Just a few weeks after I got home from my grandmas funeral Justin and I were headed to Grand Forks, ND for an appointment with Justin’s cardiologist. Justin was born with aortic stenosis. He only had two leaflets closing his heart valve instead of two. This meant blood leaked back into his heart as it tried to pump it out. Eventually, this can cause the heart to work harder and harder. If left unchecked the heart can even lead to heart failure. He was diagnosed with it when he was just 18 months old after a doctor picked up on a heart murmur. The year before we finally were able to get an order put in to have an echo done on Skyler after she had repeated heart murmurs on her well-child visits. Luckily her echo had come back clean!
They suggested that we go on to Fargo for the surgery. Fargo was a 6-hour drive from our home in Tioga, ND. We were hoping that Justin’s surgery could be put off until winter but Dr. R suggested that it take place this summer. We left Grand Forks with a business card and an appointment with a surgeon in Fargo set for June.
June 12th we arrived in Fargo for a pre-surgery consultation with Dr. N. After a battery of tests Justin was cleared for surgery for July 7, 2016. The 4th of July weekend was a fun, busy and anxiety filled weekend. Justin celebrated his 10-year class reunion, which basically was our same group of friends plus a few extra. The afternoon of the 4th I all of a sudden had the worst toothache of my life. Thankfully I have one of the best dentists in the world! He met me on the 4th of July at his office to get me set up with some pain meds until I could get an appointment after Justin’s surgery.
The morning of the 5th we took off for Fargo. Justin, his mom and dad, and myself. Justin’s sister Erin met us in Fargo. The afternoon of the 6th Justin went in for a few more tests before we headed to the hotel to relax for the evening. That night I took a pregnancy test I was pregnant again. Immediately I was wracked with fear of another miscarriage, especially considering the pain meds I was on for my tooth. I called into my OBGYN right away. We got an appointment scheduled for just a week after we were scheduled to be home from Justin’s surgery.
The next morning we got up early. We met the rest of the Weisz family in the surgery waiting room. Everyone was on pins and needles waiting for the nurse with the clipboard to call Justin’s name to start the pre-surgery prep. She finally called his name. I was allowed to go back to the prep room with him. This is where they give you those tiny plastic bags that say personal belongings on them. It was my responsibility to look after his things until he was finished with surgery and moved to a recovery room.
Justin stripped down and put on the paper hospital gown and hair net. The nurse came back in to get stats and have Justin sign consent forms. As soon as she left I could see the fear and emotions starting to well up in Justin. As hard as I tried to be strong and not cry I could feel the tears starting to swell in my own eyes too. It was about that time that the nurse brought the rest of Justin’s family back into the prep room to say our final goodbyes before he was wheeled off to the OR.
Lorin my father-in-law tried to lighten the mood with some of is not so funny jokes. Everyone seemed to be trying to stay strong while at the same time we all knew we were scared. While I tried to hide my tears as we said our final goodbyes I leaned down and gave Justin one last kiss before the nurses wheeled him out, leaving us there holding his bags of closed, and his wedding ring on my finger. That was when Lorin suggested we go get some breakfast at
When we got back to the hospital we found our way to the tiniest waiting room I’ve ever seen. The four of us, my mother and father-in-law my sister-in-law and I took up more than half of the waiting room. The room smelled like burnt coffee and looked as if it hadn’t been cleaned in over a week. Tiny bits of paper and empty coffee cups filled the end table. The TV that
We sat there for what felt like an eternity before a nurse finally came to the door and asked for the family of Justin Weisz. We followed her back to the ICU two at a time to see Justin. As Debbie and I entered the ICU we saw Justin laying there with what looked like a scuba mask on and two tubes coming out of his chest. The nurse explained that surgery had gone well, he was still asleep but they would begin waking him up in a few hours. I walked over to the side of his bed and held his had. His hand was cold and his skin seemed pale in the dark ICU.
The ICU nurse sat behind her desk that overlooked two ICU beds. I sat there on a chair next to Justin’s bed not sure if I should talk to him, or just quietly hold his hand. Debbie talked to him a bit, as I held his hand and watched his eyelashes flutter a bit as he listened to her voice. That was when the nurse stood up and walked over to his bed. She grabbed one of the clear tubes that were coming out of his chest and pinched it and the stripped all the fluid that was collecting in the tube into a container on the floor at the foot of his bed. She explained that these were drainage tubes collecting fluid that was building up. That was when my hands started to get sweaty and I knew I needed to get out of that room fast, I was about to pass out.
I don’t have a problem with blood or stitches but my body does. The first time I watched a vet stitch up our dog, I hit the floor faster then I realized what was happening. The one time I had to take one of my sisters to the clinic to get stitches after she cut herself on barbwire I fainted. Luckily I made it out of ICU and into the waiting room without passing out.
Over the next few hours, they began to wake Justin up and got him sitting up in a chair. He ate some jello and complained about pain. Less than 4 hours after landing in the ICU he was moved to the cardiac floor, where he shared a room with an interesting roommate for a couple of days.
Cardiac floors I have found to be pretty interesting places. Basically, if you have ever had any type of cardiac procedure, you will always end up on the cardiac floor from then on out. You get pneumonia you will be on the cardiac floor. On suicide watch, still on the cardiac floor.
I tried really hard to ignore the kid on the other side of the curtain, but he would just not stop talking. He was in his early twenties. Somehow he had ended up on suicide watch but then proceeded to tell the aide there watching him he wasn’t really suicidal. After a fight with his
Luckily Justin was still pretty out of it and slept through all this drama. We finally requested a private room and were moved into the next one that opened up. A few of Justin’s friends from Tioga, actually made the drive down to see him in the hospital! I don’t know how much Justin actually remembers talking to them. He definitely fell asleep mid-sentence a few times with them.
After a few days of rest Justin was doing well, starting to take longer and longer walks down the hallway each time. There was one defining moment that stands out to me the most during that time. It was his first shower after surgery.
Trying to help someone take a shower when they are in pain is hard. First, they have to wrap up the arm that has the IV in it, so you basically have to shower one-handed. Take into account that he had literally just had his chest sawed open and then wired shut you can see how this would be both tricky and painful. By the time we were finished, he was cold, I was drenched, he was yelling at me and I just wanted to cry. That was when I realized it was going to be a long road to recovery. A journey I was not prepared for at all.
We left Fargo on July 12, 2016. We had a new normal to find. This was about to become the start of one of the biggest challenges in our marriage yet. We stopped every two hours to get out of the car and walk, to avoid blood clots. This turned a 6-hour drive into an almost 8-hour drive, but we finally pulled into the yard that evening as the sunset, exited to see Skyler again.
Have you ever been a caretaker before? Let me know in the comments! Join me next week for the next post in this series.