Abet's blog. Sharing my thoughts, musings, pictures, clips, and writings on just about anything

The Cabbage Chronicles Part 4 — Learnings from the SICU

Hi guys! Belated Happy Valentine’s Day and Happy Year of the Earth Dog! Here’s the next “cabbage” installment. We started with disclaimers in the last blog. This time, I think I should start with a warning.

Warning: This blog may contain pictures of a highly sensitive and graphic nature, i.e., I will be posting a few pictures of the wounds from my CABG procedure. So if you’re quite queasy or iffy about viewing such things, please skip the portion. I’ll try to put the pics up as thumbnails so the reader will have to click to get a full view (choice nyo pa rin to see or not). Again, I’m just sharing. I don’t know how it will help anyone, I just know in one way or another, it will. Maybe to scare someone into better health if he wouldn’t want to suffer such kinds of surgical wounds. Or maybe to encourage someone that it’s alright, it’s survivable (because as you can see, I’m ok despite the wounds). But please, since these are parts of my body, kindly keep the pictures here in my blog lang (i.e., no need to spread pls). Anyway, I’m the proud wearer of these scars now and I’ve even shown them first-hand to people who have come to visit.

“Cabbage” Activities Lately

Just to mix in recent updates with the “cabbage” stories, here are some photos of me at a gym, doing some exercises as part of my cardiac rehab and recovery process. What do you think guys? I’m proud of how I look post-cabbage. Because I am still not allowed to indulge in my usual sports activities — swimming, tennis, and other heavier stuff, I’ve been doing a lot of walking, stationary biking, calisthenics and (of course) dancing. I think I look even better than I did pre-cabbage procedure (nagbuhat ng sariling bangko hehe!).

Cabbage stationary bike

“Cabbage” biking. I do stationary bike from time to time as part of my rehab. At the Signa gym.

Cabbage Selfie at the Signa Gym

“Cabbage” selfie muna. Working out at the Signa gym.

Also, last February 14, 2018 (yes, Valentine’s Day), I stood as Ninang to Ken Dabao (son of Ricky Dabao and Jackie Lou Blanco) and Justine Nina Pena’s (my best friend’s niece, na parang pamangkin ko na rin) wedding. I previously expressed my regrets to the couple that I couldn’t attend their wedding because of my surgery. They understood, but still wanted to keep me as Ninang. But as I saw my progress, we thought that I can make it after all. So I had a pink gown rushed (wala pa ata 1 week ginawa), but I had to wear rubber shoes underneath because I can’t wear heels yet (my left foot is still partially swollen). Here are some pictures from #Kennina’s wedding. (With Ken, being a celebrity son, of course, the event was graced by some popular celebs you might recognize from the pics.) I was happy I made it. Of course, many people didn’t know why one of the ninangs wore tennis shoes with her pink gown. Those who commented, though, said it was so “cool”. (Proud ako to have done this, wag kayong ano!)

Cabbage Ninang

“Cabbage” ninang muna tayo for #Kennina. Valentine’s Day, 14-Feb-2018. Tennis shoes peeking from under my pink gown.

“Cabbage” Souvenir Markings

Now back to the SICU2 of the Philippine Heart Center. It’s Jan 19, my first day at the SICU2 (technically, it’s the second day, since I got re-operated on, but let’s not count the first time na lang.). Initially, I was still connected to the respirator and was still under a lot of medication, including pain killers, so I don’t think I had my full mental faculties then.

I guess the pain killers were necessary because of the ordeal my body had to go through, and of course, because of the cabbage wounds. I gave a warning at the start of the blog ha, about the wound pictures. If you feel uncomfortable about these, please skip.

I had several sets of wounds — the chest wound, the leg wounds, plus several other punctures on the chest, on the neck, on the wrist (arterial line) and IV line.

Cabbage Leg Wounds

I got 6 gashes on my left leg through which they extracted my left great saphenous vein. Six segments of the vein were used for the bypass grafts on my heart.

Cabbage Chest Wound

I got like a 10-inch wound on my chest (open heart surgery nga, di ba?), plus several other cuts for draining fluids from the chest cavity.

The wounds actually look worse now, weeks after the procedure, as they heal. Doctors said it will take several months for the bruising, bulges, and other marks to disappear and for the color to change back close to my natural skin tone.

Despite being drugged, I recall a lot of things, mostly about sleeping (ayun, tulog lang naman pala nang tulog) haha. But really, I observed that as my breathing rate goes lower, i.e., as I enter a state where I inhale very little air, with very little effort, I fall into a dream-like state. And the monitors seem to be able to track this change from awareness to deep sleep (the beeping pattern changes accordingly). As I enter this state, all the noise around me gets drowned out, including conversations around me, and all the types of beeps, whistles and rings from elsewhere in the SICU2 area. I would later be able to apply these learnings trying to relax and fall asleep despite having all sorts of noise around me (it’s never quiet in the SICU, you see).

“Cabbage” Dreamscapes

Now, I don’t know if it was the drugs, the contraptions on my hospital bed, or just my playful mind, but I distinctly remember some of the dreamscapes that ran through my sleep.

  • Aerial night view of islands, as big as continents or as small as islets
  • Aerial night view of islands, as above, but with some areas marked with clusters of white lights (It’s like how electrified cities look from above on board a night flight as the plane passes over them. Ewan ha, but the expression “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” comes to mind.)
  • Sensation of flying over a huge street-map (parang google maps), it’s really huge, as big as a whole city
  • Floating over a huge bed of large sea corals (hard stony corals), with just a few polyps that open and shut as I seem to hover over them
  • Overhead view of villas with large clay/adobe-like roofs, with one of the houses, usually a relatively smaller one being focused on, with more features distinctly visible, e.g., door, windows, eaves, etc.
  • Wavy sand dunes, not too high, not too small
  • Assorted geometric patterns, with a particular pattern getting highlighted with a brighter color
  • Alphabetic block letter tiles (in outline form)

I really don’t know what to make of these, but I can recall them, and I don’t remember having had these dreamscapes in my normal sleep. I noticed though, that some of the patterns relate to some things that I like, e.g., traveling, flying, using maps for directions, scuba diving, the beach, crosswords, scrabble,… Have you guys had these?

First Meal Post-Cabbage

When I was taken off the respirator, I felt my throat was so dry (nurse Angel said it’s normal). My lips were dry too, I felt them so chaffed and in dire need of lubrication. Just a little moment after, I had my first meal post-op. I had Jell-O and a cup of cream soup or something like it. Jell-O never tasted so good and it also felt good eating it because the Jell-O just slid down my throat with no trouble at all. The cream soup, though smooth, didn’t go down as easily as the Jell-O, causing some irritation on the throat. So when nurse Angel asked which one I wanted more, I chose the Jell-O of course.

Cabbage Breathing

After getting off the respirator, I noticed that my body somehow took in the breathing patterns it might have learned on-respirator. Basically, I learned how changing your breathing can help you relax and achieve a more rested state. I also learned how certain stimulus, whether induced by drugs, mechanisms on my hospital bed, or by my own mind, can help adjust my breathing. Some examples of stimuli:

  • a gentle shake of the head
  • the tip of the tongue touching one of the molars
  • a pressure point on a leg or an arm
  • parts of the hand, arms or legs getting numb
  • a small electrical impulse on the neck
  • flashes of bright light on the eyes
  • a quick open-shut motion of the eyes
  • a series of nudges on the head until the head tips over

I realized though, that these are some of the things that our body involuntarily does in the middle of sleep. I never paid attention to these things, but was amazed at how all these tiny movements are all tied up to our breathing during sleep.

I also noticed that when I get into these deep-sleep states, I usually feel the sensation of my extremities — hands, lower arms, and legs, lifting slowly, and floating on their own. Several times, I took control of my eyes, forcibly opened them to take a peek at said body parts. I was somewhat amazed to find all of them — hands, arms, feet, legs, all laid down on the hospital bed as normal, and not at all floating like I was feeling them to be. So I learned the floating sensation was only in the mind.

I was also able to apply what I learned about breathing to enter the dream-like sleep state at will, i.e., by controlling my breathing (off-respirator) and freeing up my mind for the dreamscapes to come in. Some of the dreamscapes I mentioned earlier recurred. At several points, when I woke up, I found my mind somehow casting some of the dream images on my hospital room walls, e.g., I was seeing island patterns plastered on my wall or the alphabet tiles laid down neatly on the wall like it was some kind of wall paper (I remember seeing KLMNOP and almost asked my nurse if I was on a kid’s room.)

Also, during sleep, I learned how the mouth does so many things we may be conscious or unconscious of. The mouth automatically does its cleaning actions, e.g., the tongue reaching all parts of the teeth to clean up, how the mouth, teeth and tongue work together to turn saliva into the consistency of water to make it easier to swallow (remember, my body seems to avoid coughing because it was really Ouchie!), the teeth grinding and gnashing on saliva, the lips pursing together to clear up the nostrils and allow inhaling through the nose. Remember that I mentioned my lips felt so dry and awfully chaffed coming off the respirator? Even during sleep, my mouth worked on them through a systematic process of its own. The tongue would wet a certain portion of the chaffed skin, then the teeth would attempt to peel out a portion, but would stop if pulling would cause bleeding on the lip. When the teeth successfully pulls out a portion, (believe me,) the teeth would grind the bit into miniscule portions, mix it with saliva and have it all swallowed! (Medyo icky, di ba, but that’s how it went talaga). Until all the chaffed skin on my lips were all gone.

(Weird ba? Basta these are my recollections. I don’t know why or how I recall these things vividly. I can’t explain them, di nga ako doctor, di ba?)

First Post-Cabbage Conversations

My initial post-CABG conversations were, of course, with my nurses at the SICU2. They would ask me how I was feeling. Still finding it difficult to speak, I would whisper or signal to them that I felt ok. On my next meal, I think I already had fish and some rice. I found swallowing still difficult, but my nurse would assure me it’s normal. He said it usually takes 3 days post-op for the appetite to return.

At one point, my nurse asked why I was shaking. It wasn’t cold and I had no fever. I said I wasn’t shaking, it was the bed that was shaking me (that’s how I felt kasi). And he said, no the bed isn’t shaking. So I looked and found that indeed it wasn’t. So I just adjusted my breathing, relaxed and then stopped shaking. (Gulo ng utak ko!)

My next initial conversations were with my watchers. My personal nurse first, because by then, visitors were allowed to come into my SICU room and feed me (supposedly one at a time, so my watchers took turns). Next was Manong Joe, who talked to me about what happened (my re-operation). I told him I knew, because I was partially aware. He said that so many people prayed for me. I was thankful. Then my best friend Nona, who I thought was supposed to fly out that day to accompany a balikbayan cousin in Boracay. She said she backed out of the flight after what happened to me. (Now, if you have a best friend or close friend like Nona, you are so blessed like me. To have a friend stick to your side when you get into a serious situation like mine is really special.) And lastly, Arly, Manong Joe’s wife, whom I asked to keep watch on Manong Joe, too, because of his own condition.

Cabbage Graduating from SICU

My last day at the SICU was on Jan 21, Sunday, i.e., 3 days after my re-operation. I was ready to be moved to a private room in the afternoon, but had to wait as usual for one to be available. Before the transfer though, they had to perform certain procedures — remove my arterial line and bandage the wound, remove my chest drain tube, take an x-ray, etc. During my days at the SICU, I “witnessed” (more of ear-witnessed) the loss of 2 patients, one was a baby and the other was a 9-year old boy (I was at the pediatric SICU, remember?). I felt for them, and also their family who were with them. I can imagine how difficult it was and will be for children to undergo any form of heart operation. They may survive the operation itself, but may not make it through recovery. It’s easy to instruct adults like me what to avoid and what to do (e.g., bawal umire, no sudden movements, embrace your heart pillow to cough, etc.), but it’s quite a challenge for child patients. That was just so sad.

At around 9pm, I was finally transferred to a private room in Petal 4B (Room 420).

Next: The Cabbage Chronicles Part 5 — What I Understood About My Case


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