Here is the second and final part of the saga of my lengthy stay in the hospital and subsequent heart surgery about six weeks ago. At this stage, I had been in the Intensive Care Unit for four days with my heart racing steadily at 170 beats per minute, and the doctors being quite confused as to why…
Trying to maintain some normalcy through the whole procedure, I decided to try and keep up with my work via the internet and my cell phone. I even participated in a Skype conference with my radio team. I also did a fair amount of personal correspondence online, and had regular phone visits with my sister, Joyce. She kept saying she wanted to come down from northwest Indiana, but I felt like they were going to let me go home any day and didn’t want her to break away from her busy schedule if there was no serious importance on my part.
Being one of those folks who likes to count things, I kept track of what was being done to me while under this hospice during my extended stay: seven shots in my stomach, four in my arms, two in my hiney; blood taken sixteen times; blood pressure taken 112 times; and five electronic wires attached to my chest non-stop for 185 hours with countless readings.
By the end of the fourth day, the doctors began to see some stabilization with the heart speed through a combination of multiple treatments. And at the end of the fifth they moved me to a regular room that had less complex monitoring equipment, but was still wired-in to the nurse’s station down the hall. However, the flutter was still a bit wobbly.
When the sixth day rolled around, they were beginning to think that surgery might be a solution. Another day of scrutinizing was ordered, resulting in me having to stay over Easter weekend. Internally, I was frustrated by this, but tried not to let on to anyone. The visits from folks continued, as did things like a pizza party while listening to a Preds’ game, and several folks bringing waaay too much candy via Easter baskets on that “Great Gettin’ Up Sunday.”
For the previous four days, I had been giving myself a sponge bath every day, and even washing my hair. It was quite the complex ordeal seeing that I had to be continuously wired-up to my heart monitor and I.V. tubes while doing this standing next to a sink. But I hated feeling so greasy, and I always was refreshed after finishing. I was hoping once I got to the regular room I could take a shower, but that was forbidden due to the non-stop monitoring, so I still had to mop up as best I could each morning before breakfast.
I figured I would be able to finally go home on the following Monday, but when the head doctor came in, she wasn’t smiling. She felt that they needed at least one more day to observe in order to make a final determination on surgery. She could see that I was visibly disappointed, and I tried to reason with her that I could maintain the same levels of moderation in my home.
She then looked at me sternly and said, “Mr. Hollingsworth…we nearly lost you five days ago. You have made a remarkable turn around, but we would feel so much better if you would allow us a bit more time to fully asses all the options, and to make sure you a clearly out of the woods.” This was the first time anyone had been that direct with me. I did not realize that I had been on death’s doorstep, as it were. I hesitantly nodded my assent, and decided to grin and bear it.
The next morning, my primary cardiologist and his assistant came in and we met for half an hour with him explaining that I would, indeed, be having transesophageal echocardiagrahy and catheter ablation for an atrial flutter. Basically that meant they would put a probe down my throat into my chest to observe sound waves of my heart, then insert several fiber optic lasers thru the major arteries of both my legs up thru my stomach and into my heart to fix the chamber valve that was off kilter.
Since I seemed in pretty stable and healthy condition, they felt I could go home for a week and return the following Wednesday for the three hour procedure, and then have one day of observation and therapy before returning home the following morning, provided everything went well. They then told me that after all the paperwork was finished, I could finally go home after eight days of being cooped up. I hadn’t even been able to open a window and experience any of the glorious spring weather that was going on all that time. To say I was giddy would’ve been an understatement. Cora came from my church to help me get home. I was dressed and everything was packed and ready when she arrived.
That initial shower in my home must’ve lasted a half hour. It reminded me of how good it felt when I finally took a hot shower after almost three weeks hiking through the bogs and north woods of Wisconsin at a stress camp before my freshman year at Wheaton. There had been moments during that survival march that I wasn’t sure I would make it, and here I was thirty-nine years later glad that I had written another intriguing chapter in my book of life.
With the cardiology staff’s permission and with plenty of medications still being taken into my body, I was encouraged to go about my life normally that next week while tracking my pulse rate regularly. So I went to Game One of the Stanley Cup first round playoff series between my beloved Predators and the hated Detroit Red Wings the next night. I yelled my head off and felt great. It was like a primal scream after being bound-up for so long. The following night I attended the Nashville premiere party of the film Blue Like Jazz. Then the following evening went to Game Two of the playoffs, then The Village Chapel that Sunday, etc. etc. I felt terrific. I figured the more I could maintain some regularity, the less I would worry about major surgery the following week.
Once again, my sister wanted to come down, but I assured her that everything was going to be fine. She remained at the ready if she was needed.
Before I knew it, the surgery day was upon me. One again, Cora taxied me to the hospital at 5:30 AM and waited patiently throughout the prep-time, surgery, and initial few hours of post-op.
Another funny thing happened as they were getting me ready: they determined my pulse was now too low for receiving anesthesia. The nurses and surgeon were concerned, wondering why it was in the 50-60 range, but this was very normal for me, and has been my entire life. It makes one frustrated that they never looked any of this up with my medical records prior to a major operation. I guess they figured that it had been so off-the-charts the previous week that it didn’t make sense that it was now “so low.” But it was my normal state.
They tried a few things to get it to increase, and I joked that I would focus on images of Elle McPherson in a swimsuit in order to get my blood pumping a bit more.
Finally they rolled me into the frigid operating room and proceeded to jab and inject me with various things that would allow me to stay awake while they put tubes down my gullet and yet have no memory of the invasive procedure that was about to occur. Indeed, I have no recollection of anything for the next several hours after that point.
I do have faint recall of chatting for a few moments with Cora and the surgical staff around 10 AM when I was back in my room recovering, but it’s pretty hazy. They informed me that they felt things had gone quite well, and that if all continued according to plan, I should be able to return home the following morning. She told me later that I was making wisecracks wondering if, while poking around inside my chest, the doctor noticed how black my heart was because of my hatred for the Red Wings. Oddly, I have no memory of this whatsoever.
Around noon I awoke again and was starving, so I ordered some lunch, and after devouring it and numerous bottles of fruit juice, I dosed off again, or at least I thought I did. Turns out that my buddy Robin called to see how I was doing, and we had a half hour conversation. The next day, I noticed on my phone that he had tried to call me, so I called him back and as we were visiting, he informed me that I had told him much of the same stuff the day before. Once again, I was oblivious to that memory. Weird stuff, that anesthesia.
After one final nap, I was fully coherent by late afternoon. I decided to take some walks up and down the hallways, and communicate with friends and family. There were more visitors and an overwhelming amount of positive feedback online and via phone calls.
Restful sleep filled most of my final night in the hospital, and I met with my surgeon, his assistant, and the head nurse the following morning. They were very pleased with all my monitoring and energy level, and felt I could head on home. My longtime friend Carmen sat in on that meeting with me, taking notes in case I didn’t keep up with all they were recommending in my home recovery. She then helped me get loaded-up in her convertible and I was resting in my house by noon.
The Village Chapel meals ministry team began doing their good work right away with terrific dinners being delivered to my front door for the next several weeks. I jumped right in to my normal routine as quickly as possible, realizing that the four post-op medications I was on would continue to make me feel a bit woozy at times. An afternoon siesta seemed to help a lot each day.
The very next night, I was thrilled to be able to attend the Preds’ Game Five victory over Detroit, thus eliminating the Red Wings and advancing to the next round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It was hard to “pace myself” as I bellowed with abondanza. Thirteen years of pent-up emotion came out as our boys were finally able to best the Wings and send them back to Michigan for early rounds of golf in April. People were amazed that I was in such kinetic spirits, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Just five days later I flew to Grand Rapids for a Compassion Radio Marathon with our good friends at WCSG. The week after that I was off to Colorado Springs for some marketing meetings at Compassion, then a few more playoff hockey games right after that. Even got some workouts at the YMCA in under my belt, as well as cutting my lawn several times. A few weeks ago marked the one month mark since the surgery, and I met with my surgeon to go over my progress. He was pleased and is starting to wean me off the various meds. We’ll meet again in a few months to see if I’m completely back to normal.
All in all, it’s been quite the experience. I have to admit that when I “get my sweat on” during one of my workouts or while pushing the lawnmower in Nashville heat, that I worry a bit about getting the ol’ ticker pumping too fast, so I am closely monitoring myself. But there have been no repercussions during those moments, nor any side effects afterwards. I figure I might as well enjoy every minute that is given to me while I’m roaming this earth. As Mr. Lewis once sang, “the heart of rock ’n’ roll is still beatin’.”