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OHS - Open Heart Surgery - My Story ----- A look at my summer of 2017


Gonzo

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 OHS – Open Heart Surgery – My story

“Being a mechanic, shop owner, writer, lecturer, and teacher I tend to ‘think’ I’m capable of answering any question, take on any challenge, and solve any problem that comes my way.  This… is one time, I wasn’t able to do so.”  Gonzo

How it all started

         Leading up to my zipper (which is slang for open heart surgery) I thought I was just getting old and tired.  For two years or so, I had a very slight off and on chest pain that didn’t last longer than a few minutes.  It hurt, but I wasn’t concerned.  As soon as the pain dissipated I forgot all about it.  Most of the time I would have months between incidences, but that gradually changed to an all-out crushing pressure that lingered longer and longer between no pain and intense pain. The increasing occurrences went from once in a while, to once a month, to too often to consider it something other than what it was… a heart attack.  

 Things that I used to do in a few minutes seemed to take hours. I’ve always been a hands on and very physical type of guy.  Never one to pass on heavy lifting or something that was physically demanding, but this “slowing down” stuff was just the something that you couldn’t ignore.  It was time to see a doctor.  An appointment was made, but as usual the pain subsided and I was busy at the shop, so on I went back at it as hard as I normally went at it. Thinking as usual, that I was as tough as a grizzly and could solve this like any other problem I’ve encountered.

         There were a lot of signs leading up to my eventual heart attacks, (yes plural…as in several), but as with most boldly-go-where-no-man-has-gone-pig headed “A” personality-types with the personal drive of a MAC truck, and someone who still thinks he can keep up with the twenty something crowd (speaking of myself, of course) – and one who doesn’t listen to their own body or loved ones about your own demise, I ignored the signs. You fall into the trap of misdiagnosing yourself and possibly ending your career and family life all in one fatal swoop. If that’s you, then you’re bound to end up on the floor in the fetal position clutching your chest in extreme agony.  (Been there…done that).

The ER

         So, it’s no surprise I ended up in the ER with my son trying to carry his old man through the doors, while my wife is frantically making hand gestures seeking help from the nursing staff.  It wasn’t long before I was zipped (Gotta love that word, ya know) off into an awaiting curtained off room.  A few quick tests confirmed that this old guy wasn’t heading home any time soon.  Even the doctor who first examined me was in shock.  He said, “Most everyone I see this bad off are downstairs … with the sheet over their face … if ya get my drift.”  He went as far as pulling up the blanket and resting his arm alongside of my leg to show the color differences.  Wow, now I’m shocked.

         All of this led to more tests, and more tests. By now all of my kids have flown into town to be at my side. Stents were tried, but that didn’t work.  All that did was give me a few jolts with the paddles and a few burn marks to show for their efforts.  (Nice mementos don’t ya think.) Anyway, this all led to even more tests and a trip to another hospital to be put on the schedule for my eventual zipper club initiation ceremony. In other words, an open heart surgery.

The first encounter with reality

After my ride in the ambulance on my first day at the “new” hospital I was sitting there in my room, in between one monitoring device and another with my two grown daughters holding each hand, I started to feel something wasn’t right.  I’m still a bit groggy from the stent debacle from the last hospital, but I could tell the medication was wearing off.  Just then, another massive heart attack decided to invite itself.  My only thought was… “Don’t you die with both your daughters holding your hands, ya old fart… pull yourself together!”  The wife was already out of the room looking for the nurse.  The nurse, quite calmly hit the code button, and methodically, as to not bring on any more chaos from the scene which was already happening, carried in a nitro pill for me.  In just a few seconds the pill dissolved under my tongue and I could feel the pain and pressure lifting away.

Waiting on surgery day

         A few days passed, I’ve been poked and prodded, medicated and subdued by so many different IV’s and pills that I’m feeling like a new guy already.  Even though the actual surgery is still days away. Friends and family called or stopped by on a regular basis.  Physically, you can deal with this, emotionally, I don’t know how to put it all into words.  At best, all I can say is that nearly everything you do, hear, or read about has a higher emotional connotation than ever before.  You’ll have no idea how much your emotional state is brought to the surface while going through all of this.  I’ve never been one to cry at the drop of a tissue, but I found myself in these uncontrollable moments over some of the silliest things.  I was later told it’s the medication, then I was told… it’s your heart speaking out, I’m not sure what it is… but it certainly is a change from the norm.  (For anyone who has been through this you know exactly what I mean)

Big John

         The night before the actual operation my usual nursing staff was in for a bit of a change.  The typical female nurse was replaced with BIG John.  Oh yes, I mean big too.  6’5” and towering over everyone and anything.  His job was to get me prepped for the operation.  Now, I’m not a little guy myself.  I’m no 6’5” but I’m not a frail little guy by any means.  Big John comes into my room carrying several items.  First there was the bacterial wash.  “Use this entire bottle and don’t miss a spot,” John tells me.  Then, there were these two pill cups.  John presses the cups in my direction.  “OK, these you take orally, and this one goes knuckle deep, and I’ve got to make sure you’ve done both.”  The realization of why “Big John” was here on this special occasion has become apparent. If I don’t get this done myself… I’m pretty sure he will. Obviously, modesty has left the building quite some time ago, so it wasn’t a stretch to be in the same room with this mammoth individual while I made the knuckle deep insertion.  Although, he wasn’t present for the eventual outcome he was well aware of the results.  I don’t know what they put in those, but a toilet seat belt and ceiling padding would have been appropriate.

The CABG

         The surgery itself (as I was told, because even though I was there…what the heck could I tell you about it) had a few difficulties, but as if it’s not noticeable by now I made it through with my heart beat intact.  The surgeon performs an operation called a CABG (Coronary Artery Bypass Graft). Mine was a double, meaning two grafts were made. One graft was taken from the left side of the chest and one was taken from behind the left knee. A heart pump is used during the operation to ensure a steady flow while the heart is being worked on. Believe me, you (the patient) have no idea what is going on until you’re told later on.  Hopefully, when the medication wears off and you’re coherent.  For me, the wife had to retell and retell the whole thing to me, because I wasn’t comprehending much of anything for quite some time.

The ICU

The ICU (Intensive care unit) is a whole new experience.  The first thing is the introduction prior to the surgery.  I was wheeled into the adjacent room to the operating room where I would be monitored and was told what to expect when I first woke up from the surgery.  The big thing the nurse kept stressing was that I would feel some discomfort from the breathing tube and not to make any attempts to pull it out.  Besides I would be strapped down to the table for my own safety.  I remember waking up and hearing the nurses talking to each other, “He’s coming to, be ready.”  “OK sir, don’t pull it out…Don’t pull it out!”  I realized where and what was going on and understood her commands. To me it was just seconds ago that she had told me to not try to pull out the breathing tube, but in reality it was about five or six hours later.  However, the “minor discomfort” was over shadowed by the fact you’re trying to breathe through a drinking straw.  That I wasn’t expecting at all.  Yea, Uhm Ms. Nurse… you forgot to mention that part. 

My night nurse for ICU was the most anal retentive-OCD person I’ve ever met.  The guy spent every waking hour neatly aligning all of the monitors, bottles, tubes, and me over and over again as if we were about to have the commanding general stop by for an inspection.  Although, when the day came for me to be wheeled back into a regular room a new nurse was assigned the task. My OCD nurse was sent off to another patients ICU room to straighten up their hoses and IV units. The new nurse on the other hand, starting grabbing monitors, IV’s and whatever else needed to go, or that was still attached, and flung them on or around me while I was seated in an oversized recliner.  At one point she said to me as monitors were being tossed about, “Hold this…and this… and this.” and before long I’m being wheeled down the hallway at record setting speeds, as if it’s the Indy 500, only slowing down to make the corners or to change elevators. The overhead florescent lights were moving by so fast I thought they were camera flashes. I’m not sure the reason for the mad dash down the hallways, but it sure was the quickest sprint I’ve ever been on in a recliner race.

Sleeping in at the hospital

         Not that I hate hospitals, OK… I’m not their no#1 fan, but a hospital is not the place to get any sleep.  It seemed at exactly 5 minutes past the hour-every hour-day or night somebody was going to come into the room.  7 o’clock was the worst. That was shift change and it never failed that somebody didn’t tell somebody about what somebody was to do or not do, which meant even more trips in and out of the room. I learned very quickly that the best way to avoid the ever present knock on the door was to just leave the door open….at least that way they didn’t knock, and if you were just about to doze off you might actually catch a bit of shut eye before the next round of visitors, and if you’re really lucky you could avoid the guy coming in to check the serial number on the IV for the UPTEENTH time.

  It was always the same guy at least twice a day from the inventory department.  I told him, “Dude, look around, I’m stuck in this room with this IV monitor and I assure you if anybody comes in here and steals it, replaces it with one that looks just like it, I guarantee I’ll call you and let you know. With all these interruptions I’m awake 24-7 which means me and this IV have become the best of friends. I’m dammed sure this is the same IV unit that was here yesterday! So why in the world do you need to come in and scan the serial number twice a day?!”  I don’t think I came off as his next best pal by a long shot.

Eventually, the day came to get out of the hospital.  One the happiest days of my new life. Me and my IV had to part ways, and no, I didn’t tell the inventory guy.

Home at last

         When you finally get to be home, start your rehab schedule, and try to reassemble your now broken apart life, you begin to reevaluate what is most important for your future. Walking is your foremost concern. I had a routine I would do and set a goal each day a bit farther than the previous day.  Oh, I’d push it too far, and the wife or my son would have to come haul the emotionally incoherent old guy off of our hilly driveway more than once. It does get better, but it does take time. 

         You soon learn new routines, things like coughing and sneezing should only be done if your heart pillow or Teddy bear are close by.  Squeezing the pillow (or bear) against your chest prevents you from popping your sternum open. You also learn how to stand up and roll over without using your upper body as much as you previously did. Sleeping in a bed is out, at least for a month or so (if not longer) you’ll have to learn how to be comfortable in a recliner 24-7. Breathing, talking, walking, and bathing, etc… all their problems that you’ll need to overcome. And, probably the most important thing or the most annoying... (Your interpretation may vary) is the now-and-for-ever-more medications you’ll be on.

Family and friends take precedence over work and bills.  The realization that life is all about a beginning and an end and that you’ve been given a chance to change your life’s conclusion differently than what it could have been.  Not that you need a lightning bolt to drop out of the sky to tell you to change your life…but a heart attack and open heart surgery is close enough to the same thing. So heed the warning, do yourself a favor. Except it for what it is, and discover what is more important.  Not a lot of people get this second chance. For some, it’s as sudden and as unexpected as a car crash. I feel there’s reason for every action and reaction.  It’s how you cope and/or do with those actions and reactions that make a difference.  

Putting it all into perspective

          Life is what you make of it.  There is no perfect solution, there is no golden key, it’s up to you to make it a difference. It’s not money or fame… just you.  As we’ve all heard before, “If you don’t have your health, you don’t have much at all.” True to some extent, but not always true and not always is your health something that you can have the way you’d like it to be. What is possible is living life to the fullest no matter what the odds.  I for one, love to hear stories of people who have found out they have some sort of rare disease and decided to fill their bucket list of personal accomplishments until their time has expired. I commend them and hope I can do the same.

So even though my stamina and strength may not be equal to what it was of years past, I’m still able to experience all there is out there. For me, I’d like to think I still can try. Maybe it’s not all about the challenges, maybe it’s not all about solutions, perhaps it’s just about the adventure.  Becoming a member of the Zipper Club isn’t the end… it’s a new beginning.    

        


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Not a story about cars, or the shop, or tools, or parts, but a story about the other side of the counter.....  life in general.  Hope you like the story.  Thanx in advance for reading it. 

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Great story ! Sorry you had to go through it but glad you came out on this side.. I admire that you can put humor in the worst of situations. Although I have not personally been the one in the  life changing situation, my wife was and it was a life changer for me as well, so I may be one of the lucky ones not to have personally gone through something so scary and I hope I don't have too. They say it sometimes takes rock bottom or a terrible thing to happen for us to wake up . Live life and be as healthy as you can! 

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42 minutes ago, skm said:

Great story ! Sorry you had to go through it but glad you came out on this side.. I admire that you can put humor in the worst of situations. Although I have not personally been the one in the  life changing situation, my wife was and it was a life changer for me as well, so I may be one of the lucky ones not to have personally gone through something so scary and I hope I don't have too. They say it sometimes takes rock bottom or a terrible thing to happen for us to wake up . Live life and be as healthy as you can! 

Rock bottom you say... hmmm, well the way I look at it if you're at rock bottom now, it's a great place to start a new foundation.  Working up from there is all you have to do.  

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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

         3 comments
      Got your attention? Good. The truth is, there is no such thing as the perfect technician pay plan. There are countless ways to create any pay plan. I’ve heard all the claims and opinions, and to be honest, it’s getting a little frustrating. Claims that an hourly paid pay plan cannot motivate. That flat rate is the only way to truly get the most production from your technicians. And then there’s the hybrid performance-based pay plan that many claim is the best.
      At a recent industry event, a shop owner from the Midwest boasted about his flat-rate techs and insisted that this pay plan should be adopted by all shops across the country. When I informed him that in states like New York, you cannot pay flat-rate, he was shocked. “Then how do you motivate your techs” he asked me.
      I remember the day in 1986 when I hired the best technician who ever worked for me in my 41 years as an automotive shop owner. We’ll call him Hal. When Hal reviewed my pay plan for him, and the incentive bonus document, he stared at it for a minute, looked up, and said, “Joe, this looks good, but here’s what I want.” He then wrote on top of the document the weekly salary he wanted. It was a BIG number. He went on to say, “Joe, I need to take home a certain amount of money. I have a home, a wife, two kids, and my Harly Davidson. I will work hard and produce for you. I don’t need an incentive bonus to do my work.” And he did, for the next 30 years, until the day he retired.
      Everyone is entitled to their opinion. So, here’s mine. Money is a motivator, but not the only motivator, and not the best motivator either. We have all heard this scenario, “She quit ABC Auto Center, to get a job at XYZ Auto Repair, and she’s making less money now at XYZ!” We all know that people don’t leave companies, they leave the people they work for or work with.
      With all this said, I do believe that an incentive-based pay plan can work. However, I also believe that a technician must be paid a very good base wage that is commensurate with their ability, experience, and certifications. I also believe that in addition to money, there needs to be a great benefits package. But the icing on the cake in any pay plan is the culture, mission, and vision of the company, which takes strong leadership. And let’s not forget that motivation also comes from praise, recognition, respect, and when technicians know that their work matters.
      Rather than looking for that elusive perfect pay plan, sit down with your technician. Find out what motivates them. What their goals are. Why do they get out of bed in the morning? When you tie their goals with your goals, you will have one powerful pay plan.
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