Hi friends. I am writing this post from my dad’s hospital room in the cardiac care unit. This is where I’ve been spending most of my time for the last four days. Lots to fill you in on.
I flew down to Florida on Wednesday afternoon. I arrived around 2p and my mom picked me up from the airport. I spent the afternoon visiting with my grandmother and my parents.
I went for a walk on the beach after dinner and then sat on the balcony with my grandmother until it was time to get ready for bed. I gave myself a 9p bedtime on Wednesday because my dad and I were leaving for the hospital very early the next morning.
I actually slept decently well on Wednesday night and we got on the road for Pensacola around 3:30a. We arrived at Baptist Hospital just before 5a to check in for my dad’s open heart surgery. I stayed with him in pre-op for as long as I could and then the waiting began. I got coffee and set up camp at a table in the cafeteria. I tried to busy myself with menial work tasks but needless to say, it was hard to focus on much of anything.
The OR team called me at regular intervals to give status updates and the final call was from the surgeon to give me a report on the surgery. He ended up doing the planned aortic aneurysm repair/replacement as well as an aortic valve replacement. The actual surgery took around 2.5 hours. I was assured that the surgery went well and there were no complications. I was able to see my dad in the ICU but he was still sedated and on the vent. His nurse told me I could come back after they woke him up got him extubated. My nerves were finally settled enough to eat so I grabbed lunch while I waited and then spent the rest of the day sitting with my dad in the ICU. He was in a whole lot of pain but awake and overall doing okay. I finally left the hospital 13 hours after I arrived and headed to check-in to my hotel, eat, shower and sleep.
I was on my way to the hospital the next morning when I received a call from my dad that he was going back into surgery. I was shocked. He put me on the phone with a surgeon who told me that my dad had a lot of bleeding overnight from his chest drains and they needed to open him back up to identify the source of the bleeding. I rushed to get to the hospital as quickly as possible and was able to be with him for about 45 minutes before they took him back into the OR. I learned that they had given him four units of blood overnight hoping that whatever it was would clot and resolve on its own. Unfortunately, he was continuing to have abnormally heavy bleeding outputs so the re-exploration surgery was necessary.
He was awake and coherent pre-surgery and I could tell that he was scared, overwhelmed and feeling helpless. They let me stay next to him until they wheeled him through the doors to the OR and then I dissolved into tears. My dad had just endured open heart surgery 24 hours before…being put on a bypass machine, intubated and having his chest opened up…and now his body had to go through it again, and with a different surgeon. It is not ideal to be opened up a second time due to the strain it puts on the body and the risk for infection but there was no choice.
I had zero chill during the second surgery. I received a call when they started the surgery but didn’t hear anything for over an hour after that. My mind was racing all over the place and it was hard not to fall into worst-case scenario thinking. I was so relieved when the OR nurse called to let me know they were finishing up the surgery and the surgeon would be out momentarily to talk with me. He told me that while they couldn’t find an outright source of the bleed, that my dad had a significant amount of old blood pooled in his chest cavities and plural space so they cleaned everything out really well and added a second drain. He said that the aortic repair and valve were intact and looked good, so that was a relief.
My dad arrived back in the ICU around noon and spent the remainder of the day sedated on the ventilator. That was unsettling for me because they woke him up and extubated him so quickly after the first surgery. His surgeon and nurses told me that his lungs had been through a lot having received so many blood products and enduring two consecutive surgeries. They needed extra time to regain strength with the support of the ventilator.
I walked miles around downtown Pensacola later that afternoon/evening trying to calm my mind and stay out of my hotel room.
I called my dad’s nurse first thing Saturday morning and learned that he was still sedated and on the vent. The good news was that his drain outputs were continuing to decrease and they felt the bleeding issue was resolved. His nurse told me to give them a few hours so they could try to wake and extubate him. I went down to the hotel gym to get a workout in to relieve some stress and have something to do.
I got to the hospital around 11:30a and he was still intubated but they had switched his sedation to something less powerful and were bringing him out of it. They were finally able to extubate at 2:30p and it was not fun at all for my dad. His blood pressure and heart rate went sky high (think heart rate between 185-200) and while his blood pressure came back down, he went into an extended period of Afib. They gave him IV medications to control his heart rate (amiodarone and digoxin) but when I left at 8p he was still in Afib. He was also super loopy from a morphine dose they gave him right after extubation and just the overall stress of having two major surgeries and all of that anesthesia and medicine in a short amount of time. He was asking me where Tigger was and that was my mom’s cat from before I was born!
I called his night nurse at 6:30a this morning to see how my dad’s night went. She told me that he slept soundly all night (minus when they had to wake him for various reasons). They were able to use a wedge to get him more comfortable and hooked him up to his CPAP machine. I was relieved to hear he slept because it’s such an important part of healing. She also told me that they had him up and in a recliner for the first time!
I got to the hospital a little after 9a and found my dad sitting in his recliner but still in Afib. He’s still a little out of it/slow mentally but I know how common that is after my mom’s surgery and hospital stay. He finally converted out of Afib and back into a normal sinus rhythm around 1p, and has maintained it ever since. He’s spent most of the day snoozing on and off. We did get him to stand up once and I’m trying to encourage him to use his incentive spirometer as much as possible to clear his lungs. Pneumonia is a big concern after open heart surgery.
My dad got a lunch tray today for the first time and I was able to get him to eat some mashed potatoes. It’s the first food he’s had since we all had dinner together Wednesday night.
And that brings us to the present moment.
WHERE IS MY MOM
If you’re wondering where my mom is in all of this, we made a decision as a family with guidance from her medical team that it was in her best interest not to be in a hospital setting. My mom is seriously immune compromised due to the anti-rejections drugs she takes to protect her lungs. We all know that hospitals are germy places and the days you spend in them are long and tiring. My mom is still healing and getting her strength back and it’s the best thing for her to be at home with my grandmother. She’s been staying busy walking their new golden Beau four times a day.
My mom and grandmother are both doing okay. They’re obviously worried about my dad and wish they could be here but I’m giving them constant updates.
HOW AM I DOING
Two things can be true.
- This is hard.
2. There is nowhere I’d rather be in this moment.
Gosh, I have so many thoughts and feelings. So much of what I am going through with my dad right now feels very familiar because of what we just went through with my mom’s double lung transplant earlier this year. I feel well-equipped for hospital days. I have a much deeper understanding of what it takes to recover from a major surgery. While my parents had two completely different surgeries, there are many parallels in the recovery process. I have a grasp of what the nurses are doing in the room. I know what to look out for, how to help and when to get out of the way.
That said, this one feels completely different because I’m doing it alone. My dad and I supported each other through my mom’s transplant. We split hospital days and both had eyes on my mom so we could compare notes. I have a lot of respect for the solo days that my dad did with my mom when I was back in Charlotte. It’s a lot of responsibility on many levels. Please don’t get me wrong, I absolutely do not want my mom to be in this environment. She and my grandmother have been a great emotional support from afar but it’s a little lonely here. Seeing both of your parents intubated on a ventilator within six months will definitely make you take pause to appreciate your health and what’s really important in your life.
I feel a lot of guilt. I feel guilty in the hours that I’m not here at the hospital with my dad even though I know I have to take care of me so that I can take care of him. I felt the same deep pit of guilt every time I walked out of the hospital and left my mom. I feel guilty that I am away from Finn again for so long. I have had so many people tell me that I am setting a great example for him showing how to take care of family and that I am strong and dependable. I have found that to be a helpful and positive way for me to frame this mentally. Finn completely understands that I am in Florida helping P-Paw get better and every time I talk to him the first thing he does is ask about P-Paw.
I feel sad that my parents have had to go through so much this past year. It feels unfair and I want kind of want to scream at the top of my lungs in frustration and anger. My dad was really hoping he’d be one of those textbook open heart surgery cases and be out of here in 4-5 days. He’s a little frustrated about the setbacks and asking me when he can go home but I am assuring him that we are headed in that direction…just a little slower than he hoped. I am praying so hard that on the other side of this is an extended period of good heath and ease for everyone.
I am not sure. I’ve stayed in Pensacola in a hotel for the last three nights to be close to the hospital. I may start driving back and forth from Fort Walton Beach to Pensacola (about 70-90 minutes depending on traffic). My plan going into all of this was to stay in Florida until we get my dad home from the hospital but with the second surgery, I am not sure what that path/timeline looks like at the moment.
If he stays out of Afib and his numbers continue to hold steady, he’ll probably be moved to step-down tomorrow if there is a bed. I’m not sure how many days he’ll need to stay in step-down until they feel like he can go home. Average stay for the surgery he had is 5-10 days but he had the re-exploration surgery so we’ll probably take it day-by-day.
One thing I learned from my mom’s hospitalization is that she actually needed more help from us once she got to step-down because she started doing more – walking more, getting up to go to the bathroom, moving around, etc. Also, in the ICU you have one nurse solely focused on you and in step-down they usually have several patients they are caring for.
So everything is TBD right now. I am grateful to have abundant support back home in Charlotte. My nanny is taking care of the dogs and helping with Finn, and his dad has picked up some of my days. My friends have been rockstars about checking in frequently and offering listening ears, encouraging words and outpourings of love.
I’ll wrap it up with a cute picture that I took of Finn when I dropped him off at his summer program before I left on Wednesday. I am missing his snuggles and giggles a whole lot. <3
I ask that you continue to send prayers for healing to my dad and for comfort and strength to our family. Thank you for staying with me through a year that has had more than its fair share of health challenges and heavy things.