Post-op Update: 28 days later

SPOILER ALERT: there are no zombies in this post.

Today is officially the four week mark since my open heart surgery. It feels like both forever and yesterday at the same time.

So what have the last four weeks been like? Well, as you already know atrial fibrillation and PVCs had starring roles in weeks two and three, but all has been quiet on the electrical front as of late. Unfortunately, there seems to be no shortage of other complications to take their place.

The complication of the day is now nausea thanks to my valiant efforts to decrease my reliance on Percocet. Apparently it’s common knowledge to doctors (but not to first time surgical patients like myself) that Percocet stays in my bloodstream for approximately six hours for a whole pill, three hours for a half pill. As I’ve been trying to wean myself back from full pills to half pills, I haven’t been paying attention to how my eating habits matched up with my pill popping schedule. And in there lies the crux of the problem. Percocet suppresses my appetite and allows the acid in my stomach to build up. This makes me nauseous but then hungry at the same time after it’s gone on long enough. Let me tell you, being hungry and nauseous at the same time is not a feeling I would wish on my worst enemy. Needless to say, we finally figured out what was going on and the solution is to eat fifteen minutes before taking a pill and subsequently taking the pills on a fixed schedule to prevent the Percocet in my bloodstream from getting too low.

Now onto the good stuff…

I have FINALLY lost all the water weight I gained in the hospital! It took four friggin’ weeks but I finally have my legs back, cankle free. You have no idea how happy this makes me.

In other news, I am now a walking machine. I try to take at least two walks a day: one in the morning after the commuter rush hour and before the tourist rush hour and one at night when the streets are practically dead. I can now walk approximately a mile each time!

I am also kicking ass in physical therapy. I have one more session and then I will meet with my cardiologist next week to determine if I am ready to go into cardiac rehab, essentially personal training for cardiac patients.

Unfortunately, it’s not all sunshine as I write incision has decided to tighten up and it now feels as if I’ve got a two or three pound weight sitting on my chest. Once again, I’m told this is a normal part of the healing process but it sure makes breathing hard when it gets especially bad.

So that’s the news from the cardiac front at one month. Let me tell you this is going to be a much longer process than I expected. (Although how I really knew what to “expect” is beyond me.) All I can say is that my family and friends (and now strangers on the internet) have been amazingly supportive. I couldn’t do this without you, so keep the good vibes coming and I promise to channel them all into my continued recovery.




  1. Angela

    Darn, I was totally expecting a zombie update! But walking a mile at a time is better than the craziest zombie story so I will take that. So glad I got to visit. Your strength and honesty is amazing. Here’s to kicking butt at PT. Let’s see that exponential upward graph take off after 1 month!

  2. Tricia

    Thanks for the update. I now gather you won’t be back to the classroom next month? Or will you? What are your goals, if you don’t mind my nosiness?

  3. ellen hunt

    Wow, Summer,you are amazing and this is an amazing journey… and fascinating to hear about… a — what to expect and things you don’t know — booklet for heart patients undergoing surgury might be worth writing and getting published.
    Lots of hugs from Colorado, Ellen

  4. Barbara Yount

    Summer—I’m sure you wonder sometimes, if you had known everything that has happened to you since the operation, would you have had any hesitancy about doing it? You have been SO-O-O good at rolling with the flow. I think it’s your fabulous scientific mind that keeps you calculating how to circumvent possible future bumps—and thus to leverage the past events to create a smoother road ahead. Your posts and descriptions are excellent. Thank you for keeping us all informed. Love, Aunt Barbie

  5. Kelsey

    Rock on.

  6. forsythia

    My husband had this same surgery 18 years ago, with the valve replaced, dacron hose, etc. He had many of the similar complications – including the a-fib. He had problems with pain relief, but not like yours. His issues were with too little pain relief because the early 1990s were a time of “just stop whining about the pain we ain’t giving you no anything you drug addict baby whiner and it doesn’t hurt because we say so!!” school of pain relief. Even in the hospital, I had to threaten a nurse who said “pain is a good sign of healing” with calling the surgeon’s beeper number on a Sunday morning before she would get her Ratched ass in gear, as he hurt too much to breathe properly (my old school surgeon boss – a man with a very low mortality rate in older patients – warned me ahead of time and told me exactly how to play hardball).

    Here’s a timeline for you – Your Mileage may vary!

    He had surgery July 1, 1994 … age 32

    We took him back to the hospital with a-fib about two weeks out.

    He started walking about 3 weeks out.

    We took him to a festival concert with a wheelchair a month out. He was okay. Tired, but okay.

    and by early September he was biking with me at a rented vacation house on an island.

    During the fall, he had a couple of disorientation episodes – “pump head” events. Watch out for those.

    One year later, he did the first Boston to NYC AIDS ride – 265 miles by bike in three days!

    Not to say that you should force yourself onto such a pace – not to say that there weren’t further setbacks … but that first month is an everfuckinggoddamnsonofabitch … and you are through it!

    Hang in there … it ain’t over but it will get better. In the meantime, it will still suck. 18 years later, you will probably still be alive to remember it. We are headed to France for a bike trip to celebrate his 50th – a birthday he would not have seen.

    All the best – and continued healing vibes!

  7. Laura

    One day this is going to seem so far in the past, so far. Until then, we’re all pulling with you. And when you get back 100 percent, we’re going stargazing.

  8. Good to hear that you are making good progress Summer!

    I have a question for Forsythia (and for you too): Tell us more about the disorientation episodes, what you call “pump head” events. I think I had one or two of those during my first year post-op (same procedure as Summer), but was unable to get much info at the time. I’d like to compare notes!


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