Sunday, August 8, 2010
I'm So Glad My Wrists Hurt
People have asked me recently what actually hurts – when I say I’m having discomfort, what do I mean? Good question. It never occurred to me that one might wonder such a thing. Now that I’ve bid adieu to the majority of the pain, I’ll share with you my physical experience from the last two and a half weeks.
The first and worst symptom I felt was nausea, which is apparently typical after being under general anesthesia. I vomited twice the day after surgery. The first time was against all odds, since I hadn’t consumed anything in over 36 hours and had breathing tubes down my throat – that was a bit alarming for me but at least convinced the nurses I was ready to be extubated. The second time was after I drank my first cup of water – like magic, it was instantaneously back in my cup. I spent the next two days being as still as possible and ingesting as little as the nurses would allow. During this time, I also had the pleasure a catheter sticking out of my neck, two tubes (with diameters the size of dimes) emerging from my chest to drain fluids and four external pacing wires in case we needed to give my new heart a boost.
Once the tubes came out and the nausea subsided, the chest pain began, or at least I began to focus on it. Since a heart transplant involves a sternotomy (the sternum is cracked and propped open during surgery), one’s chest is very uncomfortable thereafter. Not only did I experience pain at the incision site, but most of my chest was also covered in tender bruises from the operation. Additionally, a patient is encouraged to breath as deeply as possible and cough as much as possible after surgery to clear the lungs of fluids, and as you might imagine, it is quite uncomfortable to do either when your chest has recently been split open and rejoined with the equivalent of the twisty ties you might use to close up a loaf of bread.
Toward the end of my hospital stay, when I had started eating more solids, I started having really bad indigestion. This is a typical side effect of the steroid I’m on. Previously I would have considered indigestion an uncomfortable nuisance, but this indigestion was quite painful. I now have much more sympathy for those who experience this regularly, as I felt like there was literally a torch burning a hole in my chest. I’ve since increased my dosage of Nexium, which has helped immensely.
My final source of discomfort is my poor wrists. I have maybe the world’s worst veins, which is problematic when undergoing a heart transplant because lots of IVs are required. In order to access my veins, nurses literally had to beat my arms on a repeated basis, which left serious bruises, a few of which are still present two and a half weeks later. The good news is I only notice my wrists hurt when none of the above [more severe] symptoms are present, so I try to be thankful for these times.
As for a status update, I continue to feel better every day. I’ve been walking up and down multiple flights of stairs for exercise the last three days and am taking longer and longer walks outside in the evenings. My last biopsy showed mild organ rejection, which we are treating with increased dosages of my immunosuppressant medications. The meds are causing headaches and numbness in my hands – a welcome substitute for organ rejection. Included are some pictures from today – starting to heal!