I mentioned in my last post, Losing Lox, that my folks were staying with us for a few weeks. What I didn’t mention was why. And heart surgery is the reason.
My step-father had an aorta valve replacement nine years ago. The ‘epic’ valve that was supposed to last 15+ years didn’t even make it 10. Epic Fail. (Sorry, could not resist).
So now, at 82, it was clear that he needed open heart surgery, again. Fortunately he is in great shape (other than the so-very-leaky aorta valve) and was thus a candidate for surgery — if he was diabetic or overweight, surgery might not have been an option. More fodder for eating well and exercising daily. But more on that later.
We found ourselves both grateful and worried. Grateful the condition could be fixed. Worried because this was a significantly more complicated surgery than the first valve replacement – so much so that his much-trusted cardiologist in Sarasota counseled he should NOT have the replacement of the replacement valve surgery done in Florida. He needed a surgeon and hospital with more expertise.
After a month of searching we concluded the best option would be for them to come to stay with us in Connecticut so the surgery could be done at NY Presbyterian – one of the top 3 cardiac hospitals in the country. They arrived in mid-January for the surgeon consult, surgery was scheduled ASAP which in this case was nearly three weeks later on February 4th (this surgeon is BUSY) and they need to stay here, near NYC, until the post-surgery follow up appointment on 2/27 where he will be cleared to fly home.
It’s been a long – a very long – process. Personally, I was more worried before the surgery that his very compromised heart would give out while waiting for the surgery. And now post-surgery, his vitals and color look so much better that I feel palpable relief. My mom is the reverse — she had been living with him with his compromised heart so long that that was ‘normal’ — she was worried, of course, but it was what she was used to. And in a way, she’s more worried now, after the successful surgery, because everything is new and scary. Why is he suddenly hot, then cold? Why no appetite? Why so much napping and not a lot of energy? Me, I see he actually has more energy than before, but it can be hard for others to see that.
So we read and then re-read the excellent material provided by New York-Presbyterian (if you ever need heart surgery and live near NY, get thee to NY Presbyterian – they were amazing on all fronts) to see what normal was. And though the visiting nurse said the ‘feeling cold from the inside’ is something she does see as a symptom, it’s still hard not to worry.
So I am trying to channel the worry into action. One of the things they harp on in the hospital is ‘walk your way to health.’ Seriously, after a 5 hour open heart surgery, they have the patients sitting up in chairs THE NEXT DAY and walking within 1-2 days. It’s astonishing.
And the at-home walking program is very clear. The NY Presbyterian folks want their heart patients to walk 0.1 miles, two-times a day – the FIRST day they are home from the hospital. Day two that is upped to 0.2 miles, twice a day. By day 7 — yes, just 1 week after returning home from open heart surgery — my dad must walk 0.3 miles, twice.
He and my mom thought this was too much. So they didn’t do it the first day. Well actually, they did try. They walked a few feet – three different times.
I explained that wasn’t good enough. That the reason the doctor wants him walking ever-longer each day is to build cardiac strength. That to build cardiac strength, it’s vital to walk the amount he’s supposed to walk – ALL AT ONCE.
They stared at me in disbelief.
And then, metaphorical whip in hand and cheerleading all the way, I told my mom to wipe that concerned look off her face, put on her ‘you can do it’ smile and help.
And we all three did it. On day 2 home from the surgery, my Dad walked the 50o feet (0.1) mile all at once. And said he felt better!
Not only that, his pulse rate barely increased and his color got better — all clear indications that the walking was doing him good.
Day 2 there was no argument. Just ‘how many laps, Karen’ and off he went. And again, he felt good while doing it.
Today the cardiac PT person is coming to the house and my Mom plans to ask what h/she thinks about how much my Dad should be walking. Sigh. I know she’s concerned and she has every right to ask. But I will be there to chime in — that he should be walking the program his surgeon provided. That every time he does the prescribed walk, his pulse goes up only 10-12 beats per minute and he is not out of breath. That he NEEDS to walk.
All that said, it’s still a difficult recovery. My dad has no pain (amazing) but he is weary and bored and tired of it all. Which is totally understandable.
The thing my dad keeps saying to my husband and myself is to ‘take care of your heart – you don’t want to end up like this.’ And he’s right. Never have I had a more visceral visual representation of the benefit and importance of living lo-co.
Frankly, some of this is genetic (which is why I mentioned he’s my step-dad – the heredity part of this doesn’t apply to me.) But a lot is related to cholesterol and lifestyle. My dad takes fish oil and a statin for high cholesterol, along with blood pressure meds. So, continuing eating lo-co – and doing a better job than I have been – is important. But watching the exercise literally help breathe life back into him is miraculous – and more motivation for my own exercise program.
Elliptical, here I come.