Confessions of a Rocket Scientist
Monday, April 09, 2007
  Recovering From Heart Surgery
It has been over a year since I posted anything to my blog. I have a bit of free time on my hands right now due to recent developments. The big news is that I have had open heart surgery. Fortunately I am on the road to recovery.

I suppose it started back in December. I was in NYC for training when I noticed I was having difficulty negotiating that stairs on the subway. It got to the point that I abandoned the subway and used taxis to get to my class every day. I resolved to exercise more and get back in shape. Unfortunately, all of my efforts were counter productive.

By February I was having trouble just walking. I could not walk more than 50 feet on level ground without stopping to rest. I was totally out of breath and my heart was pounding in my chest like I had run a marathon. I knew something was seriously wrong, so I called my doctor. After he examined me he suspected pneumonia and sent me to our local hospital, Grand View Hospital in Sellersville, PA.

Once in the hospital I was given an electro-cardiogram. I had more than pneumonia, I had severe atrial fibrillation with a resting heart rate if about 130. I was in heart failure. My heart was severely out of synch and not pumping efficiently. I was admitted immediately. I soon was hooked up to IV antibiotics as well as heparin and lasix.

I was given a number of tests including a stress test and finally a cardiac catheterization. This test involves inserting probes into the femoral artery and injecting dye. The results told the story. I had about a 50% blockage of two arteries. This could normally be handled with a balloon angioplasty and stents. But I had another problem. My aortic valves were damaged and needed replacement. I would need surgery.

I have to confess that the very prospect of heart surgery frightened me like nothing else could. My father had died on the table getting a bypass. My mother died from heart disease. I really thought I was facing my death. But at this point, arguably the lowest point of my life, I felt a Presence. Some of you may scoff, but I truly believe that God came to me at that moment, to give me comfort, to hold me in His arms and assure me that I was His child and He would see me through this. I can't explain it rationally. I can only tell you just what I felt and how I felt. At that moment I knew that I would be all right.

My doctor tells me that God never closes a door without opening another. But waiting in the hallway can be Hell. I was transferred to Doylestown Hospital where open heart surgery is offered. It would be two more weeks before I had the surgery.

The surgeons who would perform my surgery were the very best around. They are associated with Temple University in Philadelphia. The surgeon who would operate on me was highly skilled. He performs transplants among other things. He explained that I needed two bypass grafts and possibly three sets of valves replaced. He expected the procedure to last up to eight hours. He also told me that there was a 20% chance I may not survive the surgery. I can do math. That meant there was an 80% chance I would make it. I could afford to gamble on those odds. Okay, lets do it.

Now I have to say, the surgeons are incredibly careful and meticulous to a fault. I was examined head to toe to disclose any condition that might be adverse to the surgery, particularly by causing an infection. X-rays disclosed an abscessed tooth, and a CAT scan revealed a kidney stone blocking my ureter. Both had to be taken care of before surgery. Once I was declared infection free, I was cleared for the main procedure.

The night before surgery I had to shower with a special surgical soap. This was repeated the morning of surgery. My family arrived that morning to wish me luck. My wife and my two sisters were in my room as I was wheeled down to the Operating Room.

I don't remember a lot about the operating room. I had spoken with God on my way down and was certain He was watching out for me. I remember moving onto the table, being strapped in, and having IV's hooked up. The doctors and nurses all were upbeat. I caught a glimpse of the surgical instruments over to the side, but by this time the IV drugs had me very calm. A mask went over my face. I caught a whiff of agent in the oxygen.

That was the last thing I remembered. I did not dream. My next conscious memory is of being in my room in ICU. My family was there and talking to me. The surgeon told me it was over and I had done well. I was awake and could hear everybody, but was unable to move or acknowledge them in any way.

Most remarkable, it was only 1 o'clock. The operation was not as complicated as expected.

It took a few hours to come completely out of anesthesia. I had a ventilator tube in my throat that was removed. And I was sitting up out of bed a few hours later.

I have to say that I am surprised at just how good I felt. I was up walking the day after surgery. I soon had the chest tubes removed and could walk around pushing my IV pole. Four days later my IV's were disconnected and I was allowed to go outside onto a balcony. I breathed open, fresh air for the first time in a month. And the next day I went home.

A nurse comes out to visit every few days, and soon will no longer be needed. I am walking up to 15 minutes at a time and can walk up steps. I do get tired quickly and need a few naps during the day, but I can feel myself grow stronger. I start cardiac rehab in two weeks.

Throughout my ordeal, my Dear Wife has been my rock. She has been strong for me and has vowed to whip me back into shape. Without her I know I would never have made it. I am truly blessed to have a true life mate. She has helped me organize my medication, accompanies me on my daily walks, and gives me a good kick in the ass when I need it. Thank you, Betty, for 35 years of marriage and a lifetime of happiness. I love you more than I could ever express with words, and could not repay your devotion had I a hundred lifetimes to do so.
Congratulations on recovering from a major life altering surgery. I too have had Open Heart Surgery to replace my Bicuspid Aortic Valve that I was born with and the Ascending Aorta due to an anneurysm that it caused. I also was at peace prior to my surgery and also felt that I would do very well with the surgery. I don't know how to explain it, but in my heart, I knew it would be OK. Everyone kept telling me how calm I was before the surgery. Someone up above was looking out for me and thankfully you too. Best wishes in your recovery and a happy healthy future.
It's not easy recovering from heart surgery, or even prepping yourself to go through it for that matter. I'm glad you're okay. Congratulations! =)
Thank you for posting your experience. My 40-year old husband will undergo surgery to repair his mitral valve in a few weeks and it's comforting to read success stories like yours! I hope your recovery is going nicely. Good luck!!
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The continuing story of a man, his hobby, and the search for a really good cup of coffee.

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Location: Quakertown, Pennsylvania, United States

Two time cancer survivor, happily married, LaSalle Alumnus

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