My previous post on this blog site was published in October 2020. The reason for my year long absence from the blogosphere is that I received a heart transplant on October 14, 2020. I have been a little preoccupied since that time.
As you may recall from my previous posts, I was placed on the heart transplant waiting list in late July 2020. I had been told that because of some factors, including my blood type, a heart likely would be available soon. A transplant nurse told me to pack a bag so I would be ready to go to the hospital as soon as a heart was available.
I had heart failure for seven years before I was placed on the transplant list. I decided to learn about the transplant process about 3 years before I was placed on the waiting list. I had a feeling that at some point, my heart failure would worsen so much that I would need a transplant. I wanted to be prepared, although I wondered “Will I really be ready when the time comes for the transplant?”
Early in the afternoon of October 13, 2020, my question was answered. I received a call from a heart transplant nurse providing notice that a heart might be available. She wanted me to stay by the phone because she would be calling to update me.
My sister lives about 2 hours away from me, so I gave her notice. We decided that I should see if someone was available to give me a ride if I got the call to report to the hospital before she arrived. She would need to pack. Her husband would drive her to my condominium and drop her off so that she could take my car to the hospital.
I called my minister, and he was available to take me to the hospital. I told him I would keep him posted as I received updates from the transplant nurse. Shortly after that conversation, the nurse called to let me know that the heart was available and that a hospital room was waiting for me. I called my minister and he said he was on the way.
Once I got to the hospital, I was taken to a room. I changed into a hospital gown, and a hospital nurse took my vital signs. My minister was allowed to come into the room to stay with me, and after a while, my sister arrived. The transplant surgery was scheduled for the next morning. However, we were told that due to Covid restrictions, no one could be with me in the morning before the surgery. Visiting hours ended, and I said goodbye to both my sister and my minister. No tears at this time, even though it looked like I would be facing the surgery on my own the next morning. No problem. I just wanted to get the process started.
After they left, I remember that I was tested for Covid, and the result was negative. The rest is kind of a blur until the next morning. They took into the surgery area where I was greeted by a nurse who was very pleasant, which is what you need when you are facing transplant surgery. She told me that the rules were not as tight as I was led to believe. She said my sister could come and wait with me prior to the surgery. I called my sister, and she immediately came to the hospital.
When the doctors evaluated me for a heart transplant, I was confident that a transplant was the right move. But now I was about to go into the operating room. Did I cry, or was I afraid, or did I wonder if I had made a mistake? The answers to all these questions are no. My sister and I both remember that she told me she would see me when it was all done. We remember that I was very ready to move forward with the transplant. There were no tears or doubts or fear.
The first thing I remember after leaving my sister is waking up in a room with a bunch of nurses hovering over me and checking monitors. I remember feeling very hot. This is an unusual feeling for me, because I tend to be cold. I am always putting on sweaters or hoodies when I am home. Apparently, I was given a number of drugs after the transplant surgery and my temperature spiked. This explains the gathering of nurses in my room.
I tried to tell the nurses that it was so hot in the room. Sound would not come out of my mouth, and the nurses kept saying “don’t talk”. What I did not realize was that I was on a ventilator, so I could not talk. I tried to make motions to let them know I was hot. The nurses tried to figure out what I was concerned about, but also said “don’t move”. They came up with a number of interpretations of my gestures, none of which had anything to do with the heat in the room. I learned from this experience that I would suck as a professional charades artist.
I eventually fell asleep, due to all the drugs that were in me. I woke up a little later with two nurses in my room. I heard them giving me some instructions as they bent over me. They pulled something out from my throat area. I realized that they had taken out the ventilator. I felt no pain or discomfort as they removed it.
The next few days were spent monitoring my wounds, introducing me to all the meds I would be taking, and introducing food back into my life. There were two tubes in my stomach that were drains, and a Foley catheter to take care of the urine. And, there were the ever popular blood draws.
One thing I learned in the transplant process is that my bodily functions would become a subject of great interest to every doctor and nurse I saw. I felt like a toddler again, because the medical folks were so happy when I could pee or poop. However, I also understood that it was necessary to monitor these functions to make sure that my body was returning to normal. I decided it was time to just put dignity aside, and to praise the Lord that I was alive.
Of course, my sister came to visit me every day. As I recall, because of Covid, I was limited to one visitor each day between the hours of 1:00 and 5:00 p.m. My minister and a few church friends stayed connected with me through texts and e-mails, and the minister sent an update to the church members. My sister sent updates to my family and to the friends I had formed from my former job, my neighborhood, and other organizations. Some people wanted to send flowers, but alas, a transplant patient is not allowed to receive fresh flowers.
Believe me, the e-mails and cards I received from friends throughout the time I was in the hospital were more than enough. I was able to talk to my church friends on FaceTime. I had lots of people letting me know how loved I was and how brave I was. Personally, I doubt the bravery part. I was just too stubborn to let heart failure rule my life any longer if I could find an alternative.
There is a picture of me attached to an IV pole during the transplant recovery. There are bags of drugs and at least twelve infusion boxes attached to the pole. The pole was so loaded that I suspect it weighed more than I did!
In the picture I was also napping. It was daytime, but if you have ever stayed in a hospital, you know you do not get a lot of nighttime sleep because people keep coming in to take your vitals and draw blood. Plus, I was only allowed to sleep on my back, as I had a major wound in the sternum area and lots of tubes. I am not a back sleeper, so I never got a lot of rest at night in the hospital. This would explain the impromptu catnaps during visiting hours.
As I progressed during my first week in the hospital, a team from the rehabilitation services department came in to show me the best way to get in and out of bed without disrupting the big wound around my sternum. We also went for walks in the hall. I think after a few visits, they were convinced that I had no mobility issues as I was walking well and keeping up with them as we walked the hallways.
One of the heart transplant doctors told me that my transplant surgery was like a textbook case. There were no complications, and everything went according to plan. I attribute this to the fact that I exercised as much as I could prior to the transplant, ate a good diet and kept my spirits up. The doctors had always told me that I would need to be at the peak of my strength when I went in for the transplant. Obviously, it worked for the transplant itself.
I was released from the hospital on October 23, 2020. My sister took me home, and started a 5 week visit to help me get through the first stage of my recovery. Everyone was convinced that I would bounce back in record time. Was that the case? Stay tuned for the next series of posts to find out!
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. She spent the next 7 years learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth. Then in October 2020, she received a heart transplant. This blog is about her journey of the heart.