And so, fifteen days after his heart stopped and was restarted again, after some major league replumbing of that heart, and with the help of a lot of people, I sprung him from the hospital.
He was untethered from his last wire, deftly pulled out of his chest by cardiac PA Tim Berkeley the morning of Wednesday, Jan. 30. Shy, the health aide who shaved him before his triple bypass Jan. 24, helped him shower for the first time post-surgery. Nurses Agnes and Tatyana were the last ones to care for him on the third floor. And he was showered in the metaphoric sense with hugs and handshakes by staff who’ve become ohana (family) to us.
We have a long list of people to thank at Kaiser Moanalua Medical Center.
This heart surgery stuff has come a long way since the days 35 years ago when I watched my late husband undergo an aortic valve replacement. Yes, they still open the chest. But the whole process feels far less brutal. Techniques to make this easier on the patient have clearly been developed and brought to a high level—including the small incision below the knee to extract the vein for the bypass, pioneered by Dr. John Lee, part of the surgical team that operated on Dick.
Kindnesses continued to come our way, even on the last day. Agnes, our nurse on departure day, after learning that Dick never got an official Kaiser heart pillow, searched and found him one—made of official Kaiser fabric and inscribed on the back, “Made by Manoa Lions.” Mahalo, Manoa Lions! And Agnes, too… she made our day.
Our dear friend Cora Johnson flew in a bit before noon from Nevada, half of the team of devoted people who will care for Dick over the next two weeks after I go home. She brought Dick new duds—from sweatpants and undies to button shirts and a blue hoodie, new socks and moccasins. She saw her late husband, Bob Johnson, through a CABG many years ago and, in 2001, a heart transplant. This is a woman who knows how to help a fella heal after heart surgery.
Because this is what it looks like less than a week after surgery—no tape holding anything together, just the imprint of silver that will gradually wear away, a substance that helps prevent bacteria from entering that lovely incision. He’s got a few new puka (holes) in chest and belly and leg, but the docs now leave them uncovered at this point, breathing along with him. (And he’s rocking the beginnings of a new beard, too!)
Then, after picking up medications at the hospital pharmacy, Dick was ready to be wheeled out to the rental car Cora and I picked up at the airport after her arrival, and make our way… well, away from the hospital, which has been a remarkable place of refuge and healing. Sure, they wake you up way too often to poke you and measure you (my mother, the former hospital nurse, always says the worst place to get some rest is in a hospital). But these folks were so compassionate and caring—above and beyond, it seemed to us, what is typical in hospitals. They hung around and talked story when they could; they asked us about ourselves and our lives. They treated us like old friends. More than one person asked to see the video Dr. Dang, the surgeon, shot of Dick’s heart before and after the repair and, like us, marveled at the difference.
And we got in the rental Nissan and made our way west to Pearl City and a neighborhood called Pacific Palisades, where, coincidentally, our friend Connie Raub (who also landed in Hawaii today to be part of the care team) used to live in Southern California.
As my late friend Julie used to say, “Honey, there are no accidents.”
We came to a sweet little house on a street called Komo Mai Drive, which made me smile. E Komo Mai means “welcome” in Hawaiian. It is emblazoned over the entrance to Kaiser Moanalua Medical Center. You see it on mats outside homes and in hotels. It says to the visitor (malihini), come on in, leave your slippers on the mat, sit a spell and talk story with us.
This is a place where we have been made welcome, and while we are happy to be again released into the world, we’re a bit sad to leave, too. But then look where we’ve landed—on welcome street.
This occurred to me today on what is my half birthday. I am 60-and-a-half years old. I’ve always had a fondness for the date Jan. 30—my name in the first month and the number of the day on which I was born in July. It feels like a bit of a rebirth for me, too, this whole experience. In some ways it seems as if it happened yesterday—there’s nothing cliché about that. That image of Dick dropping to the floor in the airport will stay with me forever. But in other ways it seems like more than two weeks have passed. How could so much happen so quickly? To die, be brought back to life, rest and allow experts to evaluate his condition, determine what needed to be done… and then do that… and then begin to heal and suddenly, out the door not even a week after bypass surgery?
Miracles about in the land of “komo mai,” and we continue to have full, happily beating hearts, awash in it all.