Posted by: wrmcnutt | September 18, 2011

A Man Enthroned


When last we left our story, I was in recovery from my half-completed heart surgery.  I was still on the artificial lung, could not speak, and could not move.  I awoke to considerable changes.

I was on a raised dais, seated on what can only be described as a throne.  The room around me was lit with a combination of artificial and natural light, and decorated in a style that can only be described as post-modern AKIA.  I appeared to be alone. (My Lady Wife was, in fact, sleeping on the little fold out bed to my left, but I couldn’t see her past the wings of the throne.  But I was fairly certain that I had not recently won Crown List, and that my last memory had me barely able to breathe.  I must still be in the hospital.  But thrones come with handmaidens, so let’s see . . .

I was able to locate the nurse call button and summoned the energy to press it.  A voice immediately floated in the air near me:

“Yes?”

“Um – I’m awake.  I thought I should tell somebody.”

“All right, I’ll tell your nurse.”

In less than five minutes I was utterly surrounded by beautiful young women.

While it made the experience far more delightful, I simply cannot recommend this as a way to meet pretty girls.

Once it was clear that everything was beeping, blooping, and banging away as expected, the room cleared out and I was left with two Nurses: My Lady Wife, and the UTCICU nurse who would be officially responsible for my care this shift.  She explained to me that they had installed an epidural and an  on-demand morphine pump.  Press this button for pain relief.  So I rode that like a rented pony.  More on that later.

Thus began my stay in the University of Tennessee Medical Center Cardiac Intensive Care Unit.  The unit is divided into pairs, with a small ops desk with windows between each pair.  Each CICU nurse has two patients which she can clearly see, as well as immediate access to all of their monitors immediately under her nose.

But back to my throne.  This was the highest tech hospital bed I’d ever been in.  It had more robotics in it that R2-D2 and more flexibility than Bumblebee.  I’m not sure why they left me sitting up, but it had two modes.  The first was chair mode, which had me siting upright, but leaning back enough so that I wouldn’t fall out of bed.  From there, I could control how high my feet were and how far I was leaning back.  In bed mode, I was flat on my back, but again, able to control how high my feet were and how high my head was. Good thing, too, because I was to spend the next ten days in it.  I had two chest tubes in, which were draining “stuff” out, whose details I will skip, and a bucket of goo in my lungs that I was expected to cough up.  Which brings me to the “coughing pillow.”

The coughing pillow is something new. It’s a hard pillow, issued to patients recovering from thoracic surgery.  You see, the chest tubes provide one kind of pain for you, every time you shift your weight.  The weight of your own body on your incisions provide a second kind of pain.  Then there’s the ache of the incisions themselves.  Oh, and they burn.  But your bones, where the rib spreader went through,  they only ache under two circumstances:  when you breathe in, and when you breathe out.  But all of this is nothing compared to the world of pain that opens up when you cough.  And don’t even talk to me about sneezing.  You can alleviate the pain by literally holding your chest together.  The hard pillow, pressed to your chest and hugged tight, literally holds your chest together, and it doesn’t hurt so much. You know – like dropping a fifty pound anvil on your foot hurts less than dropping a hundred pound anvil on your foot.

Speaking of pain, my surgeon and my cardiologist both report that their patients complained that they were not adequately prepared for the pain, and they worked pretty hard to make sure I understood how much it was going to hurt.  But I think I’ve figured out what the problem is.  For those of you who’ve not seen it, the medical profession uses a “pain scale” where you rate your pain on  a scale of one to ten, where zero is no pain, and ten is the worst pain you can imagine.  Most professionals ask for a “worst experience.”  For example, my worst pain is having a bone set.  That’s my “ten.”  The thing is, at no time did my pain exceed a “six.”  It was no “deeper” than that for which I was prepared.  Where my pain preparation broke down was in the breadth of pain.  I was expecting “tens.”  I didn’t get a constant pile of “tens,” but the constant pokes of “threes” from all directions really wore me down.   Mind you, they gave me plenty of drugs for pain. For the first three or four days, nothing hurt.  Until I coughed.  At any time, that opened up an entire world of hurt.  After day four, I started trying to wean myself off of the pain meds.  Then I got the whole potpourri.

The magic bed/throne enabled me to balance myself juuuuust right, so that gravity was not quite my enemy. I could breathe with almost no pain, could manipulate my laptop, and watch DVD’s.  I’ve found Brisco County, Jr to be ideal convalescent material. Which brings us to Friday night, and matters of life and death.

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