Wednesday, April 29, 2015

All The Cool Kids Are Born With *Some Assembly Required: Part 1

My assembly (surgery) was a success, and I was discharged to the comfort of my home yesterday. I will get to that in another post - I'm going to have to break up the past few days over a couple posts. This post is a long one, and it only covers my first few days in the hospital.

Forewarning: There are some pictures of me in this post just after surgery.

So yes, if you read my last post, Friday was the big day! I had to be at the medical center at 5:45 to check in and get ready for my surgery. I was scheduled to be the first procedure of the day. I got checked in and called back almost immediately to get ready.

(Last "selfie" with this broken heart of mine)

After I got ready, they took my vitals, asked me a bunch of questions and then brought my parents back. At that point they wheeled me over to the pre-surgical area. I spoke to the cardiac anesthesiologist, and the cardiac anesthesiology fellow, and then I sat there for a while as I watched one by one everyone leave for their procedures. We finally met with my surgeon one last time, went over everything, and made sure we were all in agreement. Then it was time for me to say my final goodbyes to my parents. I started crying, but thankfully, right after I said goodbye, the anesthesiologist gave me some "happy juice" and honestly, I only remember seconds after that. I don't even remember being rolled out of the pre-surgical area.

Remembering Through The Haze:

The next thing I remember is "kind of" waking up in the ICU. I still had my breathing tube in and I was fighting it. I also heard someone crying in the background saying they could not see me like this.

The next thing I remember is people yelling at me to breathe, that was before everything went black again. I remember being told that in order to get my breathing tube out, I needed to breathe without assistance for an hour. Since I could not talk, I remember one of the Attending's I work for stopping by to see how I was doing, and I was motioning to my mom to talk to him. She said she had already met him earlier in the day. I remember 2 of the mid-level providers that I work with stopping by, both of them had previously worked on the floor I was staying on, and they wanted to make sure I had the best possible care.

I also remember REALLY struggling and fighting the vent. My aunt said my hands and feet were outstretched, and she said she really hated seeing me so upset. I also remember motioning for the nurse to suction the vent because I honestly felt like I was going to choke (even though I know I won't), at the time, I wasn't able to tell myself that. I remember Angie coming in and leaving. Even though Angie was there the entire day with my family, she had tired to leave, but decided not to because I was still on the vent. So she sat back down in the waiting area. She ended up leaving before I was able to get off the vent, but I remember her leaving. I also remember my mom and Angie showing me 2 really cool pictures that the surgeon took of my heart during surgery. He had printed them out and given them to me! (I LOVE that kind of stuff, I can't wait to get a frame to put it in!)

I remember my uncle and cousin coming in, and me waving to them. I was finally with it enough to stay awake for the length of their stay and I was breathing on my own. The nurse came in and said he was just waiting for respiratory to come in and help remove the tube. I waited FOREVER. I'm not going to lie, I was getting REALLY annoyed. I also felt very warm, and I kept fanning myself. My cousin went out to the nurses station to see if they had a box fan for me, but they didn't. So instead, he took a sign off the wall and started fanning me. I was so thankful for that! Finally, the nurse and respiratory therapist came in and removed the tube. Oh thank god. It was very hard to speak, but at least I could squeak out a few words with my family who were there to see me. They also let me have some ice chips.

Finally (Somewhat) Coherent:

I didn't get my breathing tube out until around 7:30. Later, I found out that I had started to wake up during my surgery and I was told I was kicking my feet, so they had to give me more anesthesia to finish up. So, I assume that's why I had such a rough time getting off the vent. I was also told that they tried to let me breathe on my own about 4 times, but each time I would fall back asleep and stop breathing. My family left to let me get some rest (and I'm sure they were all exhausted as well). I slept a little longer and then I woke up and was pretty with it around 10 pm. At that point I felt nauseous from the ice chips. I decided to turn my phone on - I had multiple messages to respond to. Then, just as respiratory came into help me with my breathing exercises, I threw up all of the ice chips I ate. My nurse came in and gave me some more anti-nausea medication. That made me drowsy, and I napped again. Around midnight I woke up again, so I sent a selfie to my friends to let them know I was alive.

(Still swollen from surgery)

I slept on and off all night, so between naps I was watching either HGTV or ABC Family. When I woke up Saturday morning, Young and Hungry was on TV, so I watched most of the episode before drifting off again. My nurse came in and cleaned me up a bit, since I was still covered in Iodine from the operating room. I finally got my arterial line and catheter out around 10, then I had to lay flat for about 2 hours before they could get me out of bed and to the chair for the first time. Timing was perfect because I was able to eat something for the first time at noon!

(First meal! I'm still so swollen)

Angie dropped by for a visit after the heart walk. I was bummed I couldn't join my coworkers at the walk that morning, but they kept me updated with a lot of pictures! When Angie got there, mom went to grab a bite to eat and I sat there to catch up with Angie. She was filling me in on how Friday went for them out in the waiting room. Soon, my nurse came in and wanted me to get up and go for a walk.

(Going for my first stroll around the ICU)

We decided to take 2 laps because I was doing so well, then I got back in my chair. They were all joking that I must have set a record for speed around the unit because I as cruising right along. One of the Fellows I work with was out at the desk and he was cheering me on. We joked that he should go get me an ultrasound machine and I would do some portables. He then stopped in my room to see how I was doing before leaving the unit. He was amazed at how great I was doing so soon after surgery. Angie stayed for a few hours, and she also introduced me to the lead cardiac sonographer at the Medical Center. Angie was also able to catch up with my mom when she got back from getting a bite to eat.

Shortly after mom got back, my surgeon stopped by for a visit. He was in surgery all morning with an emergency. He took one look at me and said "Did we actually do open heart surgery on you yesterday?" He was really happy with how well I looked, I was sitting up, had been up walking, was talking and smiling. Angie had even made me laugh, which really hurt, but I didn't care. Laughter is the best medicine! We talked about my surgery and he told me how well it went. I also thanked him for giving me a couple pictures of my heart that he had taken during surgery, and I asked if he had more. (Haha, I'm such a nerd, I love things like that!) He must have been reading my mind when he gave the pictures to my mom, Angie and I had joked that we were going to try and get him to wear a Go Pro camera during surgery. He told me how important it was for me to get up and walk and work on my breathing exercises, and I told him I was but would continue.

After Angie left, I went for another few laps around the ICU, then slept in the chair for a bit. My aunt and uncle came by to visit me, they were going to go out for dinner with my parents that evening. Mom and dad went back to my house to feed our dogs while I sat and caught up with my aunt and uncle for a while. Once my mom and dad called them and said they were on their way to the restaurant, they headed out. I ate dinner, and then got back into bed to relax. The nurse was kind and closed the curtain and door for me so I could get some rest, and didn't come in to bother me unless I was awake. He came in to flush my IV's and give me my pain medication around 4 am, and lucky me, the 2 IV's I had in, BOTH blew! Not going to lie, that was excruciating! He took both out, and gave me an ice pack for my hand because it puffed up and hurt so much. After that he brought me a heat pack to soothe it. Then of course, I needed a new IV. Luckily he was able to find something and get a new one in, then draw my labs.

Sunday morning, I ordered breakfast, but I wasn't too hungry. I ate the yogurt and peaches that I had ordered. I also had text my friends that were running the Flower City Challenge to wish them luck. I was supposed to run the 5K that morning (when my surgery was still on Monday). The sun was out, but my parent said it was cold. My cousin sent me a picture of them at the race - I was happy they still went even though I couldn't. My surgeon came in to see how I was doing. He said I was still doing great, and that they were just waiting on a bed in the step down unit to open so I could move. He also increased the amount of walks or laps I had to do. I was supposed to do 3 on Saturday, and I did 4. Sunday he increased the amount of walks to 6.

While I was sitting there watching some television that morning, one of my friends from Team RWB stopped in to visit and drop off a card and some balloons. She works at the Medical Center, so she was able to sneak away quickly to drop them off. It was SO sweet of my team to think of me. She said she was able to see some of the half marathon runners from her patients rooms that morning. The card made me smile and the balloons brightened up my room (even though, technically, I was not allowed to have them in the ICU).

(Definitely brightened my day!)

That afternoon my aunt and 2 of my uncles stopped by to visit. As luck would have it, shortly after they came, I was moved to a private room on the step down unit. So they helped carry some of my belongings down to my new room. I used the cart they had in the ICU and walked myself down to my new room (that counted towards one of my 6 walks). The nurses got me settled in my room, and they were so kind to bring in some chairs for my family to sit. My family sat and visited for a while, and still remarked on how well I looked for only being two days post op.

My family left, and I relaxed and watched some TV and finished up my walks for the day. Nita, Mel and Matt all came to visit me that evening. Nita brought her medal from the half marathon that morning, and she told me about the race course and what not. Hopefully I'll be able to run it next year! I filled them in on everything that had been going on with me in the hospital (things that I hadn't already text them about), and we chatted for about and hour or so. Nita and Mel both had to laugh that I sent them the selfie at midnight the night after my surgery. It was great to see all of them, definitely made me smile to hear about their weekends and life outside the hospital.

I crawled into bed and put a movie on. Later that evening another one of the Fellows I work with stopped up for a few minutes to say hi and see how I was doing. We talked about what I remembered from coming out of surgery, especially with the breathing tube. He asked if I remembered starting to wake up during surgery (thankfully, no). I also told him about the really cool pictures that my surgeon gave me from surgery. We also chatted about work for a few minutes, and then he was off to save some lives and I was off to dreamland.

Little by little I was losing my connections. I no longer had to wear oxygen, or a blood pressure cuff around the clock. However, I was still on continuous telemetry, and had my chest tubes. I still had to rely on the nurse to be in there to get me out of my bed or chair, to walk me to the bathroom, and they still had to help me with my walks. I can honestly say, you don't know pain until you've had your sternum sawed in half, and chest cracked, and then you either cough, vomit, sneeze or laugh. But, I had to admit, I felt pretty good, and every one's positive comments were very encouraging.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Don't Take The Little Things For Granted

As you're reading this, I am more than likely fast asleep in the operating room with my chest cracked and heart exposed. I left my last blog post stating that this week would be much of the same; filled with family and friends before my surgery on Monday. That was until I received a call from the Pediatric CT Surgery office on Tuesday. They said they were able to move my surgery up to today. I was back and forth on the phone with them for about an hour, and it was decided that I would go in for my procedure today.

That being said, I now had 3 less days to get everything in order - which I think I covered all my bases. As for the rest of this week... Tuesday at work (before I talked to surgery), my friend Melissa came back to our work area with a box. It was our t-shirts for the heart walk this Saturday! I was so excited, though I had no idea what they looked like. To my surprise...


They ordered them with our team hashtag: #TeamStacey, in support of my surgery on Monday!

...And then I got the call from surgery that afternoon. Surgery was moved to today, and pre op was moved to yesterday. Wednesday evening I went to Nita and Matt's for dinner, Young and Hungry and to catch up. Nita and Mel also put together a nice little care package for me for when I'm in the hospital, with things to make my stay a little easer. Kleenex, lotions, etc.

Yesterday was a big day for me. It was my last (half) day at work and I had my pre surgery appointment. I got to work and met up with Doreen and Martha for coffee one last time. When I went to clock, in a few of my coworkers came around the corner and they were wearing our heart walk shirts!

(Natalie, me and Maureen!)

(Natalie organized a lot of this - she's the best!)

I had decided to wear mine because I was now unable to walk on Saturday. Must be they had all coordinated to wear them too, which was so sweet! The morning flew by pretty quickly, and before I knew it I was on my way to lunch. The group had lunch catered at Aladdin's (one of my favorites), and they had all put together a huge gift/care basket for me. I can't even put into words how grateful I am for everyone's kindness and support throughout this entire process.

(This picture doesn't do it justice)

(Natalie, Braintwin {Angie}, and me)

I left for my pre-op, and Martha was so kind to give me a ride to the ramp garage so I wouldn't be late. I think I walked in 3 minutes late. When the nurse brought me back, my heart rate was sky high and my blood pressure was elevated. Oops! We gave it a minute to regulate, and we were good to go. My pre surgical appointment went well, then I had to head to the lab for blood draws, and radiology for a chest X-ray. After my appointment, I went back to work to hang out for a bit and say my final goodbyes. A few of my coworkers so kindly helped me carry my goodies to my car, and I gave them all a ride to the ramp garage, and then headed home.

Yesterday evening I spent with my parents, and prepared for today. I packed a few bags for my parents to bring to the hospital for when I am able to get up, get dressed, and move. Which brings me to the point of this post. Not taking the small things for granted. There are many things I was able to do last night that I will not be able to do for days, weeks and even months after my surgery. From little things like getting up out of a chair on my own to driving. I've been very mindful these past few weeks of enjoying the little things I am able to do on a daily basis. Yes, I may not be able to do them for a while, but I will eventually. However, these are also things that some people may never be able to do. I'm very fortunate that things have turned out for me in life the way they have. I may currently be going through open heart surgery, but in the end, it was a blessing in disguise. On that note, I will post more about my surgery and recovery when I am feeling up to it. At this point, I honestly have no idea how I'm going to feel.

QOTD: What are some things that you may take for granted on a daily basis? Always be thankful! <3 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Enjoy Every Moment: You Never Know When Things Might Change

After my presentation last week, I set a new goal (or plan) for the next 2 weeks - to pack as much fun and friends into 2 weeks as humanly possible (without getting sick). I wanted to spend as much time with my friends and family as I could, and enjoy the time I had left before my surgery.

Monday evening was my first weeknight not working on my presentation in weeks. It was a little strange to be honest. I did a little cleaning, some laundry, and finally went grocery shopping (which was something I was neglecting). Tuesday, I went for a run after work with Linda, as always it was nice to get out with her and catch up! We have our usual 3 mile loop that we do. Once I got home that evening, I actually did relax. I may have even fallen asleep on the couch at like 7:30, I think the weekend was finally catching up with me.

Wednesday was our weekly Team RWB run. I met up with Nita at our teams usual spot, and our friend Ashley also made it out with her adorable daughter. We walked up to the reservoir and started our intervals as we all caught up. I asked the ladies how our friends baby shower was as I was unable to attend since it was the same day as my presentation. They filled me in, and I filled them in on my weekend. After our run Nita and I went out to dinner at Red Robin (Yumm)! I had been looking forward to that for days! It was great to get out and catch up with Nita, we usually see each other at least once a week, and it had been a few weeks since we had seen each other.

(Enjoying the sun at our weekly Team RWB run!)

Thursday and Friday I decided to relax and clean. My parents were coming up on Saturday, so I wanted to make sure things were in order for the weekend. We had a long list of things we wanted to get done around the house. Friday I also received an email that season 4 of Baby Daddy was now on Netflix, so I basically binged on that Friday night as well. 

Saturday morning I went out to Dryer Road Park with a friend to try out some of the mountain biking trails. I bought my bike last fall and had yet to get out on it. Well, you should have seen me trying to get my bike into the back of my car, that was an adventure in itself!

The picture does not depict how ridiculous it looked in my car. I had to bungee cord the trunk down to the bike and the latch of the trunk, so the lid wouldn't fly up when I was driving to the park. You can see how the truck is still ajar in the pic. Any way, I made it to the park just fine, and we headed to the trails. I should also note that I have also never been to an actual park with trails. I have been on the canal path, and out to Black Creek Park to ride, that's it. How quickly I realized how out of shape I actually am (Note to self: more cross training). We went down and around a few trails before we realized at the bottom of one of the trails we had to turn around and go back up. Oh crap. So, basically I pushed my bike all the way back up the trail to the clearing.

By the time we did that, my heart rate was sky high and I was breathing pretty heavily, so I asked to sit in the grass for a few minutes to recover. While sitting there, I had mentioned this was one of the reasons why my cardiologist wanted me to have surgery. Along with needing the valve, and repairing the rest of my congenital defect; my heart rate jumps up rather quickly, even with the amount of running I do. My cardiologist had mentioned that was one thing about my metabolic stress test that he didn't particularly like. I'm trying to make a mental note of how I feel when I do these things pre-surgery, so I can compare how much different (and hopefully better) I feel after surgery. I recovered, and we were off again. We headed back towards the parking area, and packed up for the day. My friend so kindly showed me how to take the front tire off my bike so it would fit in my car. {Epiphany!}

There is SO much I do not know about mountain biking, but it's still all so new to me, so I have a lot to learn. I enjoyed getting out in the sun to ride my bike, even though I felt like I was holding my friend back. They could have covered more ground without me trailing behind. Still, I was thankful for all the tips and tricks. I headed home and waited for my parents to arrive. We didn't do a whole lot of house work on Saturday because they didn't get there until the afternoon, but we went to the mall and went out to a nice dinner at Bonefish Grill.

Sunday morning we got up and I made us all waffles, and then we got right to work. We covered a lot of ground on Sunday. My dad put up my blinds in the living room windows, patched some holes in the living room and bathroom, he helped me move the TV stands that I have. We put up 4 shelves in the living room. I mowed my lawn and put down weed killer, then my dad sprayed a moss killer, put down fertilizer, planted flowers and mulched for me. Needless to say, by the time they left Sunday evening I was exhausted.

The first week was a success, I packed quite a bit in there. Monday night I went out to dinner with some of the ladies from work. My coworker set up a really nice dinner for us at a place called Ember Grill since it is my last week at work. We had a great time and the food was phenomenal!! I can't wait to go back again.

(With the ladies at Ember)

(The aftermath of our dinner, haha)

This week was supposed to be much of the same packed with family and friends, that is until I received a call from Pediatric Cardio-thoracic surgery yesterday...

Friday, April 17, 2015

Success Occurs When Opportunity Meets Preparation

I rarely talk about my career on here, mainly because I work in a hospital, and I don't need ANYTHING coming back to bite me. However, I am going to take some time to talk a little about my career because this past weekend I stepped out of my comfort zone to do something that I never imagined doing even in my wildest dreams.

As you all know (if you've been following my blog), that I was born with congenital heart disease, and in a matter of a few weeks will be undergoing my third (and hopefully last) open heart surgery to repair the remainder of my defect. You may also know that I am a cardiac sonographer - I know I posted a time or two about my pediatric echocardiography boards last year. So, yes, I am a Cardiac Sonographer, registered in both pediatric and adult echo. Having been born with my congenital heart defect, I had yearly echoes growing up, and they sparked an interest and I went with it. I honestly love what I do, and in a way it's been useful in knowing what's going on with myself. I understand the echoes, I know how to read them, and I get what the Cardiologists and Surgeons are saying to me when we discuss everything. But enough about that, let's rewind...

Back in January, I received an email from the Cardiac track coordinator at the school I graduated from with my Diagnostic Medical Sonography degree, asking if I would be interested in presenting at the Sonographer Symposium they hold each spring. She mentioned that she saw I had passed my Pediatric Echocardiography boards, and was hoping I could give a talk on Congenital Heart Disease. I, of course, was honored that they had thought of me, and I gladly accepted. At the time, I had no idea when my surgery was going to be, and honestly, timing could not have been better.

I worked on my presentation a little each night for months, and ended up working on it at work in the evenings because my computer kept crashing, and I was terrified I was going to lose everything I had worked so hard on. I started out by brain dumping all of the information I wanted to get across on slides, and then fine tuning and eliminating slides from there, until I was happy with it. By the time I was ready to leave for the Symposium last Thursday, I had 88 slides and about 10 congenital defects to discuss. On top of that I had video clips of the defects to supplement the slides.

Friday came, and I went into the school to make sure my presentation was going to work. As it turned out, I was unable to leave my presentation to get to the clips to show. At that point, I had to embed the clips into my presentation. No problem, but it did take a little time. I did a few there to make sure they would work, and then borrowed one of the DMS Faculty members laptops to finish it up. I'm so thankful I went in to check because had I not, Saturday would have been a TRAIN WRECK. After I finished, I had to head to a get together for the DMS Faculty and presenters, at which point I returned the laptop I borrowed. It was nice to get out that evening and get my mind off of the symposium because by that point I was TERRIFIED. I can honestly tell you though, I was not myself. The evening flew by, and before I knew it I was on my way back to get to bed.

Saturday morning came quickly, even though I didn't sleep well. I got up and got ready, and headed towards the school. My coworkers had made the trip down for the conference, and I had been in contact with them all morning. I had to stop and get gas in my car, and then I wanted to grab a coffee and a breakfast sandwich. By the time I left Sheetz it was already 7:30, and I was feeling the pressure of being late. I rushed to the school and walked in with minutes to spare (If you know me, then you know this is not like me at all). I am typically always early for everything - and even Angie and Laurie mentioned it was not like me to be late.

I met up with my coworkers who so kindly saved me a seat, and took my breakfast sandwich out, but by that point, I had lost my appetite, and my nerves were taking over. The first presenter was wonderful, and opened my eyes to what is available to sonographers, we just need to think outside the box. After that lecture we had a technical showcase which allowed us to travel around the school and see shortened lectures and presentations on machines, contrast, and other sonography related tools.

Once the technical showcases were done I was up. Yikes! I was the first to present for the cardiac track. I began to get set up as people started to trickle into the room. 

(Yeah, that's me hiding behind the podium)

Before I knew it, Beth was introducing me and I was off. I was EXTREMELY nervous, and I know it showed. I stumbled over a few things, and got ahead of myself at a few points, but over all the presentation went well. Unfortunately, when I got to my first set of echo clips to show, they did not work as they did the day before! Beth came up to help me, but we could not get them to work as they once did. So instead, I was stuck clicking the clip to replay each time to point out different structures and defects. Oh well, it could have been worse.

Before I knew it Beth was heading up toward the front of the room. I paused to ask her how we were doing on time, and she then told me I was 10 minutes over. Oops! I had just been so into the presentation I hadn't even taken into account how long I had actually be talking for. Beth had told me before in the e-mails we exchanged that I had an hour time slot, but to plan on speaking for 45-50 minutes and leave some time for questions. Unfortunately, there was no time for that. Not to mention, I was the last presenter before lunch, so I'm sure everyone was annoyed that I kept them there late when they were probably starving!

I cleaned up my materials as the room cleared for lunch. As I was cleaning, I was introduced to one of the current Cardiac students and her clinical instructor. She was interested in a job that was posted within the medical center that I work for, so I chatted with her about the job, what the area was like, and then promised I would get her in contract with someone from the practice she was interested in. I finally made my way downstairs. I grabbed a sandwich and a bag of chip and sat down with friends to chat with them as I hadn't had much time to see them that morning. I still didn't have an appetite, and I was still trying to process everything.

At least I could finally breathe a sigh of relief. My presentation was now over and I could relax and enjoy the rest of the days lectures. I really enjoyed the rest of the lectures, and before I knew it the day was over. After the symposium, South Hills held a DMS Alumni Reunion for classmates to mingle and catch up over drinks and appetizers. It was really nice to sit back and unwind, catch up with the faculty and my friends, and I even won some South Hills swag!

After the reunion, my coworkers and I had a few drinks then headed to dinner at one of my favorite restaurants in State College, the Ale House. Well, since I had hardly eaten anything in nearly 48 hours, I went a little crazy. I ordered a Bison burger (which came with fries) AND a side of mac and cheese. It was delicious.


Sunday morning is when the entire weekend slowly started to sink in. I met up with my coworkers one more time to introduce them to all the glory that is The Original Waffle Shop. On my way to meet them I could not help but break down in (happy) tears at the thought of all I've accomplished at this point in my career. I had just given my first professional presentation, I have a great job, I own my own home, and I can afford to enjoy doing the things I love. I may not be exactly where I want to be, but I'm still truly blessed to be where I'm at. Not only that, the presentation had been such a wonderful distraction that I didn't really have time to think about my surgery. I'm now just days away from my surgery, and I can't believe how fast time flew by.

Earlier this week I had exchanged a few emails with Beth regarding a variety of things, including the symposium. She said she would get back to me with feedback from the evaluation forms. She did include in one of the emails a kind comment that another alum had made about me. They mentioned how impressed they were with my congenital and pediatric knowledge after only having been out in the field for 4 years. It was very heartwarming to hear something so kind from someone who does not know me. I really look forward to hearing what other feedback I may receive. It will only help me to improve. I have already learned so much just by doing this one presentation, things I would do differently, etc. I did tell my coworkers, if given the chance, I would definitely do it again. It was nerve-racking for sure, but the only way to grow is to step outside of your comfort zone.

QOTD: Have you ever stepped outside of your comfort zone to do something you never imagined?