With my open heart surgery now a couple of months in my rearview mirror, I can reflect on what is easily one of the most life-altering events in my 56 years on the planet. The fact that is was a great surprise only adds to the drama I experienced.
I had been experiencing some sporadic difficulty breathing and none of the tests my doctors had run showed anything they could point to as a cause. In fact, each test pointed in a different direction from the last and only served to confuse my competent team of physicians.
After taking a C-PET test in Atlanta, my pulmonary specialist told me I had experienced a heart “episode” totally in opposition to what every other test I had taken, she referred me to Dr. Joshua Willis, my new found friend and cardiologist.
The doc immediately scheduled me for a heart catheter procedure. This, he told me, was the ultimate test.
And it was.
Immediately following the procedure at Parkridge Hospital, while just coming out of anesthesia, there was good ole Doc Willis' face peering into mine. “I have some good news and bad news,” he said. “The good news is that we found the problem. The bad news is that you're scheduled for a triple bypass open hear heart procedure on Friday.” This all happened on a Wednesday.
Well, my first thought was that this can't be happening. My wedding was set for a week from that Friday. After I exhausted all my arguments in trying to postpone my surgery, I gave in to the fact that I was not be wed on that upcoming October 19.
With very little time to think things through - probably a good thing - I went into the surgery with a pretty positive attitude. All I could think of was a book written by my idol, Lewis Grizzard, titled “They Tore Out My Heart and Stomped That Sucker Flat.” It was an account of Grizzard's own heart surgery to replace one of his valves with one of a porcine origin. He said of the surgery that he never quite appreciated pork barbecue as much as he did prior to his procedure.
Thank goodness I didn't require a valve replacement. But my surgeon, Dr. Steve Martin, one of Chattanooga's finest, did go in and find five areas of blockage that required three bypasses.
They tell me my surgery went well. The first thing I remember was waking up in the surgical intensive recovery unit and looking into the eyes of my fiancée, Gail. It doesn't seem like a long time before the nurses had me up and eating my first meal while sitting in a chair.
To me this seemed rather unbelievable. “Wait! I've just had my heart and lungs hooked up to a machine and I'm having dinner just as if nothing happened? This can't be true.” Oh, but it most certainly was.
The fact that I spent less than 24 hours in the SICU further pushed me into disbelief.
So, with my Teddy Braveheart-stuffed bear in tow, off I went to the recovery floor there at Parkridge. I was immediately encouraged to get up and move around, which was easier said than done. I mean, come on, have a little mercy. After all, I just had my chest completely cracked open and, as my friend Lewis would say, “my heart stomped flat.”
But, get up and walk I did, under the watchful eyes of the physical therapy staff. I was off to the races and gradually got up the strength to go on solo sabbaticals away from my room.
The only real downside of my hospital stay lay in the fact that I am a diabetic and my blood sugar had managed to get out of control. The nurses would have to wake me every hour on the hour for a few nights to check my blood glucose. They would each remark how awful my fingertips looked after all the pricking but would add one more to the list regardless. I guess sympathy can only go so far.
Finally, my glucose came back under control and I was allowed to administer my own insulin through my insulin pump. A great day indeed!
After eight days in the recovery unit I was deemed well enough to go home. Well, actually to my mom's house for “intermediate” care. Who says you can't go home again? Mom was the greatest, taking my newly-minted dietary needs into account and generally treating me like she did when I was a little boy with a bad cold or bout of the flu or a case of the measles or mumps. The only thing missing was she did not bring me home coloring books or the latest Trixie Belden mystery.
I am eternally grateful to all my nurses, including mom, for the great care I received. As far as I am concerned, if you need cardiac care, Parkridge is the place to go.
I am back home in my apartment now and have been back at work in a somewhat limited sense for a few weeks now. I am grateful that I can work and that my strength is coming back, even if a bit slower than I would like. I am enrolled in cardiac rehab and I am sure that once I get my stamina built up I will stop feeling like I am in boot camp again.
Gail and I are still working on setting a new wedding date, but I am looking even more forward to that happening. I thank God for great physicians who did not give up looking for the cause of my problem but persevered through both finding and correcting my heart blockages.
It was impressed on me that when you are having breathing or other problems related to your heart, you should always take them seriously. If you ignore them or wait until you experience a heart attack, it just might be too late. For your sake, I hope this is never the case.
So, because of a diligent medical team I can look forward to a great 2013 and beyond. I am grateful for this. It is my hope that all of you are looking forward to an even better New Year. One full of hope and change and good cheer. I wish for you God's most holy blessings and if you don't know Him personally, then my prayer is that you meet Him and embrace Him as your very own personal Savior.
Peace be with us all in 2013 and, as always, God bless...
Dennis Norwood is a reporter for The Catoosa County News. He can be reached at email@example.com or 706-935.2621.