Keep Your Eye on the Real Prize

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Expectations are powerful things. They can turn relatively easy challenges into incomprehensible failures or transform the most difficult situations into interesting and rewarding opportunities. What you get out of your own efforts depends almost entirely on what you expect to achieve in any given situation.

The foundation for getting the most out of yourself and your own efforts in any situation is continually choosing and adjusting your expectations so that your strategies and actions match up well with what you can realistically achieve in that situation. Otherwise, you'll end up spinning your wheels trying to achieve the impossible, or settling for a lot less than you could accomplish, or never bothering to find out what really matters to you.

My recent experience with some medical problems and a pretty long hospital stay might provide a good, concrete example of this principle in action. If not, this blog will at least give you the opportunity to introduce yourself to my Inner Pig, who will likely be appearing here in future blogs.

When I went into the hospital a couple of weeks ago for open heart surgery to replace a defective heart valve, I expected that, aside from coping with my phobia of needles and my extreme reluctance to be seen in a Size 6 hospital gown, the most difficult part of this experience for me would be finding the patience to give myself time to recover gradually, and avoid the desire to do too much, too soon. I knew I was in pretty good shape physically and mentally, and I expected that the surgery would go smoothly and I’d be back home pretty quickly, fighting the urge to test out my new heart valve on a nice hard bike ride before my incisions had even healed.

And in fact that’s exactly how things went—for the first week. I was out of the Intensive Care Unit on the first day, out of the step-down unit in two more days, and ready and eager to give back my hospital gown and go home on day 6. That’s not to say that everything was a piece of cake-- there were a few challenges that were a little harder than I imagined they would be. Like breathing. And moving. And finding a position to sleep in that didn't make me hurt everywhere.

Don’t believe anyone who tells you that waking up with a breathing tube still in your throat is “no big deal.” If possible, make sure no family or friends see you until this has been removed--this will only scare them and make you feel worse. And don’t imagine for even a minute that you’re such a nice person that you would never seriously consider strangling that sadistic respiratory therapist who comes around every two hours, all night long to wake you up and make you breathe into that stupid little tube for 10 minutes. By Day 2 you’ll be looking for places you can stash the body where it won’t be found until you’re safely back at home, and by day 4 it will just be a question of whether you get discharged before you snap and do the deed. Just keep in mind that none of this makes you a bad person, as long as you don’t actually act on these fantasies.

Other than these and a few other challenges (did I mention that you have a very grumpy roommate for most of your stay?), week one went well enough, and I arrived back home sure that the worst was over. But after my first day at home things started going downhill quickly.

First, my right leg started swelling up fast, and I began having these incredibly intense and painful burning sensations running down my thigh every time I moved. Then I woke up in the middle of the night with my chest and my back aching very badly, and not from the incisions or sore muscles. So, it was back to the hospital for me, by ambulance.

After a long and somewhat terrifying night of being shuffled back and forth between basement rooms filled with large, noisy MRI, CT, X-Ray , echocardiograph, and nuclear perfusion machines, it was finally determined that no one really knew what had gone wrong. There was no sign of blood clots in my legs or lungs, or deep vein thrombosis; but there was some crackling in my lungs, so maybe I was coming down with pneumonia. There was a small hematoma (basically, a bruise) in my upper thigh near where one of the incisions had been for my surgery, but it didn’t look significant enough to explain all the swelling in that leg, much less the extreme nerve pain. And the cardiac enzyme that’s often used to tell when chest pain is coming from a heart attack instead of some other kind of problem was elevated, but that apparently doesn’t mean much so soon after major heart surgery. The doctor said "I wouldn't call this a heart attack, exactly, but I can't say it wasn't, either." In either case, the chest and back pain was gone by now. And the groin incision might have irritated a leg nerve and caused some swelling—or not. There was no fever or other sign of infection. But the swelling and nerve pain was definitely still there, so the decision was to admit me back into the hospital for observation, and see if anything became more clear the next day.

Unfortunately, it didn’t. The docs kept me in the hospital for three more days, until everyone was pretty sure my condition was stable, but we never did figure out what exactly had happened, why my leg was still swollen and painful, or where things should go from here. I came home again last Monday. At this point, I still can’t stand or walk without a lot of pain. Sitting in a chair or lying in bed doesn’t bother me, and I can ride a bike for short distances at very moderate speeds without trouble. I’m up to about 4 miles per day at this point, with more to come, and I’ll be back at work full-time on Monday as originally planned.

The fluid retention in my leg does seem to be going down slowly. I’m still about 8 pounds heavier than I was before surgery, but that’s down from 34 pounds at the high point (that was a shocker when I saw the nurse write that number down in my chart, lol), and it’s all located in my right leg, as far as I can tell, which looks more like a tree trunk than a leg right now. The pain hasn’t changed significantly, and no one is making predictions about if or when it will. The hope is that it’s just a simple paresthesia that will clear up on its own soon, and not a permanent nerve injury, but it’s just too early to tell.

The good news is that I seem to be handling this pretty well emotionally, so far at least.

I’m not happy about the prospect of being in pain for potentially quite a bit longer than I expected, or having to live with an "exercise lite" approach for quite a while, but it doesn’t feel like the end of the world either. There are some things I can do right now, for both exercise and pleasure, as long as I don’t get caught in the trap of putting everything on hold until my leg problem gets sorted out. And if the leg problem doesn’t heal on its own, there are some things the doctors can try. There’s no reason for me to make assumptions about how that’s going to turn out at this point, and especially not to spin out a bunch of worst-case scenarios, so I’m doing my best not to do any of that.

All in all, I think I’m doing a pretty good job of keeping my eye on the real prize, which is doing the best I can with what I’ve got to work with each day, one day and one choice at a time. That's where real satisfaction comes from, and it doesn’t really matter whether what I can actually do is more or less than what I expected.

Does it?

The one concern I haven’t quite come to terms with is how to describe my post-surgery self. I used to be about 85% Irish and 15% mutt. Now I’m 85% Irish, 14% mutt, and 1% pig. My new heart valve was provided by some pig who gave his all so I could live, and I certainly feel like it’s important to acknowledge his contribution in some way. I stopped eating pigs a while ago, so I’m thinking that maybe I should give my new heart valve an appropriate name, but I’m having trouble coming up with one I like. My Piggily just doesn’t do it, you know?

Do you have any suggestions?

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1CRAZYDOG 7/29/2019
You did a great job recuperating thru challenging circumstances. As a nurse in ICU/CCU, I would MUCH rather have someone with spunk then someone who just doesn't try! You have spunk. Good for you! Report
Interesting article Report
I'm from the ranch growing up so..........pig=oinky doink. Kids, go figure.

Love your story and your can do spirit so much. It reminded me I have a plate in my foot
with no name. Poor thing!!!!!!maybe I should host a contest re eight screws and a plate.

Seriously.....big you on your recovery.
cheryl Report
I can sympathize with you. I've had medical problems for a year and a half, and it's hard to keep your spirits up. I finally had to get mad at myself to start treating me better. So far it's working. But I do tell myself every morning that I WILL do something constructive for me. Report
It's been a year now...I wonder how you are doing and if you were able to reach your goals. Report
Coach Dean, I am so happy that I know you (if only through your writing). Your honesty about what's going on with you inspires me and makes me feel so not alone. Thank you so much. May God bless you and speed your healing. Report
Your attitude is truly positive. I am glad I read your blog. I have been feeling really down because of some health issues. I see now I have been sapping my energy. Report
Heart surgery is a long recovery, but with your determination, you will make it. Keep working. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY when exercising, take you medications as prescribed, make it to your appointments, and don't be afraid to call the nurse's desk to ask questions. Good luck to you in your recovery! Report
Hope you get to feeling better. I'm sorry that you had to go through so much. I've been through surgeries myself and I know they are no picnic. Report
Humor, always the best medicine for anything that ails you! Thanks for sharing. Report
Had a good laugh reading this!!! :-)) Report
coach, i couldn't have been happier to read this blog from you. yeah, it sure has been a rough few months for you. a lot of water under the proverbial bridge and apparently a tributary has found its way into your leg. your sense of humor is humbling and intact, your tongue is planted firmly in your cheek, your expectations are realistic and in check, you're making slow and steady progress, your perspective is relatively level and less skewed, and that's all you can and should expect from yourself now. slow and steady, one foot in front of the other, one day, one choice at a time is all we should really do anyway, isn't it? living in the here and now is a learned skill and helps us truly appreciate what we have. you've got improving physical and mental's all good when the most recent yardstick of the last few months' events is factored into the equation called your life. your body is helping you be mindful of yourself in every way and sense of the word. some days you're feeling better than others, so there's a bit more progress on that day. your consistency helps condition your body and mind for this new, post-op life you'll be leading. please know, coach, that your honesty and willingness to share your personal experiences and insights affect millions of people. you literally help us live and learn by setting an incredible, mindful, determined, positive, healthy example. what about calling your new heart valve "suey" or "oinker" or "pigaletto"? my best always, nancy Report
I love your sense of humor in all this. You are truly doing great. As to honor the pig that gave his/her all...BABE is a good choice. Because Babe would have done just that gave his all. Even Wilbur from Charlottes Web would have done that!!!! Report
Enjoyed your blog, and I like Babe! Report
I like "Miss Piggy". You go Girl. With your attitude you wll be 100% in no time. Report
As a nurse and a patient, I can certainly relate to be awakened every two hours. But think about where you would have been without the care you received.

As for the name, I recommend "sparky" or "spunky" because they seem to fit your attitude. :) Report
Love your attitude. All the best for a speedy recovery! Report
Good luck with your recoverey. You are keeping a level head when things are very difficult. Report
i like Harley, too! :) It's great to hear that you are doing well (at least to a point). You're in my prayers for healing for your leg.
Jesus first!

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(. ;.•.♥ ¸.•´¸.•*´¨) ¸.•*¨) ¸.•*¨)
(¸.•´ *†~MellyAnne~†¸.• ♥.•*¨ )
(. ;.•.♥.•*´¨ ♥.•*¨-:¦:-. ;.•.♥ .;*) Report
Glad your sense of humor is in tack.
To get it touch with your feminine side: It’s Miss piggy, of course Report
Glad to hear you are on the mend, even if there have been a few bumps in the road to recovery.
Thanks for sharing your experience with us.
Hope you are 100% soon.
Glad to hear that your surgery went well. Hope for a speedy recovery. Report
Dean, so glad to hear that you are on the mend. I agree with POPEYETHETURTLE - Harley is a GREAT hog name. :) That's my vote, too. Report
I am so glad you are home and recuperating. Best wishes. Report
I think Piggily is kinda cute, but how about Elmer "Thudd"? Praying for continued progress in your recovery. Take care of yourself! Report
Porkchop! That's my suggestion. Hope you continue to recover well - take care! Report
Though you have certainly been through your share of difficulties, your positive attitude is a good example to all Sparkers!

Well my sister is pretty much going through the same thing. One day the doctors tell her they are coming up with a plan of attack on her 3 cancers. She waits but no one says a word. Her 3 day hospital stay is now 6. Don't give in to what drs say will happen after surgery? They just guess at what sounds good and gives you a chance at hope then crush it. If they only knew how critical getting back at home and back into your life and my sisters. Spending these last few weeks with her my heart goes out to you and your family. Report
Wow what an experience! I am in Nursing school and there is nothing in our books about your experience except what was ruled out. It sounds like you are on the road to recovery with a new day ahead and that is the miracle. Our bodies are magnificent machines that heal with a little help from a surgeon, a pig and God! Report
It's good to have you back, Dean!
Have you considered naming your valve "Arnold" from Green Acres fame?
Who else but a celebrity status pig would also be an organ donor? Report
I'm sooo glad you are back and doing well!!! I am really going to miss hearing you speak at the convention!!!! Report
Oh, Dean it's good you're doing well with the replacement. Hope you're feeling better in no time. As for the 1% pig, I've known guys who were 100% pig! At least your 1% is a good one! Report
Coach Dean- As always, your humor and resilience are a model for the rest of us. I'm sorry to hear that the surgery wasn't as easy as you hoped, but am glad you're recovering well and hope you continue to do so. Please keep us up to date. And, as for that pig valve--how 'bout the name of that great food store chain: Piggly Wiggly. Report
I'm happy to hear from you, Coach Dean, so feisty and full of life and wisdom as always. I hope the pain subsides very soon. And what did that guy say in the movie, "Babe"? Good Pig. That'll do. Report
What a tough time you've had.... and yet! Amid the pains and worries there is cause for celebration: it is a long journey --not in time, but in immeasurable ways-- and you're on the sailing side of it, where the going gets smoother to ride instead of pedaling uphill without any gearshift. Was that visual? :)

The valve needs a noble name! Honoring the kind pig's valiant albeit unwitting contribution. Hmmm... and with an Irish name to incorporate him or her into your heritage?

Let's see... I hit upon a theme in brainstorming name thoughts:

"Calhoun" - warrior! Ohhh that does seem appropriate to me! Yes?
"Cathal" - powerful in battle
"Connolly" - valiant
"Ferguson" - man of strength
"Murphy" - sea warrior

And of course one should not overlook .....Brodie!
Meaning "muddie place", it is an Irish name and with such a meaning: surely the pig would feel quite at home, yes?

It sure has been a long journey! And yet... what a marvel that such things can be done! Report
Blessings to you as you continue healing and are 100% complete again. Patience takes day at a time on your journey back to your healthiest!! Thank you for continuing to inspire us.
Hi Coach Dean...I'm so glad you are back...I want to welcome you to the "swollen leg club" and pray that you are able to leave it soon. It's not too fun and if it is as swollen as mine also join the "no shoes fit". Be sure to follow the doctors orders and get back to health. I kind of like Babe or Harley for a name...but it is your decision. lol Report
Thank you for your wonderful attitude! And I'm glad that you are out of the hospital. About the name i'm thinking...lucky! Report
Sorry to hear about the problem with your leg now. But at least the surgery went well and you still have your sense of humor. Hope the leg heals up soon for ya.

How about Wilbur for your heart, lol. The one from Charlotte's Web.

Oh and thank you for the laugh. I needed that for how frustrated I am right now. Report
I'm glad to have you back, Coach Dean. I enjoyed reading your blog ... full of humor which tells me you are well on your way to a full recovery. I love the name Harley for your valve ... as a HOG member I'd have to say Harley is perfect! Report
How about calling the valve "Wilbur"? Glad you seem to be doing okay, and hope the pain goes away. Report
Welcome back and hope you heal fast and that the tree trunk limb goes back to normal and pain free soon. Hospitals and DR.'s are a major challenge all by themselves. Report
I'm so happy you are back! I missed you and your intelligent blogs.
I have a name suggestion for you - HOPE :) Report
Best wishes for a speedy recovery. I hope you're back to full strength soon. I've never had to have surgery like this, but I have been pretty seriously injured in a car accident before, and I understand how frustrating recoveries can be, especially when you're experiencing pain. Just hang in there. It sounds like you have a great outlook, which will serve you well. Best of luck. Report
Swine always sounded better then pig. Best of luck with the new valve. Report
Of course, the real prize is a life of contributing to the betterment of the world and to the betterment of others! Report
Don't get too attached to it- pig valves have to be replaced every 10 years. So if you live long enough, you could go through this experience several more Report
Congratulations on "making it out alive!" Hospitals are scary at the best of times (ie. just visiting), but what you went through was pretty intense. Hopefully your article will give us some perspective on how weight and medical issues fit together --- which we may not get till something bad happens.

Only one thing marred your article for me. It was when you said you didn't want to be a size 6 in the hospital gown. It made me blush. Not from embarrassment, but from more of a shame response. If you seriously think size 6 is too large, I couldn't help wondering what you REALLY thought about those of us who are size 20.

I hope your health continues to be tip top. Stay healthy now! Report
I've heard of men being "pig-headed" but Coach Dean, you are "pig-hearted". LOL Report