Now, the second great reality began to set in. The first great reality was that I was mortal. The second reality was that I was not indispensable. Much as many of us tell ourselves during our career-building years that we are essential cogs in the machinery of this or that success, the bottom line is that we are replaceable. Perhaps the sooner we accept that notion, the healthier our mental outlooks will be.
Other people stepped in to fill the void created by my absence. My secretary ran the day-to-day operations of the office, communicating with clients, advising them of my physical condition and the prognosis for my return. Other local practitioners helped to breach the gap created in the commitments I had made prior to the onset of my illness. My loving daughter visited the office regularly and lent her very structured organizational skills to ongoing operations. And when my secretary and my daughter called me, they told me not to worry, and that “everything is under control.”
For the first four weeks or so, I was buoyed by these reassurances and made no attempts to contact the office. Thereafter, I advised my secretary and my daughter that they could phone me in the event any matter arose concerning which I alone might have personal information or knowledge.
Relieved of the stress of worrying about the operation of the office, I was left to cope with the overwhelming issue of physical recovery. The first two weeks were pure agony. I was taking pain killers for some relief, especially at night, but the difficulty of finding a comfortable place for myself was dominant. I could not get into, or out of, bed without my chest feeling like it would pull apart. So instead of sleeping in bed, I usually wound up falling asleep on a sofa, or in an easy chair. However, no position would remain comfortable for more than an hour or so; I was supposed to keep my legs elevated, too, to control fluid collection. After awhile, my left leg would start to ache and my breathing would become labored. Therefore, I was only able to rest for short spurts throughout the day and night, and was literally exhausted for most of those two weeks. My security pillow was a constant companion because any sudden move – - – any cough or sneeze – - – was an exercise in torment. In those moments, the only thing I could do was grab that pillow and hug it firmly to my chest.
I was constantly wearing a full length surgical stocking on my left leg. Invariably, at the most inopportune times my leg would start to itch. Even worse, the forced inactivity, coupled with the unorthodox sitting positions I found myself in, gave me generalized dull aches in my upper and lower back (distinguished from the sharp pain in my left shoulder blade), and my behind hurt as well. I can assure you that nothing is more frustrating than backaches which can’t be massaged, and an aching backside which cannot be relieved. After all, I couldn’t sleep on my side or my stomach. And I couldn’t load up on analgesics either.
Getting out of bed was an adventure. . . . a painful adventure. First I had to inch my way to the edge of the bed. Then I had to bend my knees and start a slow rolling movement onto my side, pushing my body upright using my elbow and trying simultaneously to swing both of my legs to the floor. All the while my sternum would be repositioning itself with each motion. Of course, once I got into a sitting position I had to remain there for a few seconds to allow my blood pressure to adjust so I wouldn’t get dizzy and fall down. Cardiac medications have a way of doing that to you; remember that the next time you see an elderly person who is unsteady on his/her feet. Then I would put both of my hands on my thighs, bend forward slightly and thrust upward with my legs, not my arms. If I was lucky, I would wind up in a standing position. . . well, almost a standing position. The incision in my chest made me hunch over a bit. Getting back into bed was a somewhat reverse procedure.
Sitting down in a chair involved similar techniques, with emphasis on the leg muscles. First I would try to straighten my back and then slowly lower myself onto the front edge of the chair; then, using my legs, I would slither backward an inch at a time. A miscalculation could result in me plopping into the chair, an unintended event accompanied by pain. To stand up, I would inch my way to the front edge, plant my right foot a little bit ahead of my left foot, place my hands on my thighs, bend forward and thrust upward with my legs.
Fortunately, the hospital social worker had been very cooperative and had arranged for the Visiting Nurse Service of New York to call on me. Twice a week a nurse would come to see me for a few minutes, check my vital signs, my incisions and the girth of my left leg. As far as I know, the nurse’s report reached the desk of my cardiologist.
The first nurse, in turn, authorized the services of a home health aide and a physical therapist. I say the “first” nurse, because three different nurses visited me over a four week period. Therefore, as I said, as a result of the actions of the first nurse an aide came three times a week for three weeks, each time for a couple of hours, and helped me into and out of the tub so that I could shower myself sitting on a bathtub bench. Of course, I had to use a hand-held spray because I wasn’t supposed to let the full force of the regular shower head hit my chest.
The aide also rubbed body lotion into me to try to help alleviate some of the muscle soreness that had cast its pall over me, especially in my back. After each massage I felt better for an hour or two, and I was thankful.
To be continued…