When I was transferred from the ICU to the cardiac ward in the hospital, my room was upgraded and I got 4 walls instead of 3! I was so honored. The nurse I was assigned, Ben, was the best nurse I had in the 12 days I was there. He was attentive and he asked me about me, not my heart, which was nice. All this time, at least 3 times a day, I heard “You’re kinda young to have heart surgery”, and he never mentioned it once.
My family had a rotating schedule on who was visiting me which day. If I had my way, I would make them all sleep over and never leave until I could leave. Some days were overloaded with family, some days it felt like everyone forgot me and the only contact I got was from the staff.
Day by day machines were leaving my side, until finally I only had two, my IV stand and my heart monitor machine. When I went for walks, I was accompanied by two LNAs and the physical therapist. Walking was the only thing I had to look forward too every day. One day after a particularly successful walk, as I tried to get back into bed I started to feel queasy and felt like I was going to throw up. As I could feel it traveling up my stomach, it sounded like something in my snapped and then the next thing I know I am waking up half on the floor half on the bed. I had re-broke my sternum while I was throwing up.
Luckily, my sternum had been broken so well before, re-breaking it was not a problem. Besides the pain, there was no complications….. that we noticed immediately. When the nurse woke me up the following morning for 4 AM rounds, we discovered together that I had gained 30 pounds in less than 8 hours. We found out the pericardial sac around my heart was filling up with fluids, and that I would need to go into emergency surgery to get it to be drained.
Fortunately this all happened when I was still in the hospital, so getting the proper care wasn’t an issue. It happened 1 day before they were going to allow me to leave, but now my stay was doubled. What should have been 6 days turned into 12 days. On my 12 day, I was roaring to leave the hospital. I can’t imagine what people who have to stay in hospitals long term must feel like, but I was going crazy. On my last day, the doctor came to remove my drainage device, while I was awake, which was a horrible experience that I hope no one has to go through.
The first time I went outside it was a cool day, and I realized that I had missed the part of autumn when the leaves change colors before they all turn brown. All the leaves now were brown, but I was alright with it because I. Was. Free.
Most of this things in the post, I do not remember. I only can piece together what happened from the stories from my nurses or my family members.
When I woke up, I was instantly confused. I know I was in a lot of pain but because of the medicine I don’t remember it. I was alone in a room with many machines. The pain was so much that I started to shake what I could move. I couldn’t taste anything and I couldn’t smell anything and my eyes with staying unfixed. I tried to move my arms to do something, anything, but I couldn’t move them at all. All I could do was move my head to the side a little bit.
The room had a wall made of entirely glass, with lots of moving shapes outside of it. After a couple minutes of stress and confusion, my eyes started to focus. The nursing station appeared in front of my eyes, and as soon as I realized I was in the ICU there was a rush a movement in front of my door, and noise coming from the room to my side. Undoubtedly come complication with another patient. All of the doctors and nurses were crowded around this room for what felt like hours, and finally one peered through the glass and saw my eyes were open. I was so unresponsive I didn’t even blink, just stared. He started motioning to another nurse and they both started looking into my room, I felt like an animal at the zoo. When I moved my head, they both snapped to it and came into my room. My parents appeared minutes after.
It was about 7 pm when I woke up that night, and for some reason my parents wanted to leave as soon as they saw I was awake. I wanted them to stay the whole night but they needed rest after what I’m sure was a very stressful day. The next day, before my parents had come, my nurse thought it would be a good idea to try to transition me in 2 big ways, not even 12 hours after waking up. She decided it was already time to take me off of the pain medicine and put me on tylenol, and she thought it would be a good idea to force me out of bed onto the reclining chair despite my protests. This was around 6am, and doctors usually make the rounds at 9am. When my doctor came to check on me, he found me having a panic attack in the chair the nurse left me in. Within 5 minutes, he had chewed out the entire ICU staff and I was put on the strongest medicine they had to offer, and I was asleep for the rest of the day.
I wish that this was the last complication that I had.
When I got back from my unfortunately short trip to Philadelphia, I was able to rest for one night before I went into the hospital for pre-op tests. The first test I had to do was a Cardiac catheter, which was inserted into my wrist and fed through to my heart. It was a long wired that was taking pictures of my heart so the surgeons could get a better look at it before operating day. I had been given a relaxing medicine, so I couldn’t feel anything that they were doing. But while they were taking the cath out, my arm had a spasm and a shooting pain came over my whole right side of my body, which prompted them to cut the test short because suddenly I was in a lot of pain. In the end, they found out that they hadn’t given me enough medicine.
From that room, they wheeled me straight into another room. This one was much darker than the last, and reminded me of the rooms that people get echocardiograms in. I forget the name of the test they did, but they had to put me under anesthesia so a technician could put a tube into my airways to look for something or other. At this point, when they were explaining it to me, I was still in a lot of pain from the cath, so I didn’t grasp much of what they were saying. When I woke up, I couldn’t feel a thing. They gave me a fancy wrist cast to help me keep my wrist straight while the artery healed that they pierced, and sent me on my way home, with a little less than a week to wait before surgery.
During this week before my big day, I couldn’t help but feel left out. I would see all of the cool things my friends from Arcadia were doing online, and hear about the stories my friends from home had while they were moving back into school, and all I had to show was a tiny incision on my wrist and a clunky cast. I was pretty self-conscious at this point, I was worried that people would think I dropped out of school and made up a big story about why I couldn’t be in school just so that I could get away with it.
As the week went on, I sat and twiddled my thumbs waiting for time to pass. My surgery was scheduled for September 14th. On the 13th, I wasn’t allowed to eat anything after 12 noon, and that night I had to sterilize my chest area as thoroughly as I could. At about 3 am September 14th, my parents and I made our way to Portsmouth Regional Hospital. Dr. Sisto, my surgeon, and his office had organized it so I would be the only heart patient that day he worked on. During one of the meetings I had with him prior, he told me that he tries not to work on patients whose parents are still alive, but since I was just a rare case he was going to make an exception for me. Something about that made me nervous.
Below is an example of what an Echo looks like. To me, it’s very calming to watch.
Lets jump ahead exactly 2 days after my last entry. It was the last Sunday in August. The Friday before, I had just gotten the worst news of my life. But even through it, I was determined to go to school and finish at least another semester before something terrible was going to happen to me. My parents and my extended family were all weary about me being so far from home with a failing heart, but my doctor had told me that I could wait until I got back for winter break to do the surgery. We packed up both our cars and zoomed away to Pennsylvania, a 6 hour drive that usually takes us about 8 hours. (Safe driving is the only kind of driving.) By the end of the drive, we were exhausted.
The next day, Monday, we get up early and move into my apartment at Oak Summit Apartments. After my brother and father had lifted all of the heavy things and I had carried the pillows, I gave them a tour of the campus. My tour I learned from being an Ambassador is like second language for me, so it was like putting on an old pair of shoes. My dad made me and my brother pose for this photo.
After I made them suffer through a tour, I said a teary goodbye to them and then started really unpacking. That night was spent with friends, catching up and having a great time.
Tuesday, he next day, after I had made it back to my room, I got a call from a New Hampshire number. When I answered it, a man with a very thick Italian accent was speaking to me, asking if he would reach ‘Nicholas McMullen’. When I told him he was speaking to me, he very bluntly told me that I needed to come back to New Hampshire immediately so I could start surgery prep on Thursday. I was bewildered. I told him I don’t think that was going to happen, and I was so shocked I hung up the phone.
Ten minutes later my mom called me, hysterically telling me to start packing up because my father and brother were on their way back to help me back up my apartment I have stayed in for 12 hours.
I had just had a very successful first year of school; I had made life long friends, I had made memories I would remember for the rest of my life, and I was happy- everything seemed to be going great. But with almost anything good, there is always something looming in the back to make a mess of everything. During the last few weeks of school, I thought I had been having small asthma attacks, it was the only way I could explain what was happening to me. When I got back home, I visited my doctor immediately. He had me do all the routine tests, like blood pressure and an EKG but everything came back normal. After about two months, and many tests, my doctor decided that I should go to a pulmonary functions test, which. would test my breathing.
When I arrived at the test, I was whisked away by my technician. He ended up being a cross old man who acted like I was wasting his time. He made me so anxious that it skewered my results, and my doctor ordered another test. As I am signing in for the second test a few weeks later, I ask the receptionist if I could have another technician. She knew exactly which technician I had last time, just by me asking for a new one.
When my results came back normal for this test, my doctor played his last card and sent me to get an echocardiogram of my heart, and scheduled a follow up appointment for a cardiologist. During the echocardiogram, my technician, Ian, asked me the normal questions like where I lived and what I went to school for. When we parted ways, he said ‘I’m sure I’ll see you again’ which got me worried. Why would he see me again if I had a healthy heart?