It's been 3 weeks since Don came home from the hospital. And today is Halloween. I like celebrations, so I was determined to enjoy both. At least, in a tiny way.
We actually had perfect Halloween weather today. It was chilly enough for a fire in the early morning. And our mid morning walk was lovely.
Late morning, Don and I ended up on a Zoom call. This is the first time we've Zoomed since we Zoomed with kids, 2 days before surgery.
Not sure why I was inclined to snap a photo during Zoom. But this image says a lot. Don and I look pretty relaxed here! Exactly 4 weeks ago, Don was in decent spirits when we Zoomed with kids. But on that day, his surgery was lurking and we both felt anxious. This silly sneak photo today, looks like the old us.
Looking Back to 2016 & 2020
I know it's healthier to look forward, when you're dealing with recovery of any kind. But I can't help myself. I like to look back and compare. I remember this day in 2016. Halloween was a little treat, in my sluggish days following my last chemo.
Looking back just one year, I'm reminded that I swapped out a head scarf for a face mask, when answering the door. Both Halloweens, were altered by cancer and covid. This year, I was happy again for a nice distraction.
Looking Back Further
I can never resist thinking back to when the kids were super small. Halloween was so simple and fun.
Especially before the kids had demands about what costumes they wanted to wear and how much candy they wanted to eat!
In the Present, Near and Far
The best part of today, came in the early evening, after we returned from our second walk. I lit our jack-o-lantern before it got dark and Don and I settled down with popcorn and 2 small glasses of wine.
Suddenly my siblings started texting from Oregon, Louisiana and Idaho. Then my sister in law in NY and her son's fam in CA, started texting. And there we sat in our TX home, feeling connected with far away family, sharing photos and tidbits of news, about our little Halloween celebrations.
Our Kids, in the Present
But the very best "in the moment time" came when our kids in CA and OR, began texting photos and updates about the happenings in their neighborhoods. I'm so glad they both moved into good neighborhoods during the 2020 pandemic. It was fun peeking into their worlds.
Our kids are grown and married, but today we shared a little Halloween time, in real time!
Trick or Treaters & Chili
Don and I settled into the evening. I answered the door only 3 times, but I loved visiting with those kiddos. I've always loved door duty. I wish we'd had more.
Then we ate the chili, that I made yesterday. (Not as good as Don's) And we even watched Hitchcock's Psycho. Today, our 42rd Halloween together, was so much more fun than our 42nd anniversary, 2 weeks after surgery.
We chuckled through a lot of Psycho and I let my cell phone happily break in during the thriller. We fit in a quick FaceTime with this little Halloween Girl. It's so hard being thousands of miles away, but I'm eager about the future... as in Christmas! Charlie will be 10 months old when we see her!
I'm also eager about the far off future! Will this little girl be an astronaut someday? Who knows? But at least, Don and I have done everything possible from surgeries to vaccines, to make sure we're around a long time, to see our grandkids grow up!
This time last year, I didn't think we'd still be wearing masks to go grocery shopping.
Glad I didn't get rid of any masks after I was vaccinated. I'm still wearing them when I grocery shop.
Luckily wearing disposable gloves to the store, was only done for a short period of time.
I don't wear disposable gloves out in the world anymore, but I wore some, 3 times today, at home! So nice to have boxes of these hanging around. My annual silver polishing chore, was much easier today!
So was my annual Halloween chili making! No stinky fingers!
Actually, Don is the one who usually makes the chili. He could probably have helped today, if we hadn't gone on a 40 minute walk this morning. Our walks have been so nice, with cooler weather. But they do wear him out.
Annual Pumpkin Carving
It was a real treat carving with gloves this year.
Actually the gloves didn't help too much with the carving. But the plastic gloves really helped when it came to scooping up the seeds and goo!
I love these annual chores. I remember doing these 3 things after I'd had my last chemo, 5 years ago. I remember doing these 3 things last year, when the world seemed odd and distorted, with pandemic challenges. Today I love knowing October is almost over and we are about halfway through Don's recovery period!
Coming Home From Hospitals
I've compared the stresses of these recent weeks, to the uneasy times early in the pandemic, or the time when I dealt with cancer. But I also remember some of those feelings, after bringing Heidi and Scott home from the hospital.
Leaving the hospital with a new baby, is a lot easier (and happier) than leaving the hospital with the scars and uncertainties of open heart surgery. But there are a lot of similarities.
I remember feeling uneasy when we arrived home with our first baby. With Heidi, there was so much joy, but so many unknowns. Back then, Don and I felt like we were a pretty flexible team, but we were both used to schedules and suddenly there wasn't one.
I remember worrying the first time I put Heidi down for bed. The night ahead seemed like a huge unknown. I have absolutely no control over her schedule right now. If only I knew what to expect. If there was some predictability, I would feel more at ease.
That's kind of how I felt when Don came home 3.5 weeks ago. I'm sure he felt the same.
I wasn't used to feeling exhausted 35 years ago and neither was Don. We hung out on the couch a little more back then, just like we do now.
After 24 hours at home, Don began to have some kind of schedule. That helped. I wasn't the one hurting and recovering, but my routines had also been turned upside down. When do I shower or run? When can I dash to the store? I did what I always do, when I need a little control. I made lists. I noticed that Don was making lists too. He made some on his phone. First time milestones like, Climbing the Stairs or Walking Outside, that he could check off.
This list of WALKING songs was the first list he made, on a piece of scratch paper. Our son Scott was visiting then and he played DJ, with Alexa. Those silly upbeat walking songs were a huge help, with those 5 minute house walks, 4 times a day!
Goals for the Day
In the hospital, the nurses would often ask Don what his goal was for the day. Then they'd write his answer on the dry erase board. Just like school.
Not even sure why I took a photo of this, when I first arrived in ICU after surgery. Don wasn't asked about his goals, that day. (Did Nurse Nelson write 77kg, 185 cm...?) But in following days they asked him. It's a good way for a patient to feel like he has control. And Don continued at home for a while, with daily goals about doing breathing exercises or getting his shirt on himself.
Toasts to Accomplishments
We've tried to be positive and spotlight an accomplishment or two, each day. Some days it's easy, with an obvious task completed. But on some days, it's easier to NOT focus on progress at all. Talking about Don's health is not always fun for Don.
This evening, we hit less healthy milestone. First martinis! They were tiny martinis, but they were festive and tasty. We've toasted with juice & sparkling water concoctions, for a few weeks. Today we had a tiny toast, using our favorite vintage glasses. That was a treat!
Today I tried to squeeze in a quick grocery store trip before the rain. Not because I'm scared of getting wet. I just wanted to be back home to enjoy it!
I didn't beat the rain. The alarm on my phone went off before I arrived.
Store to Myself
I hate grocery shopping. Don has done pretty much all the shopping for the last few years. I know he misses it. He would have loved it today.
I had the place to myself. I texted him once to ask if the rain had started at home. The lights were flickering in the store and I could hear rain pounding the roof. I tried to rush my shopping. I hate missing a good storm.
I was glad that Don wasn't with me when I knocked a Gatorade to the floor, with my sloppy reach.
I had just texted Don, so why not capture the mess on my cell phone? Then I alerted a man stocking shelves on another aisle. "I didn't do it!" I teased. "It was one of those people!" I pointed to the empty aisle. He was very kind and didn't scold.
Waiting it Out
I dashed to the car and wanted to race home to enjoy the storm with Don. I love sky drama, from our family room windows!
But I waited a while for rain to ease up. I made my daily call to Dad in Missouri. We talked about rain and I asked if he could hear the thunder. We've talked about weather a lot, in the 18 months that I've been calling during this pandemic.
The rain eased up a bit and I drove home, eager to enjoy a stormy afternoon.
But Don was finishing up last night's (taped) sports. I'm glad the Astros made the World Series. It's giving Don a nice distraction, while he heals. But oh how I wish we could have watched some Alfred Hitchcock movie, while the skies rumbled. I really have to bite my tongue about my TV complaints in past weeks. I remember how Don patiently watched a lot of Turner Classic Movies with me, during my cancer months!
I was disappointed when the skies dried up.
But when I stepped out, the air had turned fresh and cool and the flowers looked happy. Our evening walk was pleasant. We're walking longer and talking more each day.
Wine and TCM!
By 6 pm, I had a meatloaf in the oven and Don decided he might be up for a tiny bit of red wine. After 3+ weeks, that wine tasted pretty heavenly. Even if we only had a 1/2 glass, in our tiny wine sampler glasses!
And after dinner, Don seemed slightly game for watching a campy horror movie, on TCM Channel. I'm not sure what I've missed more in 3 weeks, wine or TCM? Tonight I had a little of both and it was a treat!
Mostly it was a treat, feeling like a little bit of normal is coming back to our world.
It's been 3 weeks since open heart surgery. Don is progressing, but he still has to be very cautious. That's why I was a little surprised when I heard him in the garage. My cautious nurse-side scowled. "Speed bag! Are you kidding me?" He only punched for a minute... nice and easy. No frantic pounding. But still.
Don asked me to take a quick video and he sent it to the kids, to show what he's up to after 3 weeks of recovery. I scolded like a nagging mom, then took the vid. The kids applauded in response. I let them know I definitely didn't encourage that, but I took it as a sign that he was ready for some garage cleaning soon.
Don responded in the thread, "Dr said 36 to 48 weeks before I can help w/ garage cleaning. (shrug emoji)
Glad the humor is back!
Isolating in 2016
Don and I learned how to quarantine, years before the pandemic.
For months, our world revolved around surgery and chemo and radiation appointments. My energy was up and down and my compromised immune system kept us closer to home.
In spring of 2020, Don and I found ourselves quarantining at home again. This time neither of us was sick. And pretty much the whole world was hunkering down along with us.
We had our days when the isolation felt worrisome and odd and frustrating. But for the most part, we survived with lots of silliness. There were things I loved about the isolation. I could forget make up and expensive haircuts. No more answering the door. It was like being snowed in, with your favorite person.
18 months later, we're back to hunkering down. Don's recovery from open heart surgery will take 6 to 9 or even up to 12 weeks.
We've had boosters, but the pandemic is still here and Don is more vulnerable, now. I throw on a mask and run to the store, but mostly we are home, staying pretty isolated.
During the pandemic we started walking regularly. I still did my predawn runs, but I loved getting out later in the morning and walking with Don.
Instead of walking in our neighborhood, we drove a mile and walked where we knew no one. We enjoyed the change of scenery.
Walking and Socializing
Now that Don is doing 2 outside walks a day, we just walk in our neighborhood. Different routes and different times. It's nice to change it up. Lately we've encountered a few ghostly decorations.
We've also encountered some live people on our walks. It's the oddest thing. For years I've run early, often before daylight. I love NOT seeing people. Now on our walks, we're suddenly seeing neighbors and friends, most we've not seen since the pandemic began.
Luckily Don is not clocking his walks so carefully anymore. And he's not exhausted and frustrated, by occasionally stopping to chat. Some of the people know that Don has had surgery and some don't. But all the waves or short conversations have given us a nice little break or lift in our day. The brief encounters have actually been just what the doctor ordered. Isolation is sometimes needed, but interacting with others is actually refreshing.
The dreaded people encounters are not so dreaded anymore.
My cell phone has been really bugging me. I counted 35 robocalls yesterday.
I woke up to a couple of these fine texts this morning.
Back in Time
I'm spending way too much time deleting and blocking and they still keep coming.
I'm about ready to go back to the day of landlines... where an occasional prank call was the only worry.
Need Cell Phone Camera
But I need that darn cell phone, these days. Especially the camera. I text pictures of food options to Don, when I'm at the grocery store. And about a week ago, I started letting the phone help me in the house, when Don was less mobile.
Last week I discovered a toilet leak upstairs. Don asked me to take a photo and show him what I meant. He hadn't attempted stairs yet, but the problem intrigued him.
The Handyman-side of Don won over the Patient-side. He was pretty sure he could fix that leak, if I'd carry the wrenches upstairs. That was on Oct 18, when he'd been out of the hospital a week. He took his first trip upstairs and found that it wasn't too challenging. We ended up needing a plumber after all, but at least Don decided he could start adding stairs to his indoor walking routine. I'm glad we're not in a tiny apartment!
YouTube Help at the Gas Station
The phone has been helpful recently, but it couldn't help me 2 weeks ago when I had a ridiculous moment at the gas station.
We've had our Subaru over 8 months and I haven't once filled the gas tank. That makes me feel like June Clever and I'm not proud. When I pulled up to get gas, I couldn't figure out how to open the gas lid. I sat and searched for the release button. I could have texted Don at home, but I was sort of mortified. I put on my glasses and searched. I grabbed my cell and searched for a Youtube video. Yay, I found an YouTube video. The useless video showed a button, that I don't have. I almost cried. I gave up and drove home. Later I quietly asked Don and he didn't laugh. He just told me that you press the outside of the door and it pops open.
I have a feeling Don was happy to be able to offer me some help.
Morning and Evening
Don has been walking 4 times a day, since we got home from the hospital. Now he's able to do 2 of those outside.
His first outside walk was a week ago. It was about 10 minutes long and it seemed forever. It felt so odd to walk and not talk. I kept having to bite my chatty tongue, since Don wasn't up for walking and conversing. But then I thought about hiking. When we hike, we often walk silently. It was good to remind myself.
So today it's a week later and Don's up to 40 minutes at a time and it feels so different. I'm actually enjoying the scenery.
I don't feel like I'm his bodyguard anymore. Yesterday, I was able to step away and look at the baby ducks! Today Don made a couple silly remarks about some of our fellow walkers. Don's humor is returning!
A New Route
Our longer walks are taking us to different parts of our neighborhood community. Different scenery and different houses to study.
We spotted this renovated playground that we didn't even know existed. It's a 5 minute walk from our house. We're so in the moment these days, but this sight sparked a new enthusiasm for the future. Don later sent this picture to our daughter and said, "We can take Charlie here when you visit at Christmas!" I'm excited about that. I'm also excited that Don is thinking ahead now, as he sees himself getting stronger!
We got home and Don headed inside, while I stopped to study the mushrooms that popped up in our yard mulch.
So pretty. A week ago, I wouldn't have done that!
Meeting Up with the Surgeon
Today was Don's first outing since surgery. Too bad it wasn't something more fun than a follow-up appointment.
But it was good to get out. Don sat in the backseat and I played chauffeur again. It still seems pretty unlikely that we'd have an accident and airbags would harm his healing chest. But I was glad we'd done as we were told. We only had a 3-mile drive, but just outside of our neighborhood, traffic came to a halt. They were rerouting traffic due to an accident. On our drive home, we witnessed another accident. Yikes!
In the Office
Don and I waited for Dr. A., in the same office where we sat, just over 3 weeks ago. On that day, we had Don scheduled for a stent. I remember staring at this plastic heart on display and thinking. "Oh, that's a stent?"
By the time we left the office that day, I had learned that the colorful model was not showing a stent. I also learned that Don probably wasn't going the stent route, which came with a quick recovery time. It's been 3.5 weeks, since that day and I know a whole lot more about hearts.
While we waited for the doctor, I studied the screen, with some Covid updates. Again, I'm grateful this surgery was in October 2021 and not 2020.
When Dr. A came in, he seemed very happy about Don's progress. The long strip of tape was removed and Don's scar was totally revealed for the first time. Again the doctor seemed pleased. He reminded us, that Don was very lucky that his blockage in the left main artery had been detected, since he had no symptoms. He told us that this is the kind of case you hear about, when some guy who appears totally healthy, is out jogging and suddenly has a heart attack. If there's no one there to help... Gulp. Once again, grateful.
I was glad Dr. A was not rushing us. He was open to questions. Don asked about caffeine and was told he should wait a couple more weeks for coffee. Dr. A did however say Don could have a beer with the Astros game tonight! Really? Hmmm. He even said Don could drive, since he's not on pain meds. (What? Aren't airbags still an issue?) The doctor reminded Don about no lifting, but encouraged as much walking as possible. I asked about Don's immune system and his vulnerability at this point. The doc was vague about how cautious Don should be, but he did mention how much better things are, now. He said that not that long ago, things were pretty rough. Two of his patients got Covid, while recovering from bypasses in the hospital. Again. I'm glad about this timing!
Dr A. finally stood and shook Don's hand. (some doctors have gone to elbow bumps now) I said I had one more question. I was wondering about some of the things I've read, that talk about the connection between open heart surgery and mental health. I mentioned that Don was having a hard time concentrating. Dr A. was quick to say that some patients do have some temporary changes in mood and cognitive abilities soon after. I asked why that would be? He mentioned something about the long surgery and hours of anesthesia and then he mentioned the heart-lung machine...
So I wasn't reading "fake news" yesterday. There really are issues associated with the machine that circulates blood, while the heart is stopped... tiny debris and air bubbles enter the brain. I find this worrisome.
I'm just glad I got a bit of an answer to my question. I wish I'd had the nerve to ask another, "Why don't you tell patients about this earlier?"
This morning felt like Halloween, with all the eerie fog. In fact this whole month of October seems like a foggy dream. Our schedules and routines are so altered.
But Don encouraged me to get out and run, today. I felt sort of guilty dashing off, before helping him get his morning started. But I went and the misty air felt good. I guess Don knows as well as I do, that I'm a much more patient and cheerful companion/nurse, when I've gotten some exercise.
I actually hate running, but I do my best thinking/planning when I run. I loved having the fog this morning. Trotting through the moist morning, seemed to clear the fog in my own brain.
As I jogged along, I thought about what I read on my iPad. (I should have read fiction!) Last night I Googled, "Tips for helping your spouse after bypass surgery." Yikes. Suddenly I was reading articles that made me worry. A New York Times article talked about how regaining emotional strength after a bypass, was sometimes harder than the physical challenges.
I read about terms like "Cardio Blues" and "Pumphead". There were discussions of personality changes and depression after heart surgery. I know from my own experience that surgery can bring on the blues, but these studies were specific to open heart surgery. Up to 75 percent can have issues with anxiety and depression and cognitive abilities.
So many hours under anesthesia is one reason, but my reading got off on a whole other tangent, about the heart-lung machine... used when the heart is stopped during surgery... particles and debris can get into the blood stream... leading to cognitive challenges. Ugh! This is what I hate about the internet. You can't forget this stuff!
As I ran this morning, I felt some anger pounding into the pavement. If this is all true, then why did no one speak of it, when they mentioned all the other risk factors with heart surgery? Don has said many times that he has trouble concentrating. Movies, books, puzzles are not appealing right now.
We have a follow up with the surgeon tomorrow. I wonder what questions he'll ask Don, when he's determining how recovery is going?
But as I neared the house I felt stronger and braver. I will speak up tomorrow, because luckily I can be at that appointment. A year ago, I wouldn't have been allowed in, due to Covid. But Don and I will go together and I'll ask questions myself and learn more. Well, at least that's the plan.
Don and I celebrated our 42nd anniversary today. (Well, celebrated is kind of a big of a word) But it was a lot better than how Don celebrated his birthday, 15 days ago. Birthday Bypass Surgery!
At ages 25 and 22, Don and I had no idea how we would end up celebrating future anniversaries. We had no clue what we'd be like when we were in our sixties. It's odd to look at the 2 of us, then and now. Well, sort of now. The photo above is from months ago. Today was not a good photo day.
Spending Our Day
Don is still zapped of energy, so we didn't attempt much celebrating. We did go on 2 walks outside and Don hit 2 milestones. He shaved his 16 day beard and we sat outside for the first time.
We took our Happy Hour to the patio! I've missed our outside time. No fancy drinks and cocktails today, just our favorite popcorn and bubbly punch.
Here we are toasting to our 42 years. Actually it was a sloppy toast, because I was busy fumbling with the camera timer. After I saw this dreary looking photo, I wanted to take one more. But my battery died. So here we are, with our clinking glasses...
We brought our cards to the table. It was odd having no gifts, because we always have fun finding clever or sentimental or curious goodies for each other.
But it was fun to have some cards, especially the mystery card.
Yesterday I posted about the help I got at CVS, when this friendly fellow picked out a random anniversary card, for Don to give me. I thought it was a hoot getting to open my mystery card this evening. The traditional card was sort of corny and not at all the kind Don would have picked. But the words Don wrote inside were sweet. I'm not sure he was as amused by the card thing as I was. He was probably really frustrating that he couldn't get out to pick his own.
Dinner and Full Moon
Don's appetite is still not quite back, but he was up for ordering a Door Dash meal from Cheesecake Factory. It was a nice change from my cooking these days.
I stepped out to catch the full moon after dinner. Don is the Sky Guy. He loves pointing out constellations and looking for shooting stars... eclipses, space shuttles... full moons. He stayed on the couch and I gave a moon report. I can't wait until he's back to enjoying simple things like this.
Earlier in the day, I pulled out this gift from a couple years ago.
I figured at some point during the day, we'd sit and flip through this photo book and remember all the fun we've had in our 42 years. I peeked inside myself and enjoyed a little nostalgia.
Then I decided to save the book for tomorrow... or maybe a week. Don seems focused on the present right now. I don't pressure him with plans for Thanksgiving or Christmas. And I'm not sure about looking back and reminiscing either. All these active, happy photos might be frustrating.
Maybe I'm overthinking it all. But for tonight, I'm just going to enjoy the book myself. I feel so grateful for these 42 incredible years. I'm also grateful that we have years ahead to collect more memories.
Off to the Dentist
Today I came home from my dental appointment with my usual prize. Yay.
I hope I didn't come home with Covid.
Today wasn't my first dental appointment during the pandemic. But it was my first time going, since Don's heart surgery. I know that Don's immune system is compromised, so I debated whether I should even go. But we've both gotten our boosters and breakthrough cases aren't common. AND I have teeth that MUST be cleaned twice a year, or I go nuts.
I don't mind going to the dentist. I see the same hygienist and dentist that I've seen for 20 years. They were the ones who cared for my children's teeth and carefully dealt with my mom, who was a complicated patient with Alzheimer's. The staff feels like family. I knew they would even offer a little support, when I told them Don had just gone through open heart surgery.
But when I stepped into the office, I didn't feel the usual warmth. It seemed like I'd stepped back in time... pre-covid time. I was greeted by a smiling staff and none of them wore masks. The patients in the waiting room were mask free. We live in an area where 75 percent of the people are back to wearing masks in stores. Why would a medical facility suddenly ease up on masking, when the pandemic continues?
Suddenly I was invited back to have my teeth cleaned, by a hygienist I've never met. She wore no mask as she introduced herself. I asked if my hygienist was sick and she said, "No, she's here." No more explanation.
I sat down and removed my mask. "I'm being extra cautious." I rambled awkwardly. "My husband just had heart surgery and he's more vulnerable." Why was I explaining my mask? Why didn't I just ask her if she was vaccinated or if all staff had been vaccinated? I'm the paying client, I could ask.
I sat back in my chair and looked up at the TV and spotted HGTV. Ugh. "Do you mind changing the channel?" I asked. That's been Don's go-to TV for healing, these 2 weeks. I needed a change.
The new hygienist put on a pink paper mask and worked away, without talking. I was happy with that. I closed my eyes and felt her bad aim with the ultrasonic tool. Ouch. She kept forgetting to use the tube, that sucks the saliva. Gag. And the polishing tool shot liquid down my shirt. Ugh.
I felt perplexed that my dental experience had me totally on edge. It was like I was in a dream or on Candid Camera. Why no masks? Where did my hygienist go? And where was my dentist? Suddenly I was given my goodie bag and I was ushered to the front desk.
"I'm supposed to see the dentist." I tried to explain that my dental plan included seeing the dentist each time. Then I stopped explaining. I was happy to exit without seeing another person.
My dental visit was odd. But how much was just me? I remember feeling on edge the first time I visited the dentist after my cancer diagnosis. It felt horrible to mark the Cancer box, when I updated my records. The dental office then, felt kind of like it did today. Different. It doesn't have to be your very own health changes that put you on edge. I guess I've been more uneasy from Don's recovery, than I realized.
I've never liked needing help, even when I was a child. I especially don't like asking for help. But today I did even more than that. I asked a favor of someone I don't even know. In the pharmacy department.
So many people have offered help in the last 2 weeks, since Don's surgery. But now that I can leave him home alone, I don't mind dashing to the store. Plus, I feel like he's shopping with me, since I do a lot of communicating with my phone. Even though I have lists, I always end up texting photos and questions. "Which juice looks better?" "Which cough medicine do you want?"
New Friend, Kanell (hope that spelling is right)
Today, I had a fun encounter with a friendly guy who works in the pharmacy. I think his name is Kanell. He spotted me, juggling an armload of goods and insisted, "You need a cart!" Then he dashed to the front of the store and returned with one. He swiped over the handle with a sanitized wipe and asked, "Can I help you with anything else?"
I almost answered with my usual, "No, but thanks for asking." But, suddenly a lightbulb went off in my head. I grinned big, through my mask and spoke! "As a matter of fact..."
I told Kanell that I had a very silly favor to ask. I pointed to the greeting card aisle and explained, "Tomorrow's my anniversary and my husband just had bypass surgery. My husband feels awful that he doesn't have a card for me. He told me I should close my eyes and pick one, for him to give me. But I thought maybe you..."
My new friend's eyebrows lifted and I could hear him laugh, behind his mask. I encouraged quickly, "Don't even look to see what's on the front, or the inside. Just reach and grab and turn it around so I can't see it!"
Our voices were muffled and our expressions were partially hidden, but we communicated just fine. He handed over the card with a chuckle and wished me a Happy Anniversary. I thanked him for being my assistant and then made one more request. "Would it be okay if I took your picture, so my husband will know who picked out this card?"
Kanell humored me with a photo and I thanked him for playing along. I heard him a moment later, laughing with staff behind the pharmacy counter. I left the store in happy spirits. Family and friends have been so supportive in past weeks, but sometimes the kindness of a stranger, offers a special kind of lift!
This sloppy bed-making pic, shows just some of the pillows that fill our bed these days. Don has found a few different ways to place these things for sleep. I can't imagine sleeping in one position. I'm the Queen of Toss & Turn.
I'm also one of those people who makes the bed every day, but I haven't for these 2 weeks. I've tossed the comforter and shams aside for a while. Cutting some corners these days.
The Red Pillow
Don was given this pillow when he was moved to ICU, after his bypass. He was told to hold it to his chest when he coughs. Mostly it's a good tool for getting out of bed or out of the car, or any place where you're tempted to use your arms to push yourself up. I'm glad Don's been cautious, so he can heal smoothly.
The other side of this pillow shows an ugly picture of the a real heart. Ugh. I would prefer a furry, stuffed animal pillow to hold onto. But Don's been fine with this red one. He's getting better at maneuvering in and out of bed safely.
This is actually a sachet filled with lavender. It hangs on the drawer knob, of my bedside table. I've been getting up a couple times each night to help Don get adjusted into a new position. His back is kind of miserable these days, from sleeping in one position.
Sleep issues are new to Don. I've dealt with them for 10 years. I didn't just have heart surgery, so I'm not going to complain when I can't get back to sleep after helping him. I try to hide my grumpiness in the morning.
But last night I used my own "pillow". I reached over and grabbed that soft, heart sachet and gave it a scrunch. It released a heavenly scent and I put it near my own pillow. Ahhh! That helped.
Now Don and I have our own heart pillows!
I miss having coffee with Don in the morning. He's probably allowed to have it, but it just hasn't appeal to him since surgery.
We enjoyed a lot of coffee mornings during Covid lockdowns, in 2020. Picking our mugs was a big event! But Don's enjoying tea these days. We're kind of getting in the habit of afternoon tea. I like that.
A lot of people developed new drinking habits during 2020. Evening Happy Hour is not a new thing for Don and me. Luckily our pandemic isolation didn't force us to add more drinks, just more props and decor.
Mostly I just miss having a glass of wine before dinner. Since Don retired, we both have pretty much done our own thing during the day. "Happy Hour" before dinner, has become our catching up time. We sit down and share what we learned or read or did, during the day. Sometimes I'll hear something curious in the day... but I'll save the story for Happy Hour.
New Kind of Happy Hour
Don and I are pretty much with each other 24 hours a day, now. So it's hard to report on much new. But we're continuing our Happy Hour Habit, minus wine or cocktails. Again, I don't even know what the rules are with drinking, after heart surgery. We didn't ask because it's not on the forefront of our brains. Don's too focused on healing to be thinking about beer or booze. He's encouraged me to enjoy a glass of wine in the evening, but that's no fun by myself.
But, we're enjoying the part we like best... the visiting part. We've got sparkling water and juice options and lots of glasses. Some of these beverage combos are comical and not so great, but I'm glad to sit and sip, with no TV and maybe some soft music. We don't talk lots, but we make a toast to the day's accomplishments! We'll celebrate with some champagne one day. But no hurry.
It's been hot and humid since Don got home from the hospital. He hasn't wanted to even sit outside. But a cool front moved in and the world got better!
Don woke up before 6 and asked if I wanted to run, before he showered. The Nurse Beth in me, felt concern for a moment. Don't I need to be on duty to start the morning routine? Then I took off!
Wow! The air felt incredible and I was back home to see a pretty sunrise. I can't believe how different I felt all day. It's been just about 2 weeks, but routines have been all jumbled and I just haven't attempted to squeeze in exercise.
This is the card I gave Don in the hospital after surgery. It came with a stuffed sloth, holding a heart. (Fitting for heart surgery!) I thought it was a playful gesture, but this image just looked mean today. I tossed it.
This card sitting on the counter, might have seemed more amusing, if Don hadn't actually been feeling pretty sloth-like for 10 days. His 4-a-day "walking sessions" have gotten longer. Up to 14 minutes each! He's doing great, but he feels wiped out.
I was energized by being outside on my run this morning, so then it was Don's turn! It was almost chilly when we walked at 1 and 5, today.
Both walks were only about 10 minutes, but it was a big milestone getting outside. We're both cautious and don't want him to overdo. In fact I felt sort of reckless as I stepped back to snap this photo... as if I could catch him if he tripped! Mostly I felt like Don's bodyguard, pointing out buckling sidewalks and keeping an eye out for unleashed dogs, or chatty neighbors who might slow us down. I want nothing, to slow down his progress!
Cheers to stepping out in the world!
It's pretty touching to see Don's reactions to text messages, cards and a few gifts of food and flowers. He seems surprised by some of this special attention. He hasn't had a hospital stay since a rugby accident in college. Heart surgery is worthy of attention.
I wish Don's appetite would return faster. I'm sort of tempted to eat all these Zingerman Food Goodies, myself!
Just over a week ago, Don was only eating ice chips. He finally progressed to applesauce and yogurt. I feel like he deserves some food rewards, but he's still leaning towards things like soup and oatmeal. I thought about making oatmeal raisin cookies today. Healthier than Oreos! I'm glad I didn't.
The doorbell rang and a bag of Tiff's Treats Cookies, was sitting on the porch. Inside was a box with 2 dozen cookies! They were still warm, so I put them on a cooling rack. It looks like I baked them! I wish Don was able to enjoy these more. I think he's also worried about what he's supposed to be eating. So am I. I hate change.
Grocery Store Time
Today I headed for the store with a long list. This is new to me, since Don usually does all the grocery shopping. I was lost in the store. I spent absolutely forever, standing in various aisles, reading labels and pondering.
It got a little depressing. I made myself woozy, as I stared at sodium numbers and fat counts. Don and I are pretty healthy eaters. Yes, I know. Cut down on salt and fat. But cutting down would be a lot easier, if we ate red meat and ice cream daily.
Don's new title of heart patient, is stressful. Does this mean we won't get to feast at our favorite German Restaurant, when the kids come home for Christmas? Will Texas BBQ, be a thing of the past? My head was swirling in that store, while I stressed over what I could cook or buy, that would be healthy and yummy.
I tossed a low sodium chicken broth in the cart and lots of yogurt and fresh veggies. Then I grabbed tons of cleaning products, because I'm going to get manic about this house if we're stuck home. And then I chose some comfort foods. We'll see what Don's doctor says next week. I'm not going to stress over food just yet.
Scott's Last Morning
Today was Don's 4th day home from the hospital and Scott's last day in Texas. Wish we could have made the morning more eventful, but there's not much Don is up for yet. Scott suggested we watch the live coverage of the Blue Origin launch.
The rocket launch was a fun focus this morning. There was a bit of hoopla in West Texas, when William Shatner (at 90) became the oldest person to reach the edge of space.
Reminders of Past
It was refreshing to watch some news, that wasn't depressing or worrisome. These upbeat TV moments were so welcome during covid and cancer quarantines, last year and 5 years ago.
It was curious watching history being made out near Van Horn, TX! When the capsule returned to earth, the crew stepped out and the 3 younger passengers seemed jubilant. William Shatner's reaction was different. He was joyful yet emotional, while he explained his experience. Don and I high-fived each other and I could see Don was moved.
I was surprised that I felt the power of the moment too. I'm sure SNL will spoof the Jeff Bezos event, this Saturday. And maybe Shatner was just using his acting skills, while he reacted to his 10-minute flight. But we 3 seemed to absorb the drama of the moment, differently than we might have on another day. Are these post-surgery emotions? Seems the world is a little different now.
We made sure Don got in a walk session, before I needed to drive Scott to the airport at noon. Scott did DJ-Duty and made Alexa play "Walk on the Wild Side" and Patsy Cline's, "Walkin' After Midnight".
It was perfect! The house felt playful and energized, for 7 minutes, before Don and Scott hugged good-bye. I think all 3 of us had moist eyes or throat lumps, as least. Why does everything feel so much more dramatic? I made everyone pose for my camera timer.
It was nice to have the long drive with Scott. We talked the whole way about how the week had gone. The relief of the surgery being behind us. Scott said he was proud of his dad and that he was proud of me too.
At the airport we hugged twice and I felt like I wanted to boohoo, right next to the terminal. It was the exact feeling I had when we left Scott at his freshman dorm, in 2008. Back then and today, I felt so lucky and grateful. What an incredible young man, then and now. I was sad to see him go, but glad for him to get back to his own routine.
Don was doing just fine when I got back. I headed upstairs and noticed that Scott had made the bed, just like he'd done the morning before we drove to UT. I had to grin at that. Both days, I'd assumed he might be too rushed or distracted for that gesture. He doesn't exactly make his bed daily. But this was clearly done to please Mom.
One Week Since Surgery
Today is the one-week milestone, since Don's bypass. That's worth celebrating, but we forgot about it. A week ago was also Don's birthday. That celebration also got lost in the shuffle. Last night Don was finally up for opening some gifts.
What a mug! But Don will have to wait a while to use it, since he's not up for coffee yet. And he got a couple nice tee shirts, but he's limited with his arms right now. Buttons are better.
Don got a lot of books for his birthday. When Scott leaves and the house is quieter, maybe we'll both read a lot.
But Don said he can't concentrate on reading yet. Luckily he's not in a lot of pain and he hasn't taken any pain meds since we got home. But I read that concentration can be an issue, soon after heart surgery.
Don and I used to work on jigsaw puzzles and listen to podcasts when I dealt with cancer. We did the same, during lockdown days of the pandemic.
Don got a great tiki puzzle for his birthday. Scott put on a podcast and we spread the pieces on the dining room table. I know how much Don loves puzzles, so it made me sad that his back was cramping from trying to reach. Not being able to move during sleep, has been causing some daytime issues. Hopefully this will change, soon!
We talked about watching a movie or some of our favorite series. But again, Don wasn't motivated, because it's hard to concentrate on the TV screen. HGTV or sports sounded okay, but no tricky plots or annoying humor.
So I dug in the closet and found a DVD with footage from 1990. We three sat in the family room with the sun glaring on the TV and grinned and laughed and sighed at Baby Scott and 3-7ear-old Heidi.
The best medicine ever! Celebrating a little nostalgia!
Scott at Work
One week ago Don had a double bypass and today is his first full day, recovering at home. I'm so glad Scott was able to come home for a week. He's done a million little things like putting together a shower stool... something we never thought we'd need in this house.
Besides helping with a few chores, Scott has been a valuable buddy for Don. I don't exactly love watching sports, but these 2 watched some football last night. It was just what Don needed. They didn't hoot or cheer or drink beer. They just watched a little and gabbed a little. It was nice to watch them.
Using Scott's Muscles
I've selfishly made use of Scott. On Saturday, Scott carried our old area rug to the street, with a "Free" sign on it. Yay, because it found a new home.
The next day, Scott and I carried this mattress set to the street for "bulky trash pick up day". There's a much bigger story with that, but it's not being shared here. I was just so grateful to have Scott here, to help me with the stuff I can't do myself. And we'll always have the mattress story to laugh and cringe over, in the future!
Don is supposed to walk at least 5 minutes, 4 times a day. That sounds silly simple... unless you've just had open heart surgery. Scott has helped make his dad's walk sessions a little less tedious, with his creative DJ work.
Luckily we have a large, circular route in our downstairs, so Don doesn't get dizzy. This morning when Don stood up to walk, Scott spoke out to our pumpkin-holding-friend-on-the-counter, "Alexa, play 'Walk Like a Man". Don grinned as he moved in and out of the rooms, while music filled the downstairs. Man, I can't believe how many songs refer to walking. We have a long list now.
I feel sad that Scott's visit home, has been so limited. He's come so many miles... his first trip home in years. I wish we could pick up BBQ and sit in the backyard and have tiki drinks and swim. But it's too hot for Don outside and he's not even drinking coffee yet. Forget Happy Hour.
But Scott is genuinely glad to be here and support. He seems able to find a balance. He's available and helpful to Don and me. He's done a little work on his laptop. And he's exercised every day.
And he's made use of the pool a couple times. That made me happy!
Scary Being in Charge
I was excited for Don to come home from the hospital, today. But I was also a little nervous about taking care of him, without a buzzer connected to a nearby nurse!
Scott and I prepped the house a bit. I gathered pillows and Scott moved some chairs. We pondered where our patient would be comfortable. I grabbed the antique school bell. We have no buzzers in this house, but when I was a kid we sometimes rang the old school bell when we were sick. Silly, but oh well.
Scott is Responsible (and Negative!)
Scott left the hospital and headed home, while I got Don dressed and ready to be discharged.
Scott texted me from home, with the good news of a negative test. Four days before, he'd taken a rapid test after his flight arrived. Negative. Whew. He took another today, since an infection from travel, could take some days to show. Negative! I so appreciate having a responsible and vaccinated son, since Don's immune system is extra compromised, from open heart surgery.
Yikes! I'm not sure what we would have done, if the second test had been positive. But after 6 days of talking to Don through masks, it was a relief to know all 3 of us would see each others' faces at home!
It was around 5, when I rushed to get the car and meet Don at the curb in the wheelchair. He held the heart pillow over his chest, to remind himself not to use his arms. I held the backdoor open, like a chauffeur and helped him get in cautiously. I wonder how many patients refuse to follow the backseat rule? I mean what are the chances of us having an accident? But those airbags would definitely ruin all that surgical work. I don't want to think about that. I'm happy to follow rules right now.
So,I will be the driver for 4 to 6 weeks? I don't mind, but Don might. Right away he asked quietly, why I was turning right. "I'm going to take Sweetwater..." I began, then laughed. "So, you actually are a real backseat driver now!" I'm not sure he saw the humor, but he did realize it was his first time in that backseat.
Ribbon Clipping Ceremony
In this photo, Don is unshaven and his shirt is wrinkled, but he looks pretty darn good. We were home just a few minutes before Scott clipped off those plastic bracelets.
I was thrilled to see that Don needed no fancy chair with pillows. He was fine on the couch. He was able to get up and down without putting his wired ribs at risk. But he was exhausted and not hungry. Scott ran out and got him a milkshake for his aching throat. (Still hurting from tubes)
A week ago, we worried over the scary surgery that loomed ahead. Then for days, we focused on the tasks in the hospital. I hardly allowed myself to think ahead to the 8 weeks of recovery. I'm worried now about being in charge of Don's care, even though he's doing so well. I'm worried mostly, about facing the first night. Will he be able to sleep in our bed? But for this very moment, I'm relieved he's home and feeling incredibly proud of this guy!
Today is Don's 5th day in the hospital. I feel so lucky that Scott was able to come and help out with his dad... and me. I just wish we could be together, while we cheer Don on in his room.
Here we are today, doing a proper changing of the guards in the courtyard... Methodist Hospital Style. Pandemic protocol allows each patient to have only one guest in the building at a time. Guests must be masked and tagged with a bracelet. Yesterday we weren't the best rule followers. I was supposed to check out and get my tag snipped off, before Scott checked in. Oops! Ignorance was bliss yesterday, when did our tag-teaming (and waiting) in a quiet lounge area, just outside of Don's room.
This morning when I saw Don at 8 am, he looked much better than when I left him last night. Dr. A. came by 9 and gave us the good word, that Don would be discharged later in the day. I looked over at the flowers and grinned. They didn't even get a chance to wilt!
I was excited to get Don home so soon, without beeping machines and without the interruption of nurses. I was scared to get him home, where we had no beeping machines and interrupting nurses.
By 7 pm, I was still in the hospital. Once again, I said goodbye to Don when visiting hours ended. He wasn't ready to come home. He was back on an IV, with heart regulating meds. It could be a couple more days. Frustrating, but we were relieved that he was in good hands.
I felt more relaxed leaving Don on his 5th night. After 50+ hours in that hospital, I was finally feeling less anxious. Don seemed more like his old self. He had enjoyed watching football when Scott visited. When I spent time with Don, I listened to him chat with the nurse about Thai food and what she was going to do on her day off. It felt more relaxed. It was frustrating that we 3 couldn't be in the room together, but in some ways that probably worked better for Don.
As I headed downstairs, I looked at the empty cafe at 7:15. Was I the last visitor of the day? It looked eerie, all empty. I couldn't wait to get back to the house.
I headed home, feeling glad that Scott would be waiting at home. I've been grateful for his support. It's been nice having him home after 3.5 years, even if it's under these worrisome circumstances.
Flowers & Cookies
When I walked in the door, I saw that someone must have dropped off some goodies for Don.
"No, those are for you Mom." Scott smiled.
Sigh... I'm not sure yet, who is feeling most supported by Scott's visit. Don or me?
Don & Heidi
Don has been a dad for exactly 35 years. Today is Heidi's 35th birthday. I know it makes him sad that he can't just hop a plane and celebrate with her. But that wouldn't be happening anyway. Unfortunately, we're used to long distance birthdays.
Yesterday, Don's voice was finally strong enough to talk on the phone. (That darn sore throat from the breathing tube) He called Heidi last night to wish her an early Happy Birthday. I heard Heidi say, "You sound great Dad! I'm proud of you." It wasn't his usual voice. I'm sure she could tell. But her positive voice was the perfect medicine for her dad
Don and Scott
We live across country from both our kids and spouses. That's sad for birthdays, but it's also sad in times when we need to support from each other. Those Covid days... or cancer... or coronary bypass surgery days. Heidi was able to come home for my surgery 5 years ago. Scott insisted he come this time, to help with his dad.
It was so much easier when these kids were small and living at home. Wait a minute. It wasn't so much easier. But I still miss those times.
Airport Pick up
Yesterday, I left Don at 5:30, to pick up Scott. Don was having some issues and I was torn about abandoning him. Chills and shaky... heart palpitations.. The nurse assured me, but it felt wrong to leave.
Usually I hate the hour drive to Bush. But the skies were calming and it felt good to know I would see Scott. His first time back in Texas in over 3 years! We hugged with masks and drove with masks. What the heck is the protocol with visiting a loved one in the hospital, when you've flown and there's a pandemic????
Actually the first stop, was to pick up Torchy's Tacos. Scott's comfort food. Then we picked up rapid Covid tests. No one has told us how to handle this visit safely. We've all been vaccinated, but there's no perfect way to be safe, when you've traveled on a plane.
In 15 minutes, we cheered. We knew the negative test was not 100%. And we knew it was too early to feel cleared from the plane travel. But Scott had another test to do in a couple days.
This morning, I panicked a little when Don texted that he was on an IV again. I rushed over before Scott was up, but Don was fine.
We got him out walking the hall again. We watched some TV and enjoyed the weather through the window. All was fine, so I dashed home to pick up Scott.
Suddenly Scott and I were able to take turns with Don-time. I also knew there might be issues with how the 1 visitor rule worked. I suggested we not ask too many questions, or we might find out we weren't allowed to be in the building at the same time. We worked it out with the purple chairs outside Don's hallway. Our changing of the guard chairs.
I wish I'd been able to see Don's face when Scott walked in. I know it was a relief to see his boy. I relaxed on the purple chairs until Scott came out. That was usually when Don needed something that Nurse Beth was better qualified for. Helping him get in and out of bed or into adjusting all his pillows. It's all trickier than it sounds. But how wonderful to have our boy home for a week, to add a lift to our world. Literally. Scott's going to move some things around at home for us!
It's so much easier to heal when you have love and support from near and far. Don's not a Sad Dad right now.
It is Day 3 in the hospital for Don. He got moved out of ICU at 9 last night!
The room still feels dull, like a hospital and the view's not the most spectacular. But we can see the sunshine and trees. Better than the ICU window, that looked towards the windows of the COVID unit.
Flowers and Stuff
The room feels blank, with no color. But I was finally able to bring stuff from home.
It's no fair when you have surgery on your birthday and you can't have a card or flowers in your room. There was a comfy couch and a recliner, too!
Along with Don's birthday cards, I brought him a very fine sloth.
I ordered this sloth (holding a heart) on the internet, a few days ago. I thought he would be a cute mascot for Don. I didn't realize the hospital would give Don his own heart shaped pillow, just like the sloth.
Teaching the Sloth
Don had to show the sloth how to properly press the pillow against his chest, when he needs to cough.
Don is a very good teacher.
It's my second long day at the hospital. I'm feeling glad that Houston's Methodist Hospitals have vaccine mandates for staff. I'm glad they communicate their Covid protocol. When your hubby has just had a bypass, the last thing you want is covid in the family.
There are signs telling visitors to wear masks, but the signs are hardly needed. Every single person wears a mask in the hospital... because honestly, none of us want to be that person on the stretcher, being carried to the Covid ICU.
Communicating in Masks
I'm getting used to keeping my mask on for hours and hours, but sometimes communicating with masks is exhausting. Especially when accents are involved.
Going for a hall walk with 5 million tubes, is complicated enough. But trying to hear instructions through masks is extra stressful. And some staff are double masked!
But, thank goodness the ICU staff is the best. They have learned to speak loud and clear, through their masks. I just feel sorry for patients who are hard of hearing, or don't speak English.
Communicating with Friends and Family
The nurse yesterday told me to not fret over communicating with EVERYONE! She told me to designate one person, to share all the info. Well that works great if all your people are connected. Mine aren't and I've never liked group communication. I played the "Telephone Game" too many times as a kid. Stories change...
Yesterday, I just figured I'd let it be my job, to communicate with family and friends, while Don was in surgery. I grabbed my thermal coffee mug and stepped outside to make some phone calls.
Tip: Bring a really good thermal mug to the hospital and fill up at their Starbucks!
I did have one major communication failure. For two days, I've tried continuously, to reach my Dad. I spoken with him daily for 18 months, during the pandemic and I knew he was concerned about Don's surgery. Why wasn't he picking up? Added stress. My sister finally determined his landline was unplugged.
They booted me out of ICU at 7 tonight. Don had finally gotten his chest tubes out and was awaiting a hospital room. I had to leave him before transfer. It made me sad.
I got home and walked down to the mailbox. I stopped to see the sky and lake. I needed that. It's just my second night home alone and it still feels weird. Especially because I still have Don's cell phone. He's not really up for dealing with calls. It felt so odd not to be able to text him to see if he was okay. I forget how dependent we are, on our tech communication.
But as I settled into the quiet house, I thought back to yesterday's converstaion with Don, right after surgery. I grinned to myself, knowing I would tell him the funny things he said later, when he could appreciate.
"Did they get the number of the truck that ran over me? They really put me through the ringer... I've got strips on my gown. That's perfect for Sugar Land." "What?" "You know. The prison..."
I'll share with him later!
I started this complaining list/blog, in May 2016. I posted 200 gripes about my breast cancer and then I was done.
On March 13, 2020, I started venting all over again, when another disease (starting with a C) interfered with my life. Only this time, it was affecting more than me. I ranted for a year, until I got my vaccine in March 2021.
Coronary Artery Disease was the reason I restarted this blog on September 26, 2021. This time it was Don who was dealing with a worry that started with the letter "C".
Coronavirus and Cancer, Coronary Artery Disease! All are evil, but none can totally get me down... if I vent! I usually end up feeling a little more positive at the end of each post!