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YOUR VOICE: Open Heart Surgery Rehabilitation

We interviewed a chap called Guy Heywood recently who had a pretty amazing story to tell. The following is an excerpt from his book Free To Choose about discovering he had a heart defect that required open heart surgery, with no guarantee of survival… 

My first rehabilitation session was now due and I was looking forward to it. The idea of being more proactive with an exercise routine, seeing professionals and being surrounded by people who had been through the same torment, felt reassuring.

I was hoping to be able to connect with the others, as they had been through something similar to me. I knew everyone would be a lot older than me, but it didn’t bother me. The nurses seemed to think it would be an issue as they wouldn’t want to communicate with me. I struggled to think why; we had a shared experience and that’s what was important.

We had a room on the ground floor; it was large, with mirrors from floor to ceiling on two walls and a series of long, thin rectangular windows on another side to allow anyone to see in before entering the room. Two older gentlemen, who barely acknowledged me as I said hello, were already there. I sat down next to one of them who was quite large and seemed bothered to be there, almost in a huff, as if he had better things to do with his time. I introduced myself and after a moment of silence leant across to him and said in the hope of conversation or at least a smile, “so, that operation was fun eh?!”

He looked at me puzzled, frowning, as if he had no idea what I was talking about and turned his head away, ignoring me. We waited and a few more people arrived.

The fitness instructor in charge specialised in After Operational Medical Care, and she took us through the first set of exercises. She was from New Zealand, in her late twenties or early thirties with a slender build, brown hair and a very attractive bum in tight jeggings.

We did simple stretches with some movement and walked in circles, like horses in a ring on a lead rope, round and round with the instructor at the centre. We would switch directions and then finally do some more stretches. To say it was basic doesn’t even come close. The hardest part was a standing up press up; I could feel the lack of strength and wanted to stop after a few repetitions. Even a simple movement like that was hard and tiring. The muscle pain was evident, but I didn’t mind. I was happy to be away from home, taking part in an activity and knowing I was getting stronger every moment. I was happy to feel like I was living.

We also had 0.5-2kg weights for arm pumps of thirty seconds each. Even these felt heavy and after a few movements of raising my arm up and down, a kilogram soon turned into a tonne.

We took our heart rate and blood pressure at the beginning and end of the session. Some of the other members struggled to find their heartbeat, and looking at them throughout the session I could see why. They were frail and old. Some of the heart rates were very slow due to the beta blockers. I was very thankful not to be on those anymore; I remembered how exhausted they made me feel.

At the end the instructor started to talk about all the different types of heart operation and what to look out for. After a while I couldn’t help but ask why we were going over all this when everyone in the room has already had an operation.

She didn’t seem to understand what I was saying: ‘‘It’s what we’re told to do and have always done at the start,” she said.

With that ‘computer says no’ response I realised I wasn’t going to get anywhere. Later I learned that the other people on the rehabilitation programme had been through a different operation to me. They would have been in and out of hospital in under twenty-four hours with no major trauma. I suddenly realised this was why the larger gentleman had given me an odd look; it was nothing compared to open heart surgery. It then dawned on me that I would have to carry on not being able to relate to anyone or share my experience with them.

Despite all of this I still looked forward to the classes, as it was a time when I would be exercising beyond the normal day-to-day routine and I could feel myself getting fitter and stronger.

On the last session I managed to jog gently on the treadmill and I couldn’t stop smiling on the inside and out. I never thought I would be able to run again or even want to, and here I was jogging! The sense of achievement at doing the smallest thing was so rewarding. Each day I would get up and make sure I did just that little bit more than the day before; one more step on my walk, a deeper breath, anything I was doing I improved on what I had done previously.

Throughout the third month of recovery I felt the happiest I had ever done in my life. It was a wonderful period of calm and joy; the simple discovery of just feeling well was all I had and that brought tremendous peace and presence into my life. The simplest tasks were a joy and I did everything with the utmost care and attention, partly because I was still taking a long time to do things but also because I could.

I didn’t know how far from total recovery I was but it didn’t matter because I felt good and appreciated every step.

You can read the rest of Guy’s story at wearefreetochoose.com; follow him on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

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