Today (June 26) marks my 6 month anniversary date since my heart attack on December 26. After surgery life has been mostly good. I have made adjustments and learned to get used to them.
It’s been a few weeks since the last substantial post and this entry to this blog. This entry is the continuation of the first part of this series “What to Expect After Heart Bypass Surgery“.
The immediate time after my release from the hospital is well documented in this blog. In this part the discussion focuses on things regarding the longer term.
MEALTIME: One of the first things all bypass patients have to do is make changes to their diet. For me, this was major.
For most of my life I was more or less a “junk food junkie”, which meant eating out a lot to buying and choosing fast / convenience foods nearly all of the time. While I have some minimal cooking skills, for the most part it was easier to get a take out meal or something “instant” that could be popped into the microwave. I did this for years… decades… likely from the time I was in college…. The Bee Gees and disco was a big thing then. That was long ago.
Over time all of the salt, fat, cholesterol and God knows what else built up in my system. On December 26 my body revolted. I had a heart attack.
Today I mostly eat simple home cooked foods such as fish, an occasional chicken (skinless, boneless, white meat recommended), toast, broccoli with raw vegetables and fruit. I usually prepare the cooked foods with the microwave oven or steam sautéing in a shallow pan. No oil, just water.
For breakfast I eat at least one orange a day if possible and other raw fruits such as strawberries, apples, bananas and grapes. Fruits are a good substitute for sweets such as candy and baked desserts.
I used to eat at McDonalds, Burger King, Jack in the Box and a slew of other fast food restaurants. Most of those are mostly out. I recall stopping at McDonald’s only once or twice this year, and both times I got a small side salad that I used the contents for a home made sandwich.
EXERCISE: One of the hardest things for me to do is exercise. As a non-athlete and someone who hated participatory sports, exercise is something I totally avoided.
I had to change that so for the time being I’ve taken up walking. This is something that I have been doing off and on since at least 1997. I now have to put more effort into it.
I walk about a mile or two a day. I never officially measured the mileage. I do measure the time that I walk which on the low end is 30 minutes and 90 minutes on the higher end.
Shortly after being released from the hospital, I could barely walk 10 to 20 feet without running out of breath. This is normal. When you first start walking it will be difficult. Walks will be slow and short. If you keep pushing yourself, the distance that you cover will improve in time.
My walking distance gradually increased from 20 feet a session to at least one block a day or several times around the inside of the nearby WalMart Store. After that I was walking from my apartment building near Don Quijote to Ala Moana Beach Park, Magic Island and more.
Walking to the Magic Island / Ala Moana Beach Park area is one of my favorite walks. Other times I enjoy walking along the Ala Wai Canal area or walking to either Waikiki Beach or the other way to the Blaisdell Center complex. You can see a lot of things while walking. It is a good idea to take at least your smart phone or a small camera to take a picture of any interesting along the way.
MEDICATIONS: Once you are out of the hospital trying to make sense out of the many medications you may be required to take can be confusing. However it is best to take the medications requirements in stride and learn how to manage your times and dosages as fast as you can. Your medications will be with you for the rest of your life.
What medications heart patients are required to take differ among every individual. There is no point in telling you what I take because what you take may be something entirely different.
That all said, some of the best things to remember regarding medications are the following:
- Take them diligently and on time in the prescribed amounts.
- Do not take more than what is prescribed.
- If you miss taking your medication at a prescribed time, consult your physician or health care provider for advice on follow-up.
- Follow instructions on the medication’s container.
- Get a pill organizer if most of your medications are in tablet or capsule form.
- Get to know the names and dosages of each medication.
- Order them well ahead of time when supplies begin to run low.
Last but not least, use common sense and keep medications away from children and other adults who are not authorized to use them.
MEDICAL EQUIPMENT: Having some of your own medical equipment is a nice thing to do. Monitoring your health with the following items keeps you informed on a timely basis:
- Thermometer: For taking your temperature.
- Bathroom Scale: Keeping track of your weight.
- Pulse Oximeter: Measure your heartbeat.
- Syphgmomanometer (Blood Pressure Monitor): Monitor your blood pressure
- Spirometer: Measures air capacity of your lungs
- Pill Organizer: For organizing your medications
- Logbook: A small tablet where you can keep track of your day to day activities such a meals eaten, medications taken, appointments and places you walked to.
I’ll write about some of these tools and devices in an upcoming entry.
DOCTOR VISITS: You will have several follow-up visits with your primary care physician as well as those doctors and specialists who got you through the surgical process. In the long run however, you will mostly consult with your primary care physician who will refer you to a specialist as needed.
It is important to maintain a schedule of regular follow-up visits with your doctor.
HOME CARE: Last but not least, the most important thing that you can have as a new heart bypass patient is a good home care network or persons. In most cases, the heart bypass patient will rely on a spouse, adult child, parent, friend, sibling or relative.
Having someone help with your home care for at least the first 4 to 8 weeks is invaluable. When you are released from the hospital there will be a lot of things that you won’t be able to do. Things that we take for granted like walking, changing your clothes, taking a shower, using the toilet, following up with your medications and doctor visits, and a while lot more will be much easier if there is someone helping you nearly every day. Driving is also out of the question as doctors recommend against it so that you are able to heal properly in the chest area.
This person (like my sister Sandra) should be accommodating to your needs yet be firm and focused. Your home care person is not there to be your mother so don’t expect to be “babied” by them. A good home care person will not only help you but also encourage you to become more independent.
As time goes the new heart bypass patient will ultimately become more independent, cooking their own meals, walking farther each day, driving again and in time lead back to a hopeful and healthy normal life.
If I left something out, let me know in the comments below or drop me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.