What I learnt from my Dad’s quadruple bypass surgery

It has been somewhat of a tough week for me personally and professionally. On the professional front, last week we ran our first Health Business Masterclass online seminar, and as such there was quite a bit of preparation for the event over the prior weeks.

I had also travelled back to my hometown of Kuala Lumpur so that I could be closer to my dad. He underwent quadruple bypass surgery and at age 68 with multiple other medical conditions such as asthma and diabetes, it was always going to be a challenging procedure.

Thankfully the operation was a success to the degree that it is now 6 days later and he has successfully convinced his surgeons that he can now return home. Despite a lung collapse 2 days post operatively, he has managed to soldier on with great strength and get his breathing back to reasonable state.

I have to admire him for his tenacity.

He did have the best surgeon in the country – Dr Azhari was the surgeon who operated on Malaysia previous Prime Minister Dato Mahathir. This surgeon was not just presented to him, he pushed for it until he got it. He was also treated in the best hospital for people with heart disease, the National Heart Institute (also known as IJN).

He has the best care with his own private room in the Intensive Care ward, the High Dependency Unit which he was moved to later and even had a special room on the General Ward. The food in the hospital was specifically catered for heart patients and the staff were very professional. It was really a top class institution.

But what became obvious to me after 2 days, particularly after his lung collapse, was that I could not really do not much for him. I could come to visit him and try to motivate him as best I can, but even despite my extensive experience of over 15 years in healthcare, I could not breathe for him.

His fastest way to leave was to perform his spirometry exercises and get it back to as close to 1500ml as possible (spirometry is a device you blow into that measures your lung capacity – they suggest you blow into it 10x per hour during your post operative days). He was also required to perform his physiotherapy and start moving around the ward.

There is plenty of scientific evidence to show that the sooner a patient mobilises post cardiac surgery, the better the long term outcomes.

The other aspect was for him to remain calm and composed, despite the pain that he would be undergoing from his wounds. In essence, to stay stress free.

To this end, I could only encourage him to meditate, one of the best practices available to manage stress long term, and again there are numerous studies on Mindfulness Meditation and Transcendental Meditation to indicate such positive effects.

The report from the American Heart Association published on April 2013 concluded that the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique lowers blood pressure and recommends that the TM technique may be considered in clinical practice for the prevention and treatment of hypertension and thereby also lowering risk of heart attack, stroke and death.

Entitled “Beyond Medications and Diet Alternative Approaches to Lowering Blood Pressure: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association,” the report informed doctors which alternative approaches to lowering blood pressure (BP) have been shown by research to be effective.

Hence despite all the complex science that comes with such a meticulously studied disease and an even more complicated surgery where all four major heart arteries are bypassed, ultimately the mantra for his healing was only 3 things – “Move, Breathe and Meditate”

Move. Breathe. Meditate.

Move (physio), breathe (spirometry), meditate (remove stress).

All of which, I could not do for him. No one could. These were only things he could do to promote his healing.

And then it dawned on me once again, how we have to empower ourselves to achieve our own healing and recovery process. No one else can really help us as much as we can do for ourselves.

To a degree, we chose our doctor or surgeon. Or we choose an alternative path.

We choose our hospital where possible.

And if we don’t get the aspects that we want, we make the best out of what we have. Until we achieve our goal.

One thing was clear that my dad became more interested in the conversation about his recovery when mentioned a date to leave the hospital. He was more focussed when we had a goal.

Oh, and did I mention that after 3 days of being back in KL, I developed a viral illness followed by a bacterial chest infection, and I could not even visit him or help much with his healing process thereafter!

So my learnings from experiencing the healthcare system from a very different perspective, that of a concerned family member was this:

  • No one can make as much of a difference to your own healing journey as you can. And that difference happens before you reach the hospital, and very much more after you leave it.
  • It’s important to set a goal in your recovery, create a positive intention to heal and visualise your recovery. Make that your focus, rather than the pain, the taste of the food or if the nurses appear slow to attend to you. You have more bearing on your outcomes than they do.
  • Mindset is everything. Whilst the technical facilities and skilled staff in specialist centres like the National Heart Institute in KL are amazing, there is a great opportunity for healthcare organisations to have structured positive mindset techniques trained to patients. I believe this is currently a huge opportunity to dramatically increase recovery rates.

My mum is now on the hunt for a home physio that can visit the home and help Dad with the “Move & Breathe” components.

What about you, what was your one key learning from having a close family member be unwell?