Being told you need open-heart surgery can be one of the scariest moments in your life.  After all, my mother gave me a lifetime warrantee on my heart and I never expected I would be a candidate for heart surgery, even though I have suffered from diabetes for 10 years.

It is indeed scary not knowing what to expect.  Will you survive surgery?  Will there be a screw up during surgery that kills you?  What will life be like after surgery?  Will it be worth the surgery, or should you just let your heart take its course and enjoy what little life you have left?  I had enjoyed 65 years of a good life and what more could I expect.

In reality, the worry and concern leading up to the surgery is the worst part of the event.  I went on the table at 3 PM and when I woke, the first thing I thought was “thank god I am alive”, and then I noticed the clock on the wall said 6 o’clock.  What’s going on, did it only take 3 hours?  I was expecting a 5-hour operation.  As I gained my wits coming out of the anesthesia, I realized it was 6 AM and I had been out for 15 hours.  Wow, what went wrong?

I never did hear about any problems in surgery, probably all the better.  I was in the hospital for 10 days and really enjoyed the vacation.  I was at Kaiser’s Heart Specialty Hospital and could not be more impressed with the treatment I received.  When I called for a nurse, one was there within seconds.  Every day they got me up for a walk and I was full of humor, joking with the nurses and other patients.  I had a private room with a nice view of a Frank Lloyd Wright building.  When asked what my goals were, I said I could not wait until I can chase a 20-year-old girl.

I became close friends with many of the nurses and asked one how frequently some one dies in the ward.  It was a 24-bed ward and he said he had been there about 10 years and could only remember about 10 fatalities following surgery.  Quite a record that made me feel good.  

My operation involved replacing my aortic valve with a pig valve because it was undersize and beginning to calcify.  It made sense, in high school I was about 1% less of a jock than I felt I should have been.  I was not a fast runner and had limited endurance.  Also I was surprised to learn that Robin Williams and Barbara Bush had the same operation on the same day I was on the table.  The problem is called Aortic Valve Stenosis.

As I mentioned above, I spent 10 days in the hospital, which is a little long for recovery.  I suspect it was because I was on life support equipment for so long and my lungs were having difficulty recovering from the long period of inactivity.  When you are on the operating table your heart and lungs are stopped and a heart lung machine keeps your body supplied with oxygenated blood.  I heard that the very first open heart surgeries did not have a heart lung machine and a second person was on the operating table while his heart and lungs kept the patient alive, plus his own body.  How does that sound for a part time job?  I finely convinced the doctor that I owned an oxygen bar and had lots of sources of oxygen at home.  I had borderline o xygen levels in my blood, but as long as I had oxygen available if needed, I could go home.

When home, I drove to breakfast to meet with friends the next morning, and all my buddies were excited to see me.  When I got home I took a nap in the car before going inside.  The next 13 months were difficult.  I expected to be back to normal in 3 months.  Then 6 months.  I suffered postoperative depression, insomnia, could not concentrate on anything for long and could only spend short periods of time on the computer.  I had a pain in my right thigh from a muscle cramp I suffered while in the hospital.  It was actually 13 months before I started feeling better.  I suspect that was when the anesthesia shock finely wore off.   Then after 16 months I noticed another increase in my level of energy.  Tomorrow, March 9th, will be my 2-year anniversary and besides the mild pain in my thigh, I feel great.  Still don’t have the energy to chase 20 year old girls yet, but I am still hopping things will get better.