Mellanie recalls her recovery from the mini-maze heart procedure.
Once I had the mini-maze surgery I was in intensive care for a few hours and then was taken to the heart unit - the cardiac unit. And I remember that first day when they said, “We are going to get you up and let you walk around just a little bit but we want to make sure that you hold on to the walker to be on to the nurse and we are going to walk you around,” basically the desk where the nurses were, “And be real careful, we don’t want you to fall.”
And I thought they are concerned about me falling just walking around the nurse’s desk? What I realized was with the anesthesia I was a little bit woozy and so I did have to kind of take it easy. I did have to use the walker. I was amazed the next day when I could actually get around and not have to use the walker. I could walk around on my own, and after a couple of nights in the hospital I was doing a whole lot better.
And they said, “You know if you are doing this well tomorrow we will let you go home.” Well, I was doing well the next day so I was able to go home. So I was in the hospital for three nights. I realized when I got home I was actually still somewhat under the effects of the anesthesia. I probably had more anesthesia than I needed so I was kind of hung over, if you will.
But what I learned was that some people have pain from the procedure. I never felt any pain. I remember in the hospital them saying, “Aren’t you going to squeeze your pain ball?” And I said, “I am not having any pain. I don’t need the pain medication.”
So for me, because I had the anesthesia I didn’t really experience the pain. Some people experience pain and use the pain ball squeeze on that to self-administer to make sure that they have a manageable level of pain. It’s surgery so there’s going to be some pain but it’s not like the open-heart surgery where you basically had the chest split and that takes a much longer recovery.
The minimally invasive procedure, you know some people can complain about drain tubes, you have drain tubes in. Typically those come out within the first 24 hours because of the anesthesia. I don’t remember the drain tubes. But every person’s experience is different. Mine was probably easier because I was still under the effects of the anesthesia.
But I believe that typically in about three days, four days at the most, you are feeling a whole lot better. Its not like you have to stay in the hospital a week or longer. In some cases doctors are keeping patients in the hospital for one night or two nights and then sending them home. So that part of the recovery was really not bad. I didn’t have to be in the hospital very long.
When I went home I had to start taking care of the incisions and I learnt what I needed to do to manage the incisions and realize that there were things that I probably should have prepared for beforehand but didn’t know to do so. If I were doing it again I would go out and I would get some gauze and some waterproof tape and those kinds of things to tape up the incision so that I don’t, wouldn’t have the bleeding or the oozing onto my clothes.
I would also, as a woman, consider what kind of bra I needed as a result of the surgery. These days I recommend that women ask their surgeon to mark what their incisions, you know where they are going to go so that they can mark them with a permanent marker if they need to, a day or two before surgery so that they can go try on bras and make sure that they get a soft bra that’s not going to rub the incision area.
So that was something that I learned. Fortunately I was able to locate some soft bras and didn’t have to deal with rubbing up the incisions but it’s definitely something to be concerned with as a woman.
And as a woman, another thing that I thought of since then is probably any woman that’s having surgery in the chest area it is probably a good area to have that mammogram within, you know, like a month or two before surgery because that way you can push your mammogram out for maybe a year after your surgery and make sure that you are totally healed in that area before you go have a mammogram. Because women I have talked with have, we have all said the thought of a mammogram after heart surgery is actually pretty scary. So it’s the kind of thing that maybe you want to think about before surgery and push out as far as you can preemptively.
So another thing related to that is it’s important to mention when you go in for a mammogram that you may have scar tissue in that area from your heart surgery so that the technicians and the radiologist know that that’s something maybe to take into consideration. So for a woman there are lots of considerations and as a result I have put together some of those considerations for recovery on stopafib.org. There’s a page that’s basically for women having the procedure.
There is also a magazine and a tele seminar that I did with another woman, heart disease survivor, who also had heart surgery. Hers was open-heart. And we basically want to consider, what are things that women need to know if they are having heart surgery and what should women who are living with atrial fibrillation know? So those are some good resources for women who are considering having surgery for atrial fibrillation.
It’s a little bit different for women just because there’s a lot of delicate tissue in the heart area and in fact one of the things I talk about with every heart surgeon that I know that’s doing open-heart surgery and that’s doing the minimally invasive maze surgery is to have them think about what the tissue is in that area and to find places to put the incisions which are different from where they would put them for men so that they don’t disrupt the breast tissue and certainly don’t cut the muscle if they can at all, if avoid it.
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