Sunday, July 19, 2009

The aftermath and interim

Beth headed home about 8:30, and left me to my own devices. I read for a while and flipped through the TV channels. Once I was allowed up, I went to the bathroom and checked the location. Although the site in my groin was covered by a four-inch square bandage, it was clear that the bruise was going to be a doozy. I finally shut off the lights at 10:00.

Several times during the night, I had the obligatory wake-ups from the nursing staff. Blood pressure checks, meds, and even a blood draw. Finally, I woke up for good at 7:00.

About 9:00 Beth called and told me she was hitting the shower and would leave soon thereafter. About 10:00 I started entertaining a parade of visitors, all getting me ready for departure. First was a dietician, telling me how to eat healthily. She left me with a booklet, which I have yet to open.

Some words about eating: Since my clean stress test in 2002, I’ve monitored my cholesterol and triglycerides aggressively. While somewhat high back then (in 2002, my total cholesterol was 265 versus a target max of 180), it has been below 200 since 2004 and below 180 since 2006. Since 2002, I’ve had my cholesterol checked more than a dozen times. For many years, I have tended toward salads and almost never eat red meat. Chicken and shrimp probably represent the majority of the animal protein I eat. What I have always struggled with is portion control: It’s the old joke about see-food diets… I see food, I eat it. I made a vow to focus on portions, since I was already eating better than many people.

Next up was a cardio-pulmonary rehab nurse. She told me that I would be in rehab, and my local hospital would be contacting me to set up a schedule. This was the first time it really hit me that my life was going to change, and change in a significant way.

Finally, the cardiac physician’s assistant came in. She did an exam to check the puncture site, asked me how I was feeling, did the usual doctor things, and added new prescriptions for me. The final thing she did was to go over the procedure, tell me what was coming (the second procedure on June 1), and then she gave me a “stent card.” Who knew that you’d have to carry a card with you at all times explaining that you had a small tube stuffed inside a coronary artery?

How big is a stent? Do this: Open a typical ballpoint pen. The tube that holds the ink (in slimline pens, at least) is about 3 millimeters in diameter. Now, for the metrically challenged or resistive among you, there are 25 millimeters to an inch (25.4 to be exact), so 3 millimeters is an eighth of an inch for all intents and purposes. Hack off a piece of the pen tube 18 millimeters long (again, about 3/4”). That’s what saved my life; that tiny medical miracle was holding open my widowmaker (the left anterior descending coronary artery). To put in perspective just how small the stent is, see the accompanying photo.

The PA set up a follow-up visit for a couple of weeks away, gave me a slew of literature, and left me to get dressed. Beth showed up, and we headed out of the hospital. I was moving slowly (I was sore), but we headed home. I was told to take it easy (no driving for 48 hours). In the next installment, the joys of cardiac rehab and the second procedure.

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