Three months later I joined a gym.
It’d been a pretty long three months
Being back at home and submitting to being ‘the patient’. Only being able to sleep on my back with a cushion under each elbow in case my delicate frontal perforations pulled apart again. My boobs are fine but not weighty or impressive. And still the udder like hang on them just constantly pulled at the fragile skin on my chest. I ended up sleeping in a fairly tight bra just to try and hold everything in place.
My first night at home without my hospital pneumatic bed to lower me up and down. Firstly I needed 2 solid pillows to prop me up to a near seated position for sleeping. Any lower down and I was still acutely aware of my new heart beat drumming almost out of my chest. This put me way forward of my husband in the bed. Luckily, Bassalot is really tall so we have a King sized bed anyway. My medical needs would have fully swamped an ordinary double bed.
Bassalot brought me an extra bedside table for my regulation glass of water mit straube. I’d picked up this luxury from The Spire where a jug of iced water was constantly topped up on the bedside table next to me. That straw in a glass of cool water really was a healer. My other essentials (other than medications) turned out to be lip balm, tissues and my reading glasses. All these I kept together in a small red bag with skulls on it (no surprise there) which Pats had given me before my op. Whenever I voyaged between upstairs and down, I always had this little bag on me and hence had pretty much everything I needed.
I have no idea whether I slept or not that first night at home. I do know when morning came I was just pretty impressed that Bassalot and I had achieved something. That something being that with absolutely no medical experience I had survived a night at home less than a week after heart surgery.
I still couldn’t lift my body weight with my arms so from lying on my back I needed Bassalot to push me into a sitting position. He loved this as I’m notoriously rubbish at letting anyone do anything for me. I soon fought back however and had just enough stomach muscles to do one sit up a day – go me and my washboard! He was devastated so sometimes I still pretended to need a push…
Bassalot was my absolute dream carer. He made me breakfasts, lunches and dinners with all my favourite and healthy ingredients. Organised my visitors so I didn’t get too tired; came up with interesting walks around the many blocks of terraced houses in Southsea; drove me to the seafront and sat me on a bench and wrapped me in a blanket with an ice cream while I therapeutically watched the waves. What’s not to love?
I likened myself to a T-Rex. As my chest muscles were still weak, I was unable to lift things, reach up or support my own body weight with my arms. My legs on the other hand became little power pistons. I had to stand up with out any help from my arms and climb stairs without using the bannister. Post op my legs were about the only things with any muscle left in them.
B had taken leave from work for a couple of weeks but was then able to work from home for a while. Mum and Dad came down for two days and took over the cooking and walking. By then I was able to fully stroll the seafront and in true Lucy style (and so as not to let my Mum down) we fully strolled about a mile along the seafront and back. Then I battled tiredness to make the most of seeing my parents and finally, when they left, I went to sleep for about 48 hours and Bassalot lovingly picked up the pieces and rebuilt his wife once again.
My front wound was all kinds of a mess. In hindsight I probably washed the clotting scabs off too early but boy was it a relief to remove the crusty mess from what used to be a perfectly acceptable cleavage. I was back to seeing a thin surgical line stretching from just below my collarbone to a midway point at the bottom of my boobs. I know this as I decided to make a time laspe film of the scar healing process and take a photo every morning. It was something I had been morbidly curious about pre op, (hells, no, I’d needed to know this information). Had I been a guy, this could easily have been a full frontal photo, no problem. As a woman I thought I won’t be held back and had gone for the same approach. However, on watching the ‘movie’ back, it is difficult for me, let alone my husband to not look at it and think ‘ooh boobies!’ as they slightly move around and get larger and smaller frame by frame. However, it is a good reminder of the lengthy process. It was a cut through skin, muscle and bone and that takes a lot of healing.
Finally, after even more non-healing, I did go and see the nurse at my GPs who patched me up and said, give it a week, and if necessary, make an appointment with your GP. It was necessary. My GP sent me back to Southampton hospital where my surgeon was unavailable. After waiting an age I finally saw a registrar who wasn’t concerned at all. As long as the inside was ok, the outside was nothing to worry about. He patched me up with so much gauze and bromine I was concerned I’d never even see the wound again, and home I went.
Similar story when I went for a routine appointment with a nurse at Portsmouth hospital. If the inside’s are good, we ain’t worried. My last ‘splitting’ had actually occurred whilst trying to pass a particularly stubborn poo. I thought it was all under control and after the final push felt the tell tale warm trickle oozing down my front. The nurse panicked at this story and said well if that’s happening on the outside, imagine what’s happening on the inside. Good point although I refused the stool softening medicine. I’m still convinced that my poo has really toughened up since starting on my medication. It is my absolute mission to cut down my Statins dose (maybe even completely) and lose the Bisoprolol altogether. My plan was to reduce my cholesterol through diet and exercise and quiz my GP as to the exact effects and necessity of the Bisoprolol. I love science and have nothing against taking drugs to keep me alive or negate pain, but if it’s not really necessary and I’m just another chalkboard tally for the drugs company then I’m as happy without it.
Amanda, the cardio nurse, offered me a two session course on heart operation facts and nutritional advice plus a ten week exercise course for post cardio patients. All for free and I signed up. As I’d been cooped up for a few months I wanted to connect with people who’d been through a similar experience. I did imagine that I might be the youngest and most female person there and boy was that right. Not strictly true, as there were a couple of other women a similar age to myself. The rest varied greatly. There were the great shocked and inquisitive, the know it all survivors who hardly joined in at all and their partners got more out of the exercises than they did, the questioners about alternative healing, and I guess me, who took it all in and stored up the information I was given.
I have a really good social network of friends and family. And I have a partner who’s alive. Many of the people there were living alone and I would have found it really tough, after the initial healing is done, to get back to normal life alone. One thing that became apparent, especially amongst the older guys who maybe couldn’t pursue the jobs and interests they’d had before their heart attacks was a sense of loneliness and dis-connect. In the many print outs we were given there were opportunities to meet up on walks and social events. But as human beings (especially I think the male of the species) we are notoriously bad at reading hand-outs. I did try and make people aware of these extra curricular activities (as obviously I had read everything!) but who knows.
I loved the exercise class. It was the first proper movement I’d done in three months and it felt good. I really didn’t care now that I was still splitting open whenever my arms reached above my head. I got stuck in at home, borrowed some small weights from Pats for that extra ripping sensation and then at ground zero of wound, something really wasn’t right. At the bottom, exactly where my bra would be, if I’d been wearing one, the most horrific pussey mess appeared. I checked with the nurse at the class and she said yes, definitely a trip to the GP who would prescribe antibiotics. It may clear up by itself but it was risky to get an infection in the bone so go get it sorted. I managed to get an appointment that night and lo and behold I was on antibiotics for the first time in my life.
They were quite a high maintenance dose, requiring eating at exact intervals so that you always consumed the pills on an empty stomach. Before the pussey mess even started I could feel a hard lump under the wound and was convinced something was in there. The nurse had assured me that all the stitches they used were dissolvable but when I touched the small lump it really hurt. So I wasn’t that surprised when on day 2 of my course of antibiotics my chest burst open and on the second gruesome attempt I extracted a 3 cm length of plastic nylon wire with a ruddy great knot in the middle of it. I would say I was fine after that (adrenaline rush aside) but it took another course of antibiotics a couple of weeks later to knock the infection completely on the head. This is still where the reddest area of my scar is and I can still only wear sports or soft bras even now.
They’d recommended I didn’t go back to the exercise class whilst I was on antibiotics although I’d carried on with the exercises at home. I’d been looking around Southsea for other classes I could attend that would push me a bit more than the hospital ones. Cost was obviously a factor. I was still only working part time and Bassalot was paying the lion share of our expenses so I couldn’t go to too much. At about the same time we had a leaflet posted through our door for a gym in town, with an opening offer of £12.99 a month for the first three months. I checked out their web site and they also offered many classes all included in your monthly membership. This sounded like quite a deal. I figured I could give it a go for 3 months and that would be a good amount of time to see if I actually did go – ever!
So I joined the gym and I love it. I had never realised before that many gyms offer classes. I tried out Bootcamp (way too competitive), Legs Bums and Tums which I did get into for a while but then found Pump aka lifting heavy things which, it turns out, is great fun. Different trainers obviously take very different classes but I enjoy the variety and even though I now work full time I still try and make time twice a week to pump.
They also ran a 6 week nutrition and exercise class, an hour a week for £20, and I signed up. We were weighed and measured and our instructor, a fit and lovely trainer called Iman recommended an app on which we were to scan everything we ate. Based on out height, weight, age and lifestyle, she worked out how many calories we should be eating a day. At the end of each day, the app provided you with a handy pie chart of your macros consumed. Macros, I have learned, are protein, fat and carbohydrates. The idea was that your pie chart at the end of the day would roughly be in equal thirds: protein; fat and carbohydrates.
Well, eye opener to someone who thought their diet was pretty good. I had very little protein in my diet, some fat and a lion share of carbohydrates. I investigated sources of protein, made a list, hit the supermarket and have never looked back.
I have gone from eating no breakfast to eating a bowl of value muesli, a dollop of fat free greek yoghurt, a shot of protein whey powder to flavour and mixed together with some skimmed milk. I now have all my tea and coffee black (darn those years of lattes) and have all but cut out sugar and the causes of sugar – namely bread, pasta and rice. I remember in science at school being given a piece of white bread to chew and chew and chew. Over time it became sweet in your mouth and it was explained to us that this is because the chewing broke it down into glucose. Anything with sugar in it became a massive chunk of carbohydrate on the pie chart and I loved the challenge of keeping that pie chart in order.
My pack lunches have dramatically changed too. Before I may have tried to have a salad and be healthy but now I have a full on bowl of beans or quinoa with fish, chicken or Quorn. My evening meal as well is now void of pasta, rice or potatoes but quite literally an allotments worth of vegetables to fill me up with some sort of meat, fish or Quorn bake. I pretty much get my bulk of daily carbohydrates down in the morning. In the past, mainly due to lifestyle and the crazy hours of retail, I’d be practically starving myself all day and eat a massive carbohydrate meal in the evening.
I can’t quite knock the dark chocolate on the head but apparently this is ESSENTIAL for magnesium so hey. And of course I do still have cake, biscuits, take-out, beer sessions, tapas, prosecco / wine /cocktails but not all the time and I find it much easier to say no.
Over 5 months I lost 8.6 kg and my BMI went from 26.2 to 22.4. And on my wobbly boobie time lapse scar heal movie I can properly see me losing weight too. AND, as I keep to my diet pretty regularly, I have kept the weight off. I actually feel as if I am eating far more food than I used to, it’s just not carbohydrate heavy.
When I left hospital, the nurses advised me to be in charge of my medications. I don’t need telling twice. I went to my GP who was highly dubious about reducing my Statins dose on their watch but I persisted and had regular cholesterol checks eventually getting my cholesterol down from 7.5 pre-op to about 3.5. I pulled out all the stops for this last check. I don’t think any cholesterol even passed my lips for about a month before the blood test and I hit up Holland & Barrett for some plant stenols, promising to drop my cholesterol by an extra 10%. At this point my GP agreed that I could stay on the half dose of Statins. I intend to halve it again. If I still need them I have no intention of putting myself at risk but – bring it on!
I have also recently come off Bisoprolol and have to have a blood pressure check in a month. All post bypassees are advised to stay on a soluble aspirin a day. They taste hideous but disguise quite well in my morning cereal extravaganza. In fact the only contact required of me with the NHS is an annual cholesterol check. As far as I know, I’m fixed.
Well, it’s the final countdown to the final chapter next week. It’s been quite a ride, but see you ten past six on Monday 23rd December for the finale! xx