Silly me. After undergoing carotid endarterectomy at Valley View Hospital on a Tuesday, I thought I’d skip out of that place on Wednesday, enjoy a week’s vacation and get some personal stuff done.
I ended up with a round-trip ticket to hell and back, with ultimate return to normalcy not for five or six days. Twenty-four hours in the ICU itself was mostly OK. Post-op at home, however, felt like a combination of the flu, a hangover, a brain-fogging concussion and stepping off a carnival Tilt-A-Whirl with an ice-cream sundae sloshing around in my stomach.
Left to my own reasoning to determine the scientific causes behind conditions such as these, the following is what I came up with, plus some ICU highlights.
First, you enter the hospital on an empty stomach at 6 a.m.
Next, an anesthesiologist sticks a needle in the back of your hand and pumps your veins full of drugs that knock you much further out than, say, the anesthetic you’d receive for many other surgical procedures.
When you’re finally “under,” the anesthesiologist goes for your throat, stuffing a tube down your gullet. After that, the main doctor comes along and stabs you in the neck with a knife.
End of surgical procedure to remove plaque from your carotid artery (short version).
Next, you’re wheeled out of the operating room and into the ICU (intensive care unit). You take an inventory as best you can, and soon notice you can’t move your left arm. It’s paralyzed. You think to yourself, “How will this affect my career as a professional dishwasher. I can do the job with one arm, but won’t it take twice as long?”
By now you’re awake enough to feel like a squeezed grapefruit. This is because: A blood pressure cuff on your left arm automatically inflates then slowly deflates every 15 minutes. Also, as an anti-blood-clot measure, an ICU nurse has wrapped blood-pressure-style cuffs around your left and right calf, each of which are cycled to inflate for 10 seconds every minute or so, which continues for the next 18 hours.
So, you’re “resting comfortably” as they say, when a kitchen-hand enters the room and takes your order, which ends up being chicken broth and red Jello. Upon spearing a half-cube of Jello you tell yourself “Haven’t had Jello for about 60 years … might as well get used to it.” A half-hour after finishing your first meal in the “Front Row” section of ICU, you projectile vomit into a plastic pan you’d wisely placed on your stomach a few minutes previous. The nurse later switches out the IV tube in your right arm and screws in one that halts the hurls.
The next morning, a nurse helps you roll out of bed and into a chair. Operation “sit up” is a success, although your head is spinning. You have now entered the “feeling like crap” part of your “vacation.”
You share a house in Carbondale with three or four other people, so a friend we’ll call “Bob” picks you up at the Calaway-Young Cancer Center entrance. You stagger out the door and roll into Bob’s Subaru Outback. He delivers you to your door 20 minutes later. You make it to your bedroom, shuck your clothes, fall into bed, lie there staring at the ceiling, and soon notice a black wire sphere floating from right to left over your bed, then it vanishes. “Weird,” you tell yourself. About 24 hours after that, you notice your plumbing is backed up – so to speak.
Several days follow: Lying in bed, dozing, not knowing if the sun is coming up or going down, and walking to the kitchen and bathroom dizzy and hunched over. Food is consumed sparingly, but some OJ sure would have tasted great. An outing to Sopris Park for Cinco de Mayo requires short steps and a ski pole.
So, what’s the scientific reason for feeling like crap for five days? That is, other than what your friends tell you: “It was invasive surgery. You were invaded” and “you’re 69 years old.”
Three weeks later, I asked my doc why I’d felt like crap. “Two things,” he quickly answered. Sticking up his right thumb he said “the anesthetic.” Sticking up his index finger he continued, “And the pain meds.” It takes a few days for your liver and kidneys to work all that stuff out of your system, maybe longer if they are somewhat compromised.
So, there you go. Lessons learned: Post-op after general anesthetic ain’t no vacation, but good friends and time will help you to survive.
P.S. – Thanks to the docs, nurses and everyone else who took such good care of me.
Lynn Burton is a semi-retired newspaper guy who lives in Carbondale.