Still Ticking

April 4th marked the second anniversary of my open-heart surgery, and that’s given me pause to reflect on how things have gone since then. Generally, the ticker has given me no problems on its own. My blood pressure is great (taking 50mg of Losatan per day, down from 100mg).

There is just a bit of leftover tenderness in the sternum when I perform an activity which utilizes that area. I’ve learned from my excellent trainer, Patrick Severson, how to keep things closer to the core when working out and when doing any activity. Thanks, Pat, it’s really been a help!

The main negative thing has been the blood thinner, the Coumadin – or generically, Warfarin – which I have been told I have to be on with an artificial aortic valve. It has created several different challenges for me to overcome, and I’m still learning how to deal with them. And it’s still humorous to me that I have to hold back my intake of foods rich in vitamin K – foods which everyone is told are so good for you – because they thicken the blood and counteract the blood thinner’s effectiveness. So no more Kale chips or big mounds of broccoli – or cranberry sauce, for that matter. But I’m still trying to be patient in getting in-synch with this new curve ball.

But everyday life is pretty much the same or better than it was before the surgery. Of course, I imagine that quitting the cigarettes and caffeine (and watching the salt and fats intake) hasn’t hurt in that area. I’m still doing my job, which physically gets heavy sometimes, and singing with the chorus (quitting smoking has really helped there – I can get a much deeper breath than before, and hold a phrase longer). I really feel good about being able to do all the things that I love, and I’m very grateful for it.

Speaking of grateful, I want to express my gratitude to the cardiac rehab team at Griffin Hospital for getting me back in shape to do these things – especially getting me ready to go back to work. They really run an excellent program there, and I’m glad I went with them instead of another hospital. So thank you to Maria, Ricky, Tom, and Trish for all the inspiration and patience you showed me. And sorry the picture of my “graduation” from the program is so out-of-focus! But it just points out how well-focused you guys are at your jobs. ❤️

And of course, my biggest thank you is to my partner Larry, without whom much of my recovery would have been so much more difficult. For all the anxiety I know my problems have caused you, and for all the good humor and patience you’ve shown in dealing with them, when you’ve already got quite enough on your plate – words cannot tell how much it’s all been appreciated.

Thanks for taking the time to read this – hopefully my story will offer help or hope to others who have to go through something like this, or to their loved ones. I hope it does. Life is good – enjoy every minute of it!

A Heart is not Judged….

I hate to begin with a cliche, but – “I’m sorry it’s been so long since my last post!” Oddly, things have been pretty busy, giving me a taste of what things will be like when “real life” kicks in again. All in all, I’m doing pretty well.

  Doing my thing at cardiac rehab

I met with my surgeon late in May; he gave me a good report and cleared me to drive again. That was a good day – and my unfortunate chauffeur Larry agreed wholeHEARTedly!!! It was nice to have that freedom again – for BOTH of us! We learned an interesting fact during this visit: I did NOT have my pulmonic valve replaced! The surgeon explained that it’s still in good working order and did not have to be removed. At first I was confused about this, because he told me he would be doing this when we first consulted, but time has convinced me that this was a good scenario – the surgery would have been that much longer if I had to have this done, and as it was, the surgery took eight hours. So it’s a good thing I didn’t have to stay on the table and under anesthesia any longer than I did. Thank you, Dr. E and Dr. Kopf! A nice note: in the doctor’s office before this consultation, I met a guy with whom I was friendly in the ICU and the step-down unit with me – he had just about the same surgery as I did, by the same surgeon, one day after I did! We’re going to keep tabs on each other. He’s a long-distance runner, and I’d be interested to hear how he progresses back to that. Hi, Kevin!

 Our nephew, “Little Larry,” visited

I’m on my 5th week of cardiac rehab at Griffin Hospital. Generally, I’ve been responding well to the program and progressing through it nicely. It’s basically like doing cardio at the gym, except you’re hooked up to an EKG the whole time so they can regulate your heart rate. Additionally, they monitor your blood pressure before, during, and after exercising, and offer education around the whole heart health thing. As the program progresses, they have you do more and more, as your body and heart get stronger. So far, so good. Eight more weeks to go! The staff at Griffin Hospital has been excellent, and I thank them for running such an excellent program. Hi, Trish!!!

The pain in my sternum has subsided a great deal. Even though I’m still trying to sleep on my back – sleeping on my side still hurts – I’ve woken up to find that I’d slept on my side, and I feel it in the morning. It’s nothing a few Tylenol can’t help, and I know it’ll go away completely in the end. One of my providers said it takes about a year to heal completely. Patience is a virtue!

One large disappointment has been an unfortunate side effect of the surgery, which has been a constant irritant since about two or three weeks out. At first we thought I had a urinary tract infection from the Foley catheter which I had in the hospital, given the pain and burning I felt upon urinating. Well, we tried several antibiotics to treat that, none of which worked. Then my urologist put me on a pill – can’t remember the name – which would alleviate the pain while my providers decided what to do about this. This drug helped a little with the pain, but it has the side effect of turning the color of urine to orange – the deepest blood orange I have ever seen! My joke was that I was peeing Sunny D! Meantime my medical providers had trouble agreeing on how to proceed with the issue: my urologist wanted to do a cystoscopy, in which a camera is snaked into one’s appendage to see if there is an infection at all. My surgeon’s team was afraid that I could bleed out due to being on the blood thinner Coumadin if I had this procedure. That was resolved, and it was agreed that I could stay on the Coumadin.  Then there was another delay: the surgeon’s team thought it might be too soon after the surgery for a procedure such as this, as the risk of infection reaching the heart would be too great.

Finally, three weeks ago, I was OK’d to have the procedure (with more than a bit of trepidation on my part!), preceded by a heavy antibiotic (Cipro) preparation. I could not go through with it, however, as it was so intensely painful, and after only a few seconds, I started to bleed from it. So my urologist, a great guy with a great sense of humor, who has been very helpful in not letting me get too discouraged about all this – I mean, literally, my pride has been hurt! – announced that the

  Gratuitous recumbent bike selfie

problem must be scar tissue in the urethra, a condition not uncommon in patients of any type of surgery which includes the use of a Foley catheter. So this morning, after being off of the Coumadin and having to inject myself with another anti-clotting medication called Lovenox for the past five days, I went to Bridgeport Hospital and the urologist performed another procedure on me, in which he used an instrument to widen my urethra to break up the scar tissue. The name of the procedure takes longer to pronounce than the entire surgery probably took, but thank God I was “twilighted,” and had no idea what was happening! Oh, yes, another side effect of this whole shebang was a horrible tummy from the Cipro, for which I had to take ten days of Flagyl, ANOTHER heavy-duty antibiotic, which did do the trick. But I’m through with antibiotics for a while, if I have anything to say about it. Hopefully this procedure, which I looked forward to and dreaded in equal parts, will also do the trick, and allow me to feel more normal going forward. So far things point to that. WHEW!

Yet through all of this, the new ticker prevails! I have a return-to-work date of July 10, and I look forward to getting back to a normal routine. My team is in the process of figuring out how I can best do my job while protecting the good work that has been done on my body. I’ll be continuing the cardiac rehab in the meantime, continuing to build on that good work. Throughout everything, it’s been a wonderful experience to have the love, concern, and support of all those who have lifted me up throughout this ordeal. I’m not sure if I ever really appreciated how many good friends I have, but I do now, and it’s a great comfort that I’ll always cherish. Thanks to all of you for making this man with an empty kettle stay on his mettle (you “Wizard of Oz” fans should get that one!) Now, on to the next phase of this journey!!!

And as always and forever, thank you, Larry, for every selfless sacrifice you’ve made through yet another ordeal.

Peace and love, and heart….

~ Ken

Look! It ticks!!!!

With our soon-to-be niece, Kara. Love you, McBeans!

Time really flies – and I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to post another update! Quite a bit has happened since the last one.

Visiting nurses have discharged me with a positive report. I saw my cardiologist last week, and as far as she can tell, I’m where I should be in recovery. I have to wait until I see the surgeon next week until I find out if I can drive again. I hope he says yes, because I’ve been driving (no pun intended, I promise!) Larry crazy; he’s had to take me to all of these appointments. The week after that, I turn 55; hopefully I’ll be able to drive at least 55 by then (thanks, Sammy Hagar!)!


With our nephew, Matt, who just made detective.

The Coumadin issue had been a little confounding; for weeks I’d been “resistant” to it and my level was low. Then after the dosage was adjusted, the level came up way too high. Now, at least temporarily, it’s been somewhat stable, and my cardiologist is OK with having the bloodwork done every two weeks. It’s not as touch and go as it’s been, and I hope it continues that way. I’m constantly conscious of trying not to fall, or cut myself because I can bruise easily, or bleed out, if the level is too high. So far, so good.



Listening to my ticker has become my new party trick! My joke is that it needs to be a really quiet party in order to pull it off. I open my mouth and have people listen – they can hear the valves through my throat! Kinda weird, but kinda funny! At least one person looked like they might faint from it! It is pretty loud, but I’m getting used to it.

I still have a good deal of pain from in the sternum area. I can’t remember how I really felt this far out (six weeks now) the last time I had the heart surgery. But then, without the Coumadin, I could take Ibuprofen. Now, I can’t, and the Extra Strength Tylenol just isn’t really cutting it. The Percocet is done, with no refills, for the obvious reasons. I was sorry to see it go, but I understand why they can’t refill the prescription (state law here in CT). The pain is very slowly subsiding, though, and I know it’ll be gone before I know it. I can also feel some weird pain in the kidney areas, and I’m assuming that is due to the organs settling after having been jostled around during the surgery. I’m feeling it right now as I write this. It happened after the last surgery, too – it was actually worse then. It went away in time, so I’m not worried about it.

In truth, I may be trying to do too much – it’s difficult for me to stay sedentary. But I walked over three miles yesterday without getting too tired, and I’m able to take hills now – always keeping an eye on the heart rate on my Fitbit as I go. I can now go a bit faster up the hills without my pulse going too high. That’s a good thing. I’ll be starting cardiac rehab next week, something I didn’t even need the last time, but I’m 18 years older now! I’m really looking forward to it; it will undoubtedly make things easier. I’m just impatient.

Another wrinkle: I seem to have developed a prostate infection, of all things. We thought it was a UTI, but the test for that came up clean. This is likely from the Foley catheter when I was in the hospital. Strange – for the first two weeks I was fine; then I started feeling the burn, literally. All part of the game, I guess. I’ve been taking antibiotics for it, and warm baths were also prescribed for it (which I have no problem accepting as a form of treatment!). My health care providers have decided against doing a cystoscopy to find out what the real problem is, since the risk of infection spreading to the heart valves is too great. Meantime, my urologist is going to put me on something which will at least alleviate the symptoms. At least there’s no tachycardia, which buckled me after the last surgery, and sent me back into the hospital for a night with a heart rate of 220!

Meantime, all in all, I’m doing OK – walking 2-3 miles per day; the taste buds are coming back, I’m enjoying food more and the appetite is good; sleep is coming pretty easily. I’m grateful for each and every positive thing and trying to take the negative with a grain of salt (unfortunately, I can’t put said grain of salt on my food!). Life is good. I need to thank all of my providers again, for the expert care they continue to give me. Not the least of these is ever-lovin’ Larry, whose heart has been in his throat for the past three months from fear of the worst. Is there a National Caregiver’s Week? There should be if there isn’t.

Thank you for your time – it warms the cockles of my heart that you care to be updated at all. I wouldn’t have made it through all this without the constant support and love of my family and friends. I am truly grateful!

Home is Where the Heart Is!

So it’s been three weeks since the surgery today…. And I’ve been home for just over two weeks. I’m overdue for an update! In general, things are going pretty well. There have been some bumps in the road, but I think I’m on the right road.
I’m walking every day, like the doctor ordered. Several times a day, getting at least a mile per day total. I have not been cleared yet to do hills, so basically I’ve been walking our street…. It’ll be fun when I can explore other landscapes!
The appetite is better, though things still don’t taste right (from the anesthesia). This will pass, but basically, a lot of things that I know should taste good taste like cardboard. And it doesn’t help that I’m not using salt.
Sleep is getting better. The first week I couldn’t sleep for more than a few hours at a time – the discomfort was too much. Now things are leveling out a bit, and sleep comes easier. I nap quite a bit.
The pain of the incision has leveled off some, too. I’m still taking one Percocet per day (in the morning, when the stiffness is the worst), and using Tylenol the rest of the time. Though I believe Ibuprofen would be more effective than Tylenol, I can’t use it because I’m on a blood thinner (Coumadin). The hardest task of all has been not to overdo things. Some days you feel pretty good, so you try to do more, then you feel pretty bad because of that. It’s a tough balancing act. Sneezing, coughing, and blowing my nose are no picnics.
The blood pressure has been pretty good (I’m on medication for it), and though my pulse is what I consider too high, the medical experts agree that this is simply a sign that the heart is learning all over again how to beat correctly. I defer to their expertise, and I wait patiently.
A few setbacks:
On the fourth day home, I had an episode where I couldn’t remember what day it was. I also couldn’t remember whether I had actually had the surgery yet or not, or what I had done the day before, etc. It was a bit scary for both Larry and me. It subsided soon enough, but my surgeon did suggest that I try to wean myself off the narcotics, which I have been doing. He also added a baby aspirin to my med regimen, to ensure that the blood is moving.
I also had an episode recently wherein my eyes wouldn’t focus. That has happened to me in the past, and usually the sensation has gone away within seconds. This lasted almost five minutes. Not an unusual thing, the nurse told me, for a heart valve patient in recovery. Hooray!
And now the latest thing: it appears that I have a UTI, probably the result of having had the Foley catheter in the hospital. I’m on antibiotics for it, and it’ll go away.
One thing I have to say, though, is that through all of this, I have never felt more grateful to be alive, and my appreciation for even the littlest things has grown immensely. I hope that never leaves me. Our cat is a constant source of amusement, our friends and family have been such a support and comfort, and above all, I realize how very lucky I am to have long-suffering Larry tagging along on the ride with me. It’s my stop-and-smell-the-roses time, and I am not letting that slip by me.
I also can’t say enough good things about my surgeon, Dr. John Elefteriades (luckily he lets people call him “Dr. E!”), who worked wonders with the ticker, the expert and exceedingly caring staff at Yale-New Haven Hospital (cardiac ICU and general cardiac units), and the wonderful care I’ve been getting from my visiting nurse from New England Home Care. I’m really very, very lucky, and I’ll never forget that. Thanks for listening – as you were!

Passing with Flying Colors!

Hi folks – just let me say that the concern and love and encouragement Larry and I have received in the past few days has been – again – overwhelming. I cannot thank you enough. It’s been a pretty incredible ride – having heart surgery really is like being hit by a train, but the speed of my recovery process has been more than encouraging in my case. From the breathing tube coming out (no fun at ALL!) and getting up and walking the day after, the progress was steady. When they started taking out the chest tubes (which drained fluids from my heart and lungs), my pain level dropped and my comfort and mobility increased exponentially. I’m getting around on my own now – I just did three laps around the unit (I’ve been on the step-down floor since yesterday afternoon), and my breathing and all the numbers have stabilized and are excellent. The appetite is coming back. My surgeon just came in, and he said if things continue in the way they’ve been going, I’ll be going home tomorrow. I cannot wait to sleep in my own bed again (I’m not sure how Larry feels about it!). When I can get a shower, I’ll feel even more like myself. And you know, there are people here who are much older and frailer than I am, and to see how they’ve forged through this process…. Well, they’re real heroes. As are all the folks who work in the step-down unit; they’ve all been great. So I’m ready to start the slow and steady process of getting back to normal – and I’m so grateful to be able to share it with you.

The Tin-Man gets a newer heart

 #TBT – 18 years ago I had open-heart surgery. Everything’s been great, until just recently. I have to go in next Monday (4/3) for more work on the ticker, at Yale. I actually feel OK at this point. I’ll be having my aortic and pulmonic valves replaced (for the second time), plus a goodly part of my aorta. The problem with the aorta is called an aneurism, and I’ve got a great surgeon whose specialty is aortic aneurisms, so I should be in very good shape.

Larry has helped me set up this blog and will make updates that will automatically post to Facebook, so if anyone’s interested, we’ll keep you in the loop.  You can also subscribe to this blog down at the bottom left of this page.

As before, you don’t know how strong you are until you’re put up against the wall, so here’s to knowing just how strong I am – just in case I had forgotten. Can’t wait to get this done, and be on the other side, better than ever. 🙂