It has now been nearly six weeks since the surgery, and odd things are happening. I write them, and all of these notes, to let people who are contemplating heart surgery know what my experience has been. Not what theirs will be, nor even what most people's are, but only mine.
The incision is healing at last, but the lump at the top, which I was told to expect and which had disappeared recently, returned last night with a vengeance. It was suddenly so large and so tight that it woke me several times during the night. Why fluid should be accumulating at the top of the incision at this late date is a puzzle to me. I should have thought that period was past.
Beyond that is the chest pain. It is a sparking, electric pain that radiates from one shoulder and arm pit across my chest to the other. And it is always there. It never subsides, never stops, so that now I know what it is like for those who live with chronic pain. It is your inevitable companion, present when you go to sleep, present when you wake (if it allows you to sleep), bland, unconquerable and gnawing. I have stopped taking the vicodin they gave me to control pain for two reasons: first, because it is a very powerful drug which I do not want in my system, and second, because it now has less effect than before, an invitation to take more, which I find frightening.
But I think the worst of it is that I cannot do the things I am so used to doing and, though I did not realize until now, which helped define me as a person. Simple household maintenance, for example, and larger projects, such as repairing the garden gate, replacing an electrical outlet in the back yard, and building things with my son. Owning a house means continual maintenance and improvements, and these were important and pleasurable to me, and I am no longer capable of them. At least, I am not now. People assure me that I will return to such pursuits, and in the near future at that, but frankly I do not see it. This operation has, as I have said, made me old, added years to my life, worn me out.
My youth, which was never far from me, is now a distant memory. I am a different person than I was, stripped of so much that had meaning for me -- or, perhaps not stripped, but placed as it were on the far side of a barrier. And that barrier was the surgery, to which I submitted, and from which the recovery has more to do with the mind and spirit than it does with mended cartilage.