Not to wring my hands, but just to be honest--- my situation feels like a living hell. I made the bargain to take a natural tissue aortic valve replacement instead of a mechanical version because of the freedom to roam without a sack of meds. The downside is I have 10 years, less if I use it hard.
My chest is cut, broken and torn. My heart operates like an alien, completely out of control, wandering around in its functions like a lost pup. New disturbing and unexpected side effects crop up every few days-- double vision, wild arrhythmias, night sweats, the grinding of torn rib cartilage with every move.... And all these events are apparently ... normal. Lies? Omissions of important information? At the least, an artifact of a field dominated by cardiologists with no scar down their chests, who have never run with the pronghorn in New Mexico, much less along the backstreets of London or Chiang Mai, who never learned bouldering in Colorado or sea kayaking with the alligators in the Everglades. I bet they never built a house with a chainsaw and a bone saw. But then it is the same in my field, perhaps all fields, even though I find it irresponsible. I never felt confident until I sacrificed to live the lessons in my teaching texts. Unfortunately, I now expect other true professionals, especially those paid several times that of an academic, to automatically live and breathe their expertise. Nope, they are all guessing. And for me they are doubly guessing. One doc finally said so, and that earned my brief admiration, although not my respect.
I do not walk; I shuffle. My physical life is entirely removed, and will be for more months. Years of hard-earned fitness are melting away week by week, a dangerous proposition at my age. My body is very slowly moving towards the state of my cardiologist's.
This is not happiness, which apparently deserves the labels of depressed and un-American. Screw it. I have had happy times. I remember distinctly that they were caused by pleasant events. We should allow each other to roll with badness, punch our fists through the wall, get ugly, whatever. At least it is real. Sometimes things are bad, and bad is bad.
We pay for mucking about with the natural order of ecology. My heart defect is congenital, part of that order. For propping up my life, I have made the Faustian bargain, and am now paying the cost in a number of ways -- all in line with the laws of thermodynamics, conservation of mass, economics, and the stuff that guides me to understanding the world. I knew it, but it is still a bitch.
Well... all I can do is read, which has recently resulted in this diverse bedside reading list:
And magazines, which I rarely do:
The western bluebirds just yesterday nested here for the first time in ten years. Saw my first western tanager, Piranga ludoviciana, this week. Extraordinary.
In just a few days absent from the opiates, my stamina increased from 15 minutes to one hour of slow walking. Three days at the gym culminated in a 90 minute session of treadmill and stationary bike, while maintaining a heart rate below 100 bpm. Unfortunately, the precautionary beta-blocker is now causing my resting heart rate to vary instantly from mid 70's to mid 40's without warning, making sleep impossible. Dropping a heart rate by 30 beats per minute in about 3 seconds is indescribably unnerving. Of course this is no real surprise, given there is an alien monster in my chest. The on-call doc says reduce the Metopronol to the least possible amount. Stamina is diminished again; another step backward
Tramadol = outlandish nightmares, uncontrollable muscle twitches, and the inability to void. I had to rid myself of this devil, which took days to leave my system. The pain was tremendous, but slowly my energy increased. A trade of one misery for another slightly less horrid. Definitely no physical progress made during this time.
One week past surgery. Three days out of the hospital. I have reached my goal: I can now shuffle/walk for 15 minutes without stopping, three times a day. Wow. Afterwards, I sleep for an hour. The exhaustion is beyond description. But in between the extended naps, if I sit quietly, I can approach a feeling that is almost normal. My weight drops about a half pound per day, currently at 169 pounds, as years of hard-earned muscle mass fall away. And still eleven more weeks before I can begin working on my real fitness.
My heart feels like it will jump from my chest with every beat, and the pain has not improved one bit, but I no longer have sweats and chills. My muscles have atrophied to a point I have never witnessed, and my skin is like aged leather. But at least it is reasonably close to a color I recognize.
Tramadol, 50 mg every four hours, works very well for the pain while keeping me coherent. If I forget a dose by minutes, it feels like my chest has been caved in with a baseball bat.
Goals for week two: Begin lower body stretching exercises and work up to 30 minute walks.
Imagine your first hospitalization experience is open heart surgery. Before that, not one accident, not even a broken bone. And then… the ghost of Lewis Carroll snatches up the script of your life. It was insane, nearly absurd, and some of it unbelievable, helped in this regard by the ever present fog of really good narcotics.
I don't believe the doctors intend to lie. And I am not so naive to think that open heart surgery is simple. But when a top notch surgeon kicks his chair back on two legs, grins and slaps his hands saying, “You are a great candidate, we will just go in there and fix this thing and you will feel better.”, he might be leaving out a few zingers. Granted, if some folks knew they would feel like they had been trampled by elephants, they might not opt for the temporary bit of hell called open-heart surgery.
I have plenty of stories to tell, but for a sampler of highlights: