In two weeks I will be coming up to the one-year anniversary of the heart-valve repair operation that took me out of commission for about four months.
When I think of it, I am immediately overwhelmed a bit by the fear and apprehension that I had last year at this time as I anticipated the operation. I had not experienced much in terms of negative symptoms prior to the operation but just two weeks beforehand I did begin to feel that something was not quite right “over there”, meaning my heart, of course. There had been a fair amount of swelling, due to blood pooling in this or that valve and now I was feeling it.
Yet I was quite confident, overconfident I would say, based on a friend’s experience with the same surgeon, Dr. Michel Pelerin, who had done hundreds of these non-invasive heart-valve operations in the past few years. I had no premonition of the complications that would ensue following the operation that would have me return the following day to the operating table to draw out 2.2 liters of blood that had accumulated in the chest area, or the sleepless nights that would come that week as my feet froze due, I now believe, to a low potassium count.
I guess it’s best, sometimes, to be innocent in the face of future suffering. I would have to return to the hospital on about six different occasions in a month’s time before the heart stabilized. I still carry in my shoulder bag a bottle of Lopressor, a medication that slows the heartbeat, in the (hopefully irrational) fear that I will have another bout of irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation) out of the blue.
Such was the trauma of what happened after the operation that I’m spooked that “something bad” will happen again.
Was it a long year? Was it a short one?
The operation does seem that have taken place longer than a year ago, and then I would also say that the year seems to have passed quickly. Look, it’s almost March again!
And, thank God, the heart does seem to be OK. I no longer feel the post-op pain in the heart area when I exercise; there are no more heart palpitations that I felt on a regular basis until near the end of May. So, all in all, everything was a big success.
My great luck was living in a city where this operation was available – the minimally-invasive operation is not performed by most heart surgeons – and that I knew someone who had the same operation who could recommend Dr. Pellerin. Otherwise, I would have a giant scar down the middle of chest today instead of the barely visible one just to the right and below my right nipple.
One gets very philosophical following an experience like this. I know that if I reread all the blogs that I wrote following the operation, besides my observations of the Montreal Heart Institute, its nurses and fellow patients, I would be able to see all the philosophical musings I entertained in the face of extreme suffering.
But I won’t do that. I’m happy to celebrate one good year and look forward to another one.