Robert Talbert

@rtalbert

Math professor, Dad, Catholic, cat herder.

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Update at two weeks

Time for a little update since it's been two weeks since the heart surgery and a little over one week since coming home from the hospital.

Every day I am getting a little closer to being back to normal. I still have some way to go --- no 5K runs for me any time soon, and I can't even drive until some time in March. But I think I've come a long way in two weeks. Consider 10 days ago versus now:

  • 10 days ago, I was doing three walks a day around "7 Heart" (seventh floor of the Meijer Heart Hospital in Grand Rapids, where most cardiac patients go before being discharged). I couldn't do this unassisted. I was using either a walker or the IV pole, plus I had a nurse holding on to me with a strap in case I fell over. Now, I am walking around the house and even going up and down stairs no problem, and multiple times a day.
  • 10 days ago, every square inch of my upper body felt like it had been in a car accident and if I didn't get a dose of pain medication every three hours, life was pretty unenjoyable. Today I am well on the way toward being off those pain meds and in between doses, the worst that it gets is a very sore back. (Unless I cough; more on that below.)
  • 10 days ago, basically any movement I wanted to make beyond shifting around in my chair or bed, I needed to call a nurse and have them help me get up and move. This included getting into and out of bed, as I've described before. Today I can pretty much move freely; this morning I even got back into the kitchen and made some food for the rest of the week.

I continue to have an in-home nurse drop in twice a week to check in on me. The first visit this week, she said that the incision on my chest is healing very well, and all my vitals -- including my pulse rate and blood pressure which were a concern because of the atrial fibrillation episode I had in the hospital -- have been right where they should be. The only continuing blip on the radar is that one lobe of my right lung has still not re-inflated properly; I was on a heart-lung bypass machine while in surgery and my lungs had to be deflated, and this one area still hasn't quite gotten back to normal. But I am diligently inhaling on my sperometer once an hour as directed and eventually that will pop open like it should.

A bit more on pain management: I have been taking not just one but two different kinds of pain medication this entire time. These are not just pain meds but straight-up opioids, Tramadol and Hydrocodone. The other day I noticed I was down to the single-digits on each of these and realized I needed to start working on pain tolerance not just pain management. So I started two things: (1) Extending dosage from every three hours to every five hours and (2) going even longer between doses at night while I'm sleeping. What's resulted is that I feel the pain more acutely, but I think there less of it as my bone and muscle heal. It's not so much "pain" as it is a deep soreness, usually felt in my lower back and right at the incision on my chest. I've found it to be tolerable, and I get just as much relief from just lying flat on my back or legs-up in the recliner as I do from taking narcotics. Once the pain meds run out, I will be going to regular OTC Extra-Strength Tylenol, which works fine now but I am limited to just 3000mg of the stuff daily (and one dose of two capsules is 1000mg).

The exception is if I have to cough. When I cough, the muscle going across my chest contracts and pulls the two pieces of my sternum together and, well, that's more than just soreness. The muscle contracts and just stays contracted until I have a chance to just breathe for a few minutes. I count myself very fortunate that I haven't had to cough or sneeze much since I've been home. (Harry has had a deep chest cold since right around the time I went into the hospital and as much as I want to hang out with him, he's basically quarantined from my presence, and if he must get around me, he is under orders to slather himself in hand sanitizer first. I shudder to think what it will be like if I start getting a sinus infection.)

Cathy is home from work through the end of this week and should be returning to her job next Monday. This is a bit longer at home than we first expected and I know it has to get a bit on the boring side, sitting around doing nothing. We did leave the house once --- the first time I'd left the house since coming home from the hospital on February 12 -- to go to the mall so I could do my daily extended walk somewhere besides my hallway. It was a real treat (normally I can't stand shopping malls, but this is a special situation) and I did a lot more exercise than I was really ready for --- I was completely worn out the entire rest of the day.

My daily routine hasn't changed much, although I am starting to do more intellectually engaging stuff during the day. I'm sleeping 7-8 hours a night (I usually get 6!), waking up when the girls are getting ready for school, get my one daily cup of coffee and checking messages until the kids are off; then doing prayer and spiritual reading while Cathy's getting cleaned up. Then I do some combination of reading, math, or programming in the morning. I'm teaching a new class this summer and I'm working through the textbook, going through some Python courses at DataCamp, and nibbling at an article to submit to Flipped Learning Today at the end of the month. Still not exactly "work"; there's actually almost no "work" for me to do, since I finished almost all my GVSU responsibilities for the semester before going into the hospital. I usually break for lunch, do my daily extended exercises (pacing up and down the hallway for 20+ minutes unless I manage to get a ride to the mall), then settle in for the afternoon which is usually spent reading books or web articles. I take hourly breaks to do breathing exercises and take short walks (more pacing up and down the hallway).

I've been told all along that somewhere between the second and third week post-surgery, I'll notice that I'll be better able to do physical activity and handle more normal everyday activities. It's still slow going, and I still have to take precautions --- for example I do find myself getting light-headed and dizzy more easily than normal if I get up from a seated position too fast, and the chest pain makes it hard to breathe deeply --- but this three-week rule seems to be accurate. It's gratifying to feel like I am getting better and hopefully before long. the weather will get a bit nicer here (just gross snow and rain and winter weather advisories on an endless loop) and I can possibly get out and enjoy it.


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