Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

A Memory Impossible To Forget

“He’s so young!”

Those were the last three words I heard before I became unconscious from the anesthesia so that my open heart surgery could begin. Those words were said by one of the many nurses in the operating room, scurrying around making preparations to save my life. As I heard those words spoken, I wanted to answer her back, but just after the word “young” was said, I was out. My life was in the hands, literally of everyone in that room.

Of the many issues that I deal with of my survivorship from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, my PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) probably gets the least amount of attention. But when it hits me, I remember every detail, vividly, which amazes people that know me, as I am not known necessarily for my short term memory retention (ask anyone who has seen me stop in the middle of a room, forgetting my intentions).

It was 5:30am when the orderly assisted me onto the gurney that would take me down to the holding area, before entering the operating room. I had not slept at all since I awoke from a catheterization procedure the afternoon before, discovering a fatal level blockage of the left anterior descending artery of my heart, commonly described as a “widow maker.” It is called a “widow maker” because if you suffer a heart attack from this blockage, you most likely will die without immediate intervention. Once all of the buzz of preparations and pre-op testing had been completed, all I could think about the rest of the night, was wanting to see my daughters again. The last we saw each other, I was just supposed to undergo a simple overnight procedure. My daughters were too young to be told what was happening to me, but now there was a legitimate chance I might not survive this surgery.

In the holding area, I was told to remove everything. I was covered with a warm thick blanket. A nurse placed a hair net onto my head. A couple of IV’s were placed into my arms (spoiler alert, when I woke up, there was a lot more tubing than I knew of then coming out of me). I was then rolled into the operating room. It was a huge room, filled with large screen televisions, glass cabinets filled with equipment, and many different types of machines. Of course, there were so many people, all wearing blue scrubs, with gowns, masks, hair bonnets, paper booties, and latex gloves. The activity level was like that of an ant farm or bee hive, everyone having a task needing to be completed before the stars of my procedure entered the operating room.

I was lifted from the gurney onto the operating table by four people. My arms were each being splayed apart (as in a crucifix position), and “secured”. I could see trays being set up with all kinds of equipment from tubing to tools and instruments. To say this was overwhelming is how I should have felt. But between the sedative that I had previously been given, and my thoughts of daughters, I really just resigned myself to just letting everyone do what they had to do. Just then, the only thing between me and everyone else, keeping me warm at the same time, was removed, displaying me in all my birth given glory. This did not even phase me. That blanket was replaced with multiple sheets of surgical covers.

Just then, the anesthesiologist came in and knelt down by my side. “How are you holding up?” I replied, “I’m not panicking, so the stuff you gave me is doing what it needed. Just please, I need to get through this. I want to see my daughters again.” The entire room had grown quiet. Normally when a room does that, someone is likely to spurt out “awkward,” but at that moment is when all realized who was on the operating table.

The surgeon entered the operating room, and called everyone into a “time out.” This was the last thing I participated in during this process. The surgeon ran through a checklist of everything and everyone involved, and then turned to confirm that I was indeed the patient this procedure was for. “Can you give me your name please?” At that particular moment, I actually thought, would anyone else really be lying here in my place volunteering to go through this for me? “Paul Edelman, Jr.” (a necessary distinction as my father had his own heart record). He then continued, “Mr. Edelman is a 42 year old male with a history of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, who now presents with multiple blockages of the heart including the left anterior descending artery, is about to undergo both a vein harvest for a triple bypass to be performed.” It was really all so overwhelming. At no point in my life did I ever feel my life was as complicated as the moment had just explained. It was asked if anyone had any concerns or questions, even looking at me for anything last minute. Nothing. We seemed all good to go.

The surgeon then turned and walked back into an ante room to finish his preparations. The anesthesiologist also got active, operating the machinery around my head, placing a large plastic mask over my mouth and nose. A comment was made to me that I would begin to start feeling someone light headed and calm as anesthesia was administered through both the mask and IV. I became groggy.

It was then that I heard the nurse, “he’s so young.” What was I going to say in response? “Yes, I am young. And I have two daughters who need their dad. They are counting on all of you to make sure I come home.”

Since I did not get that out before the surgery began, before I was discharged, I made sure that everyone who was involved in that eight hour surgery, and saved my life, knew how thankful I was. I was an unusual case, not just because of my age, but with a health history that was not commonly known, with all kinds of conditions internally, not normal for a healthy body, but destroyed by radiation and chemotherapy treatments. To say they nailed it, even without knowing the special needs of a long term Hodgkin’s survivor, is an understatement.

Today, in my 33rd year of cancer survivorship, I celebrate my 15th year as a cardiac survivor now as well. Most importantly, my daughters still have their Dad, still getting to share the big events in their lives, now graduations and college. And yes, I look forward to so many more.

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One thought on “A Memory Impossible To Forget

  1. Lynn Boddy on said:

    Very well written, as usual, Paul. Now I know what to expect when it’s my turn. Thanks.

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