I will never forget the day my clinical preceptor selected me to teach the cardiac class to the open heart surgery patients. It was terrifying! That day I had the opportunity to witness a real heart in action: OPEN HEART SURGERY! In my opinion, my day couldn’t have gotten any better. My excitement level was at an all-time high.
The surgery team was amazing and walked me through every single part of the procedure.The cardiovascular perfusionist even showed me how the heart-lung machine maintains the patient's physiological status during cardiac surgery. Witnessing a live aortic valve replacement plus a triple CABG (bypass) during cardiology homework week was “the full package” experience.
As I was describing the surgery to my clinical preceptor, she said these words: “ I really appreciate your enthusiasm, so now, you will be in charge of teaching the mandatory cardiac class to the open heart surgery patients being discharged.” At that precise moment, I believe, my heart skipped a beat.
I would be lying if I didn’t say how nerve wracking it was to teach my first set of patients. But what helped me the most was to remember the reason why I wanted to become a registered dietitian: to make a difference in people's lives and to help them take charge of their health. As I was in front of those patients waiting for me to counseling them, I realized that all those years in college, studying Medical Nutrition Therapy, physiology and biochemistry were about to pay off. I had the opportunity to make them understand that by altering their dietary behaviors and lifestyle, they could increase the quality and the length of their life span.
To my surprise, after introducing myself to the patients, I was not nervous anymore. It was rather enjoyable, so enjoyable that after twenty minutes, a nurse had to come in the room to remind me that my time was coming to an end... twice. I even got to teach the patients some of my own recipes and to give them helpful tips on how to replace the salt shaker by using more fresh herbs to heighten the flavor of meals. Some of the points I covered at the cardiac diet class were:
- How to read nutrition labels
- To limit caffeine to 1 cup per day
- To limit sodium intake to 1500 mg/ day
- To limit saturated fat and trans fat
Educating the patients about cardiac diet after their open heart surgery was one of the most rewarding moments of my clinical rotation. Seeing the heart functioning in a way I would have never imagined gave me a unique perspective of how our lifestyles and behaviors impact our health. I will always carry the open heart surgery experience with me as I counsel my patients on my pledge to a healthier heart.