions properly and I was sore following getting up.

I feel like I've come a long way in in the last week and even in the last three days since getting home. This time last week, going for a 500-foot walk involved using a walker and having a nurse keep hold of me via a strap in case I should fall, and I would often get light-headed just trying it. Now doing the same thing is no problem and I am very steady on my feet. But I have a long way to go still.

Thankfully I've had no episodes of atrial fibrillation like I had in the hospital following surgery. By all accounts the upgraded heart is working beautifully, and I feel like I can tell a major difference in other functions too -- like I am thinking with more clarity thanks to having a more efficient heart. (Or it could be because I'm not grading anything!). For now, it's just a matter of resting, keeping my exercise ramping up, doing what the nurses tell me to do, and maintaining my diet. I feel like if I can do all that, my body will take care of itself and I'll be back to 80%+ in short order.

I want to especially thank Cathy, my wife, who has made all of our home life work while I've been out and who is here for a few more days to babysit me. There have been a couple of times when she's been called into action in that role (helping me get out of bed, picking up stuff that I dropped, etc.). We didn't get a real Valentine's Day date this year thanks to my recovery but I plan on making it up to her soon.


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