Following on from my previous post: Brian spent 18 days in the cardiology unit of North Shore Hospital. On 23 September came the long-awaited news that a place for him was available at Auckland City Hospital. Accompanied by a nurse carrying a defibrillator, he was transferred by ambulance across the Harbour Bridge, and admitted to the cardiothoracic surgery ward in preparation for a five hour procedure to bypass his left coronary artery, replace his aortic valve, and repair the aneurysm of his ascending aorta.
We kissed farewell as he was wheeled through the doors of the operating theatre next day, and then for the first time since it all began I broke down in tears. Fortunately a close friend was available to take me out for coffee and listen to the story of our recent woes.
When the surgeon phoned me that afternoon to say that the procedure had gone well my relief was enormous. But when I arrived to visit Brian in the intensive care unit later on, I was told that he had had a stormy few hours. A group of doctors and nurses were gathered round his bedside. He was deeply unconscious and blood was flowing out through the drains in his chest.
Despite repeated transfusions of blood and blood products, his condition did not improve and shortly before midnight the decision was made to recall the surgical team and take him back to theatre. I was trembling with fear and distress, and very thankful that family members had come in to sit with me and then drive me home.
After the second operation, which involved the removal of blood clots and fluids, Brian began to get better. By next morning his vital signs were stable, and I was present to watch him being awakened from his drug-induced coma.
Two days later he was moved out of the intensive care unit into a four-bedded ward, where he stayed for over a week. On some days he made rapid progress, and on some days his condition caused concern. On two occasions he went back into rapid atrial fibrillation and required intravenous amiodarone to restore sinus rhythm. At other times his heart rate became too slow, and a week after the first surgery he had a pacemaker fitted. He had some brief spells of anger and despair, but overall remained remarkably positive.
For myself, the physical and emotional demands have felt almost overwhelming, and I developed several apparently unrelated medical problems during the month that Brian was in hospital. These included an episode of hypertension and tachycardia beginning on the same night that, unknown to me, Brian’s recurrent arrhythmia was causing great concern. Anxiety and exhaustion were the obvious triggers for my own symptoms and, despite having done so much clinical and research work in the field of mind-body medicine, this was my first significant personal experience of stress-related illness. If I had had such an experience before my retirement I think I would have been a better doctor.
Brian has now been discharged from hospital, and although life may not be easy during the projected recovery period of three months, we are both happy and relieved that he is home again. Through this whole saga I have been tremendously grateful for the skill and kindness of the hospital staff; the marvels of modern medicine and surgery; the practical support, good wishes and prayers of family and friends; and the comforting presence of our three cats.