Friday, February 20, 2009

Heart aches 7

Nearly a month from the surgery and I seem to make no progress. I remain in atrial fibrillation (my heart is fluttering, not beating), the shortness of breath continues, and the pain persists. I did not shower yesterday, both because no one came by, and because I cannot bear to take off my shirt even when I am alone. The incision remains a hideous reminder of what I can only conclude has been an unnecessary failure.

There are some small positive signs. Last night I slept from 10:30 to 3:00, then from 4:00 to 6:00, then from 6:30 to 7:30; the closest to a decent night's sleep I have come in months. And when I am not so nauseated that the idea of food is repulsive to me, my appetite is returning. I can walk slightly farther than I could last week, though only with the help of a cane, and pauses to catch my breath.

What I want to say by all this is that my condition, while largely genetic (heart disease killed every man in my family by the age of 62, as far as I am aware), is not inevitable. It is possible for many to avoid this nightmare: Change the way you eat and exercise. Stop eating the junk food and the fast food and the fatty food with which our society is flooded, and which inundates us in our advertising. And don't claim you don't know what foods to avoid - you do. Eat sensibly and healthfully - fish and chicken, fruit and vegetables - and make exercise as regular a part of your routine as working and resting.

Be mindful of your heart, which works even when you do not, and which must be nourished and strengthened like any other muscle in the body. But unlike any other muscle, when it tears or breaks or atrophies, all the other muscles, and organs, die. So be mindful of your heart above all.

I dearly wish that I could say that my recovery is going quickly and smoothly, but I cannot. (The man whose web site profits from his surgery is a self-deluding fool.) The recovery, if you can call it that, is slow and painful, revealing and tedious, frustrating and depressing. But its aspect that troubles me the most is that I cannot even say I am trying to return to my old self. As I have noted here, I do not believe that is possible - that it is possible for strangers to slice open your flesh, saw through your breastbone, expose your viscera to the sterile light of an operating room, divert your life's blood and breath to a machine, stop your heart and manipulate it, then reverse the entire process and expect you to return to who and what you were before they left upon your flesh the skater's line imprint of their passage. But since I cannot return to my old self, where am I expected to go?

Perhaps if I knew the answer to that, my recovery could begin in earnest. But it is as hidden from me, though operative in me, as the pig's valve which was implanted in my heart. I have, at heart, become a porcine freak of nature in desperate search of the humanity that, like a stray sponge, was left behind somewhere in the operating room.