Christine Rekash Wagner – My Journey: Operation Backward Blood –Part 3

 Post-Op Recovery At Home:
Looking back at my overall recovery, the one tip that I can provide is to be patient with yourself.  It sounds so much easier said than done.  I consider myself to be a type "A" personality and became very easily frustrated when it took me so much longer to complete tasks.  I would become very angry and bitter that I was not able to do things as quickly as I used to pre-surgery. I felt helpless like a toddler. Accept the help when it is given. This is where having notes and lists for your spouse or caregivers became really handy.  Expect that you will not be able to do things on your own right away. Remember that while you are physically recovering, your spouse and caregivers are going through this with you.  Be patient with them.  It may feel like you are learning how to walk all over again because essentially you are.  But remember, put one foot in front of the other and eventually you will get there. 

AND  don't forget to celebrate the small victories!!  An example of this feeling for me was the first time post - op that I had the ability to make myself an omelet for breakfast.  I became very upset that it took me ten minutes to make, but the fact is, I made it myself and was making progress!  I also wanted to start vacuuming my second week that I was home.  I highly recommend NOT doing this as it will go against your sternal precautions, however, with time, I was able to get back into the cleaning mode. Below are a few tips that I found helpful, overall with my post - op recovery at home.

Establish a routine .  Even though you may find yourself at home recovering, it is important that you establish a daily routine.  For me it was getting up each morning and having breakfast, showering and getting dressed for the day.  Whether or not I went anywhere during the day didn't really matter. Overall,  I felt a sense of accomplishment by getting up each morning and getting my day underway, even if it meant that I would only be walking to the end of the driveway and back.
Washing and drying your hair.  While I had my operation during the summer, I was fortunate that I did not have to dry my hair all the time.  I previously mentioned that your skin and hair could become brittle and dry as a result of the anesthesia.  I found that it was helpful for me to not wash my hair everyday because I did lose some hair during my initial recovery.   While it did not come out in "clumps" it was a noticeable amount when I would brush my hair after shampooing.  I did find the shower chair very helpful in the sense that when I was ready to wash my hair, I would do so sitting down.  I also found that washing my hair forward instead of backward was much more comfortable.  You will have sternal precautions to adhere to and this method worked best for me.  That being said, expect that you may need some assistance at first drying your hair.  For me, my hairdryer is on the heavier side.  The inability to raise my hands at first presented a small hurdle in drying my hair.  This is where my sisters and I reminisced about playing "beauty shop" when we were younger as they assisted me with drying my hair. I certainly didn't even entertain the idea that a simple task of blow drying your hair would be a bit of a challenge after surgery.

Change up the scenery.  Daily walking will be your ticket to freedom.  While you may not be motivated to get up and move, you will find that the more you move, the more you feel a sense of accomplishment in your overall recovery.  At first you will only be able to walk in small increments but as you become stronger and stronger each day, you will be able to walk farther and farther.  For me, I became bored with walking around my neighborhood.  My father came up with a great idea and I pass this on to you.  He suggested taking my daily walking to a nearby park or the local zoo.  While I was still not able to drive, I thought this was a great idea as it mixed up the scenery a bit.  It provided me with some variety in my recovery.  The first time out of my house and back into the hustle and bustle of everyday life with other people, I suddenly felt so small and the world seemed so big.  How could this be when I felt like I was making so much progress around my neighborhood?  Well I thought about it for a bit and that's when it hit me.  I discovered a whole new outlook in terms of my recovery.  Our family trip to the zoo was a milestone achievement. Mentally, I felt a sense of accomplishment  as I was able to walk the entire east side of the zoo and realize how much progress I made.  Physically, I did so in about three hours without being winded. That being said, I quickly began to enlist the chauffeur services of my husband and family and began to tag along with them to small trips to the grocery store and the mall.  A whole new world opened up to me!  Thanks Dad! 
One  side note: keep your scar covered when out in the sun and adhere to prescription warnings regarding sun exposure.

Wheelchair access.  If you have the opportunity to take advantage of access to a wheelchair I highly recommend doing so.  While I was not always seated in the wheel chair on my outings,  there were times in the early stages of my recovery where I would be walking in a store and become lightheaded because I battled low blood pressure. The wheelchair came in handy as I would have a safe place to immediately sit to regain my balance.  The upswing to this is that since most public facilities have wheel chair access, you are not limited in terms of your destination. Lastly, by pushing the wheelchair yourself while walking, you are building your endurance level. 
Post -op  pedicures and manicures. If you are on Coumadin and chances are you will be, be very cautious when getting pedicures and manicures.  Tell your nail tech to be very gentle since you are taking Coumadin and if cut, could bleed very easily.

Practice run when ready to return to work.  When I was ready to return to work, I found it helpful to take a practice run a week before returning.  For me particularly, I have to commute via a train and then walk seven blocks to work.   Taking a practice run allowed me the ability to calculate how long it would take me to walk to work once my train arrived.  This practice run also serves as a great physical barometer in terms of whether or not you are up to returning to work, or need any additional time to recuperate.

Leave the Kitchen Sink at Home.   I would recommend traveling light in terms of just essentials.  Women's purses tend to get weighed down and initially you will want to carry a lighter load as your muscles are still recovering. I personally found that any additional weight from my purse or tote bags pulled at my chest and shoulders and would cause me to be sore around my incision sight.  Leave the kitchen sink at home, and if you find that you truly need it, then carry it on wheels temporarily.

Strike a Pose!  Vogue.  In the words of Lady Madonna ... "You try everything you can to escape the pain of life that you know ... All you need is your own imagination So use it that's what it's for. " This couldn't be more true than when you return to work and reassess your wardrobe.  As a note of caution, you may find yourself standing in front of your closet, choosing your outfit for the day and realize that what you chose to wear revealed too much of your scar. Ladies, this is where your imagination comes into play.  Keep in mind that scarves (whether summer or winter) necklaces and the like are great accessories while you are in a transition period.  Do not feel discouraged.  Embrace your scars.   Know it is only a temporary speed bump in the big picture.  Soon you will be back in the driver's seat and living life.After enduring open heart surgery, three post - op cardio versions, 36 sessions of cardiac rehabilitation and most recently a cardiac cather ablation, a childhood memory from the animated Christmas classic Santa Clause is Coming to Town sung by the voice talents of Mickey Rooney and Keenan Wynn is what kept me going.                                                                                
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you'll be walking cross the floor
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you'll be walking out the door

You never will get where you're going
If you never get up on your feet
Come on, there's a good tail wind blowing
A fast walking (wo)man is hard to beat
If you want to change your direction
If your time of life is at hand
Well don't be the rule be the exception
A good way to start is to stand
If I want to change the reflection
I see in the mirror each morn
You mean that it's just my election
To vote for a chance to be reborn

Don't give up, keep moving and you will get there, one heartbeat at a time. You WILL make it across that finish line.

Operation Backward Blood - Mission Accomplished!
From the bottom of my repaired heart, a HEARTFELT  Thank YOU to my mission support team: My husband, parents, sisters, nieces, brother in laws, caring canine companion and countless cheerleaders of extended family, close friends, co workers and most importantly, my cardiologist, surgeon and care team at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.  I could not have stayed positive and upbeat without your compassion, love, dedication and support on all levels. While Operation Backward Blood has been elevated to "Mission Accomplished" status, one more mission remains.  There is still plenty of fight left in me,  and it is my personal mission to pay it forward to those enduring similar heart journeys, but without the support and encouragement of others.  Through the amazing advances of the American Heart Association's Support Network, this mission has begun.
For those of you who have received inspiration and motivation from my journey, here is my mission statement to you.   I encourage you to keep on fighting and keep on "kicking" out your heart disease one beat at time.  When the going gets tough, the tough get going... Keep on going! 
Rest if you must , but don't you quit.
Posted by AHA/ASA Katie Bahn on May 5, 2016 3:28 PM CDT


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