heart surgery 1

By now you may be aware that since mid-August I have been dealing with heart issues. I want to share with my readers the experiences of the last two months.

I feel a special bond with the readers of these Insight articles. Of course, some I have never actually met. Others are people that I have worked with in one capacity or another. But I want you to know what has happened over the last two months.

On July 31, I had my annual check-up. I was pleased to learn that everything checked out well. My lab work was fine and the physical check-up did not show any issues.

On August 17th, I went in for the dreaded colonoscopy. After putting on the lovely green gown, the nurse hooked up the wires to the heart monitor. She quickly commented that she needed to get the doctor. He came over, looked at my heartbeat and told me that I was in A-Fib.

Given that I had absolutely no history of heart trouble, I was quite surprised by this finding. He indicated that he hated for me to waste the prep but that they would not be able to do the colonoscopy that day until my heart was checked out. (Editor’s note: If you’ve ever experienced colonoscopy prep, this would indeed be sad news.)

The following Tuesday I went to a cardiologist who confirmed the diagnosis. He put me on a variety of medicines to help my heart function better and get back in rhythm. The cardiologist also scheduled me to have a cardioversion three days later. This is a procedure where they shock the heart to get it back into rhythm.

The procedure worked and my heart went back into normal function. However, in doing the procedure, the cardiologist found that I was in “heart failure.” Essentially, my heart was functioning at an effraction rate of 30%. This is pretty low compared to the normal 50 to 75%.

While not good, the term “heart failure” connoted a bit more about my condition than what I learned when I Googled the term. My research would suggestion calling it “heart disfunction.” It was more like getting a “D” in the class rather than an “F” which is what I associate the term “failure” with.

The next steps included more medicines to improve heart function and the scheduling of a heart catheterization for October 15th.

I could tell during the catheterization that things were not going well. While I could not see, I could hear the cardiologist working hard as he did the procedure. I learned later that he asked another cardiologist to look at my situation and they concluded that I needed open heart surgery for a by-pass operation.

This procedure was scheduled for Monday, October 18th and I spend the weekend in the hospital waiting for the operation on Monday.

I was encouraged that the risk scale that they use based on overall health, age, etc., indicated that the risk factor was less than 1%. This meant that I had a 99% probability of success.

The surgery was done on the 18th. The surgeon said it went “excellently.” They found blockage of about 90% in two arteries and over 70% in two others.

My blockage was a statistically errant data point. While my cholesterol has been on the high side for several years, the other factors associated with heart disease were not present. I am not overweight and have never smoked. I have reduced my cholesterol over the last fifteen years by avoiding fried foods, most red meat, and sweets. In addition, we have no family history of artery blockage.

However, even though the odds of heart blockage were less likely than for many, the fact is that I was a walking time bomb. I don’t even want to think what the outcome would have been without scheduling the dreaded colonoscopy. I was a likely candidate for a drop-dead heart attack.

I have often been critical of our healthcare system. As we all know, there are many issues that arise regarding insurance and the delivery of good care. While the system has its faults, there are many people working in the health care system who work hard to deliver excellent care.

The care I received at St. Luke’s was extraordinary. Literally, every doctor, nurse, practitioner, technician and staff person amazed me with the care, concern and attitude that they displayed as they took care of me. St. Luke’s has a staff of people who seem to like people and it made the experience as good as it could be.

Next week I visit the doctors and start the cardiac rehab programs at St. Luke’s. I am looking forward to this as it will give me focus and goals for my recovery.

Earlier this year, my counselor and friend, Nap, commented to me that he has learned that the only truly important thing in life is relationships. His wisdom of 80 plus years came to mind multiple times during this experience.

When you go through a major medical event like I went through, you have a seemingly unending amount of time to think. In those thoughtful times, it was my relationships that enveloped my thoughts. The relationships with my wife, my children, my friends and the readers of the Insight articles each week.

Without getting pretentious or repeating clichés, I know that this experience has changed me in many ways. Most of those changes I haven’t entirely latched onto yet. But as I discover those changes, I hope to share what I can with you, my readers.

In closing, I encourage you to tell the people you love how much you love and care about them. Go out of your way to reach out to those who are hurting, who are going through difficult times. No matter our financial situation or social status, it is people who count in our lives.

I feel incredibly humbled and blessed. Many church people, friends and business acquaintances have brought meals, prayed, texted, and visited. I have felt the power of their love, it has kept me going. I have been truly blessed.

Thank you to each of you who in your own way have thought of me and my family. Thank you to my family and friends. And thank You, my Lord, for the blessing of life.