The phone rings. After eight
months of waiting it is Angela from the Monash Medical Centre
asking if I can come in for my Coronary By-pass operation the
following Tuesday. "Ring the 'Bed Bureau' at eleven and
come in between two and three." I can't believe it's really
happening. She apologises for ringing from home on a public holiday
but says it's because the time was so short. I went to Dandenong
this morning and borrowed a caravan from Scenic for the weekend
so she was lucky to catch us at home.
(It was a lovely weekend and everyone at the Division 1 Rally
of the RACV Caravan Club wished me well for the op. with their
leader, Bob Frankish, showing me his by-pass scar and assuring
me I wouldn't regret joining the 'Zipper Club'.)
TUESDAY, 31st January, 1995
I get back from last minute
shopping after making sure there are enough supplies to keep
my wife Vi and Mum going for the next week when they will be
busy travelling to and fro from Mornington to Clayton every day
to visit me in hospital. Remembering I have to ring the hospital
at eleven I get home at ten-thirty to find Vi shaking her head
and saying they had already rung and an emergency had taken my
place. Bitter disappointment coupled with relief that I am not
the emergency case. This will be one of the longest weeks ever.
TUESDAY, 7th February. 1995
Shopping again and home by
ten-thirty. "Have they rung yet?" "No." Oh
boy this is going to be a long half-hour. At twenty minutes to
eleven the phone rings - Vi takes a look at me and answers it.
It is just a friend calling. Vi realises I'm not quite as composed
and brave as I make out. Another ring at ten to eleven but it's
still not them.
I steel myself to wait until after eleven to ring. At three minutes
past I dial the number and hold my breath. "Yes - we have
a bed for you. Come in between one and one-thirty." They
have changed the time from last week but who cares - I'm off
at last. Daughter Jackie picks the three of us up, Vi, Mum and
me, and we head for Clayton. We are on time, I fill out a few
forms and we sit and wait. And wait and wait. Eventually a little
Asian lady comes to guide us to the ward where they had been
waiting for a bed to become vacant.
I'm in a four-bed ward next to the shower. Karl in the next bed
introduces himself and tells us about his crook leg. He keeps
insisting that Jackie take his overbed table and sit on it but
she says she is fine standing.
Nothing happens for ages and the family leave after a talk with
the nursing staff about what will happen next day and when a
menu comes for dinner I decide to go for the lot as I'm to fast
from midnight and can't imagine wanting to eat for days after
A succession of people come to see me. An anaesthetist; another
anaesthetist; Dr Bernadette Wise, the surgeon who will be assisting
Mr Shardy (my heart surgeon); another surgeon - a pleasant and
handsome Indian doctor with the hard to remember name of Shabir
Akbarally who will be working on my leg to obtain a vein while
the others open my chest - and Craig, a physiotherapist, who
explains at great length what will happen after the operation
to get me back into shape again.
Questions, examinations, more questions and information followed
by a long walk to get my chest x-rayed.
A nurse tries to hook me up to an ECG machine but it keeps telling
her my right arm connection is faulty. I explain that I have
a bad effect on things electronic (Murphy!) and she calls for
help from another nurse who is successful first time.
Sometime during the busy evening I'm introduced to Mr Brenner
from Frankston who is number two for a by-pass next day after
me. He and I are both taken to watch a video presentation that
tells all the things we have already been told and the video
production is shocking with so much background noise you can't
hear the dialogue. My 'Electronic Effect' makes the VCR play
up as well. (Murphy again!) A group of nurses enters the room
and are surprised to find us there. The video ends and we are
left and seemingly forgotten. We talk for a while and eventually
wander out to remind someone of our existence.
Next a visit to the Intensive Care Unit where we see where we
will end up straight after the op. Everything is electronic and
I try to forget my effect (and Murphy's!) on such devices.
Back to the ward for a shave. The other three men in the ward
have settled for the night and their lights are out. The cordless
clipper is very noisy and I retreat to the shower to try to get
all the hair off my body. I'm warned that a cardiac surgeon who
is sent a patient for surgery with body hair still attached is
not a pretty sight. I scrape diligently and by peering through
my bifocals believe I've removed it all. Next a shower and shampoo
with some special stuff in a little bottle. There is nowhere
handy for the bottle and it drops off the chair without breaking
or spilling too much liquid. The shaving has made my skin very
tender but at last it's done and I get into bed to wait for 'hair
inspection' by the nurse. I pass muster and settle down.
They are waking me just after five to give me pre-med and to
have another shower so I need a good night's rest.(Murphy had
other thoughts about this!)
It's after midnight now and my mind is full of doubts. Should
I be going through with this op? Has anyone ever pulled out at
this late stage?
All operations have an element of risk and this is a major one.
Over the months they have tried to reassure with statistics -
"This is now a very successful and common operation with
a better that 95% success rate."Don't they mean, "Unfortunately
5% of people don't make it through this op?î
I know that many of the 5% have other health problems and I am
in great shape apart from my arteries, but I've written a list
of things that should be done if I don't make it home and put
it among my library books where it will eventually be found if
the worst happens. Vi and I talked about the risk element but
I didn't want to give her unnecessary worry.
I doze and suddenly all hell breaks loose. Karl in the next bed
who is hooked up to all manner of tubes and life-saving devices
is out of bed and raving. The nurses come to get him back but
he shouts at them in a guttural German accent, "DON'T TOUCH
ME!"and "KEEP AWAY.î
Security is sent for but before anyone arrives Karl quietens
down after a nurse gives him something and rings his wife to
let him talk to her. The morphine he had received for his pain
had sent him on a bad trip and eventually everything is quiet
again with him gently talking to his wife for ages.
I go into a restless sleep.
WEDNESDAY, 8th February,
The glaring lights come on
and I struggle to open my leaden eyes. "Here you are - swallow
these little pills and get your shower. You can have a little
doze then before we give you your injection and they take you
to the theatre."I shower and climb back into bed.
This really is it - no more doubts, it's going to be OK.
I sleep and then I'm in a very light room. My chest hurts so
the operation must have been done! I've never been so thirsty
in my life. I try to ask for a drink but can't talk because there
is a tube down my throat. A voice from somewhere asks if I would
like to be 'sucked out'. I try to nod and then I feel a strange
sensation as a suction pipe clears gunk from around the insides
of my mouth.
Ah - nectar - a blessed, cool, wet feeling as a moist something
is gently squeezed around my mouth. This happens again a few
times and then a voice tells me I am to go to the ward today
and can have some breakfast. "What time is it?"I ask.
"Eight o'clock."I try to work out why I would be getting
breakfast at eight o'clock at night and then it dawns that it's
morning. Which morning? Nothing adds up. Suddenly it hits me
- I had actually asked out loud what time it was so that horrible
tube has gone. I am dry - maybe I can have a drink.
THURSDAY, 9th February, 1995
The early hours of this day
are merged with yesterday but I'm now in a ward hooked up to
what seems like dozens of pipes and wires. Drains from my inside
gurgle through what sounds like a fish-tank. An ECG constantly
monitors my heart rhythm, a catheter keeps my bladder drained,
there are drains in my neck, pacemaker wires from my heart are
bundled under a dressing on my stomach and an IV drip is ready
to infuse anything needed into my veins. I'm on oxygen and a
fairly musical sound is heard that means I'm not breathing enough
for myself and the oxygen level in my blood is low. I'm told
to breathe more every time I hear that sound. I get to hate it
as it hurts to breath deeply.
They give me something for the pain and also something for nausea.
Various things are injected from time to time - I don't know
what they are but the nurses seem extra gentle, caring and professional.
I drink my apple juice and pick at my breakfast. They have tied
a strong rope to the bottom of the bed to pull on to sit up but
boy - it still hurts like blazes. It's lovely to drink when you
want as my throat is so dry.
The family - Vi and Mum and daughters Jackie and Sue arrive.
It's great to see them and they are let in to the bedside two
at a time. Sue squeezes my hand and Jackie hugs my shoulders.
I can feel the love and concern flowing between us and wonder
what I've done to deserve such wonderful children as these. Vi
and Mum come in and I get the same warm feeling. Life IS great
and I've been given a chance to live fully again once I get out
Lunch arrives and I pick at a piece of fish. I'm not interested
in food. In fact I'm interested in very little today - maybe
a good night's sleep will make things better tomorrow. Craig,
the physio, comes and makes me turn on my side, breathe and cough.
Go away Craig - that hurts. He does go eventually after another
try at the coughing business.
The rest of the day passes - I must have dozed I suppose but
the fish never slept. It repeats over and over and I ask for
a Zantac, "You can't have it as it wasn't ordered!""I
have two a day at home!""Sorry - not ordered.""They
said it would be OK as everyone is put on them here.""Sorry.""Please
ask the doctor,"I plead as the fish starts another lap of
my stomach. They must have found a doctor because here is the
Zantac and I can put that darn fish to rest.
My bum hurts. More than the wounds and everything else, my right
buttock is driving me mad. I can't get off it or turn and the
pain is constant. I don't know if it's the hard bed or the position
I must have been in on the operating table.
A visit from Mr Shardy the surgeon who did the job. Shabir is
with him and they make remarks about typical, bronchial lungs
and swollen ankles, hands, etc. - oedema I think is what they
call it - and then they ask how much I'm drinking.
That does it. I should have only been given a half-jug of water
and not a full one. I've hogged most of the jug and it is taken
away without even a swallow left for the night. I tell Mr Shardy
his beds are hard and hurt my bum but he only laughs and points
out I have plenty of flesh there. Despite his unconcern about
my behind, I thank him sincerely for the job he has done on me
- I really am thankful to the whole team involved although he
is obviously the most important member.
The rest of the day passes and it's time to sleep. I have painkillers
and a sleeping pill but I see the night sister with her torch
every time she creeps in to check my dripping and draining. A
lady is having breathing problems and is crying out. Someone
has interfered with the clock and the hands only crawl. I ask
for another pain shot. It's my bum that is so sore. I find I
can ball my fist and push it under my behind to relieve the pressure
on the sore spot. This is fine for a bit but my efforts dislodge
the IV drip.
"Do you have good veins?"the sister asks and when I
say they are always lousy and more so because of the oedema,
she is relieved that a doctor is visiting the ward on other business.
He takes a look and asks for the red strap. There are plenty
of other coloured straps there but they find him the red one
and he puts the drip into the bend of my elbow with no trouble.
It is not a good spot as I can't relieve my aching rump any more
but eventually I doze until the checks before staff changeover
which must have been around six am.
FRIDAY, 10th February, 1995
"You can get out of bed and eat breakfast!"says
the nurse as she gives me a blanket bath. Out of bed already
- that's good. Getting out is another things but I make it and
enjoy the food a bit better sitting in a chair.
Another physio sees me - has me walking on the spot and then
asks for the dreaded cough. I try. And try again. "That's
just clearing your throat,"she says in a derogatory tone.
If you knew the pain lady, you would be more sympathetic. I'm
not feeling fit enough to tell her what I think of her attitude
which is just as well as I know she is only trying to help in
I'm still out of bed when the family arrives and again it's great
to see them. I'm still not very interested in life outside the
hospital walls - don't want TV or papers and don't even bother
with music on the handpiece at the bedside.
Later they come to take the tubes out. These are the drains into
your insides and nothing has prepared you for this ghastly sensation.
"Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in and hold it.""One,
two, three,"say the nurses and smoothly withdraw what appear
to be un-ending tubes that must somehow have become attached
to your intestines. "Breathe away - they are out.î
I have to get my chest x-rayed again to see that no air got in
as the tubes came out but this time I do the trip in a wheel-chair.
Mr Brenner joined us in the ward today. They couldn't do him
after me on Wednesday and so he is a day behind. He looks like
I felt yesterday.
Once the tubes are out it's all headway and I feel better as
the day passes. I even get to walk to the bathroom where I shower
sitting in a chair. Night again and once again it's broken and
fitful with someone in the room in trouble during the night -
I think it's Ruth as she has been a smoker for more than fifty
years and now has breathing problems after her by-pass.
SATURDAY. 11th February,
I feel heaps better today
and am pleased to get up for breakfast. I don't seem to have
as many connections as before and in a while they come in and
say I can take out the rotten oxygen gadget that has been hurting
my nose for days.
A nurse tells me I can go for a shower and I find I can stand
up for it today. This is real progress and I feel great after
"Come on - you are moving,"says a nurse and I walk
to another ward with three men in it. My bed and locker follow
and I meet my fellow room-mates - Ron next to me has had a blocked
artery in his leg replaced and is on the mend while Chas diagonally
opposite has numerous problems including the after-effects of
a mild stroke. The man opposite is not awake and was to remain
that way for most of my stay.
No more wires or tubes inside my body and I'm free to move around.
They are keeping a wary eye on my drinking and measuring all
fluids in and out. I'm surprised to find jelly is counted as
a fluid as is the soup. They measure the contents of my 'bottle'
and I must use it even though I can now walk to the toilet.
I walk to the end of the corridor with the family as they leave
and count this a milestone. I'm still not interested in reading
or the telly but do a few crosswords Vi has thoughtfully provided.
I find Ron and Chas are both 'poms' like me and we find a lot
to chat about. Ron is running a book and giving odds on who will
go home first and has me the favourite with Chas tied with Ron
for second place.
Dr Wise this morning said a physio would take me for a walk right
around the ward passages today but as no-one comes, I do a lap
Bedtime - my Zantac arrives without any problem although today
I've enjoyed my food with no indigestion or heartburn. It's another
long night. With wires keeping my chest together it doesn't take
much movement in bed to start things aching again despite the
painkillers and sleeping pills.
Every time I awake I can hear distant music - not clearly enough
to recognise tunes but there somewhere. Is it in my head? I try
over and over to think who the singer was who sang with The Seekers
after Judith Durham. Not Louise Wisserling - the other one. The
one who had show biz parents. Can't think of their names but
they both had TV shows. If only I could think of her name. The
question goes around and around in my brain - if only I could
think of the name I could break this merry-go-round my mind has
got itself into. I doze at last with the question unresolved.
SUNDAY, 12th February 1995.
Feeling better still this
morning. The music came from the handset of the bed opposite
- he hadn't turned it off properly and the elusive Seekers member
was just a figment of my drugged imagination as the only answer
would have been Karen Knowles who has no show-business parents
as far as I know.
When the family arrive I'm out of bed and giving cheek. Vi and
Mum are with Sue today as Jackie is tired after the solid taxying
job she has done in the heat all week. I tell Vi that people
can ring if they like as I'm well enough to answer the phone.
Son Chris in Adelaide has been very anxious and has been in touch
with Vi throughout. He is coming over for a couple of weeks when
I get home to act as chauffeur while I still have my wings clipped
and am not allowed to drive. Lots of people have rung Vi and
wished me well and it's lovely to know you have so many people
who care about you.
Chris rings just before dinner and I tire myself a bit having
a nice long talk with him. I didn't have any pain-killers during
the day and after the phone call my blood oxygen saturation was
low due to shallow breathing as it hurt to breathe deeply. "You
will have to go back on oxygen after tea,"says the nurse.
Not if I can help it. I concentrate on breathing properly after
tea and the next reading was fine.
Another long night. I get up at four am and paddle along to the
nurse's station to get some pain-killers. They have their backs
to me and I start talking before I reach the girls on duty as
I don't want to frighten them. Back to bed and pleased when activity
MONDAY, 13th February, 1995.
Drs Wise and Shabir come in
with a heart surgeon from Brisbane who is coming to work at Monash
Medical Centre. Dr Wise has been in most mornings and nights
and today she has great news. "You are doing very well and
we will probably let you go home tomorrow morning."I'm thrilled
to have made such progress and tell everyone I see. She said
she would confirm it tonight.
This is the day my stockings to prevent thrombosis arrive and
what awkward things they are to put on. The nurse helps me with
them and asks if I want to go down to the cafeteria with the
family who have just arrived. Dr Wise said to walk as much as
possible so off I go. It's the furthest yet but great to be mobile.
In the lift an orderly gets in and cheerfully says, "Good
morning ladies.""Don't include me just because I'm
wearing stockings," I joke. He tells me not to let my pals
see me wearing them.
Today I'm pleased to borrow Ron's paper and watch a movie on
his TV. It hurts my neck to look at his screen but I see enough
to keep my interest.
Where is Dr Wise tonight? I ask a nurse to see if the doctor
is still on the ward as I had spotted her earlier. She comes
back to say Dr Wise has just left for the night. "Oh dear
- she was going to confirm that I can go home in the morning."
A little later a nurse comes back with a sheet of paper and says
there's some query and I won't go till the following day. I worry
about what this could be and again have a fitful night.
TUESDAY, 14th February, 1995.
Drs Wise and Shabir arrive
early and she apologises for not getting back to me. I tell her
I had been disappointed and she explains that an urgent case
in ICU had needed her presence. "Will you let me off if
I tell you you can go home this morning?" she asks. Of course
I will - but I mention the query of the night before. She says
there was no query, Mr Shardy had reviewed my case and was very
pleased and everything was fine. She also told me not to hesitate
and to ring her from home if I have any questions or problems
and I wonder how these doctors can be so busy and yet find time
to be so caring.
I start packing a few things and Brenden, a new physio, arrives.
He asks if I want to do a Cardiac Rehabilitation Course at Frankston
and then charges off with me in pursuit to see if I can climb
stairs. I satisfy him and get back to the ward wanting to get
showered before the family arrive. Jackie has an infected throat
so Sue is taking time off work to take me home.
I get showered and packed, go and say goodbye to Mr Brenner and
Ruth who are still in the high dependency ward and then we are
told my bed is needed urgently so would we mind waiting in the
Transit Lounge for my supply of medications before discharge.
'Transit Lounge'? Sounds more like an airport to me.
Goodbye to Ron and Chas. Chas has had bad news - he's not going
home but to the Kingston Centre for three weeks. I'm certainly
the lucky one.
Although I walked there yesterday, today I'm wheeled in a wheel-chair
down to the Transit Lounge where we wait a while for my pills
Out into the sunshine at last and into the car. Is it really
happening? Is it all behind me now? Boy it's great to be 'on
the outside'! The medical and nursing staff could not have been
more professional and caring but it's good to be with your own
folks heading for your own home.
It's funny - everything looks the same as before when we arrive
home. Did I really expect things to look different after what
I've been through?
I'll stop this diary today as from now on it will be a slow and
steady progress but already I know I'm going to feel better than
I have for years.
It all started a long time ago with a gradual deterioration in
health and drive followed by pains in the shoulder-blades whenever
I walked fast. I play in a brass band and nearly collapsed twice
while marching with them.
Our local doctor, Dr Nicola Martin, first suspected Angina more
than eighteen months ago and tests proved her diagnosis right.
After referral to Cardiologist, Dr Roger Redston, a stress test
and later angiogram showed up three significantly blocked coronary
arteries and when they operated last week they found there were
actually four that needed replacing.
I'll see Dr Nicky on Thursday and tell her that her good work,
followed by that of so many other dedicated health professionals,
has given me the chance to live a longer and much richer life.
I'm grateful to everyone who was involved on the health side
and especially to my family for their love and support throughout.î