This is part 7 of a 9-part series describing my perspective as my son was diagnosed with and treated for an Atrial Septal Defect. Other installments: Preface, Discovery, Fear, Choices, Anticipation, The Knife's Edge, Just Breathe, Recovery, Home, Epilogue
It wasn't long after that that they told us they'd be moving him upstairs to the cardiac unit, which is a "normal" room in the wing that handles cardiac and transplant patients. He wasn't even in the CICU 24 hours when they took him up. We felt like it was a week. They let him take a set of stacking rings with him, since he seemed to enjoy playing with them in his crib.
This was where it started to become obvious just how much better kids can handle severe traumas like this than adults can. For him to be sitting up and playing less than a day after having open-heart surgery was astounding to us. That afternoon, my wife and I went to a local restaurant for lunch. For as serious as the situation was, we finally felt like we could take a few moments just to get outside the hospital. Things were starting to look better.
Tuesday night -- his first night in the cardiac unit -- was my turn to take the night shift. He started the evening with some dry Kix cereal -- this was the first he had eaten since the ice cream he had Sunday evening. We spent a good part of the night watching Animal Planet, as he was drifting in and out of sleep and would wake up to watch the elephants or hyenas or whatever was on at the time.
By the next morning, he was ready for some real breakfast. They brought him scrambled eggs and toast, and he just about ate it all. Later on Wednesday morning they came to take his chest tube out. This was a rubber tube about 1/4" in diameter. He wasn't showing any signs of internal bleeding at that point, so they felt it was safe to take it out. I stepped out of the room while the physician's assistant removed the tube and gave him what would be his only external stitch in the process. (They had used dermabond -- superglue -- on his main incision.) His crying kept me informed of how things were going. I've since had adults tell me that having the chest tube removed is one of the most uncomfortable aspects of recovery because it feels like you're having your insides pulled out. I can only hope his wasn't that bad.
Also that day they took him down to do another chest x-ray to see how everything looked. We wound up right back in the same x-ray room we had been just two weeks earlier. Everything looked good inside, so we went back up to the room. When the surgeon came to do rounds later that afternoon, he told us that while they wouldn't really let him go home two days post-operation, he thought he was pretty much ready to get out of there. They told us that if everything went okay that evening (and by this point he was standing up in his crib and starting to act like the toddler he was) we'd get to take him home the next day.
My wife and I went out to a local Indian place for dinner that evening. Now, not only could we see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we were starting to feel the breeze coming in. As a bonus, our little guy loaded up his diaper while we were out, so we didn't even have to deal with that, either. It's the small things that count. I came home that evening and spent the evening with our daughter.
Thursday morning by the time I got to the hospital they had already taken out the last IV from his ankle. He seemed surprisingly normal for a kid who three days earlier had been lying on a table with a machine pumping his blood and breathing for him. He was standing up and bouncing in the crib. The surgical team came by for morning rounds and said we'd have to take him home that afternoon, otherwise they'd need to put the cage on top of his crib.
After what seemed like an interminable wait (but was really only about 2 hours), they came in with his discharge papers. They told us to be careful with him and not let him climb or fall, as blunt traumas to the chest were the worst thing that could happen at that point. (It would take another 6 weeks or so for his rib cage to seal itself back together.) The only medication he was to have was normal over-the-counter Children's Tylenol as needed for discomfort.
Downstairs, we got him into the car seat, being extra careful not to over-tighten his car seat harness, and left Children's Hospital behind. During the drive home I couldn't stop looking in the rear-view mirror to make sure he was still there. When the week began, we didn't know if we'd be coming home with an empty car seat or not. Now we knew.