Hanging Out In Rockford: Heart of Rockford—part two

I am in SwedishAmerican Hospital. After signing a document presented to me by a doctor, I awake to see the defibrillator paddles coming down on my chest. I lose consciousness, but as I do, I consider the fact that I might just be dying. Oh well, there is nothing I can do, I think, as I pass out. When I regain consciousness, I am in the catheter lab lying on my left side. My heart beats slowly on a monitor a few feet in front of my face. I look down to see Paul Maxwell by my feet. Boy, am I glad to see him. I know he has a reputation as a hot shoe; at least I got the best.

At the top of my heart there is a short, dark line that at that point I do not understand at all. Doctor Maxwell keeps working, and then suddenly the short, dark line erupts into a longer, squiggly line that extends all the way down the length of my heart. A brisk cheer goes up from the doctors in the room. I realize then that my artery has just been cleared. Then he installs the stent. To my recollection this only takes a few minutes. I can hardly see the stent itself as it wiggles into place, but Dr. Maxwell makes a sound of approval when it is done. Again, I am out like a light.

I awake in ICU. My arms are restrained, and there is a breathing tube in my throat that prevents me from speaking. I feel as if I am choking. I keep biting the tube in an effort to reposition it so that it does not gag me. This act of biting it (totally involuntary) to my mind is cutting off my air supply. I feel like I am drowning.

I begin campaigning to have the tube removed. I indicate to the lovely young nurse that I want my hand free so that I can communicate by writing. I can see that she is almost afraid to remove my restraints. Eventually, she relents. The nurse and the doctor assigned to me try to discourage me, but I am almost in a state of panic. Finally, I write a note about having the right to refuse any kind of treatment and after considerable stalling, the doctor gives the OK for the nurse to remove my breathing tube. This is replaced with a nasal oxygen supply.

My oxygen level improves immediately. The pretty nurse seems to have new appreciation of what I was trying to communicate. She treats me more deferentially. After the removal of the breathing tube, I become more aware of my condition. My forearms are sore beyond comprehension, evidently a result of my fighting the restraints. The young nurse says that I was quite a case and that she had to “snow” me. I have all manner of tubes attached to me including one that inflates a balloon next to my heart to assist it in providing pressure to pump my blood. I can only lie on my back, a situation that will continue for the next several days.

After a day (or maybe two, time gets confused when you are in ICU), a doctor whom I recognize comes in to remove my balloon pump. I say that I know him and wonder from where. He says that he is one of my best customers, and then I have a recollection of him sitting in a booth in my restaurant. He compliments me on my staff and says that they always make him feel comfortable. I feel an immediate affinity for him. He turns out to be Dr. Paul Christiansen. He removes the balloon pump. Like many other of the procedures, there is little or no pain. I am consistently amazed by this.

But then I am on a narcotic called diladin. At first they try morphine, but I like the diladin better. I can have it as often as every two hours. On the wall are signs that say ZAP, standing for Zero Acceptance of Pain. It makes lying on your back for days at a time, getting prodded and poked at all hours of the day and night a little easier. Little do I know that this relief from pain can have consequences.

I have not eaten for as many as four days. It is the weekend. I cannot get myself to eat the hospital food. Everything seems to smell of the disinfectant they use. This is complicating the completion of necessary bodily functions. In addition, I am receiving lasix, a diuretic that they give to racehorses before they run (from whence comes the expression “pee like a racehorse,” one of my nurses confides) to keep water away from my heart. This in conjunction with the narcotics (as I find out from a dear friend who visits) causes me to become impacted (upon discovering this, I voluntarily forgo any further narcotics). I begin to swell up like a balloon. The pressure affects my diaphragm. My oxygen dives to 50 percent. At one point, every nurse in the ICU is in my room staring at my oxygen levels. The body language is unmistakable. Frantically, they put one, then another oxygen delivery system on me, finally settling for a system that delivers pure oxygen. My oxygen inches back up above 90.

Unfortunately, this system is accompanied by a water misting that cannot be adjusted. The water mist collects in the tube and then runs in rivulets into my nose and lungs. I still don’t want to do any more narcotics after learning that they are causing me to be constipated. I lie awake all night. I complain to an older nurse about my inability to get any rest, and she sweetly tells me that that is just my job tonight. I guess she is right. More to come.

Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. These columns are available on his Web site, IrishRoseRockford.com, and featured on WNTA talk radio AM 1330. Leifheit is owner of the Irish Rose restaurant in the downtown River District.

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