WEDNESDAY — weather = nasty

I’ve heard that the first day after heart surgery is the most painful for the patient.  Although Nancy was awake today she was being given several drugs of one sort or another and still was experiencing pain.   When I arrived she still had an intra-aorta balloon pump going and was still on the ventilator.  She was frustrated that she could not yet speak and her nurse was not happy that my presence was causing that frustration.

The surgeon was there and showed to me 2×3 inch pictures of Nancy’s mitral valve – both old and new.  Quite interesting but I would like to see them full screen on my monitor at home along with one from a healthy human.  No such luck.  As part of the operation he also did two by-passes but I didn’t learn anything about that.

There was too much going on in the ICU today –and not just with Nancy.

Based on the readings they were getting from her heart they felt it was time to take out the post-operative balloon pump, so shortly after 1 P.M. they chased me from the area while they did that.  By the time they allowed me back in I felt compelled to leave for home because they were wanting to shut down the ventilator and remove that also and I didn’t have the inclination to set in the waiting room watching the Weather Channel for a second hour.  I already know that the atmosphere over the Northern Pacific is about to clobber the west coast of North America.  Washington State is in between the two major thrusts, one south and one north of us.  We get a mash-up of snow, rain, and freezing rain beginning sometime tonight.

I told Nancy I would come back at 7 P.M. but the driving conditions are suggesting otherwise.  Fog is really thick in the low places and the tops of the ridges are at or below freezing.  I drove through patches of thick fog on the way back north and at home I can see only a short distance.  At dusk, while I was feeding and running water for the horses, I noticed a ‘silver frost’ had formed, and was still forming, on the trees.

I have plenty of pictures of such trees. This is not my picture but it is a rather nice image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/joka2000/2258434451/

“Silver frost” seems to be a Pacific Northwest term for this ice. . .

I did not find it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frost

I apologize for all the weather stuff.  I don’t have anything else.

TUESDAY — a long day

————— One: waiting

Nancy is still in the operating room as of 2:15 P. M.  Because of the allergy to heparin other anticoagulation chemicals are being used and these apparently prolong the time needed.

Yesterday I wrote that the operation was scheduled for 7 A. M. but that is the time they began preparations with her.  They wheeled her out of the ICU at about 9 A. M. and at this point I do not know exactly when the doctors actually started.

—————  Two: news

The news is good.  An operating room nurse called about 3:30 to say the surgeons were in the process of finishing the ‘closing’ and Nancy would soon be back in the ICU.  They do not expect to have her off the ventilator and awake until Wednesday morning.

The nurse has promised to write a short English-language version of the operation for me to adapt and post here.  That may take a day or so.  A general idea of such operations can be found on the Web, and so, in case you are curious — below are two of the many pages I have looked at.

The Texas Heart Institute has web pages that provide descriptions of heart surgery.  This first is an overview:

http://www.texasheartinstitute.org/hic/topics/proced/

About half way down in this long page you can find a link to “Valve Repair or Replacement Surgery” (just below where “stenosis” and “regurgitation” are explained.  Nancy’s problem was regurgitation.  It is easier to click on the link on the page, but below is the page you are going to:

http://www.texasheartinstitute.org/HIC/Topics/Proced/vsurg.cfm

Here’s to a good tomorrow.

MONDAY — close, now

Nancy was in a good mood today and ate some real food.   Actually, I took the innards out of a ground chicken sandwich which she dunked in hot tomato soup.  Yum.  Mostly she stuck with the high nutrition drinks that seem to be marketed to diabetics.  Each has 9.9 grams of protein which she needs and hasn’t been getting in regular food.

Latest from “The Team” is that the operation to replace the valve(s) will be on Tuesday and currently scheduled for 7 A.M.

I suppose it is possible, but highly unlikely, Nancy could get bumped if there is an emergency because she is stable and she could remain so for a few more hours or even a day or so.

She can’t improve much, however, and the decision is to operate tomorrow morning.  We met the doctor that will be operating the heart-lung machine, he reviewed all the current readings, talked with the nurse of the day and visited with us – as did another (new) cardiologist on the floor for the day.  The surgeon visited Nancy during the late afternoon but I was home by then taking care of the horses and dogs.

We have read about and talked about this operation during the last four months.  Knowing it is dangerous for her we accepted this quite some time ago.  Still we did not count on the difficulties of the past month.

Your concern, hope, and prayers are appreciated.

SUNDAY — a day of rest

Well, not quite!  I left shortly before they were going to remove a sample of bone marrow from her breast bone. Ouch!  This might normally be taken from the pelvic bone but currently Nancy can’t be turned over.  Anyway, when taking a sample with a needle (or syringe) it is called aspiration.  I’ve confirmed that the sample was taken but results are not back in the ICU.

Apparently a rapidly inflating and deflating balloon in an artery can whack a few blood cells and over time decrease their number.  This is just one of the reasons why the balloon pump is not a long term fix to the profusion issue.  The examination today is meant to strengthen the view that the pause seen in the recent increase in Nancy’s platelet count is balloon-caused and not from any problem in blood production in the marrow.

Nancy and I visited with the doctor that had inserted the balloon pump and a team hematologist.  The latter’s view is of interest because Nancy’s blood cells reacted so strongly to the heparin and in the coming operation it will be the skill of the hematologist that balances the competing ‘clotting / not-clotting’ characteristics of her blood.

They did numb the area and gave her a pain pill and as I write this at about 5:30 she is sleeping.

SATURDAY — onward

The last couple of postings indicated the remarkable change in Nancy with the insertion of the intra-aortic balloon pump.  This was the hoped for result because it shows that improved heart function will likely bring adequate oxygenated blood flow to Nancy’s body.

The nature of this artificial assist is such that it cannot be continued indefinitely – although it can be in place for more than a few days.  The issue is that while Nancy needs open heart surgery she is in poor health.  A few days with the balloon pump assist and good nutrition makes sense but a prolonged delay provides additional time for more complications from the already compromised heart.

The surgeon who will perform Nancy’s operation had reviewed her case and visited her yesterday while she was sleeping.  During my mid-day visit today, he met with the two of us.  This was a general discussion about the issue of valve leakage and the effects on heart and body health.  A few months ago we obtained a book on heart valve surgery and I’ve taken a lot of material off of the Web, and so we are not unaware of the material discussed today with the surgeon.  For someone in Nancy’s state of health, open heart surgery is dangerous.  There isn’t an alternative.

The team of doctors includes the surgeon, a cardiologist, hematologist, pulmonologist, and anesthesiologist – maybe more. These folks will meet early next week to consider the pending surgery.  As of Noon today neither the meeting of “The Team” nor the surgery have been scheduled.

After our meeting with the surgeon Nancy had another ‘high nutrition’ drink and went to sleep.

CHRISTMAS DAY

The improvement Nancy has shown in the past 24 hours is astonishing.

She was talking and joking with us and scarffing down high protein power chocolate and vanilla shakes – 4 of the 8 oz. size by 2 PM.  That’s more than a day’s supply of a couple of dozen nutrients and, I think, more than she has gotten except when she was on the brown-drip-food or the intravenous stuff.

Except for a slight tilt to her upper body she is prone.  Critical parts of the apparatus have to be at the same elevation as her heart for everything to work and record properly.  All the high-tech equipment comes with a meter (or yard) stick and a carpenter’s level.  I thought someone was going to hang a picture frame when I saw those two items!

I don’t know what is next but “The Team” hit the ball out of the park with the Thursday afternoon insertion of the intra-aortic balloon pump (IABP).   The doctor that performed the insertion visited Nancy this morning but before I arrived.

FRIDAY — presents time

An early morning phone call to the Intensive Care nurse provided my Christmas present.

I had spent an hour with Nancy last evening only 3 hours after the procedure that installed the balloon pump.  She was alert but exhausted and while the read-outs on the monitors showed the equipment working as designed there was little to show for it from the person in the bed.

The evening shift nurse had just been briefed and taken on Nancy’s care as I arrived.  She gave me a quick course in evaluating the lines and numbers on the monitors connected to the intra-aortic balloon pump and the related sensors inserted into Nancy’s heart.

At 6:30 this morning the nurse said Nancy had a good night and was talking and had just asked for some ice-chips.  The screen info last night was positive and the nurse now says all those signals continued to improve and have translated into an improved Nancy.

I hope you all got nice presents too.

THURSDAY — an interventionist approach

Over the past few days certain tests were showing minor improvement even while Nancy did not seem better.  She was not eating much, her speech was more labored and difficult, and she continued to require a smallish amount of supplemental oxygen.  Eating grapes, yogurt, water, and a few bits and sips of other things isn’t much nourishment regardless of the good stuff the kitchen sends to the room.

The team of doctors contributed in various ways to a meeting this morning to examine evidence and plan a corrective course of action.  They reflected on the Friday morning (11/27) heart attack and the following cardiopulmonary collapse on Saturday.  The reason for this has not been known but they now think it was part of the heparin allergic reaction (I’ve previously discussed).  This collapse landed Nancy in intensive care fully sedated and on life support for eight days.

When the ventilator and the rest were removed this was a sign that things were improved and likely to continue.  But, she was never able to function without some small amount of supplemental oxygen.  Studying this situation the team collectively believes Nancy’s system took a big  ‘insult’  from the heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT) (low platelet counts) leading to the condition she is in and the inability of her body to heal and strengthen.

So, they are going to try to help things along by inserting an intra-aortic balloon pump. This device consists of a cylindrical balloon threaded through an artery and into the aorta – the main artery that brings oxygenated blood to all parts of the body.  The connected apparatus inflates/deflates this small balloon in a timing sequence with the beating heart such that there is a greater supply of oxygenated blood being generated and sent to the body with less of a demand on the heart.  This should effectively mimic a more healthy heart not unlike repairing leaky valves.

Thus, they are going to try to cause improvement in her cardiopulmonary functions and, simultaneously, get a clue as to improvement expected from valve replacement and/or repair.  They will also supplement her food intake, especially with the protein necessary for better kidney function.

The pacemaker is of no relevance in all of the above as her heart has not needed it – so any change there is on hold.

While the intra-aortic balloon pump is in place Nancy will have to be fully reclined (flat on her back).   [ WHY?  I didn’t ask. ]

I left at about 2:30 when a 3-member-team from the catheterization lab swept in to take her to their home roost.

I’ll see her again at 7 PM.  A later post tonight is unlikely.

Here’s to a great Christmas Eve!                                                                                                              (it’s 4:57 here)

WEDNESDAY a repeat

Really, today was just like yesterday.

I’ve got some things I need to do today and early this evening and so won’t add anything else.

Tomorrow may be just like today.

Well, it will be Christmas Eve.  That will be different.

TUESDAY — still waiting

Not a lot to report today.  Her general condition is changing slowly now so just ‘when’ I visit may mask anything else.  Maybe she has just had a short nap or maybe she has been awake and just had several pricks, prods, or questioning staff of one sort or another.

Yesterday afternoon was the ‘handoff’ of the day shift from doctor to doctor.   So Dr. X was around to hear from Dr. Y about the patients – Dr. Y having been involved for 4 or 5 days.  Thus, this morning Nancy essentially was being seen by an unfamiliar doctor and attended to by an unfamiliar nurse.  When this happened ten days ago the newly arriving doctor told me he had just spent 1 ½ hours reviewing Nancy’s file and he, in fact, already knew her and her background.  I have no doubt that these folks know what they are dealing with.  The nurses are smart, well trained, and experienced also – they wouldn’t be in an intensive care unit otherwise.

Still, this morning, Nancy felt a little miffed at the new team.  I figure if you are feeling well enough to notice the difference you might be recovering.  Just a thought.

The implantation of the pacemaker is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday morning.  Again, this is dependent on the clotting time to fall to a safe number.   The modern measure is standardized so that regardless of the particulars of the testing a number is reported that can be compared to other test results.  This is called the INR or International Normalized Ratio.

The appropriate range for a non-ill person is an INR between 0.8 to 1.2.  Nancy’s number has been much higher in recent days and was still at 2.7  on the latest test.  They are hoping for about 1.5 tomorrow morning.  From yesterday in a chat with the doctor I got the impression they would wait for it to adjust on its own rather than add platelets filtered from donated whole blood.  Note the word ‘impression’ in that line.  I could have misunderstood and/or they may change their minds.

Today Nancy showed me how to find an e-mail address book on her laptop within Mozilla’s Thunderbird mail application.  I’ll start going through that list and sending news of this site out to folks – so, if you found your way here via someone else, you may get an e-mail from me soon.  I’ll put a Christmas/New Year’s greeting on the top and you can ignore the rest.