Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Series: Open Heart Surgery. Before (Planning).

Three weeks ago today my chest and my heart were cut open and my heart was shut down for about 40 minutes, placed on bypass so the surgeon could make some repairs.

It all went well, they tell me.  But now I'm in this recovery phase, where I'm supposed to sit around and do nothing so my body can recuperate.

"It'll be relaxing" they said!


In the weeks and months leading up to the circled date on the calendar, I prepped meals for the freezer, I deep-cleaned, I organized, I made lists of activities I could do from a seated position. So I was prepared, I thought, to sit and recover.

But I just don't do well with sitting.  It's beautiful spring weather and I want to be doing big ol' projects, getting my hands dirty!

Sigh. My body has been very quick to tell me when I've done too much.  There is no cheating.

Anyway, my sister suggested I write about it on my blog.  She said it would give me something to do, AND maybe help others who are going through something similar.  I thought that made a lot of sense.

So here I am.  I'll write a few posts, with an eye towards passing on what I have learned from this experience.  I bought a few products along the way, so I'll share how they helped or didn't help.  When possible, I'll include links to specific things that worked, but this blog is not monetized, so I gain nothing from your clicks.  So don't even worry about that.

I'm thinking I'll organize this in a before, during and after kind of format. I'll try to just put a little bit of info in each post.  More bite-sized than all inclusive.  Otherwise this thing would be a novel.  But not in a good way.

And let me know if you have any questions!  I'll be glad to answer to the best of my ability.  Plus if I'm engaged in answering questions, I'm less likely to get myself into trouble.


How did I get here?
A couple days before Christmas, I went to the emergency room at the advice of my primary care doctor.  I was having pain in the general vicinity of my chest, and really high blood pressure.  Although I was pretty convinced it was something GI-related, I was being worked up as a cardiac patient. In the end, I was right.  The pain was from a weirdly located stone lodged way up in my liver, but in all the testing and poking and prodding, they found a pretty serious heart problem.

So on Christmas eve, I was told I was going to need open heart surgery. This surgery was going to take me out of commission for several months, as I wouldn't be able to drive or lift more than a gallon of milk for a month, and wouldn't be ready to return to work for about three months.
But because I needed to get the stone thing taken care of first, as well as do a bunch of other tests, the heart surgery wouldn't take place for months.
Plenty of time for an OCD anal retentive gal like me to plan (insert maniacal laughter here).

What to do first?
Like any self-respecting organization-aholic, I started making lists. I made lists of freezer meals I could prep, things I wanted to take care of prior to surgery, and  things I could do while recovering.  I wrote out what I would need to do in terms of my job, and who was going to be able to do what while I was recovering.

There was a lot of information and a lot of things to think about and plan for.  Keeping a notebook can be really helpful in these kinds of situations, although I found my planner had a lot of pages in the back that worked nicely for this purpose.

Here is a list of some of those items to take care of, for anyone who might have to plan a time of convalescence:

Will you need time off from work?  Let your manager know as soon as possible.  You night need to contact Human Resources to find out if there is any paperwork you or our doctor needs to fill out.
Will you be eligible for disability?  I hadn't been at my new job long enough, but I was able to request a Leave of Absence as an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

If someone will be filling in for you in your absence from work, do you need to make them a list of your job duties, things to take care of or watch for so things don't fall between the cracks while you're away?

Okay, I hate to say it, but you will want to make sure you have your affairs in order.
Major surgeries have risks, I don't care how good your surgeon/team/medical facility are, there are risks.
To that end, you want to make sure your basic life-planning paperwork is taken care of.  Or if that's something you haven't started, GET started.  Since I had recently gotten divorced, I hadn't redone mine yet, as it was just in my "get-to-it-later" list of things to do.  The surgery pushed it to the front of the queue.

So I went to a lawyer and had all the paperwork drawn up, including a POA (Power of Attorney), a will, and also a Medical (or Durable) POA.  The latter clarifies your wishes on medical issues.  In other words, pull the plug or continue life as a vegetable?  DNR or do everything possible to keep you alive?  I could get very specific here, but I think most people have a pretty good understanding of the basic gist of this kind of document.  It's up to each individual to determine where they stand on these matters. The point is, get it done.

Get caught up on bills, and if you have any bills that are not on auto-pay, set that up if you can.  The last thing you want is a late payment fee because a bill didn't get paid when you were flat on your back in a hospital bed.

If you're like me, you have a stack of paperwork waiting for that magical moment when you have nothing else to do and an inspired need to file comes over you.  Yeah, no.  So anyway, now's the time to get caught up on that stuff.
Make a list of who to call for different issues that may arise while you're in the hospital, so whomever is at the house (adult kids in my case) will know what to do if the power goes out, or the hot water heater springs a leak.  That kind of thing.

Find out from your surgeon what your restrictions will be post-surgery, as well as an accompanying timeline of those restrictions.  From there, you can better plan which of your usual tasks/chores will need to be delegated to others.
In my case, since I would not be able to drive for a month, I wanted to stock my pantry with as much as I could, knowing that I would still need to rely on others for runs to the store for weekly perishables.  I set aside a shelf in my basement to stock up on hygiene items, pet food, pasta/rice/beans, cereals, cleaning supplies, etc.
I made a list of chores that are done around the house, trying to include as many things as I could remember.  Cleaning the litter box, feeding the pets, tending the chickens, watering the flowers and vegetable garden, taking out the trash, sweeping the floor, cleaning the kitchen, cleaning the bathrooms, mowing, weed-wacking, grocery shopping, etc, etc.  You get the point.

Then delegate.  Lucky for me, my kids are all grown and three of them still live at home, so that made it pretty easy.  But figure out what people in your life will be able to help.  Friends, relatives, neighbors, folks in your church.  And there's always hired help if you can afford it. Know that whatever list you come up with will probably be very fluid, as life has a way of changing your best laid plans, so be flexible. Also, recovery is not an all or none timeline.  You will gradually be able to take on more tasks as time goes by, and of course that will change the list, too.

I knew I was not going to be able to lift more than eight pounds for many weeks, and would have very low endurance.  So I wanted to have some meals at the ready that my kids could pull out of the freezer and heat up for dinner.

Pinterest is a great source of ideas for this kind of thing.  I did a bunch of bulk cooking one day and knocked out over a dozen meals.  Some were complete casseroles in aluminum
pans, some were a mix in a freezer Ziplock bag, which is great for saving on freezer space.  Here are some of the things I prepped:
Storage bags: taco meat, sloppy Joes, spaghetti sauce, chili
Casseroles: chicken spaghetti, fritattas, shepherd's pie, mac-n-beef, baked ziti

Anyway, that's all I can think of for now.

Tune in next time for my thoughts on what's helpful while you're in the hospital.


  1. Gosh Anne, I'm sure glad you're okay! I'm always delighted when your blog pops up in my Feedly. :) I've been following your blog for many years (I'm an adoptive mom too) and have enjoyed your writing style and sense of humor. I look forward to hearing more about your journey. Hope your recovery goes swimmingly. :) - Kris

  2. Hey Kris, thanks for stopping by and commenting! Nice to know I still have some readers out in Blog-o-sphere. Thanks also for the well-wishes. Not gonna lie, this has been pretty difficult. But each day is a little better. I get by with a little help from my friends (and family, and neighbors, etc)!

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  4. Great read Anne...nothing can keep you down!! Big hugs! Ron

    1. Thanks Ron! It's gonna take more than just a little open heart surgery, that's for sure!!

  5. You're so brave and I'm so proud of you! Bless you for your creative spirit in the midst of healing and your courage to wrap it up in a beautiful bundle for all of us. Prayers continue in high for a speedy recovery. Love ya, cuz-wife

    1. Thanks hon! I loved "wrap it up in a beautiful bundle", that made me smile!

  6. I love to see MIA blogs show up in my reader! Looking forward to reading the rest of your story.

    1. Thank you, Kathy! It warms my heart to know I still have readers like you out there.

  7. Great read, Anne! As someone who just got OUT of the hospital, anything a patient can do to exercise some control over the process is like MONEY. (Cuz there’s so much that’s OUT of our control in big events like these!)

    1. Truer words were never uttered! You are literally at the mercy of dozens of people, so even small ways of giving yourself comfort can be immeasureable!

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