• Editor’s note: This is the last in a three-part series of articles following a heart transplant journey.
Throughout the journey related to my husband Brandon’s heart transplant, which he received May 1 at Integris Baptist Medical Center, I have learned a lot and have seen some interesting sights. During Brandon’s hospitalization post-transplant, we had education classes to learn about necessary lifestyle changes. Here are a few:
• Sun sensitivity: Transplant patients are highly sensitive to UV rays. Brandon invested in a black, large-brimmed hat, a cool-wicking, long-sleeved shirt with UV protection, polarized wraparound sunglasses and multiclava scarves (to protect against against germs in crowds). Some people jokingly told him he looked like an old-timey robber or the invisible man. He said he felt like a vampire, because he immediately felt sapped by the sun and could see his skin turn a little pink sometimes. Wearing sunscreen was also suggested.
• Diet change: In addition to continuing his low-sodium diet, we learned that certain foods and restaurants are off-limits.
First, no buffets or places that have food items sitting out in the open, due to possible bacterial cross contamination. Second, no grapefruits or pomegranates, due to possible interaction with medications.
Third, vegetables must be eaten cooked, and salads can’t be eaten in restaurants because of the threat of bacteria. Any salads eaten must be prepared fresh in a clean environment with clean hands.
• No drinking fountains: This should be self explanatory.
• Denervated heart: In the process of doing a heart transplant, a certain nerve has to be cut. This leads to transplant patients having a slower reaction time when something distressing or surprising happens. It also means recovery from those experiences takes longer.
I also had some unique experiences at the hospital, mainly during his rejection episode. Here are a few:
• Therapy dogs: During my husband’s hospitalization for rejection, I saw eight therapy dogs. The first was a white golden doodle named Mavee, followed by a Great Pyrenees, a black lab, two Burmese mountain dogs, a red-brown golden doodle, a hound and German Shepherd mix and a Shelty.
I first saw Mavee the day after Brandon’s cardiac arrest, which happened June 23 after he suffered a seizure during an IV infusion treatment. She added sunlight to my sad day and helped me feel a little better. After that, I actively sought out the dogs when they were nearby.
• Geese herding: When we started going to the hospital for medical appointments a lot, I would often see Canada geese on the premises. Eventually, I started counting the geese. They always acted casually and took forever to cross roadways.
One day upon arriving at the hospital, I saw a group of about 30 to 40 geese walking in the main hospital entrance and exit areas. Two employees — one at the head and one at the back of the gaggle — were attempting to herd all of them back to safety, while conducting traffic.
I overheard one employee say, “Did you hiss at me?” to a young goose, then reassure the goose that he was trying to help it. It was the highlight of my day.
• Cleaning conundrums: The night of my husband’s cardiac arrest, someone moved a recliner into a waiting room so I could sleep somewhat comfortably. I left for breakfast that morning, and when I got back, it was gone.
A family member told me a janitorial employee saw it, got mad and moved it immediately before cleaning the room.
Later, we moved to a waiting room on the other side that had three round tables with big lamps on each one. One lamp had no light bulb. I had to work, so I moved it safely up onto a wide window ledge, with the cord placed beside it.
Then I moved the table in front of my seat, placed my work computer on top and straddled the table. After I was finished working, I put everything safely back in its place.
Every time, the janitorial employee had the urge to move them back. Brandon later told me he overheard some nurses talking about it, and I said, “That was me!”
• Definition of home: Three weeks was the length of time it took before I started referring to the hospital as my second home during Brandon’s second hospital stint. When people asked why we were there, I replied, “We live here.”
I had to go home nearly each night to care for our son, but over the entirety of both stays, I had to travel almost daily to Oklahoma City to see Brandon. So, the hospital became my daytime home.
Thankfully, my whole family is back home now, and I hope it stays that way for a long time.