Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Procedural matters

My cardiac cryoablation procedure was done yesterday, something that, with luck, will fix my atrial fibrillation which, in turn, may allow me to not need the prescriptions that make me so tired all the time, and that give me “brain fog” (inability to focus or concentrate well and poor memory, especially short-short term memory). They told me the procedure went well, so now we just wait to see if it worked. But it was also quite an ordeal to get to this point.

The day before the procedure, I did some physical things that the hospital folks consider exerting: I mowed the lawns and vacuumed the house because I knew it could be two weeks before I’d be able to do them again. I also did a few other minor chores, like potting two tomato plants. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep that night, and I decided that rather than laying in bed awake for hours, I may as well do some things until I was really tired. I went to bed around 2am. I also thought that if I was tired on Tuesday, I’d be more relaxed. Turned out, it was a wise choice for me.

My brother-in-law picked me up at 6:30am to get me to the hospital by 7am (I needed a ride because I wouldn’t be allowed to drive myself home afterward since I’d have had a sedative). We ended up getting there around quarter to seven.

I was taken to the prep/recovery area a bit after seven, my brother-in-law left. I changed into the lovely paper-like “underwear” (which a nurse later told me they rip open before the procedure—better than literally nothing?) and a “gown” that opens in the front (all the better to operate on you, my dear).

About an hour later, after the nurse had checked my information and history, and shaved me to attach the contacts for the monitors, the doctor came for a pre-procedure consultation. I liked her instantly. She explained everything to me, answered my questions, and I signed the consent form.

The 14 connectors, stuck to each other after I
removed them. They were like rivets in blue jeans,
but when I felt them through my shirt later
they felt like nipples. It will surprise hardly anyone
that my original title for this post was "14 nipples". 
A little later I was wheeled into the operating theatre (which they called a “lab”, and it looked like some kind of science fiction-y place). While the doctor double checked which leg vein she’d insert the catheters into, a nurse inserted the lure used to administer intravenous solutions, and another nurse hooked me up to all the monitors using the 14 contacts stuck to me.

Most of the preparations weren’t too bad (the insertion of the lure was a little painful, which the nurse warned me would happen, then she complimented me on not shrieking). One of the most uncomfortable things was when the doctor was pressing on my veins in the crease where my leg meets my body: It was slightly painful, but mostly just really, really uncomfortable.

They administered the sedative to relax me, and the local anesthetic at the point where the catheters would be inserted. As it happens, that wasn’t particularly painful because they chose a site next to a scar I got from surgery when I was around 14, and the skin between it and my leg has no feeling. That was a bonus. But when they inserted the main, and largest, catheter, that hurt.

The doctor (and the information I shared here last Thursday) told me to expect what the doctor (and I) call “brain freeze” (though the booklet sent to me called it “ice cream headache"). I did, but it was brief. Much more uncomfortable was the “hiccup sensation” I was told I may experience. I did, and it was truly awful—the worst part of the procedure. It wasn’t like any hiccups I’ve ever had, and instead it felt like pulsating spasms. It was very uncomfortable, especially the last one that seemed to go on and on. Apart from those, though, the procedure itself wasn’t bad at all, and I think I dozed a bit due to the sedative and having been so tired to begin with. Discomfort aside, I was very relaxed through the whole thing.

Then, it was done.

I was taken back to the prep/recovery area I’d started the day in, and then I began the next phase: Lying flat on my back for four hours (yes, with a pillow—a very skinny one). At first, this was fine, and I dozed off and on for quite awhile, however, I can’t sleep on my back for long and soon it started hurting. A nurse helped me adjust my position slightly, and I dozed off a little until my eyes shot open with the sudden realisation that I felt nauseous. The nurse gave me a bit of water (I’d had nothing substantial since before midnight the night before—just a little water to take my pills in the morning, all as per instructions). That seemed to help a little, but the feeling returned and they gave me something for the nausea and it finally went away.

However, the longer I lay there the worse my back felt until I was in near agony. It got so bad, in fact, that I began to regret having had the procedure done, something the procedure itself didn’t do. I finally pushed the call button, and by then, fortunately, it was time that I could have the head of the bed raised a bit. It was like a magic cure: I instantly felt dramatically better.

Awhile after that, one of my sisters-in-law arrived to drive me home. I’d asked them to ring her to tell her the procedure was done, and I think they gave her a rough time when I might be discharged, but we still waited around a couple more hours. The staff insisted that an orderly take me to the carpark in a wheelchair, and I didn’t argue with them (I think it was the first time I’d been in one since I was a kid). However, that meant waiting a bit more.

My sister-in-law took me home, and another sister-in-law (who was staying the night at my house—again, per instructions) arrived with some dinner. We had a lovely visit.

I felt pretty good, if tired, but I was aware that I felt a bit like I’d been punched in the chest, a feeling that got a bit worse as the night went on. The main thing the hospital was worried about, that my leg might start bleeding at the point they’d inserted the catheters, didn’t happen, of course—it apparently seldom does. However, with an abundance of caution, they wanted someone to stay with me for the first 24 hours, just in case.

After my sister-in-law left this morning, I just spent the day relaxing. I sat in my chair for a good chunk of the day, possibly dozing off, and just generally recuperating (the punched-in-the-chest feeling began to slowly fade over the course of the day). Apart from that bit of soreness, I’ve had no discomfort.

However, the bit that in many ways made me the happiest was that the doctor told me to stop taking amiodarone, a drug I’ve been worried about ever since they put me on it nearly 19 months ago (I was originally supposed to be on it for only six to nine months, as a sort of bridge until I could get the cryoablation procedure done). The drug can cause organ damage, and that’s been my fear all along, and the reason I’ve needed blood tests every few months.

Overall, I was in a good space for the procedure to be done (and being so tired definitely helped keep me relaxed). And yet, there was a background to all that, as I talked about in that post last Thursday:
And yet, I am scared—not about the procedure as much as I am about going through it without Nigel. He’d have been there with me every step of the way, including keeping me company during the four hours I have to lie there after the procedure is done. He’d have looked after me when he brought me home that afternoon, and for the week or two following the procedure. But he’s not here, and this is the most frightening thing I’ve faced since he died.

My family is organising to support me—to drive me to and from the hospital, and to stay here with me the night after the procedure. I’m incredibly lucky to have such an awesome family who will look after me since Nigel can’t. I know that, and I’m so deeply grateful to them. But I know they’ll understand when I say I’d much rather have Nigel here to help me and look after me. He was the source of my strength, and without him I feel like Superman in the presence of kryptonite.
As it happens, my family helped me get through it all (even though I was, of course, keenly aware of the fact Nigel wasn’t with me). I’ll give the last word on all this to myself, an edited version of something I posted this morning on my personal Facebook:
I’ll soon talk in more detail about my experience yesterday, but first I hope you’ll forgive me a moment of gratitude.

First and foremost to my awesome family for being there for me, especially my brother-in-law and two of my sisters-in-law, each of whom took time out to look after me and help me. One of only two specific things that Nigel made me promise him is that I’d ask for and accept help from the family (he knew how hard that would be for me to do because it was hard for him, too). So, he’d be very happy I did that. But, just as importantly, he’d be so very, very happy that the family stepped in and did for me what he’d have done if he was here. He wanted to make sure that I’d be okay, and thanks to the family, I was. If he could, he’d thank them, too.

I also want to acknowledge the medical staff at Waikato Hospital, all of whom, without exception, were kind, caring, thorough, and awesome people. The nursing staff in particular were extremely kind and gentle, even in the time immediately post-procedure when I wasn’t feeling so great and was a bit more needy. They always kept their pleasant demeanour, and made me feel at ease about asking for help (see above…).

The cardiologist was next level: The nicest, kindest, friendliest medical specialist I’ve ever dealt with. In the pre-procedure consultation, she explained everything thoroughly and clearly: What would happen, what I’d experience, what the possible risks were, including how relatively likely—well, unlikely, actually—a bad outcome was. She was clear, very easy to understand (she avoided using too much doctor jargon), and she clearly answered my questions. I can’t say that about every other medical specialist I’ve dealt with in my life—maybe not any. She came back and checked up on me twice after the procedure, and again gave freely of her time to explain things to me, and to answer my questions.

So, what was a difficult experience was made so much easier on me because of the support from my truly awesome family (who I love very much) and the unbelievably brilliant medical team at Waikato Hospital. If there really is some sort of plain of existence after this mortal life, then Nigel would’ve had the biggest grin of happiness on his face. I don’t know if such a thing exists or not, but to play it safe, I had a big smile on my face on behalf of us both. This post is just a more public version of that. ❤️
I’ve now finished (hopefully permanently) the medical procedure I’ve been wanting for so very long because it was my best shot at returning to a more normal life. Right now, I’m just glad that I got through it. Besides, I can’t possibly know how the story will turn out—just like always.


Roger Owen Green said...

In the words of some western star, YEE-HAW! I'm glad it went well, and that you accepted the assistance of your in-laws.

So, if I were to Ask Arthur Anything, it'd be about the scar he got when he was 14.

Arthur Schenck said...

And your wish shall be rewarded…