My Heart Reborn
As I listened to the sixth or seventh helicopter landing on the helipad above me, my heart problem diminished in comparison to the emergencies of others. Sick or injured people or donor organs, flown in from great distances – unending tragedies replayed over and over – some with happy endings. I had learned of a lineman that was accidentally electrocuted. He was in the ICU unit across the hall from mine, and every piece of medical equipment possible was in his room being utilized to keep him alive as his fellow workmates continually visited. This placed my worries into sharp perspective.
It seemed like a long time, but just two days had passed since I arrived at the hospital for heart surgery. My husband and I waited about an hour and a half before getting called into the pre-op unit, so I could change into a hospital gown to prepare for an operation called a mini-maze, that we hoped would change my life. I have lived with atrial fibrillation for many years, growing more depressed as I watched the whirlpool of my life contract into smaller and smaller circles. After all the medications had failed, I was fortunate enough to find not only the right procedure, but the right doctor and the right hospital as well. This procedure, fraught with a long list of complications, including death, offered the greatest chance of insulating my heart against the sudden and uncontrollable flashes of electrical impulses to which it had become a slave. After pondering Shakespeare’s famous “to be or not to be” question, I decided to go for it!
I met with the surgeon and then the anesthesiologist to talk over some of what would happen. From the surgeon I wanted to know as little as possible – once I was under I wouldn’t care or remember. From the anesthesiologist I wanted to be sure that one drug, Propofol, would not be used, as I had once had a bad side-effect to it, which caused me to have coughing spasms for weeks. This is where I met resistance. I have observed that when a side-effect is uncommon, or not believed by a doctor, the response is the same: “I’ve never heard of that, it’s not the drug.” We went back and forth a few times, but I stood my ground and another induction agent was used as an alternative. However, even as my gurney was being rolled to the operating room for a surgery that would last four hours, I wondered if I was doing the right thing.
The numerous surgical team members introduced themselves and helped me get into position. My body was placed over an arched, padded board, that lifted my chest. My head was tilted back and rested in a special rubbery pillow shaped like a bowl. After that I remember very little of what was said. A mask was placed over my mouth and nose and I was under within seconds.
My husband was called with an update of my progress and again when the operation was over. When they took the breathing tubes out, I regained consciousness before drifting off again, which the doctor told him didn’t happen often and was a very good sign. The first thing I remember was opening my eyes in ICU and looking at a clock that read 6:00pm. I registered that the operation was over, and I was alive, which I considered a very good sign.
I had been concerned about how much discomfort I would feel in my chest, but what my mind was first drawn to was the burning pain in my neck. It was so bad I could hardly breathe. I remember my husband being there and holding my hand, but once the pain meds kicked in I was in a sea of fog. Each time I closed my eyes and nodded off, I would awake thinking I had been asleep for an hour, while the clock showed that only one or two minutes had passed. This night was the worst. By the next day, I started to improve quickly and was released in three days.
Now, the sound of a helicopter will flash me back to the ICU. For a split second I remember the pain and I wonder about the fate of the lineman. I am truly grateful and hope that I was not the only one to have been granted a happy ending.