At this time, twelve years ago, I was laying on a table, with no heartbeat.
I had been taken to the operating room around 4am, with a detour at the hospital chapel. I was scheduled for an emergency triple bypass that was discovered only because I was annoyed by a symptom that I could no longer ignore after four months. Less than twenty-four hours earlier, I had undergone a catheterization which was believed to have been good enough to correct the suspected blockage. Instead, my cardiologist had discovered, I had a blockage that gets the dramatic nickname, called a “widow maker.” Because that is what the type of blockage leads to, a fatal heart attack, not if, but when.
I have written before about the procedure, and you can view the page, “CABG – Not Just A Green Leafy Vegetable.” Instead, as I have had time to do during this social isolation, I went through my medical file that I have a copy of every record from April 17, 2008 on. I came across my surgical report from this bypass surgery.
Reading this report reminded me of a movie that I had seen on multiple occasions as a child, “Fantastic Voyage,” featuring Raquel Welch. It was a sci-fi thriller that had doctors shrunk in size, placed into a submarine type vehicle, the inserted into a syringe, injected a patient. The vehicle would travel through the body into the various systems finding themselves under attack from white cells, that were only doing what intended, attacking foreign bodies, and other creative situations, all in the attempts to perform a surgical procedure from within the body itself. Seriously, check out this movie if you can find it.
Anyway, as a Hodgkin’s survivor, I was taught the importance of keeping a copy of my records for everything. Because not every medical personnel you deal with will have necessary and immediate access.
This is not the first time I have read my surgical report on my bypass. But as I do, I am still amazed at the detail, the effort, and the literal “life and death” status, not to mention a whole bunch of big words, that to this day, I still have not looked up as to their definitions. The report, as understood on its own, is enough for me to handle. So with that, I want to share some of the “cool” things that were done to me during this process.
“median sternotomy incision made… sternum divided…”
“divided left mammary artery”
“anterior pericardium was opened”
“The patient was placed on bypass, cooled, and emptied. With the heart emptied, a crossclamp was placed and one liter of antegrade cardioplegia solution was given through the catheter in the ascending aorta. The heart became asystolic.”
This one really got to me. My heart was emptied of any blood, and it was stopped from beating. I was dead. I was on a bypass machine, but my body for all intents and purposes was no longer capable of living on its own. The bypass procedure was now literally on the clock.
“Hot shot of warm oxygenated blood cardioplegia solution was given.”
“Valsalva maneuver was performed” (artificial respiration technically)… “the heart was allowed to fill” (with blood).
“The heart fibrolated at this time.”
“wired the sternum, closed the wound in routine fashion…”
With that, I was taken to the ICU, where I spent an unknown amount of time. I had no windows so I have no recollection if it was even days. The entire report is amazing to read. It makes my experience even more remarkable because I not only lived it, but survived it.
This was the turning point for me in my survivorship of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a hyper-awareness with my body’s health. I learned all of the other issues my body deals with because of the treatments that I went through to save my life over thirty years ago. Of course now, I wonder the status of the bypass, not necessarily a lifetime solution. No doctor is willing to give me a time-frame on the bypass lifespan. But twelve years out, and with the progressive damage still occurring, I know that I have to still be observed not just for this, but all of my other issues.
But given the reality of the Corona Virus crisis that we are in, I have a different point that I want to make. Though not every outcome results in a positive end, our health care personnel are amazing with what they not only can do, but the circumstances they must perform under. I will always have the utmost respect for my doctors, nurses, techs, and all of the other personnel not just to care for one patient, to care for all.
I am thankful for you all, whether you were in that operating room or not.