ALL OF MY HEART by ABC for your listening pleasure.
I know, enough about my heart attack and recent surgery already. That point I'll concede. But (here's where I write about it anyway) saying that I almost died isn't hyperbole this time. Although I've explained before that I don't remember anything about the weekend of December 1, my parents have filled in the important details for me. It still sounds like they must be talking about someone else because I can't remember any of it.
As I've posted before, on Saturday, December 1 I went to the ER with chest pain. An EKG and blood tests confirmed that I'd had a heart attack. Hospital staff began therapy with IV blood thinners and I was admitted to the Cardiac Care unit. I called my parents in Texas and let them know what had happened so far. They asked if they should fly to Minnesota for my Monday morning procedure and I told them that I predicted that my angioplasty would be relatively quick and that I would be out of the hospital by Tuesday as had been the case in 2005.
That same Saturday evening, I had a second, massive heart attack and was placed on a ventilator unconscious. My Mother attempted to call me. I did not answer my hospital room phone and she was informed by staff of my second heart attack and that I had been transferred to the ICU in Critical condition, sedated and unable to breathe for myself. She immediately flew to Minnesota. Had I not been in the hospital already this heart attack would almost surely have killed me. I was the first of many people to save my life that weekend by coming to the ER with my first chest pain.
Monday morning, December 3, my scheduled surgery took place. Instead of a simple placement of stents to open partially clogged arteries, my procedure had been upgraded to open "beating heart" surgery for Coronary Artery Bypass Grafts (CABG or "cabbage").
My surgery was estimated at six hours as four grafts were made with veins from my left leg and a mammary artery from my chest. Upon completing the quadruple bypass, the surgical team discovered that my mitral valve was leaking and was far too damaged from the heart attack to repair. A mechanical valve was selected to replace my natural one. The so-called "clicker" valve ticks audibly in my chest. I can always hear it. To me it sounds like I've swallowed a pocket watch. In a quiet environment others can hear it too. I can't wait to ride an elevator full of people. "It's not a bomb - it's me."
My six hour surgery stretched to ten hours and for three more days I was in Critical condition - unconscious and entubated. The surgeon later admitted to my Mother that - had the surgery taken place sixteen to eighteen hours earlier - they may have been able to save my mitral valve. I could have died in my sleep for four days. "Touch and go," someone said. (Someday I'll write about how that paralyzes me with fear.)
Oh, I lived.
I feel a like a bit like a miracle having stared into the face of...well, not so much stared as snored into the face of Death and survived. And of course there is the ticking of my new valve. I guess it should be comforting - assuring me I'm alive and all. But I hear it so clearly, particularly when I lie down to sleep. In my warped brain, all I can think of is Edagr Allen Poe's THE TELL TALE HEART. In this terrifying horror tale, a murderer entombs his victim under the floor-boards of his house and is driven stark, raving mad by the still beating heart of his victim that only he can hear.
I don't really need to be driven crazy - it's close enough to walk.
I owe my life to the Grace that sustains me, the skilled hands of the surgical team, the care of the many people in the Cardiac Care unit at The University of Minnesota Medical Center and the love of my parents and family.
I am trying to move on from the trauma of this event in my life. A "lifetime-to-go" of ticking reminds me of it every time I find myself in silence so it's hard to do right now. I hope you'll continue to indulge me from time to time... tick... tick... tick...