I didn’t see the beach until my last morning in Florida but it was okay because I wasn’t there for warm weather fun. I was there to be with my mom and help her while she was recovering from open heart surgery. I was there for six days. It was the longest I have ever been away from my kids. I felt terrible being away from them but I really valued the time I spend with my mom even though it was often hard to see her anxious and in pain. It wasn’t that long ago that she did the same for me when she traveled up for from Florida for the birth of my son.
A couple weeks ago my mom called me from her art class (she teachers studio painting). She told me she was having some trouble breathing, tightness in her chest, and pain in her back. She had been having these symptoms on and off for a while but had been afraid to go to the doctor about them. This time it seemed worse and I was concerned. I suggested she go to the emergency room to get checked out. I said it would give here piece of mind and probably would be nothing. She agreed to go. She had tests which showed no heart attack. By that time my younger sister was with her. My mom was already making plans to head out and go shopping when they told her she needed to stay overnight for more tests.
The next day she had an echocardiogram and a cardiac catheterization which determined she had aortic stenosis which is a narrowing of the aortic valve causing reduced blood flow. She would have to have open heart heart surgery which they scheduled for the following morning. We were all so scared and she was so brave. During the approximately four hour surgery I anxiously passed the time. When my sister texted to say the surgery was successful I felt a sense of relief. The surgeon said she had a bicuspid valve which is a congenital defect or something she was born with which can lead to premature valve degeneration. When I picked my kids up from school and told them that Grandma’s surgery was a success they cheered. Of course the hardest part for my mom was just beginning.
If you are interested in what an open heart surgery and aortic value replacement entails here is a video…
For those first few days every time my phone rang I held my breath. She was having trouble breathing then her heart went into an abnormal rhythm. In addition to the physical trauma there has also been intense emotional trauma which I would compare to PTSD. Little things can seem big and can throw my mom into a panic. One day she developed a terrible rash all over her back which stole all her energy away form her recovery that day. She has a good day then a little setback then another good day. Overall she is improving but it will continue to take time and energy. She was in the hospital for six days after the surgery and then was transferred to a post acute rehab center where she has been doing both physical and occupational therapy. I was with her two days at the hospital and three days at the rehab. One of the biggest things she has to learn is how to do everyday tasks like washing and getting in and out of bed in a way that protects her sternum while it heals.
Eventually she should feel even better than she had been feeling before the surgery. She will be heading home this week and thankfully my other sister already had a trip planned so she will have lots of help. She will also have visits form a home healthcare nurse a few times a week and after her sternum is healed (which takes from 12 to 16 weeks) she will have a round of physical therapy. The entire medical team is clearly invested her healthy outcome and that is reassuring.
We went to an educational family support meeting at the rehab center and the counselor mentioned patients often go through stages of grief and I can imagine that is true. My mom lost something. She must now make heart healthy choices. Of course these are thing that we should all be doing like being active and eating a low sodium, heart healthy diet but for my mom and other heart patients these choices are even more important.
I am so glad I had the opportunity to spend some time with my mom in the hospital and the rehab. Even with all the difficulties we still managed to have some fun. We even managed to crack some jokes here and there. I am 100 percent positive my mom will come out of this better than ever. She is super human to have gone through this!