Monster: Yes, open heart surgery is scary.

There are things no one tells you

The Recovery Chronicles #16

AE Stueve
4 min readJul 12, 2021


After you have major surgery in which you are “under the knife” for several hours and attached to a bypass machine, you are left with several side-effects. Many of these side-effects are immediate and obvious. You’re weaker, you have trouble breathing, you’re on a regiment of medicines that each offer their own unique side-effects, and you’re bloated with extra fluids…. The list goes on and on. But, at the end of the day, it is a small price to pay to ensure that you keep on living.

However, there are some… strange side-effects… that no one really discusses with you pre-surgery. Some of them hit you with the immediacy of the more mundane side-effects. Others creep up on you like a gang of Lovecraftian horrors ready to wrap their tentacles around your ankles and pull you… under. But where are they taking you?


Anyway, here are six of those creeping side-effects I’ve experienced or am experiencing thanks to my open heart surgery:

  1. Pump-Head Syndrome: You forget things. Simple things. Lists, conversations, words, names, etc. Gone. They evaporate from your brain like spilled water on a sidewalk in July in Nebraska. Legend has it, the longer you are hooked up to a bypass machine, the more likely you are to have pump-head syndrome. I was on a bypass machine for over five hours, so… it’s been rough coming to terms with an already wobbly memory getting worse. They tell me pump-head syndrome will eventually go away… maybe. They also tell me it might have more to do with the fact that I had an unrecognized heart condition for the first 43 years of my life. The science is still out on that. I do know that my memory — never my strength — is now one of my greatest weaknesses. This isn’t terrifying at all. Cool.
  2. Skin Irritation: One of the strangest things that I have had happen to me since surgery is how irritated my skin gets. In the winter months I always had trouble with dry skin, as most of us do in the Midwest. But this year? It was crazy. I’m talking cracked skin, bleeding knuckles, and incessant itching. It’s even gotten so bad that I can not stand tags on my shirts. I’ve never been fond of them, but these days I am ripping them off the second they touch me. And let’s not even get started on the maskne (mask+acne, kids, come on, stay with me) I developed when I returned to work. It was like a line of red dots telling me where to place the mask every morning. Good times.
  3. Strange Sleep Patterns: When I was at the highpoint of my recovery, sometime in late September/Early October 2020, I’d go to bed between 7 and 8pm every night and wake up at 2 or 3am. I’d then be awake for a couple hours before falling back to sleep until roughly 8am. I’d sleep on and off throughout the day. Now, while I am fully immersed in the real world again, usually I am awake at 5 or 6am every morning no matter when I bed down. While it is nice to join the sun as she peeks over the horizon everyday… it can be exhausting. I will add that since the school year ended this has gotten a little better. Yay?
  4. Deeper Emotions: Do particularly moving furniture commercials tug at your heart strings? Well, be prepared for them to turn you into a blubbering mess. Do idiots anger you? Well, be prepared to morph into a volcano of anger. Do comedians make you cackle? Well, people are going to start thinking you’re a witch. Oof.
  5. Sensitivity to Sound: I teach high school and though there is a myth that teenagers are something akin to strange man-beasts with little to no sense at all, that is only half-true. Most of my students are well-behaved and, despite what they might want you to believe, they actually do want to learn. That said, they can be loud when walking from class to class. As of May, I could hardly handle being in the halls during passing periods. It was just too loud. Speaking of too loud, I have family members who I love dearly, God bless them, who are the loudest bunch of people I’ve ever met. Like, seriously loud. Like, I cannot do justice to the sheer volume of their voices. Before, sometimes I was mildly irritated when we were all in a room together and they were all speaking over one another. Now? It physically hurts. Ouch.
  6. Nightmares: I guess this one kind of belongs with the sleeping issues. But in my head they are two separate and distinct things. I’ve always had nightmares, a side effect of a vivid imagination and a fascination with all things horror I suppose. But now they are worse. I usually can’t remember them but they get me awake in a panic and have, at times, prevented me from sleeping. Also, I’m not 100% certain of this, but I think I may have developed a mild case of sleep paralysis…. So yeah.

Are there more? Probably. I mean, I’m not even a year out yet. Who knows what tomorrow will bring, right?

But even considering all of this, I’m just happy to be alive today and hopefully tomorrow.



AE Stueve

AE Stueve teaches and writes in Omaha, NE. Check out all of his available work at