POST-OP WEEK 9 Thurs Apr 2
My chest hurts almost all the time. It’s gotten better lately, but it still hurts. It hurts to move; it hurts when I sleep. And when it hurts, it reminds me that people were in there messing around. They cut me open, sawed my chest, stopped my heart, messed around with that and restarted it.
It’s like a square plaque in the middle of my chest, like an emblem.
They call it a procedure, but it feels like a near-death experience for me.
On the morning of the “procedure,” everyone was looking at me, talking to me, trying to make me feel okay. A nurse or the anesthesiologist’s assistant gave me a shot, telling me it’d feel like I’d have a few cocktails.
The next thing I knew I was in the recovery room in the ICU with a tube down my throat. They told me it was sevens hours. I was out seven hours. It was like a huge blank spot in my life, a gap. Seven hours, just missing.
I think about them grabbing my heart, touching it, sewing things to it and it makes me sad, for some reason, I don’t know why. It makes me feel weird, strangers touching that part of me. Creepy. But mostly sad. I get an overwhelming feeling of vulnerability and that makes me sad.
I liked the hospital, is that weird? It’s quiet there and it’s filled with people taking care of me. I think I like the fact that it’s mostly women, taking care of me. It’s like my Mom times ten watching over me, making sure I’m okay. I know they were paid to do it, but they were caring for me.
Fri Apr 3
I was just lying down on my bed, watching TV and I got up and I got the pain. In my chest. It really hurts, right down the middle where the incision is. I hate the pain; it’s ever present. I guess by now it’s not there ALL the time, but it comes back so often that it really never goes away. I resent it. It reminds me of what they did. And besides, it really HURTS. It makes me tired, having to deal with it all the time. The twinges. All I can take is Tylenol and that doesn’t work. It just keeps on hurting.
Sat Apr 4
So all the guys in my physical rehab seem like OLD guys to me. I guess most of them are. They all seems so happy, joking with the nurses--- workin’ hard or hardly workin’ kind of “jokes” --- But some of them are pretty much my age. One guy struck up a conversation with me last Wednesday, so did you have a stent? kind of thing. I told him a quadruple bypass and he was surprised (he had one of those, too). Then he asked how old I was and I said 51. He was surprised and said he was 52… Honestly, he looked about 57, 58… we chatted about how neither of us felt like we needed a bypass before this happened. How it came out of the blue.
The next day this same guy (I can’t remember his name) was on the treadmill and the nurses made him stop because his heart was racing or something. He was sitting on one of the chairs and they kept asking him if he was going to see his heart doctors any time soon. He seemed to have a real scared look on his face, like a child. When I was done and leaving, he was still sitting in a chair talking to the nurses.
I kind of feel that way sometimes, or did, when doctors and nurses sit and talk about me. I feel vulnerable, out of control, like a kid, helpless.
POST-OP WEEK 10
Sun Apr 5
I was just loading my weekly pills into that divided-up pillbox people make fun of old people for. I started to feel sad and “burdened,” I guess you’d call it. The feeling was that I’d be taking these pills forever. I missed my evening dose of meds last night and at first I thought I’d be in big trouble, something would happen, I’d have a setback, or plaque would build up in my new sewed-on veins because I skipped my Lipitor.
But then there I was loading up next week’s pills--- Sun through Mon, pill after pill.
My sister-in-law is in, visiting, that didn’t help because we started talking about prescription drugs she’s taking and comparing illnesses. That made me feel old again. And frail, I suppose. More than the chronological age thing, I think, though that bugs me. It’s more of the “now I’m one of them” kind of thing. Now, I’m this old, frail thing who needs five, six, seven prescription meds to survive.
My 81 year old father-in-law, scooting around in his wheel chair, takes 4, 5 meds a day. Now I’m him.
It’s Sunday and it’s 10:30 and I just woke up an hour ago because I took a full-sized Ambien last night and they knock me out for ten-hour stretches. That’s cuz I don’t sleep well without meds, too, now.
Maybe it has something to do with where I work, maybe not. Working around so many pharmaceutical drug brands all the time, seeing studies about the people who have to take them, maybe I've started to feel that I didn’t want to be one of those “sickies.” People with diabetes or ED or brain cancer (we sell drugs for people with brain cancer). We’d feel bad for them, make fun of them, sometimes. But they were always somebody else. Now they’re me.
My wife’s agent put me on a list of possible actors she might call the next time they need on-camera heart patients to try out to be in Lipitor commercials!!! That’s how much I’m one of them.
Mon Apr 6
My wife and son #1 were just fighting over who’d drive over and pick me up from the train. I don’t know if I should be riding my bike there and back, I guess I could walk it, but my wife doesn’t want me to right now, so they “offer” to drop me off and pick me up.
Except it doesn’t seem like anyone wants to.
Can you say burden on the family?
When son #1 was bitching about it the whole drive home, it started to make me cry.
Tues Apr 7
(originally handwritten in my notebook)
I can't let work, my boss, know about all the "doctor stuff" I do. They don't want to know how human I am, how vulnerable. They want a cog, a full functioning piece for their machine. Maybe they don't --- maybe this agency'll be different than Burnett who wanted your undivided attention all the time, no matter what. Maybe these guys'll cut me some slack, maybe not. I don't know. And I guess I don't want to find out.
So I don't tell then that I need to leave even earlier on Wednesday because I'm seeing a psychologist because I cry at the office for no particular reason. I don't tell them why I have to take "lunch" at 11 because my PCP [Primary Care Physician] wants me to come in again to talk about how my meds could cause erectile dysfunction.
I don't tell them everything. I don't think they need to know everything. But, I think it adds to my stress. Just a little.
It could be what's causing my face to break out like high school. It could be why I've on five pounds in the last month.
Tues Apr 7, pt 2
So I was driving to Osco to pick up my latest prescription--- this one’s an anti-depressant! I’m on so many meds right now: Plavix, Lipitor, an alpha blocker for my blood pressure, an aspirin a day to thin my blood, I guess. I take Ambien at night cuz I’m not sleeping well. And, on top of it all, the therapist I’ve seen a couple times recommended an anti-depressant that my PCP [Primary Care Physician] thinks is a good idea.
So after getting cracked open like a lobster, people fishing around inside me. Forcing myself to walk around again, getting back to work--- I’m a little depressed, I guess. So, I’m at Osco picking up my new med. The pharmacists all know now that I’m the kind of guy who NEEDS an anti-depressant! Cool. I had a question, too, so I had to ask her. Maybe it was my fault then. Great.
It made me cry on the drive home. I’m really broken now, I thought. Six meds, I’m on. I’m a mess…
Wed Apr 8
(originally handwritten in my notebook)
I resent having to deal with this crap. Yeah, okay it saved my life, I guess. But now my life has changed. I’m different. I’m in pain. I take pills. I feel guilty when I eat popcorn or have an extra glass of wine. I’ve got a hug oink scar down the center of my chest with three holes beneath it. Another one on my calf and a couple on my thigh. Some on my neck. I didn’t ask for this… What did I do to deserve this? I did everything “right,” didn’t I? I eat good foods. I don’t smoke. I’m not fat. And yet here I am, damaged. I got old, I guess; is that what I did?
I can imagine myself lying on the operating table, limp. Open, Vulnerable. Naked, probably. While these strangers do unspeakable things to me--- cutting me with knives and saws, poking me with needles and tubes. Ripping veins from my legs; stopping my heart! It’s not me, but it is, laid out like one of those fetal pigs in high school bio. Just another day in the office for these guys, cutting into Walter first thing on a Monday morning.
Then, off you go… Have fun.
I narrowly escaped so much so far in my life--- cysts, operations, assaults with baseball bats ---I feel like this one finally got me. Although, again, it didn’t, did it? It wasn’t a heart attack; I didn’t die; they “caught it” in time and fixed it. So, I should feel lucky but I don’t… Why not?
Wed Apr 8, pt 2
(originally handwritten in my notebook)
Can you get religion from a cabbie?
I’m coming back from yet another test my PCP [Primary Care Physician] sent me to--- a follow-up ultrasound of the nodes on my thyroid (he likes to scan me now, hoping to save my life again!). I flag down a cab outside the Galter Building of Northwestern and the cabbie starts talking to me about Jesus… Have I found him, the usual. But this guy’s not pushy about it, or over-the-top; he’s presenting his logical case for accepting Christ, etc, etc.
The ride’s taking a long time, it seems. He’s asking me questions about my religion and waiting for answers. He’s not expecting me to go to any given church, he says, just read these two books in the bible (I don’t remember which) and I’ll be imbued with the supernatural force to save my spirit an go back to God after I die.
And suddenly I’m thinking about fate… I come through this heart thing, alive, and my PCP sends me to these scans and I co-incidentally get in this cab where the driver’s kinda making sense about a higher power, etc. And I’m thinking is this guy someone I should pay attention to right now? Of course, for some unknown reason, I start to tear up, fighting back from total bawlin.’ As I’m paying him, over-tipping him, he reaches his hand through the glass and asks me my name, I tell him, “Walter,” and he tells me his (which was long, and African, probably, and difficult to understand so I don’t know it). And then he says, “Walter, Walter, yes. I will see you again. We will talk about this again…”
Hm. I don’t know, can you get religion from a cabbie?
Thurs Apr 9
(originally handwritten in my notebook)
I took my first anti-depressant this morning. I didn’t want to--- I figured I turn into a farm animal, mooing in a field, contently chewing on my cud, unable to write anything ---losing my edge. Or maybe I’d freak out--- all jittery and jumpy. I’m remembering back to my “drug days” --- that 6 months or so when I smoked, like, 4 -5 joints and fraked out.
But--- I did it anyway ---we’ll see.
Fri Apr 10
(originally handwritten in my notebook)
I had a little “crying episode,” in the shower this morning. I don’t cry much lately--- it’s getting a lot better. But I had just been up and down all night checking on Anne’s Dad. He seems to have taken a “bad turn,” as they say, and Anne’s out of town ‘til Sat. so, I’m up…
Anyway, I was thinking about him and how he’s deteriorated over the years while my family and I watched. I was sad for him, I guess, I don’t like him all that much, but I felt sad for my kids who have to see that and for me who might experience that while foisting it on my kids. It was short outburst and then it was over…
POST-OP WEEK 11
Thurs Apr 16
I started to tear up in the shower this morning. I was thinking about a moment, last night.
The moment went like this:
I was in the kitchen with my kids getting dinner. It was fairly late; I had just got home from physical rehab. My wife was at the hospital with her dad. Two of her sisters had just come in from out of town to visit him, too. My daughter was dishing out the pot pie that my wife left for us, son #1 was hanging around--- for some reason he started talking about religion. (I thought it was pretty advanced for a 16 year old, doing all that thinking at his age.) Son #2 was boiling water to make pasta for son #3 and himself.
There we were all of us, together, and I thought, what a great family I have. Smart, funny, cute kids. Perfect. I am truly blessed, I thought. I took a mental picture of it, soaked in the moment; it was one of the good ones.
We went on to eat dinner and watch Lost together.
I didn’t cry then, that was a great time.
It was this morning in the shower when I thought about the moment, replayed it in my head, that it brought on the tears (it’s doing it now, too, as I type this while on the train). Just for a moment, just a little flare-up of crying, then it was over. I don’t know if they’re “happy tears,” tears of joy, about how blessed I am to have a family like this. Or am I crying because I know how fleeting moments like that are…
Fri Apr 17
I can’t help but think about my wife’s dad.
It’s kind of all I can do, these days. It creeps into my thoughts and it makes me cry.
I guess he’s beaten the infection he came down with, but now the doctors at the hospital say his throat is paralyzed from another of many mini-strokes. So he hasn’t eaten in four or five days. They say he’ll choke or aspirate anything, including water, get pneumonia, and die.
According to my wife and two of her sisters, when offered the option of a feeding tube, he’s refused. On top of that, he’s asked to “come home.”
Apparently, he’s lucid enough to know that “home” means our suburb and not The South where he was born. And apparently he knows that not eating will eventually kill him.
For some reason everyone’s ruled out re-habbing him back to some form of his former self (a neurologist was consulted and said it wasn’t possible) and everyone says he doesn’t want to go to a nursing home.
So he’s coming back to our house to die. It’s an assisted suicide, really. By starvation--- or, as son #1 tells me, dehydration, because you can live without food longer. Perpetrated by his gaggle of daughters.
I know he’s been talking about dying since he moved in with us, hoping for a quick heart attack in his sleep, but it didn’t work out that way. And I figured that’s just how old guys talk. Now he’s in this middle ground.
He didn’t die; he has no terminal condition. But the alternative is lying around in a diaper with the use of only one arm. I guess it’s his choice and he’s with it enough to make it, but it’s wrenching me up inside. I didn’t even think I liked the guy that much; he’s not my dad. But this just doesn’t seem right.
And my kids have to watch.
My wife and her sisters are buzzing around, trying to get things “handled,” hiring nurses and renting beds for his room but I keep thinking they haven’t thought this through. Or maybe they have. I just know it rips me up every time I think about it.
I know I’m scared shitless every time I think about dying. So maybe I don’t want to wish that on anyone. Maybe as much as they keeping talking about a dignified end, starving to death isn’t it. I think about him and maybe I think about my dad. Or maybe it’s actually my father-in-law, who looks up at me and seems to brighten up just a tad because he’s grown to like me over these six years. My wife's youngest sister says I’m his favorite son-in-law, who knows.
My wife says stuff like: what’s the alternative? He ends up in a nursing home and everybody goes back to their lives and where does that leave me? I’ll be the only one visiting him. So, I’m wondering, again, if they’ve made this decision for selfish reasons.
And then there’s that “bad blood” between the daughters and him, so they’re just trying to get rid of him, put it all behind them and move on, they liked mom better anyway and she died long ago. I know when my mom died I had thoughts of “why her?” and not my dad. How come the nice one’s life was cut short and the bastard got another ten, twenty years!
So maybe I just got to stay out of it; it’s none of my business. But it kind of is my business--- he’s in my house, he’s my children’s grandfather.
I keep wondering if this is the kind of “incident” that can get in between a husband and wife and wreck a marriage, it’s big enough, certainly. I hope not, I really do. I wouldn’t want it to. But I can’t let go of the feeling that this is just so cruel. My wife says her father told her he regretted “keeping his mother alive” for an “extra” year (with feeding tubes, etc), that he did it for THEM and not HER. That it was cruel to let her live.
I missed my dad’s death.
He died, like my father-in-law’s planning, in his own bedroom, in his sleep they tell me. I wasn’t there. I got a phone call. And my mom died instantly.
So is this a replay of that for me? Is it déjà vu, twelve years later, karma?
Is that what makes me cry when I think about it? Or, in this case, with death, it’s okay to well up with tears at your desk at the office?
All I know is: I’ve got to go home to this tonight, to the big pizza party they’re planning, my wife and her sisters (there’s a brother, but nowhere around for some reason) and I’m already thinking about how drunk I should get. And, of course, trying to hold back the water works…
POST-OP WEEK 12
Mon Apr 20
(originally handwritten in my notebook)
My father-in-law died yesterday evening--- in his room in our house. He came home from the hospital Friday. Needless to say, I cried. Before, during, and after. The hospice caretaker/nurse cried. His kids--- not so much. I was ripped up about it on and off starting Friday. It was all I could think about. It was pretty much all that ran through my head--- how he wasn’t really that sick. He didn’t have cancer. They could’ve used a feeding tube instead of letting him starve to death. It was assisted suicide and it was hard to be a part of it. His kids seemed indifferent. I realized there was that whole “nastiness” a while back that whole incident, but that was no reason to just let an old guy die like that.
All day Saturday and half of Sunday, I tried to busy myself with errands while trying to stay calm, zen the stress level down, but it’d always come back. I’d roll the scenario over and over in my head--- “he has no underlying terminal disease,” I’d tell myself. “They can rehabilitate him enough for him to eat.” “Or at least a feeding tube.” “I know he said he doesn’t want one, but he’s delirious from starvation. If he was thinking straight maybe he’d change his mind.” Around and around, cranking up the stress--- I could feel it, holding back the tears.
When he finally passed, I let go and cried. My wife and I got in an argument about why she wasn’t crying (and how the kids thought she was callous). We talked and made up. Then it was over pretty much--- I’m tearing up a bit while writing this, but it’s kind of over…
Tues Apr 21
I was just in the shower and that song by Five For Fighting popped into my head--- “Superman” ---and it made me tear up a little thinking about it.
Before the 9/11 people co-opted it, I always interpreted the song to be about a regular guy who’s just doing his best to be a good man, father, husband, and breadwinner. I started thinking about my father-in-law and how he made some mistakes as all of us do (some bigger than others, some inexcusable, I guess) but that he was probably trying to do his best. I think he let a lot of people down in his life, and maybe that’s why his kids are so matter-of-fact and cold toward him (my wife told me as much, I don’t know about the other kids), clearing out his room, divvying up his stuff.
Then I thought about me as a father and husband, etc and I wondered how I’d be remembered in the end. Selfish, I guess. But I wonder if anyone can live up to that Superman role--- and that’s what the song’s about.
Wed Apr 22
I didn’t cry at my father-in-law’s memorial and funeral.
The build-up to the event was bad enough, maybe, that once it was all over, it was nothing by comparison. Or maybe I had nothing left.
On the way back from the cemetery, our whole family in the same car, we talked about how his death affected us. My daughter said that all the aunts came in from out of town to mourn and grieve and say things at his funeral, and then they were going to leave. But we’re the ones that’re going to have to deal with the empty room and his absence in our lives.
Later, at the reception/wake we had at our house for everyone, I was trying to tell that story to a neighbor but had to stop and change the subject because I was starting to choke up. I hadn’t cried the whole time, but trying to repeat what my daughter said made me break up.
Thurs Apr 23
I teared up on my way to the office just now.
I was thinking about my father-in-law’s funeral and it reminded me of my dad’s funeral 12 years ago. It wasn’t the death of my dad part that got me misty, I was thinking about how he had a military funeral, with the squad of riflemen shooting into the air and the flag draped coffin and all that. They two guards folded the flag in all the pomp and routine, turning it over and over into a triangle. I remember at the time waiting for the guards to walk over to me, standing in line with my sisters, the only male in the family, and in lieu of a widow, the one who gets the flag from a military funeral. Then I remembered how the guardsman stopped at my older sister and handed the flag to her. I was pissed and hurt and I felt two inches tall. Later I found out the Army guy didn’t even know I existed; he was never told my dad had a son. I almost left right there, but my wife talked me into going the lunch/reception afterward where one of my dad’s old friends, a drinking buddy, maybe, I didn’t know him, bumped into me saying: “You’re his son? He never told me he had a son...”
I turned around and left.
That made me well-up this morning.
POST-OP WEEK 13
Mon Apr 27
I thought it was all over; I thought I was done with my feelings about the operation. And then last Friday it flashed in my head as I was walking from the office to the train. Oddly enough it was because I was thinking about how I haven’t had any of those thoughts lately and then I had this vision, this feeling of being split open, on a table, like CSI. It was unnerving but it didn’t make me cry or anything. I kind of felt it, though, for a split second it was real. Then it went away…
Mon Apr 27, pt 2
I’m not sad these days. I haven’t had a crying episode in a while, I think. But I can’t say that I’m happy, either. Somewhere in the middle, I guess.
I was impatient yesterday, for some reason, I couldn’t tell you why. I just had no patience with anyone for the first half of the day or so. Not angry, just a “c’mon, c’mon, c’mon” sort of attitude.
I feel like I just “am” these days. I’m calm, I guess, that’s good, good for my blood pressure and stress level and cholesterol. I certainly don’t feel like dragging myself to the office every day, writing whatever they need that day. But I also don’t feel like writing anything for me, either--- I’ve got a short story that’s ready to send out, pretty much, I just need to write the query letter and get it in the mail but I’m just not getting around to it. Maybe I’m just lazy. Maybe I’m not looking forward to all the rejection. Maybe it’s the anti-depressant.
Mon Apr 27, pt 3
We’re clearing things out of my father-in-law’s room, talking about what’s my wife’s going to do with it, what color she wants to paint it. It’s moving too fast for my taste, but she’s setting the pace, regardless of anyone else’s feelings.
Tues Apr 28
Yesterday, during my indulgent massage, the woman said she was going to massage my by-pass scar and surrounding areas as part of the whole thing. I was kind of hesitant when she said it, I barely touch my scar and I only let my wife touch it once because she asked. It felt weird when my wife touched it and now I was going to let this stranger from the health club.
It was an odd feeling, letting her touch it and massage it. She worked the muscles around my chest, my pecs to my shoulders, gently. She worked through some knots and in the end it felt pretty good. I had been having some pain when I inhaled that went away. Later she told me it was good to work the scar and the tissue underneath to keep scar tissue from building up around the wire around my sternum--- she had a name for it, I can’t remember.
I felt such a feeling of vulnerability when she was rubbing the scar, more than when doctors examine it or when friends ask to see it. It wasn’t intimate really, it was almost childlike, me, I mean. I felt like a child for some reason, it was weird.
But I felt better afterward, relaxed. I think I was holding in a lot of tension around my chest. It was a good idea.
The diary continues in May, 2009...