An Aortic Adventure, Part 4

30 10 2008

I neglected to write about Fr. John coming back to the ICU on Monday morning on his way to Florida.  He gave Jim Holy Communion.  I visited with his wife and four children in the lounge area.  His Bishop had asked him to fill in at a parish in Florida on October the 12th.  Fr. John and his wfe thought it would be a good time to have a few days of vacation. The life of a parish priest is very demanding.  I was glad that Fr. John and his family would have some time to relax.  Jim requested a time of confession before he took Holy Communion.  Jim told me later that Fr. John told him that his suffering was his confession. 

My friend, Hope, who was with me on Monday was reminding me last night that Jim was able to impart spritual wisdom to her while he was in the ICU.  She was amazed how Jim could relate certain scriptures for her encouragement while he was in such a critical state.  I had never given it much thought  until Hope reminded me of that special time. 

I had related in my last post how Jim was waiting to have a heart cath test done.  He was awakened at 4:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning to take a special antibacterial bath in anticipation of that test.  They had special cloth wipes that he was to wipe his body down with.  I woke up when the nurse came in with this assignment for JIm.  I knew that he was not able to do his bathing very well.  Thus, I got up and bathed him in preparation for his test. 

And because he was to have this test–he was back on a broth and jello again.  We waited all day.  Finally, around 6:00 p.m. –the transport team came and got Jim.  I rode down on the elevator with them.  I had to wait in  a special waiting room.  About an hour and half later the cardioligist came and talked with me.  Jim’s “widow maker” artery was 70% blocked.  The doctor told me that actually that could be treated with medicine but since he was already going to be opened up–they would proceed with the bypass.

Sandy called me while I was in the waiting room to tell me that her church had prepared a large bag of goodies for surgery day.  They also asked Sandy and Rob to stand up  in front of the church for a special time of prayer for our entire family.  I was very encouraged by this tremendous act of love and giving.

Also– late Wednesday evening, the vascular surgeon came and told us that he thought it was possible that he would be able to do some prep work up near Jim’s neck and shoulder for the surgery on the descending aortic aneursym.  He explained that he would be making a little mesh tubing that had something to do with proper blood flow.  If Jim had needed surgery on his descending aorta alone–he would have had to be cut in the chest and in his side.  So while Jim was being opened in his chest–this work would be done.  He said that he knew Jim was not strong enough to have the second part of that surgery done.  That surgery would possibly be done in about six weeks.  He also told us that if it looked like Jim’s life was at risk–then he would not do the prep work at all.

Thursday was a day of rest for both of us.  Yes, nurses were still in and out every hour checking on all of his IV’s and his vital signs.  However, Jim requested to be sitting in a chair.  They brought in a recliner for him and Jim enjoyed sitting in it all day.  We were so surprised when Fr. Stephen from Franklin, Tennessee came around 10 a.m that morning.  He visited with us for at least an hour.  He offered so much encouragement to us.  After he left–my friend, Hope, came for another visit.  She took me out for lunch again.  Finally, in the early evening–Jim’s supervisor from his factory came for a visit.  He brought a card with cash from all of JIm’s co-workers.  As the evening ended–Jim and I talked about how blessed we were to have so many visits from priests, family and friends.  My brother and his wife also came to visit for awhile that evening.

All the visits were welcome distractions from thinking about the upcoming surgery.  The heart surgeon also came to talk with us that Thursday evening.  He explained once again all that he hoped to accomplish but he also told us that if Jim’s life was being threatened –some of his goals would be put aside.  What a day it had been for both us.  I was exhausted and slept very well. It is very ironic that I slept better in the hospital than I do at home. All  throughout the entire week nurses were in each hour but I slept through most of it. 

Once again–Jim was awakened at 4:30 a.m. to take another special bath in preparation for surgery.  I got up and bathed him.  Our son Ben and his wife arrived around 6:30 a.m.  Ben had not been able to get back to the hospital and was very anxious to arrive early to have some time with his dad before he was taken to surgery.  I thought back to all the years that Ben was aloof to both us.  Ben always thought we loved the girls more than hIm.  I was grateful for how his inner wounds had healed.  For many years now , Ben has wanted to spend time with Jim.  All during Jim’s week in the ICU–Ben and his wife called daily to get the latest reports. 

Jim didn’t have to much time to vist with Ben and Linda before the transport people came.  We all took the elevator down to surgery together.  We had a few more minutes with Jim before they took him off for final prepping for surgery.  We had some special moments of kissing, hugging and praying.  I honestly didn’t know whether I’d ever see Jim alive again.  

We went to the first floor lobby which is also the surgery waiting place.  In our little nook– we registered in with the person in charge–who just happened to be a fellow parishioner from St. Elizabeth Orthodox Church.  She was such an encouragement to us.  The rest of the family arrived.  I had all of my children and their spouses with me– except Maria’s husband. Maria’s husband had to get back to work –as he is in the trucking business. We took a moment to explore the “goody” bag from Sandy’s church.  Then we decided that it would be better for us to wait in the 5th floor waiting area.  That is what our heart doctor preferred.  Everyone was keyed up.  We knew that we would be receiving a phone call when surgery was beginning.  That phone call did not come until 9:30 a.m.  Finally, we learned the first incision had just been made.  I kept wondering if Jim was strong enough for another long heart surgery.  I wasn’t panicking but I wasn’t able to concentrate very well on anything.  I kept wondering around the waiting area.  I was the first to answer the phone for other families.  It was going to be a long day.

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An Aortic Adventure, Part 3

25 10 2008

I was glad that Vera could make the trip with us to Vanderbilt Medical Center on Saturday.  She had stayed behind on Friday to take care of our animals and to send an email out about Jim.  When we arrived at the ICU–Jim was no longer talkative.  No more “happy” medicine was administered through his many IV’S.  It was important for Jim to tell the nurses when he was in pain–especially if he had any tearing sensations in his chest.  Jim wasn’t allowed anything to eat except for broth, clear juices, and geletin.  He wasn’t very happy about that situation at all.  I don’t know what the thinking was about food–except that Jim might have to have emergency surgery.  There was a funny moment when we couldn’t find Jim’s broth.  Vera went down the hall to catch his nurse to inquire about what happened to her dad’s broth.  The nurse came into the room with a flustered look on her face and showed us the cup she had poured the broth into so Jim could drink it –instead of trying to use a spoon. 

I could tell that Jim’s body was swelling because of all of the fuid and medicines being pumped into him.  The doctor was writing orders for blood pressure medicines given by IV– to work on getting Jim’s blood pressure and heart rate down.  Such was the course of his entire  week in the ICU–having his medicines or dosages changed.  The ICU nurse was in at least once each hour.  There was a computer in our room where the nurse on duty  sat and typed in information concerning JIm’s health.

Sandy and Vera stayed until about 4:00 p.m. that afternoon.  When they left me–I certainly felt a void.  I was glad that I had a bag full of books to read.  I have the kind of personality that enjoys being still and reading for hours.  At home–I rarely get such opportunities.  Thus, if I was going to be confined mainly to the ICU–I would use the time to read.  I especially enjoyed reading a  biography about  Daniel Boone.  Being a Kentuckian–I wanted to learn what was folklore versus what was the truth about Boone’s life.  I also had some Russian novels and a book by C.S. Lewis.  Lastly, I had my Orthodox Study Bible. 

I had made the decision not to stay with my brother who lives in Nashville this time.  I enjoyed their hospitality three years ago, but now I knew that I didn’t want to miss anything that might be happening to Jim.  I wanted to know every detail.  The doctors often didn’t come until later in the evening or early in the morning.  I missed most of those times when Jim was at Vanderbilt in 2005.  My decision was the right one because on Saturday evening the surgeon’s assistant came to talk with us.  He drew another picture for us about what was going on in JIm’s aorta.  He explained that the surgeon would be taking the bovine valve out and replacing it with a “piggy” kit that included new aorta roots and a valve.  He also told us that the vascular surgeons were looking at the aneurysm on the descending aorta.  Those doctors had some decisions to make.  It probably wasn’t possible to fix the descending aorta during the open heart surgery.  Also, a heart cath was scheduled to check Jim’s arteries. The picture of what Jim’s surgery would be like was getting giganic.  I didn’t have a good feeling about any of it.

Meanwhile, Maria was the only one of our children who hadn’t seen Jim.  At last, she was able to visit with us on Sunday.  Vera had decided to drive again to Vanderbilt and picked up Maria.  Jim didn’t feel well at all.  He had been having nausia which resulted in dry heeves.  The graveness of the situation was telling on us all.

Monday, I had a break when a girlfriend of mine came and took me out to lunch.  When we got back to the ICU–Jim was having an ultra sound done. And earlier that morning, a heart CT scan was done. I wondered what all the tests would reveal.  A couple of hours later the surgeon’s assistant came and told me that Jim’s “widow maker” artery was blocked.  So along with everything else –Jim would have to have bypass surgery done, too.  It was just too much for me to absorb.  I had been having shooting pains in my left side– especially down my left arm.  I told the nurse about the pains and he insisted that I have them checked out in the ER.  So they put me in a wheelchair and off I went to the ER.

My brother Brad and his wife had gone to visit Jim and found him asleep.  They called me on my cell phone and I told them that I was in the ER.  They came down and stayed with me for a few hours.  I had an EKG, a chest x-ray and some blood work done.  By 7:00 p.m. they had told me that I was staying the night in the ER to be monitored.  I had another EKG done before midnight.  I felt so silly because all I expected was just a routine checkup and that I would be back up to the 5th floor to be with JIm.  It seemed a bit much to me but I obeyed their orders.  They monitored me all night and I had another EKG and more blood work done early in the morning.  By mid morning, I had a Heart CT scan and the cardiologist told me that I was in great shape.  Finally, by noon I was back with Jim.

I was glad that all three of my girls were visiting that day.  They came down to the ER to be with me until I was released.  It was getting tiresome wondering when surgery would be.  It was also getting tiresome wondering when the heart cath would be done.  They told us that it couldn’t be done the regular way through the leg.  Instead, the cardiologist would go in through the arm.  Jim would have to fast before the test was done.  They had started giving him regular meals so I knew that the heart cath was ruled out for Tuesday. 

I decided to settle down and read my Boone biography.  It was going to be touch and go for a couple of more days.  I needed to relax and get my mind off of thinking about the upcoming, long 11 or 12 hour surgery.  I didn’t see how Jim could survive such a surgery.  He had already been through one such surgery and didn’t fully wake up from that ordeal for several days.  How could his body stand another long surgery?  How could I stand seeing him hooked up on all kinds of tubes again –laying in bed unconscious with a ventilator in his mouth?  As I read about Daniel Boone–I tried to put those horrible thoughts out of my mind.





An Aortic Adventure, Part 2

22 10 2008

As soon as we arrived at Vanderbilt–we walked into the main lobby which is also a surgery waiting room and asked where Jim was.  I should have known anyway that he would be on the 5th floor.  When we got off the elevator on the 5th floor –I was flooded with memories of three years ago. At that time–also in October, Jim had slumped into his chair while sitting at the computer.  He was life flighted to Vanderbilt.  We arrived around 10:30 p.m. that evening and went straight to the 5th floor.  The surgeon was waiting to talk with us.  I remember he drew a picture of what was going on with Jim –telling  me that JIm only had a 40% chance of living.  That surgery took 11 hours.  During the surgery we waited in the main first floor waiting area all night.  Everyone else could take a break and  walk around but I had injured my hip while getting out of Sandy’s SUV.  I was in terrible pain.  So all those thoughts were replayed when we arrived on the fifth floor once again.

There is a large waiting area full of recliners and other comfortable chairs.  There were folks there who looked very tired from their own particular journeys.  We walked throught the lounge area back to where the Cardiac ICU was.  Jim was already hooked up to all kinds of IV’s.  They had given him something to relax his emotions so he was very talkative.  He joked how he got to view the scenery from the helicopter this time.  It didn’t seem possible that Jim was sick at all.  He just seemed too happy and comfortable to be so ill.

Soon Fr. John from Murfreesboro arrived to be with us.  Our parish in Clarksville, Tennessee does not have a full time priest and Fr. John wanted to pray for Jim and our family.  He had some special prayers of healing for Jim. Then he showed us a large icon of St. Herman of Alaska that his parish had commissioned to write.  Although it looks like a picture– an icon is not considered art work.  He told Jim that he could have use of this icon as long as he needed it.  St. Herman is Jim’s patron saint.  Soon Jim was whisked away for a three demensional CT scan.  Fr. John said he would like to wait and learn the results before he left our company.

Before long, the surgeon who operated on Jim three years ago came to talk with us about the results of the new CT scan.  I was impressed with how much he remembered about Jim’s case and how he remembered exact conversations that he had with me.  He drew us a picture of what was going on in Jim’s aorta.  Three years ago a section of Jim’s aorta had dissected up near his neck.  That section was replaced with mesh and a bovine aortic valve was placed in Jim’s body.  This time the Aortic roots which are just above the valve had balooned into aneurysms. The roots are only supposed to be 3 centimeters.  Now because of the aneuryms –they were now 8 centimeters.  The expanding of the blood vessels to form aneuryms had caused the awful pain that Jim had experienced back in the summer.  Moreover, there was another aneurysm on the discending aorta which would involve vascular surgeons.  This surgeon told us that he was going to be leaving the country and wouldn’t be able to do Jim’s surgery this time.  Instead, the surgeon who is the head of the department would be operating on Jim.  We kept asking when this surgery would be performed.  He couldn’t give us a time as Jim needed several more tests to determine if there were other kinds of heart or artery damage.  The surgeon explained that three years ago–Jim was no near death that no other kind of explortory tests could be done on him.

During the long afternoon, Fr. John was gracious to answer questions from my family.  None of my family is Orthodox except our daughter Vera.  Ben, our son, had quite a few questions for Fr. John.  It was a time for my family to learn more about our faith.  Yet, Fr. John would never have imposed on any one of my family–matters concerning our faith.  He only talked about the Orthodox faith when he was asked a question. 

Around 5:00 p.m. Fr. John left.  We stayed until about 6:00 p.m. Orginally, I had packed a bag of books and a small bag of clothes.  Thankfully, Sandy decided that she wanted to return to Vanderbilt on Saturday so I made the decision to go home for one night so I could explain more to Vera how to run our household and take care of financial matters.

I stayed up late that Friday night explaining to Vera the particulars of running the household.  I showed her our finance book that Jim had kept very neat and orderly.  He had made a 3 ring binder with a calender for each month showing when each bill was due and also a page to check off when the bills were paid.  We had some bills that were paid on line –so she had to learn where Jim kept his passwords.  I signed about twenty checks for her to pay bills with.  I also got a chance to so some laundry and pack a week’s worth of clothes. I knew my brother who lived in Nashville would be glad to help me with laundry.  I packed my vitamins and herbs and a few more books.  I made note that I needed to get my cancer medicine refilled before we left for Vanderbilt on Saturday. All in all I was very thankful for the opportunity to have a chance to be more thorough in preparing for what I knew would be another long stay at the hospital.  I was blessed to be able to sleep soundly that infamous Friday evening.  It was to be the last time I would be in my own bed for almost two whole weeks.





An Aortic Adventure, Part 1

20 10 2008

I had lived with a sense of dread since the summer.  There had been so much pressure at Jim’s factory about layoffs.  Moreover, Jim just hadn’t felt good for quite some time.  He had been having agonizing pains where he described a sensation that his chest was pulling apart.  He made an appointment with his heart doctor.  A stress test revealed nothing was wrong.  Likewise, a chest x-ray revealed nothing.  The pains subsided–so we just went forward with life.  The main stress we were feeling was whether Jim would get to keep his job.  The big layoff came at the end of August.  Jim made the cut and we were very thankful.

The factory was still having financial problems so the plant was closed the week of September 29 through October the 3rd.  The week before the shut down–the receptionist at Jim’s family doctor called to tell me that the doctor wanted to see Jim about his chest pains and go over the results of the tests done by the heart doctor.  I can’t describe how agitated that made me.  I told the receptionist that there was absolutely no need to go over the reports.  However, I knew that Jim was behind in his cancer screening of his prostrate so I made the appointment for September the 30th. 

Jim left that morning early and didn’t come home until almost 1:00 p.m.  He told me that the doctor ordered a CT scan.  My first thought was just being irritated again because I just didn’t think JIm needed anymore tests.  I suppose I was in denial about Jim’s health.  Yet, I wasn’t in denial about the ominous feelings I had been having.  I felt the compeling urge to stock up on grocercies.  I also felt strongly that I needed to prepare for something but I just didn’t know why I was feeling that way. 

I’m no stranger to ominous feelings.  I had them before our daughter, Vera, fell 40 feet off a mountain in l992.  I had them when Jim lost his job in l979 –a few months after Vera was born.  I had them when the house we were renting in l987 was put on the auction block.  Thankfully, we were able to buy our home but not without experiencing a great deal of stress.  And, those ominous feelings were strong the week and especially the day that Jim was lifeflighted to Vanderbilt Medical Center in 2005.  Finally, I had a sense that my mammogram in 2007 would not be normal.  It was not.  I found out that I had breast cancer. Thus, the dark storm clouds were once again hovering heavy over my head and into my heart in October of 2008.

Jim seemed especially tired during his week off of work. Vera and I also noticed how often Jim seemed to get certain things mixed up.  Jim even admitted to being frustrated by his getting names of people that he had know for a long time mixed up.  But we had plans for the week–one of which was his interest in going with me to get my hearing aids.

On October the first, Jim went with me to get my hearing aids.  Then we ate lunch at a chinese restaurant.  On Thursay, I went to lunch with my daughter Sandy and Jim took Vera out to eat chinese food again.  Our doctor had been trying to get a hold of Jim.  When Sandy got back to work– she called to tell me the doctor’s office had called her to tell us to be in his office at 9:00 a.m. on Friday.  I tried to shake it off.  Why was there such an urgency?  I listened to the phone message from the nurse.  What on earth was going on?  I went to bed that night knowing that we would be at Vanderbilt on Friday.  Yet, I tried desparately to shake that thought off.  We had planned to drive out in the country to visit an apple orchard.  I didn’t like our plans being changed. 

Jim and I just acted like it was another day.  We ate breakfast and took a walk.  We live right in town.  The nurse of our doctor was on her way to work and stopped when she saw us–asking if we had gotten their message.  I told her that we would be in the office by 9:oo a.m.  Jim started swaying and almost fainted.  He held on to a telephone pole to rest.  We didn’t get to finish our walk but cut it short.  As soon as we got to the house–he collapsed in bed. 

Jim’s doctor talked with him about the CT scan.  I tried to understand what he was saying.  It all sounded so terrible.  When he learned that Jim had gotten dizzy on his walk–he insisted that Jim be transported by ambulance to Vanderbilt.  I told the doctor that we had life flight insurance so we might as well use it.  All of the sudden this doctor was on the phone and things began to move.  He had a bunch of paper work in his hands and he told me to pull my car around.  He must have decided that I didn’t need to drive Jim to the emergency room.  So he and his wife drove Jim and I followed behind.  He got Jim in a bed very quickly.  He handed the emergency room doctor’s the disk of the CT Scan and other papers that Vanderbilt would need. 

Jim was being prepped for his flight to Vanderbilt.  I tried to be calm but this was a rerun that I just didn’t like.  I couldn’t get hold of our daughter, Sandy, because she was on a field trip with her four year old– way out of cell phone reach. Rob, Sandy’s husband, who usually doesn’t go on field trips with the children just happened to go out this particular field trip.  So I couldn’t get  a hold of him either.  I did get the rest of my children on the phone.  They were able to make it to the emergency room except for Maria. Maria’s husband, a truck driver, was in town and they were doing some important errands.  Finally, Ben’s wife was able to reach the area that Sandy was in by land phone.  I knew that I was in no shape to make the drive to Vanderbilt. Sandy’s husband, Rob, is the best driver for times of crisis.  He is able to speed and slip through interstate traffic safely such as no one I’ve ever known.

After the ambulance people got Jim ready to be taken to the life flight helicopter–I went home to pack my bag.  The first thing I did was to find Jim’s living will.  I knew just where it was.  I packed a simple bag to last for a few days.  I had Jim’s clothing in a bag.  He had just put on a pair of clean jeans that morning.  I took them out of the bag and hung them on the door.  I placed clean underwear and socks on the jeans.  I found a clean shirt.  I put his shoes right next to his outfit.  I made a mental note to tell Vera that I already had Jim’s clothes ready to bring to the hospital when he was discharged.

It wasn’t long before Rob, Sandy, Ben and I were on our way to Vanderbilt Medical Center.  I had asked Vera to stay behind and take care of our animals and send emails out.  It was a highly charged time of emotion.  Sandy , especially, showed her emotions in tears.  I don’t cry easily anymore.  I guess it is because I wasted so much of my life with crying needless tears. I wasn’t trying to be stoic. Seventy miles even at Rob’s speed seemed a long time.  What would we be facing?  The ominous feelings I had been having were God’s gentle hand to prepare me for this new crisis.  Soon we would learn that Jim was sicker than anyone of us could ever have imagined.





Introduction To An Aorta Adventure

18 10 2008

This is just a short note to tell my readers that I’ve been living at Vanderbilt Medical Center for the past two weeks.  My husband was lifeflighted on October the 3rd to Vanderbilt.  He had major surgery on his aorta three years ago.  More problems have developed.  A major surgery was planned but they were only able to patch him up.  He had so much scar tissure from the last surgery that the doctors were not able to find a place to hook up the heart and lung machine.  It is a long story.  I hope to start next week writing a detailed account.  For now– I’m dealing with getting my husband on a schedule.  He has over a dozen medicines that he is taking.  He has not had a good day today.  We will have a long journey to wellness. 

I do thank God that Jim didn’t lose his job in August.  His company laid 90 people off.  Jim would not have had medical insurance nor would he have been able to draw the short term diability pay from his company if he had lost his job.  We are very grateful for the wonderful insurance and benefits that we have for this difficult time. 

If you believe in prayer–keep us in your prayers.

Blessings and peace,

Nichole 3