Becoming A Cyborg, Part 3: Leaving the Hospital and Recovery/Adjusting

Week 1 in the hospital was making sure that everything was working correctly, week 2 was working on getting my strength back. I had a PICC line sticking out of my arm and was hooked to EKG machines, blood pressure machines, and heart/O2 monitors throughout the first week-plus, so the nickname “Cyborg” spread to a couple of the night shift nurses. meanwhile, I was slowly taking small steps around my room, then out into the hall, and even a few feet down the hall to the windows. The doctors and some of the nurses were amazed that I was taking steps of any kind, much less walking a couple dozen feet. I built up my endurance and strength to the point that I could circle – slowly – around the nurses’ station once, before having to stop.

After a couple of delays – one being that the infection was being stubborn – I was released on March 3rd, 13 days after being admitted. I had lost somewhere between 35 and 55 pounds while in the hospital (probably much closer to 55); at one point, I weighed 158 pounds… at 6′ 1″. There was also this: the doctors wanted me to cough to keep fluids out of my lungs; they warned me that it would “hurt and not be very pleasant” while coughing, so I should take a pillow or 2, put them against my chest, and cough while bent over. Heeding their warnings, I finally got home that afternoon. While taking walks in the hospital wasn’t too horrible, the reality of living in an apartment that was down a flight of stairs hit when I got home: it was BRUTALLY exhausting and painful going down those stairs. 

My sister and younger brother took turns staying with me through the days and overnights for the first 10 or so days, with my older brother staying in the afternoons when he could. My sister eventually took sole watch duty until the end of March, moving in with me for 3 weeks and staying during the days that last week. I also had visits 3 times a week from a nurse named Christy from Lincare, who would check my PICC line, bring my supply of antibiotics, take my blood pressure, draw blood for lab tests, check my heart sound, and pretty much anything else that was needed.

The month of March (and into April) can be summed up with the phrase “cyclopean pain.” The doctors’ warnings about coughing weren’t adequate; I cannot accurately describe just how bad the pain level was, not only during that time, but for weeks afterwards. I’m not sure my sister, who saw a lot of the coughing, could explain it, either. To give you an idea:
My rib cage and breastbone were wired shut and the muscles/skin either stitched or glued together after the surgery; every cough expanded that whole chest cavity and I could feel things expanding that didn’t want to

Despite the pain, and a lot of sleepless nights, I did manage to gain weight back and strength back, mainly by walking around my apartment. My friend and former Drum Corps director Matt, who also had a life-threatening health issue not long before mine, gave me a few pointers on navigating the stairs that wouldn’t be so taxing, and before long, I was managing to sit outside on the porch of my apartment building for some fresh air. I was still adjusting to taking Lovenox and Warfarin (anti-coagulators; I’m on Warfarin for life), so I couldn’t stay exposed to the sun for long, but the times outside helped the healing process, I think. I also received some of the nicest gestures:
First, by 2 former co-workers: they had a March Madness pool going in my honor; they gave me the winning to help with bills!
Second, one of the University of Louisville’s music ensembles (I think it was the Symphonic Band) dedicated their Spring Concert to me! 🙂

My first venture away from home was with a group of my best friends to the Louisville Science Museum at the end of March. While I couldn’t walk as fast as I would have liked, it was still a fun trip. Nichole moved back to her place around that time and Christy made her final Lincare visit in early April (I was sad to see her go!). I returned to work at the end of April, on a restricted weight-lifting limit and restricted hours. I stepped down from my Signing Specialist spot because not only did the position move to 3rd shift, I wouldn’t have physically been able to do the job for weeks. I had to take frequent quick breaks (like 3-5 minute ones, which the bosses were ok with) those first few days back but I made it through 4-hour shifts without many issues.

Since the surgery, there have been many adjustments to life with a ticking heart (you can hear the metal valves working from a few feet away, especially if I’ve done anything requiring exertion). For example:
– since I’m on Warfarin, I have to closely monitor what I eat, plus get an INR test every 4-6 weeks to test my blood clotting. Anything with large amounts of Vitamin K or Vitamin C have to either be avoided (Black licorice, cranberry and grapefruit ANYTHING, for starters) or limited highly (green leafy vegetables, Broccoli, Cauliflower); Vitamin E (eggs) amounts have to be watched
– little to no alcohol; this isn’t a problem because I drink very little
– Aspirin, other than the 81 mg dosage I take daily, is an absolute no-no
– I’m now very sensitive to cold
– any kind of bruising or hard bumps have to be reported to a doctor
Those were just a few things that I’ve adjusted to. With an enlarged heart, I also have to be aware of when I’m pushing too hard. Activities that have sudden bursts of energy and effort, like sprinting, don’t always come highly recommended. It’s been a 5-year balancing act, trying to make sure I’m eating healthy but eating the right things, keeping my blood clotting ratio within the accepted range (my blood has to clot 2.5-3.5 times slower than normal folks’ blood), and staying somewhat active and physical. I’ve managed to drop about 22 pounds since the summer of 2014, when I finally got back to taking long, fast walks, cutting out what fast food I did eat, and (6 weeks ago) joining Planet Fitness, where I focus on the treadmills, the stationary bikes, the recumbent bikes, and occasionally the elliptical machines.

So, there’s the story of how a 31-year-old guy nearly lost his life to an infection, survived, gained the nickname “Cyborg”, and at 36, is making sure that those metal valves and the heart they are in continue to work for decades to come! 🙂

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