“like riding through a tunnel and coming out in a new landscape”
After a long and eventful time in hospital I am back home and adjusting to life as the “new me”. I started this journey on Christmas eve 2019, when I experienced some odd symptoms during breakfast(stomach and back pain and tingling in the legs. I thought I was getting another kidney stone and rang the ambulance. I was told it wasn't urgent, but I got my Son to drive me to Ballarat hospital anyway. Lucky for me that I did. After some scans they hit the big red "Oh Shit" button and swung into action. I had an Aortic aneurysm that was showing signs of leaking. Within minutes, the ambulance helicopter was on its way and I was being prepped for surgery (chest shaved, catheters in my arm and up my willy and a breathing tube in my throat, while someone was on the phone locating an intensive care bed. I was whisked into the chopper and flown to Geelong, and wheeled into surgery. That's the last thing I remember for a long time and some of the following is from what my wife told me later. The heart surgery was completed and I am now the proud owner of a short section of artificial aorta and a mechanical aortic valve. I’ve seen pictures of them and they wouldn’t look out of place in the plumbing aisle at Bunnings! The device is called a St Jude valve and conduit, named after Jude the Apostle, the patron saint of lost causes. I'm glad I didn't know that before they put it in!
Things were not over yet. I developed an infection in the chest wound which required reopening of the wound and cleaning out the infected material. Fortunately the bacteria was susceptible to antibiotics. While still in the high care ward I suffered a bleed in my brain, probably at the site of a previous micro stroke (These are more common than you think, but don't produce any symptoms). ). I was transferred to St Vincent’s hospital where they placed drain tubes and pressure monitor in my skull (now when I say “I need that like I need a hole in my head I can also say “I’ve got one!”. They were concerned that I might not pull through, but I slowly came back to the real world after some severe and rather weird cognitive dysfunction. Initially my left arm and leg were paralysed and I couldn’t stand on my own. I gradually regained the use of my muscles but it was a couple of months before I could stand on my own (on a padded floor in the hospital gym where I was undergoing rehab). However, the main damage was in the area of my brain that processes signals from my eyes. I now suffer from homonymous hemianopia, which means I can no longer see anything in my left hand field of view from either eye. There’s nothing wrong with the eyes, but the signals aren’t being processed properly. I also have slight double vision in what’s left of my field of view, so my visual appreciation of the world is now pretty wonky. I worked out later that I’d lost about 2 months of memories either side of the stroke. My wife says that is probably a good thing given what I went through! Unfortunately she doesn’t have the same benefit. She had 2 stints waiting outside ICU wards (1 on Christmas Day) and thought she’d lost me twice, but stuck and sat by me all the way through.
Long term, I will have to give up a few things. I can no longer work or be a volunteer firefighter I , but I will keep going as secretary treasurer for my local brigade. Driving is out due to the vision problem, as is getting up ladders, chainsaw use etc. I’m still getting to grips with computer use and my typing has slowed big time. I can’t read printed books or magazines at any speed, so I’ve shifted to audio books. I’m getting a lot of help from Guide Dogs Victoria, who also work with people with low vision.
I’m slowly adjusting to the new me. If you stand near me, you can hear the mechanical valve ticking away. My son remarked that he or my daughter will have to have kids one day so that I can be dubbed “Grandfather clock” Some improvements to date have been major weight loss and I no longer snore! Hell of a diet program though and I don’t think the book would sell. My wife also says that I am less stressed. I can still do lots of volunteer work (I’m treasurer for 2 groups) and able to help out at working bees if someone drives me. The ongoing fatigue is holding me back from doing too much physical though, so my journey continues. More on that in the next post.