Monster: Yes, open heart surgery is scary.

There are things no one tells you

The Recovery Chronicles #16

  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.



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AE Stueve

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