I woke up to familiar voices. The voices of an old friend of mine and some family members. It was comforting to hear the voices of the ones I loved. I felt pretty worn out. I was awake and could hear and remember things but I was too tired to open my eyes. It felt like I had weights holding them shut. According to my family, my face was pretty bloated. Since I was just waking up, I thought that everything went as planned and I would be good to go in no time.
But then I remember hearing some bad news. From this time until I finally got off the strong pain meds everything is kind of blurred in my mind so I will try to put things together the best I can remember them. I can’t guarantee the order will be exactly right.
I was told that I was in surgery for so long that they needed to leave the breathing tube in my throat. They needed to leave it in overnight. My blood pressure was low and they didn’t feel comfortable letting me breathe on my own. One of the nurses explained the tube to me before surgery.
“You’re going to wake up with the breathing tube in your throat. It may have to stay there for an hour or two max so don’t pull it out. The one they will use on you splits into each bronchus since they have to deflate one of your lungs for surgery. If you pull it out it could do some damage and really hurt . . .”
I remembered what the nurse told me and ignored the overwhelming desire to pull that thing out of my throat. I also remembered her saying it may be in my throat for an hour or two. They were telling me it would have to stay in overnight.
I panicked. All I could do is kick my feet like a little kid. I was trying to throw a fit. I was told later that my legs were moving but it just looked to my family like they were shaking. I was trying to kick them. I was mad. That breathing tube was the most uncomfortable thing I have ever experienced. Although it would breathe for me if I was sleeping, I wasn’t sleeping. I was awake and it felt like I was fighting against that tube to breathe. It felt like I was drowning. I am completely serious about this. This was as close to torture as I ever want to get. The thought of having this in my throat all night was unbearable.
The room was also very warm and I was sweating. Fluid felt like it was building up in the tube all night which added to the sensation of drowning. It was horrible. I couldn’t speak but I tried to mouth the words to the nurse
“I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe”
That was exactly how it felt. I felt like I was going to suffocate. It was extreme. It was terrible. I understand they were following orders but this was so bad I personally don’t think they should leave the breathing tube in when a patient is awake. It was real torture.
Sometimes the tube would fill up with fluid (or it felt that way) and they would come suction it out. This went on all night. I tried to relax my breathing and breathe as slow as possible to not fight against that thing. This was easier said than done. I would think upon the worst rides I had ever done and finished to help me get through the night too. I thought of the 205 miles I rode through the cramps in 2010 to finish the Dirty Kanza 200. I thought of my trip through the Central California mountains and how hard that was to get through. I could get through this. I had to.
I was also wondering why surgery took so long too. Before surgery we talked to the PA about another case they recently did that was like mine and they were done in four hours. I wasn’t sure how long I was in there but it was a long time. That’s why I had to spend the night with the tube in place.
The breathing tube was the worst, most terrible part of the week. It was that bad. It was, as I already wrote but want to reiterate, torture.
Somehow I made it through the night. The sun was starting to peek above the horizon and all I could think about was getting the tube out of my throat.
The nurses changed shifts and Lanny was taking care of me. He was a big, bald man and one hell of a nice guy. He knew what he was doing and was very comforting about everything. I learned that a good nurse made a huge difference to how things went, to how I felt during my stay at the hospital.
Lanny went to work and pulled the breathing tube out of my throat. Thank God. Things could only get better from here I thought. Because I had that tube in my throat all night and all day during the surgery, my teeth were super sensitive and my throat was sore for weeks. Nothing like a cough to make my ribs feel nice after heart surgery.
I looked at one of the other nurses and asked here which side the doctor had gone in to do surgery. I couldn’t tell as I was still pretty drugged up.
“Oh well he went in your right side but then they had to go through your sternum anyway”
“What?” I thought. I was now in wonder of why they had to do that. I started thinking of the extra time it would now take to recover. I was thinking about the new long scar I would have. I wondered what the hell had happened. I was told there was maybe a 5% chance they would have a problem with the robotic surgery and have to open my sternum. That was a bet I took. I was in shock just a little bit. I knew the DK200 would be out of reach and who knew when I’d be back on the bike now. Oh well, what’s done is done. They obviously had to do it and I obviously wanted to be alive, so I would just have to deal with it.
After getting the breathing tube out, they had to take out some other tubes, one being the drainage tube. Jennifer, the good-looking PA came in and took it out. She put one hand on my body and ripped a small garden house out of my chest with the other hand. Um yeah, it hurt.
Soon I noticed it was very difficult to breathe. It felt like I had so much gas in my body pressing against my lungs that I couldn’t take a deep breath. I could only manage short, little breaths. To try to get ride on some of the gas, a tube was inserted into my nose, all the way down to my stomach and left there for about three hours or so to try to “degass my system.” I am not sure if it worked as I had to deal with this problem all week.
I asked the PA what happened during surgery. Why did they have to open my sternum?
They had a problem seeing the valve work after they did the repairs. They used a balloon in the aorta to stop blood from going that route and it was pushing down on the valve enough to make it look like it wasn’t working correctly. Since they weren’t sure what was going on and wanted to see for sure that the repaired mitral valve was working correctly, they decided to open me up and do it the old-fashioned way. They decided to do this about six hours into surgery. It took another three hours or so for them to finish the surgery. It was a very long surgery.
I thought I would come through surgery strong. I thought many things like that. But what it came down to was that I was in pretty bad pain. They tried to get me walking that first day. I stood up. I may have taken a step but that’s about it. I was told that the younger guys have a tougher time with pain being that their bodies have more active nerve endings than older guys. Whatever. I was in bad shape. Seemed like my whole body was pissed off about the surgery, from my bowels to all my incisions. I felt worse that first day than I ever imagined I would. But I am writing this so I did get through it. Although it was a much slower process than I had hoped.
Now I had to concentrate on getting better and going home. The surgery was on Monday. I hoped I would be out of there on Friday. But that wouldn’t be so.