My heart surgery was this past Thursday. We arrived at the hospital at 7:30 a.m. and got all ready to go in. The morning had been rushed and stressful, our tempers were a bit short. Honestly, I think it was fear that was doing that to us. The last time either Justin or I had been in a hospital was when my mom died. And here I was having a surgery meant to spare me from a similar death.
When I laid too long on the bed in the quiet, memories of those dark days in December came unbidden and tears spilled from my eyes. At least three times that day, different medical professionals asked about the symptoms of my heart condition and I had to explain that I never had any symptoms and then answer their quizzical looks with the recounting of my mom's death and the subsequent discovery of my heart defect. Justin asked how I could do it - retell the story so many times with a steady voice. It just about killed him to hear it again and again. It's funny...I can talk about the facts. I can tell the story. I can say the words. "Stroke." "Never woke up." "ASD." "Died." It's the pictures behind those words that I have to push away just to finish the conversation.
It was one of those surgeries where privacy was only an attempt at courtesy. I had an EKG and two echocardiograms. Sensors placed all over my bare chest. My groin shaved, examined, checked, and rechecked.
This was a simple procedure. We were told that time and again. I didn't care. I was still scared. My mom's shoulder surgery was routine. We even had discussions about death and wishes and life insurance and all those things you should talk about from time to time, especially before a surgery, but there was a realness to those talks that has never been there before.
The procedure went really well. No complications or anything. I was barely under anesthesia for an hour. Almost right away, I was encouraged to eat and drink. After about three and a half hours, the nurse said I could try standing up and if I felt okay, I could go home. Within just a couple moments on my feet, I saw a dark, red spot on the bandage covering my femoral vein. I was in the restroom, so I finished my business, watching with interest as the BB sized drop of blood grew to the size of a nickel in only a minute or two.
The surgeon accessed my heart through the femoral vein and having it bleed was the biggest concern post-op. It wasn't stitched or glued or anything. Just bandaged with a sticky patch. I laid back on the hospital bed. The nurse put pressure on the vein for ten minutes and I was instructed to remain bed-ridden for a couple more hours.
It was time to try walking again. After a short walk around the hospital floor, the vein seemed to be staying closed. I went to the bathroom to change my clothes and go home. I stared at my bare chest in the mirror. Somewhere under the pale skin, flesh, and bone my heart was beating differently. I stared at my chest. There was no scar. No sign of anything different. I placed my palm on my chest, wondering if I would feel a different rhythm. Things were supposed to be different now. But everything felt the same. I thought about the things I had inherited from my mom. Her height. Her eyebrows. Her fingernails. The tendency to collect extra calories around my middle. And her heart defect. Beneath skin and bone and muscle and sinew beat the same traitorous heart she had. And it only took half a day to fix mine. I was angry staring at the mirror for the millionth time thinking how everything could be so different right now if my mom had known about her heart and had the same minor surgery at some point in her life.
With a smoothie in hand, I went home and I have been recovering quickly ever since. I get a little weak at times and I cannot lift my children or anything over 10 lbs for a week (this is going to make evenings fun when I am home 2 hours before my husband!), but of the four surgeries I have gone through, this by far has been the least painful and has had the easiest recovery.
Thanks for all your thoughts and prayers during this time. They're working.