Friday, February 20, 2009

Heart aches

It has now been ten days since my surgery, and I suppose I ought to begin recording my experience before it dims in my mind. Prior to the surgery, I did what I habitually do when faced with phenomena with which I am unfamiliar - I did research. I advise any of you contemplating such a procedure to do the same. It is the best way I know, not only to get answers to your questions, but to learn what questions you ought to ask. But be careful to authenticate the sources of your information, for there is much nonsense, even pernicious nonsense, out there.

I came across a good deal of the latter in my reading. I even found the site of a man who has, apparently, managed to make a career out of his heart surgery, pedaling a book he has written for those who are facing it. It contains photos of him shortly after the procedure, with a neat vertical line on his chest, and then a few months later with no visible scar at all. And then, best of all, a wedding photo to let us know that he is once again a fully functioning human being with no apparent side effects of the surgery.

Now, I can speak only for my own experience, which, to a great extent, is tempered by my character, my thoughts, and my past history. And so I will offer this experience here, reminding the reader that everyone's heart surgery will be different, because every heart and mind is different.

I wondered whether the surgery would change me as a person, and I can say now, unequivocally, that it has. I am not, and think I never again shall be, the person I was before the procedure. I am still very much in the process of sorting out what has happened to me, but that something profound and far-reaching has happened I cannot deny. Two nights ago, in the company of visitors, I attempted to act as 'my old self' and the sheer effort of it caused a complete collapse in my system that had me bedridden for two days. I realize now that this is because I can no longer be that old self, and the effort to do so is more than I can manage now.

Where shall I begin? At the moment when I walked across the threshold of the hospital. I did so with a foreboding that I would not recross it as the person I always was - that in some sense, I had come to this place to die. When I signed in at surgical admitting, I was asked to record the time of my arrival. As I wrote 6:35 AM, I felt that, in some sense, I was noting the time of the end of my life.

I was taken to the familiar horror of the pre-op room, which is also the post-op room. I say familiar because I had been there previously for an angiogram, and it was occupied by the same frail, oxygen-masked, disoriented creatures whom I had seen on my last arrival. One cannot enter such a place without feeling viscerally that one's life force is being sucked away, and that one is fated (as I no doubt was) to join the ranks of these scarcely-living beings. I would urge hospitals to change this system and not subject pre-operative patients to the sight of their post-operative fellows. It defeats the purpose of preparing one for surgery by lowering morale and expectations.

I will continue this tomorrow, as my sleep schedule is so far out of kilter that I am, at last, at 4:15 AM, feeling sleepy.