An Affair of the Heart

 As many of you know, I had a heart cath this morning.  Fortunately, it went  very well. This was my first experience with anything quite like this.  Before this summer, my experiences with hospitals and medical procedures consisted of being born at the old Baton Rouge General in 1962 and having to get stitches in my finger in 1986.  Maybe it is a symptom of getting old, but since June, I have had a colonoscopy, made a visit to urgent care to get a fish hook out of my finger and and ER visit after inhaling some chlorine gas while working on the swimming pool. And today it was the Big C; Coronary stuff, man.

I keep telling my doctors I am in pretty good shape for the shape I’m in, but for some reason they don’t want to believe me. About 10 years ago, my primary care guy suggested I have a treadmill stress test, not because I was having any problems, but because of my history and risk factors.  My Dad battled coronary artery disease for over 20 years. My maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother both had a history heart disease.  I have high cholesterol and high blood pressure, both of which are well controlled with medication. That time 10 years ago I gave in and had the test and it turned out perfectly.

Earlier this month, I went in for my usual ‘well care”‘ check up and my doctor suggested that it was time to try it again. Once again, I had no symptoms, but it was about my age and family history.   I did not really think I needed to do that again, but I decided to follow his advice.  So, last week I went to the cardiologist and took another treadmill test.  This time the results were not perfect.  In fact they were “abnormal” and indicated there was some possible blockage. My cardiologist suggested a heart cath to see what was going on, telling me it may be nothing, but if it was we needed to get it fixed.  It is kind of hard to argue with that kind of logic.

So my procedure was scheduled for this morning.  My preparations actually started last night.  My orders said nothing to eat or drink after 10:00 p.m., so naturally I decided to make the most of what I could eat and drink BEFORE 10 o’clock.  So Jo Ann and I took our future daughter-in-law, Anna, to Cheesecake Bistro for dinner.  Drinks, appetizers, dinner and dessert and a great time was had by all.

The first thing that struck me as strange today was having to get up at 4 a.m..  We had to be at the hospital for 5 and my procedure was scheduled for 6.  So we got up early to try to leave Watson for 4:30.  It struck me kind of like milking cows.  I know it has to be done twice a day, but I never understood why the first time had to be so doggone early.  We left out so early, even Starbucks wasn’t open when we passed by.

.  We got to the outpatient Cath Lab at OLOL on time and I was in the capable hands of the nursing staff there.  I have to say, regardless of anything else that happened, they were all great and took excellent care of me from start to finish.  We completed paperwork and I was assigned a room. And the indignities began almost immediately.

The first thing they did was give me a hospital gown to put on. You know, the kind that looks like, well, a hospital gown and leaves your derriere hanging out, even if you have it on right. As I am going into the bathroom to put it on, the nurse says, “Don’t tie your gown. Just put it on”  I went in the bathroom to change, thinking “surely she didn’t really mean that.”  Apparently she did, because right there on the wall was a 10×10 sign that said “Please DO NOT tie your gown!”  So I guess she did mean it. I soon found out why.

I am no medical expert, but after going through the procedure today, I really think it would be a lot easier to just tell cath patients to get under the sheets butt naked.  That way you wouldn’t have to keep moving that gown around and you would save  a lot on the laundry costs. But that is just me.  Then the nurses had to ‘prep’ me for the procedure.

If you know anything about a heart cath, they go in through your groin area, where they put the catheter in your femoral artery.  What you may not know is that your femoral artery and your Very Important Parts are very  close together.  In fact, they are so close together that, no matter how hard they try, they can’t get to your artery without exposing pretty much everything else.  Just what I was hoping for at 5:30 a.m.

The ‘prep’ consisted of shaving my right groin area and starting an IV in my left hand.   Like most people, I can tolerate having an IV started, but it is usually not a pleasant experience. But to give them credit, the Cath Lab staff has done this enough times that they have figured out an interesting protocol.  It turns out of they do both at the same time, you pay enough attention to the nurse with the electric device shaving your nether regions that you don’t really even notice the one on the other side trying to start your IV.   Teamwork and efficiency at its best.

Then they told me that Dr. Cefalu likes to start all his patients out with a dose of Valium.  Well, well .. let the party begin!  Not long after that they moved me down to the actual cath room for my procedure.  They gave me more sedation and we got started.

I wish I could regal you with cool stories about how the whole thing went and how interesting it was to see my own beating heart on the monitor and stuff like that. But I  can’t. Actually I slept through most of it.  I remember them giving me a local in the newly shaved area of my groin and making some adjustments to my gown, which made me think again  that I’d be better of naked, but not much after that.  The next thing I remember was the doctor leaning over me, shaking me awake and telling me everything was great. Awesome!

After spending about 15 minutes in recovery, mainly to make the second largest artery in my body did not suddenly spring a spontaneous leak, they moved me back to my room. I groggily remember saying Hi to my sister Cindy, my brother-in-law John and my friend Chris, who had come to sit with Jo Ann. They stayed around to see if I was okay and then left me to sleep.

This stage was the worst part of the whole experience. You have to spend the next four hours flat on your back, head on the bed and not moving your right leg.  Believe me, it is harder that it sounds. I slept through about 2 hours of it, until the sedation wore off.  Then I was on my own. Staring at the ceiling, listening to the clock tick.  Of course, they came in regularly to check my ‘wound site’. And of course, pretty soon I had to go to the bathroom.

That was an interesting experience to say the least. How do you go to the bathroom when you are on your back and not supposed to move around?  You guessed it, a urinal.  My nurse was very helpful.  She got me the urinal  and told me she would step out while I used it. I figured that meant she was going to leave the details up to me. But being the helpful type, before I knew what was happening she was putting it in place.  She even demonstrated the “insert Tab A into Slot B” part.  Okaaaaay.

Well, eventually I got sprung after about 4 hours or so of recovery.  It was a different experience for me.  But, the good news is, it turns out what I had been telling the doctors all along turned out to be true. I am fine!  All of my arteries were in great shape, with one having only a minimal 10% blockage.  I don;’t know about everybody else, but I think that is pretty darned good for a 52 year old fat guy who smokes, drinks and thinks pork is a separate food group!  And the best part is, if I stay on the same track, I will be 104 before I get to 20% and have to do this all over again!

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