From stress test to quadruple bypass surgery

When Bryan went to hospital for a stress test, concerned staff wouldn’t let him leave again. Here is his recap of what happened that day and after, as told to the Heart Foundation in a phone interview.

"Well it’s going back about 10 – 15 years or so, at which stage I was in good health, I thought.

"I was busy doing lots of things all around the place – I’ve got a section with a lot of lawn so lawn-mowing was one of the reasonably heavy tasks that I was doing. But I started to notice that towards the end of mowing I was getting a feeling of tightness in my chest and it didn’t worry me particularly – I thought it was just muscular – and didn’t connect it with the heart at all because there weren’t any stabbing pains or anything like that.

"Then a little bit later, when I was walking up a very steep hill, I came to a stop halfway through and there was really a strong contraction in my chest and I thought errrh, not good. So I walked carefully back home from that time and when next I thought about it, I’d made an appointment with my GP.

"When I saw him, I described what I was feeling, and that most of the time I was fine, it was only when I was exerting myself, and he said ‘hmmmm’ and he took a blood pressure reading and it was high and he said, ‘We’ll see what’s going on – we’ll get you booked in for a stress test.'

"So a few months later I got a call from the Waitakere Hospital to go in for a stress test. I did not think of myself as being in a critical condition because, for most of the time, I had absolutely no symptoms at all"

A stress test, and then some…

"I eventually got into the clinic, got wired up all over the place and eventually got onto a treadmill. We started off gently which was good, no problems there, and after a little while we increased the speed a little bit. I suppose I’d been on the treadmill for about two minutes or so, not very long when the registrar said, ‘Well that’s fine, that’s all we need.' He stopped the treadmill, and asked me to go back to the waiting room and said, ‘Someone will come out and talk to you.'

"So I did that, waited again for a little bit and a registrar came out and he said, ‘Ah, it’s not good.' And I said, ‘Oh isn’t it, what’s the trouble?’ He said, ‘Come with me and we’ll have a talk – you had very high blood pressure, it peaked at over 200.' I said, ‘Well that sounds high – what’s the story?’ And he said, ‘We are admitting you.'

"I said, ‘What?’ Then said, ‘Oh, I suppose I’d better go home and get a few things,’ and he said, ‘No you can’t go home, we are admitting you now...'"

"I felt like a total fraud because I was up walking around, some of the people were just sort of shuffling and staggering."

"So that was really very interesting and I didn’t know what to do for a while, but I managed to get hold of a phone and rang some of my family and said, ‘Interesting situation, here in the Waitakere Hospital etc.'

"I then said to the registrar who was hanging on my every word, ‘I’ll go out to the carpark and get a few things' and he says, ‘No you can’t do that.' And I said, ‘Well I’ve got my cell phone and other things that I need to have with me.' He said, ‘Okay, you can go but we’ll have to have somebody go with you.'

"This was when I was feeling perfectly well, it was all quite surprising so I went out to the car and got the necessary things – cell phone and a few bits and pieces – and came back in and was taken to the cardiac ward and introduced to the others, nice people. It was all sort of very easy and comfortable so no problems at all.

"There I was given a room and all sorts of leads were attached to my chest – they all fed into a little box that I wore around my waist. I was told I could walk around, not a problem, but under no circumstances was I to move out of the wards, as doing so would set off the alarms. Fortunately there were about three wards in this area so I was able to walk around freely for quite a long time."

Bryan’s next surprise

"Now that was all on a Thursday. I was told I would have to wait now until next Wednesday which was the next time that the surgeons were going to have their meeting, and at this meeting they would decide the priorities of the people who were on the waiting list for surgery.

"On Friday I was taken over to North Shore Hospital and did one of these lovely tests where they fed a small tube into my heart area and they injected a black dye into it which showed up on the screen – angiograms I think they’re called. And that was interesting, not particularly comfortable, but I was able to see what was happening on the screen and they came back and said, ‘Yes, you’re scheduled for a triple bypass operation’ and I thought that was interesting too. 

"I felt like a total fraud because I was up walking around, some of the people were just sort of shuffling and staggering. We were all wired up to our little remote control things, so that was from then on till the following Wednesday when this meeting was to take place. Anyway, the food was good, the nurses were chatty, and I was comfortable.

"On the Wednesday afternoon, one of the nurses came around and said, ‘You’ve been put on the critical list.' And I said, ‘Okay, what does that mean?’ And she explained that the critical list meant being put down for an operation within the next week, and if you weren’t on the critical list then you’d be let go and you’d be waiting for an appointment as an outpatient. 

"So I said, ‘Okay, that sounds like being on the critical list is a good thing.' Not long after that, I learnt I’d be transferred on the Sunday to Mercy Hospital for surgery. That was pretty good, I was quite pleased about that. 

"In all this time, I hadn’t had any symptoms, I was feeling fine. And as I say, the food was good and I’d walk past the nurses and wave and I had interesting conversations with them, everything was really good. 

"So on the Sunday I was transferred by ambulance to Mercy Hospital where I was introduced to various people and given my room and asked what I’d like for dinner – I had a choice of two or three things, and even offered a glass of wine with that. Everything was very very comfortable and that was the work-up to the operation."

The surgery and aftermath

"Now on the Monday – day of surgery – the surgeon who was going to be doing the work came down and had a chat to me and that was fine, he seemed to be a nice guy. A little bit later in the morning I was met by several people and they put me onto a bed and trundled me up to the surgery wing. I’d also had a visit from the anaesthetist, of course, and he explained what he was going to do and how he was going to do it, and in due course I had an injection in the arm and I went off to bye-byes.

"It ended up being a quadruple bypass, not triple. No problems, no discomfort at all. 

"I vaguely remember waking up and I was awake enough to realise that several of my family were standing around the bed. I gave them a smile and a thumbs-up and went back to sleep again. Then later in the day I became fully awake and I was back in the ward, in just a two-person room, and I was sharing it with another guy who had also had surgery on the same day. And I was feeling comfortable, no major problems. 

"I found out later that I was well and truly plumbed for all sorts of things, drips and feeds and tubes and all the rest of it, but no discomfort at all. And then I was offered something to eat which I found very bland and tasteless, but I ate it, and that was that for the Monday.

"On the Tuesday I was shown how to get out of bed without using my arms and they explained to me that because my chest had been opened and was now closed again, that I couldn’t use my arms for anything while it was in the very early stages of healing. That made sense to me, that wasn’t a problem, and the neat trick was that you had to hook your leg underneath the side of the bed and then just use your legs to raise yourself to the sitting position and then swing yourself around.

"My ward mate and I were then taken for a walk out of the ward and down the passage and back again with our drip trays on our little trollies

"The Tuesday was interesting, lots of coming and going, but again quite comfortable, no pain at all really and then Tuesday night came and we nodded off to sleep. That’s when the difficult and most uncomfortable part started.

"I would wake up several times in the night, lying on the flat of my back with the back of the bed slightly raised, with my mouth and throat so totally dry, I couldn’t even lick anything. I had to grope around for a glass of water at the side there and sip the water until I was lubricated, and get back off to sleep again. This occurred four or five times during the night, and that was the most uncomfortable part of the whole procedure."

Getting back to fitness

"By Wednesday they said, ‘You’re able to get out and walk any time you like you know, the more the better.' So one of us would wake up in the middle of the night and say, ‘Are you awake?’ And the other would say, ‘Let’s go for a walk.' So we’d walk in the middle of the night past the nurses station, waving to them, they thought we were quite nutty and we’d walk all over the place.

"On Friday, a physiotherapist came and got us to walk down a long flight of stairs and back up again, which we did carefully but without any problems, without any discomfort and she said, ‘Okay if everything goes well we can probably think about discharging you on Saturday.'

"Sure enough, on Saturday we got clearance to go home, on the proviso that I had someone stay with me for at least a week, because I live on my own. My oldest son volunteered to come and stay with me and when he brought me home I asked him to stop at the bottom of the drive, so I could pop up to my neighbour’s place as they’d been collecting my mail for me. I was surprised at how walking up those few steps took it out of me, I was hardly able to talk when I got to their front door.

"On the Sunday, I got up and was walking around okay. I knew how to get out of bed without using my arms.

"Little by little I increased my walks, first down the driveway and back again, then along the road and back again, and then I would keep on increasing the distances. My son went home once I was fit enough to look after myself.

"Now I try and do a 5 km fast walk over several blocks, some of them are quite steep, I do this in about 50 minutes or less and feel really good about it.

"I mow the lawns without any tightness in the chest, and I’ve lost weight by cutting back on the meat pies and the butter. People are always remarking about how good I’m looking.

"I’m still a volunteer driver for the Foundation for the Blind, so that keeps me pretty busy, running people around in the car.”

Everything is okay

"I’m on medication to keep my blood pressure and cholesterol low, so I take three pills every morning. I go back every three months to my GP and he checks me out.

"The family were very concerned in the beginning because they were thinking that I could die. I wasn’t thinking that and they have come to accept what has happened. 

"For anyone who is going to be having a quadruple by-pass, I would say to them, don’t worry, you’ll be right."

 

Shared November 2016

Please note: the views and opinions of the storyteller and related comments may not necessarily reflect those of the Heart Foundation NZ.

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