This column may come across as a bit personal. If so, that’s only because it IS a bit personal. It involves a nitty-gritty, down and dirty, serious as a heart attack situation (literally), that I recently had the privilege of experiencing.
I’m far from the first person to undergo what I recently have undergone, or what I underwent, or went under, or whatever, but it’s a bit closer to home when, although you know you’re not the first, you’re the next to do it. Some things are like skydiving … There’s nothing like firsthand experience.
Anyway, what happened to me was that I had needed to have a heart valve replacement for several years and had made the decision to get it done sooner rather than later. It seems, and I’ll explain with what minuscule knowledge of the subject I have, that when you have a bad valve in your heart, the heart has to work harder to pump blood and so enlarges. It’s a muscle, after all, and mine was getting bigger because of overuse, over the years. (The only muscle in my body that should not be getting bigger was the only one that was. Figures.) Anyway, that whole situation seems to be frowned upon by cardiologists and I was advised to get the valve job over with, basically, before my heart was over with.
Of course, there were many tests before surgery. Hospitals seem to enjoy using as much of their testing machinery as possible. “Yes, you have a splinter … let’s get some x-rays.” I think I heard that said while I was there. Maybe not.
I was told that I needed a heart catheterization to be sure there were no blockages. This didn’t work for me; they found out there WERE blockages, which presented a more dangerous situation than my ever-more-muscular heart did. I already owned two cardiac stents that were both old enough to vote this year. Now my heart’s arteries had accumulated twenty more year’s worth of cheeseburger and French fry residue that would have to be taken care of. My surgeon called me and said, “It’s fine. I’ll just do two bypasses and then the valve.” “Oooo Kaaay” I responded, probably sounding much less confident than he did.
Now securely on the agenda was that pesky bypass surgery as well as my originally scheduled valve job. Might as well go all in if you’re going in, I always say. Actually, I have never said that until now, but you get the idea.
The surgery went very smoothly. People kept telling me afterward that I did very well. I would always thank them, even though all I did was go to sleep and wake back up later. (The waking back up later was the part I thought was the most important.) The most ‘uncomfortable’ part came later. Never (at least if you’re a guy,) let a nurse tell you that removing a urinary catheter is painless. If they say that, get off the bed and run as far as you can.
Oh well. They said I did well, and I’m still doing well. As a matter of fact, I plan to be back to some of my old mischief within the next few weeks. I have received the best care in the world from my wonderful wife and have been surrounded by the prayers and well wishes of my large and amazing family, and friends. Why wouldn’t I be doing well?
One reason I decided to write about this little repair event in my life is because of something I realized while I was beginning recuperation in the hospital. What happened was that the hospital staff gets heart patients ‘up’ very soon after surgery, and within a day or so encourages them to start walking around the common areas of the cardiac floor. To me that was amazing, and I was glad I was able to do it. They also give you a big, soft, red, heart-shaped pillow to hold against your chest if you need to cough, sneeze, or make any other bodily noises or sudden movements. The pillow soon becomes your best friend, and you learn to keep it close by, especially if you are a frequent sneezer or other bodily noise maker. Sneezing is the worst.
Here’s the thing. On one stroll around the roughly circular center area connecting the rooms, my nurse and I happened to pass the entrance to another patient room hallway. Just as we did so, two other guys about my age walked out of the doorways to their rooms. Each carried his own heart-shaped pillow in front of him and each looked about as excited to be there as I was. I asked the guy closest to me if he was having fun. His reply to my stupid, rhetorical question? “No.”
Getting to the heart of the matter, those guys were also there for cardiac surgery and likely for the same reason I was … either a valve job or, more likely, because of too many cheeseburgers and fries. I think we all might want to think about that.