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30 — Heart Disease and recovering from open heart surgery.

2015-07-26. By Kelly.

In the last six months heart disease and heart surgery came on my radar. In early March my father got the flu. He became very sick and his breathing became more difficult. For people with COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, the flu or any lung infection can lead to a serious condition that requires hospitalization. In fact that is what happened as Dad's breathing became more labored and he required oxygen and steroids to overcome his infection. Unfortunately, after several weeks, my father's condition only improved slightly. He continued to tire easily and he started to have to stop after just three steps to catch his breath. This prompted him to visit his family doctor and share his concerns. In the next three weeks Dad received a stress test and other diagnostics to check on his lung and heart capacity. By June he was sent to the heart institute to see a cardiologist and surgeon in Ottawa. After consulting with the doctor he decided to pursue heart surgery. Although the doctor knew that Dad's weakness and shortness of breath was heart related, the doctor made it clear that he would not be able to pin point the exact cause of his condition until surgery. Dad's surgery included a valve replacement, coronary artery bypass graft, and a cardiac stent. Dad's chest had to be opened up and a large incision on his chest was required to complete all of the procedures. The recovery was expected to include a 5-14 day hospital stay and then the he would be released to go home. At home, he was expected to slowly increase his activity over an 8-10 week period with the guidance of a physiotherapist.

Unfortunately, my father's hospital recovery lasted 3 weeks. The extended hospital recovery was particularly difficult due to communication problems and infections in the lungs and along the incision. My father had anticipated a difficult physical recovery but he had not been properly prepared for the emotional challenges caused by the drugs.

The patient's recovery process from heart surgery can be defined into steps. The two days after surgery, the patient is still in a sedated state and may go through the motion of sitting in chairs and moving, but they are not alert. The third day, the sedated stage that is caused by surgery clears and patient goes through a phase of clarity. However, the patient is unable to clearly communicate with family and friends. They will start a conversation and end it with ill matched information. One patient told me, "My beautiful niece had cancer and the poor thing had to have a vasectomy." For my dad and others, this state of confused reality persisted for four or more days. My father became moody and angry because he was unable to distinguish reality from the drug dream state. After Dad returned home he said, "My brain felt like it was surrounded by hamburger and I was unable to sort truth from my dreams". He also said, "I cannot understand why people use drugs to have that state of mind. I felt like I was losing my mind. I just wish that someone would have told me what to expect. When I was told that I would be confused for a time, I didn't expect that I would feel I was losing my mind." For my dad this was the most difficult part of the recovery. After the eighth day, he became more clear and alert. He could have conversations and would seek out conversations with others. After Dad returned home and sat outside on his deck, it was clear that he was on the road to recovery. He knows that the process will take time and is ready to rebuild with clarity of mind.

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