The Panic Room
Wrapping up the anniversary of my emergency heart bypass for this year, is a topic that I have not previously talked about before. But perhaps of all the things that traumatized me about this surgery, to this day occurred after the surgery was completed.
In the hours prior to the surgery, all I knew was one elementary level thing, the doctors were going to cut open, and break open my chest, to perform heart surgery. There was no time to dwell on the “after” part, as many patients often have weeks or even months to ponder what is going to be done. In that aspect, I was appreciative to not have been tortured with time to dwell on my surgery.
I have been placed under anesthesia many times, and I have never had any issue coming out of it. A slight fog, some focusing, and usually the cobwebs were clear in about a half an hour.
My younger daughter had been placed under anesthesia for ear tubes. My older daughter had this done, and breezed through it. So my younger daughter was expected to go the same way. It did not. As my daughter awoke from her short, forced slumber, her eyes wide open, you could see “fear” in her eyes as her head jerked back and forth, trying to get her bearings. Clearly she recognized that she was not in the room she fell asleep in, and woke up somewhere else, and did not know why. Panic, from a two year old. It was heart breaking to watch. But I was there, talking to her, calming her, and in less than a few minutes, that silly little smile was back on her face, ready to go home.
It was my experience from the heart surgery, that helped me to understand what my daughter was going through.
When my eyes began to open, there were no thoughts at first. I did not even realize that I had just had open heart surgery. The room was very dark. I could not move my head. So what little I could make out, moving my eyes in different directions to figure what I could see, I saw lots of electronic lights throughout the room.
I could not talk. I began to hear noises. A slight humming. Some beeps. My vision began to clear up. My eye movement was quicker as I tried to make out where I was.
Just then, I heard a voice from one of the sides of my bed. It actually sounded like a young boy.
“Mr. Edelman. My name is Joe. I am your nurse. I need you to try to calm down. You are okay. The surgery is over. You did great! But I need you to try to relax.”
That is all I remember at that moment, because I went back out. “Joe” had given me medication to sedate me, as my heart rate was escalating higher than it should have, because I was panicking as I awoke.
Unaware of how long I was out, as I came to, I could see “Joe” by my side, still unable to move my head, but he was in my peripheral viewpoint, tinkering with something by my bedside. The noises all around me were much more clear as well.
“Hey there Mr. Edelman. My name is Joe. You saw me a little while ago, but I had to give you medicine to calm down. I have some things I need to tell you. You are not able to talk right now, as you have a tube down your throat helping you to breath. It is okay. You are breathing on your own, the machine is just helping you.”
Just then I could feel my hand being touched.
“Mr. Edelman, I am going to ask you some questions. But since you cannot talk, I want you to lift a finger on your right hand if you want to answer ‘yes’, a finger on your left hand if you want to answer ‘no’. Do you understand me?” I raised a finger on my right hand. So far, so good.
“Do you know what happened to you?” Typical me, instead of just a simple answer, even without being able to use my mouth, I raised my right hand by the wrist, rocking it back and forth, as if to explain, “kind of.”
“Do you know where you are?” Again, I answered with my whole right hand.
“Mr. Edelman, you had heart surgery. Do you remember having to have it?” I raised a finger from my right hand. I remembered I was supposed to have heart surgery, though at the moment, I was not really feeling anything with my body, including whether anything had been done at all. I had put my trust in “Joe.”
“Your surgery was successful. You are in the intensive care unit. You are doing great.” Funny, I was not sure what I was feeling, because I was not feeling anything, except for confusion. Why couldn’t I move? What are all these lights and noises around me for?
“Are you in any pain or discomfort Mr. Edelman?” I lifted a finger from my left hand, no.
Just then, another individual came into the room. Still darkened, I could not really make out who it was, but from the silhouette of the hair, I could tell it was a female. Still unable to move, I tried to see who it was. But then she started to speak to Joe.
“Is this Mr. Edelman?” she asked. Joe responded, “yes it is.” “I’m Heather. I was his nurse over in the cath lab yesterday. I had heard that he needed to undergo a double bypass and just wanted to stop by and see him.”
Okay. So far, two total strangers. I have yet to see anyone familiar to me from prior to this “fog” I was in, or anyone personal. I did not expect to see my daughters as they were three and five years old. But surely someone had to be around. It’s not like the last two years dealing with Covid, there was only the restriction of limiting one immediate family member. I had Joe and Heather, that was all.
Joe spoke to me, “Mr. Edelman, I need you to try and calm down. Your heart rate is higher than we would like. I can tell something is upsetting you. And I know you must be frustrated that you cannot explain it right now.” At that moment, I raised my right wrist, rocking it back and forth, as emphatically as I could muster. “I know Mr. Edelman. But I need you to try and relax. Someone will be here soon.”
I could see Heather walk around the foot of the bed. I remembered her from the day before. I could not understand what she was doing now by my side. She told me that so many people in the cath lab were pulling for me, knowing how serious the situation was, and of course, mentioning “for someone my age.” Heather encouraged me that I was going to be fine. The hard part was done. Now I needed to heal.
Joe had asked Heather, if she had a moment to spare, if she could help him “clean” me up, also known as bathe me. Together, they got any remnants from the surgery done earlier removed, dried blood, betadine, and anything else. I could not move my arms or my legs, evidently if I wanted to or not, whether I could feel them or not. And though I could not verbally talk to them, they included me in their conversation while they took care of me, and I responded in the same manner as I had done since I came out of the surgery.
When they were done, I could begin to feel some pain. A good thing to me, as I wanted to at least feel something to know that I was in fact alive. “Are you in pain Mr. Edelman?” I raised a finger on my right hand to indicate yes. Joe disappeared from view momentarily, and returned with a syringe that he injected into my IV.
While I was taken care of so well by Heather and Joe, as the medicine began to take effect, I started feeling groggier. Before my eyes closed, I did what I could to take one look around the room, best I could, other than Heather and Joe, I was still alone. Something about this “dream” was not right. Why wasn’t anyone here for me? Doesn’t anybody know what happened to me?
When I woke some time later, having no windows, I had no concept of time, I had a new nurse, Jackie. Joe was reviewing everything that happened from the surgery, through his care. Importantly, he explained how I was answering “yes” and “no” questions. The room was still darkened when she came in. But taking a look around, I could see that there was still no one there, other than my nurses.
“Mr. Edelman, I am going to need you to try to relax,” Jackie calmly tried to ease my stress, beginning to turn towards panic. “Everything is going to be okay now. Very soon, we are going to start removing some of these things, especially the breathing tube. That way you will be able to talk to me. You are doing great!” Though she was very reassuring, it did not have the desired effect of reducing my heart rate, and out I went again.
The final paragraph of this post, I would wake to Jackie by my side, and now some others, who were going to disconnect me from the respirator, and some of the other machinery. More aware of my surroundings, as well as noticing some more level of pain, once everything had been removed, I had the freedom to turn my head to look further around the room, thinking that was why I did not see anyone in the room in the ICU, because just my eyes could only see so much of the room. Maybe who I was looking for was just out of my view the whole time.
Nope. Nobody else was there. Just Jackie, Joe, and Heather. I would never forget that night.