Caravanning and RVing in Australia


DIARY OF A BY-PASS

THURSDAY, 26th January, 1995 - Australia Day.

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 the op.
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, 1995.

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 of here.
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 her way.
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, 1995

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 the shower.
"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 myself.
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 starts again.

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 and potions.
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

 

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