I am paying my Tuesday's Tribute to Chilly. Today we celebrate our first Heartaversary. What is a Heartaversary, you ask? Well, settle in with a cuppa and let me weave a tale of wonder...
One year ago today I was pacing the waiting room floor of University Medical Center in Tucson waiting for my husband’s surgeon to inform me if Chilly had survived his triple bypass. I’ll spare you the sordid details of how all this came about. I’ll just say that it was very fast and unexpected.
The prospect of losing my spouse in my early 40’s wasn’t in my plan obviously. My plan was more of a “hanging with the kiddos, going to the Renaissance Faire, beating my son at Guitar Hero, driving my husband crazy for decades” kind of plan. But God always has a bigger plan for us. In this case, he was trying to keep Chilly on the planet for a while longer.
As I have written before, Chilly has had two very challenging years. He has been a diabetic for a couple of decades (and not a very compliant one, I might add..tsk, tsk..He’s better now! A triple bypass will smack you into reality fast!) In the span of two years, Chilly has endured a near fatal ruptured appendix, multiple (as in double digits) laser eye surgeries, a few vitrectomies (where they actually cut into the eyeball…yeah, those were some good times…), multiple staph infections, liver and kidney damage, 3 massive coronaries (that he did not feel due to his extensive nerve damage) and the grand finale…the triple heart bypass for his 90% plus blocked arteries. (Does anyone know if he’s returnable? I think I got a defective product here!)
We began our day at 3:00 am with the antibiotic washdown. Then it was off to the hospital. First stop, pre-op for the margarita on steroids drug cocktail to knock him out. Next stop, the shave down. Oh yeah, they shave off all of your body hair for this bad boy operation. ALL of it. EVERYWHERE. Chilly was doped up pretty good before the Nursey Twins came in to do the shaving. My husband started giggling REALLY LOUD the minute the first razor hit his leg. (They shave the legs because they take a vein from the leg to do the bypass…lovely, isn’t it?) The giggling spread like wild fire through the pre-op area. Nurses, patients, techs, everyone was infected. Apparently, he kept telling the techs he was the giggle monster. Doped up NERDANDERTHAL!
He decided to impress the nurses with his comedy skills. “I can’t believe my wife is letting two hot women shave me especially down there while she’s sitting in the room.” (The two hotties are about 89 years old...no offense to old hotties…Chilly doesn’t remember them this way at all…lol!) I give my best eye roll and heavy sigh. They nod in understanding. These gals have seen it all…literally.
Next, Chilly grabs my hand and weeps, “Please don’t get remarried if I die.” Clearly, I had let my defenses down and he could see that I was calculating my odds with Liam Neeson before he’s even in the surgery. I just give him a big hug and
We waited for hours in the special waiting area. There was a very kind gentleman waiting for his heart transplant check-up. He assured me Chilly would be fine and kept my spirits up with his cheerful conversation. My mother and I were both trying to hold back tears because this man was the spitting image of my Grandpa Dave right down to his feedstore cap! And he was a truck driver like Grandpa. My grandpa died from a heart attack when I was a toddler. I have no doubt that Grandpa Dave used this man to deliver his reassurances from Heaven to me! Goosebumps all around!
Finally, we received the good news that Chilly was alive and headed for ICU. When Grandpa Bill (Chilly’s dad) and I arrived, Chilly was making bizarre hand throwing gestures and doing the Fonzie thumbs up sign. His eyes were jet black and wild! He looked completely insane with the breathing tube shoved down his throat. Great…now I have a bypass recovering nutjob to take care of…that’s just fabulous…A game of patient charades ensued…”You want to get up?” “Thumbs Up? Surgery was good?” “Get the hell out of here…I want to go to Heaven?” He was shaking his head no violently. His blood pressure was heading straight up. Grandpa Bill and I suck at charades. Finally, it dawned on me. “THROW UP!” I yelled. He shook his head up and down quickly. The nurse in a very nonchalant tone, while looking at her chart said, “Can’t do that, hon…You’ve got a tube down your throat.” SERIOUSLY, NURSE RATCHED? Then she told him to puke in the tube if he really must do it! NASTY! Poor Chilly. Oh, I forgot to mention that his arms and legs are strapped to the bed. That’s right, people. They strap you down so you don’t wake up and yank the breathing tube up through your throat and rip out your lungs, etc. (That alone made me decide that I never wanted to eat cholesterol laden food again! Ain’t no way I’m being strapped to any bed with a tube down my throat!) He also started to die at this point, but no one realized he was allergic to morphine yet so there was a lot of hysteria while they tried to sort it out. Those were some good times too.
A bit later, his mom ventured in and tripped over the blood washing machine that was hooked up to the drainage tubes coming out of his stomach. Drainage tubes are another reason I will never eat another quarter pounder with cheese…ever. (This is for you, Chilly….DRRAAIINNNAGE!) If she had succeeded in pulling the tube from the machine, it would have looked like Carrie on prom night in there! That was close! The nurse walked in and yanked the tape off of Chilly’s face that was holding the breathing tube in place. OUCH! She then yanked out all of the tubing that went way down inside him to parts unknown. More OUCH and that was disgusting! Chilly still has a scar where scary nurse from hell yanked the tape off. Next we are shown the ginormous scar and staples on his chest. Holy cow! It looked like a Frankenzipper. I didn’t have the heart (no pun intended) to tell him that it was slashed sideways across his chest and not straight down the middle. Looked like doc might’ve had a little tippy tippy from his flask before surgery. Time for our day to end. We shuffled family out the door and I took my place in the recliner. Off to sleep.
Day two started with the nurses trying to get Chilly up and walking. He wasn’t amused. I headed down to the cafeteria for some breakfast. I busted Chilly’s doctors (all 3 of them) eating a hearty breakfast of greasy bacon, huge breakfast burritos and sausage patties. HYPOCRITES! They nodded at me and turned away in shame when they saw my look of disapproval. (Actually, they were probably taking bets on how long Chilly would last…they were a shifty group…) I grabbed a bagel, banana and coffee. I hiked the 28 miles back to the cardio unit to learn through the desk nurse that my husband’s sister and brother had arrived for a visit. WHAT??? Chilly is an only child. This is disturbing! I tell this to the nurse who immediately alerts security. Now, let me explain why this is alarming to me…my husband is a skip tracer. He finds people who are delinquent on their loans for banks, credit unions, etc. He is very, very good at his job. (And there are also lots of people who don’t like to be found…you can see why this might frighten me.) I arrived in his room to find two bank clients chattin’ him up like they were at a tea party. Poor little Chilly was sitting there all doped up and incoherent in his hospital gown with his tushy hanging out. I breezed in and told those idiots to get the hell out, that they were compromising his health by being there. (Only family members were allowed and you had to scrub down before entering.) Clearly these two numbskulls had not done that. They had no idea I had security out there waiting to give them a friendly escort. After they left, I launched my mission to keep his identity a secret. (He was actually receiving tons of phone calls in ICU inquiring how long he would be off the job! These dumb clients only cared about how fast he would get back to their accounts! UGH!) The staff quickly agreed that this was not a good situation for Chilly. We did the paperwork and within 30 minutes, Chilly had a new name. His name was Tony Donanounce. (Don’t Announce…get it?) Hospitals have lots of these lovely monikers for people who need extra privacy.
By day’s end, Chilly was perking up and ready to watch American Idol. (I’ve told you before this man is nuts when it comes to this show.) While we were watching AI, I noticed a huge blood stain on his hospital gown on his right side. It was spreading rapidly. I ran for the nurse. He was losing lots of blood from the drainage tube site. A wonderful intern stood with his fingers on the wound for over 20 minutes to stop the bleeding. Thank you, Dr. H! They also forgot to feed him on 3 separate occasions. He would have starved if I hadn’t been there to get the nurses moving! There were more fun and games that night with a really crappy nurse who made me leave but I’ll save that for another day.
I arrived on Wednesday morning, March 5 at 6:00 am. It was Chilly’s 40th birthday. What a fantastic way to celebrate the big 4-0! Woo hoo…heart bypass…the gift that keeps on giving! Chilly was up pushing his wheelchair up and down the hallway. He had to walk many times that day. He hated that. He grew increasingly irritable as the day went on. At 4:30 pm, he asked me and his father to go home. He wanted to sleep and felt I should spend the night with our kids to make them feel more secure. I had a very strong tugging to stay put, but Chilly was insistent. We drove the 40 minutes back to our home. I had about 10 minutes to hug and kiss the kids before I was called back to the hospital. There had been an incident. No one would tell me what was going on. I raced back to the hospital to find the paddles hanging down from the crash cart and about 30 doctors (no kidding) and several nurses standing around as well as a chaplain. Yes, I said chaplain. My heart stopped. (thank God I was in a hospital!) I took a deep breath waltzed into the room. I saw that Chilly was sitting up with his eyes open. Whew! “What kind of trouble are you into now, Chilly?” I asked laughing nervously. He tried to talk to me but his voice was still very raspy from the breathing tube rip out. The doctors were all looking at him very intently. I knew something horrible had happened. No one would tell me anything. I even asked point blank, “Did he code?’ and got nothing. After about an hour of constant nagging, a young resident pulled me into the hallway and told me that 5 minutes after I left, Chilly coded. He was dead for a full five minutes. Right before they were going to “call” his time of death, he started to come out of it. Most people are brain damaged when this occurs. They were preparing to run all sorts of tests on him for the next few hours, he said. I was floored. I couldn’t believe it. I felt numb as I went back into his room. There were tears in Chilly’s eyes. He wanted to talk to me but not with all the people hanging around in his room. Once everyone cleared out, Chilly shared with me what happened while he was on the other side. I will keep that private for now, but I will tell you that Chilly is no longer afraid to die. It was a profound and moving experience for him.
Fast forward to home…We had many fun things to look forward to now. Staple removal was by far the best! They use giant pliers to pull those puppies out one at a time. (Yet another reason, I want the healthiest damn heart around!) Yowza! Chilly took it like a big boy, but I probably would have left them in and turned them into some kind of permanent fashion accessory. He also passes out at night if he’s up to potty, get some water, etc. Sometimes there are seizures involved. Cat actually walked in one night when I was trying to rouse him back to the living. That wasn’t fun. I told her Daddy fell asleep on the floor. She knew better because she started calling him “Pass Out Boy” shortly after!
Chilly hasn’t done as well as the doctors had hoped. They are watching his pancreas now hoping it doesn’t rear it’s ugly head. His sternum never fully fused properly so he’s just held together with steel wires. It’s sad for him because he will never be able to pick up the kids and swing them around again. I wake up every morning and cup my hand over his mouth and nose to check for breathing. So far so good!
It’s been a long road of recovery for our family. We are a family who loves the funny and try to use humor to deal with our emotions. We were told with the degree of damage from the diabetes, Chilly’s heart would probably hold out for 10 years. He will most likely be blind at that point. We understand that time may be short. (especially if we can’t keep that dumb pancreas behaving like a good little organ.) Another reason I need a fabulous camera…life goes by in a blur…I just don’t want to photograph it that way!
So, Happy Heartaversary, Chilly! Woo hoo! We made it through a year!
We love you!