Alive and ticking

The wonders of science will never cease to amaze me.
It’s been a grand total of six days since I had heart surgery and I’m happy to report that everything went pretty much according to plan.
I say “pretty much” because I am forever making things more complicated than needs be—more on that later—but all and all, the surgery went well and my doctors were happy with the results.
I’ve spoken with a lot of people in the last couple days as friends and family have called to check up on me and there seems to be one common question—what was it like?
It’s been my experience that most people have pre-conceived notions concerning heart surgery.
They envision a particularly gory episode of “ER” in which our favourite television medics are elbows deep in some poor guy’s chest—a vast array of saws, spreaders and clamps neatly arranged on a tray table next to them.
The only sounds are the rhythmic bleating of a heart monitor and the doctor’s frantic promises that he’s not going to lose the patient.
But while that may make for compelling television, it’s about as far away from my experience as you can possibly get.
First of all, I was awake for the entire procedure.
More than a few of my friends expressed complete and utter disbelief when I mentioned this fact. Their voices quivered and I could tell, without ever having to see them, that they were squirming on the other end of the phone.
Before you start to think I’m some sort of tough guy (and there are more than enough people out there who know that I’m not the second coming of John Wayne), I’ll admit to being heavily sedated for the duration of the operation.
Sedation is an interesting state of being. You are aware of what is going on around you and you’re capable of rational thought, but it’s like someone turned your emotions off. You’re completely detached.
For example, the surgery I had required the surgeon to make a small incision in my femoral artery in my groin. He then inserted a shunt into the artery and fed a series of wires up into my heart.
Two large X-ray cameras were positioned over my chest and to my left stood a wall of television monitors.
I watched in complete fascination as the wires snaked their way through my inner workings until they reached my heart. I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t nervous. I was just fascinated.
I chatted calmly with the surgeon and the various nurses about what was going on, asking them to explain what they were doing and what I was seeing on the monitors.
The whole experience was a lot like attending a university lecture.
Once the wires were in place, the surgeon and his support staff were in complete control of my heart. From a console located on the other side of the room, the medical staff could increase or decrease my heart rate simply by turning a knob and varying the amount of electrical current they were running through my ticker.
There is nothing more surreal then hearing someone say, “OK, increase to 500” and then watching your heart rate climb from 80 to 120 beats per minute while you lie stationary on your back.
And then there was the ablation. After the surgeon found the extra pathway that was causing all my problems, he used a short micro-wave burst to burn the sucker out.
This probably sounds painful but in reality, it’s no worse then eating a bunch of Mexican food right before bed and having a bad case of heart burn.
The only problem I encountered during the entire procedure was the discovery of a second abnormal electrical pathway.
Anyone who’s known me for any length of time should have seen this little wrinkle coming from a mile away as I am incapable of having a routine procedure. If there’s a way to make it more difficult, chances are I’ll find it.
The second pathway proved to be a giant pain in the posterior to locate precisely and burn out. What should have been an hour-and-a-half procedure took just over five hours to complete.
However, when all was said and done, the problem was fixed. The nurses wheeled me to the recovery room, I spent the night in hospital, and the next morning my father drove me home to Ottawa.
That was it. One day of surgery fixed a problem I’d be living with for just over 15 years.
It could be entirely in my head, but I could swear I have more energy now than I’ve had in years. I don’t feel sluggish and I’m excited to get back to the gym to take some of the weight off that I put on during months of mandatory inactivity.
First I have to get my knee fixed, though. Sigh. But that’s another story.

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