JT's Blog

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Murmurs of the Heart -- Part 2

Extract from JT’s email from Nov 26, 2013:

I had my annual physical today.

Instead of a list of minor complaints and things to ask the doctor about, there was just one elephant in the room this time, and I have to say that I think I'm feeling better about this whole Open Heart Surgery thing.

First, I think I need to explain the mental picture that my mind conjured up when I heard the words Open Heart Surgery. You know when Clark Kent hears of a job for Superman and he ducks into a vacant alley and rips open his outer suit and shirt to reveal the Superman costume below? That's what I pictured. Only it wouldn't be me ripping off my outer clothes to reveal a big red “S”, it would be some surgeon, or a team of surgeons and nurses, ripping open my chest, skin and rib cage, to reveal the bare, beating heart inside.

And that's not all, the mental picture continues, as the chief surgeon (think Dr. Craig from St. Elsewhere) reaches into my chest cavity and removes the still pulsating heart to hold it in his hands while he does whatever it is that a heart surgeon does. Of course, my heart is so slippery and beating so strongly that it then slips out of his hands and begins to scurry across the floor while the surgical team tries to avoid stepping on it. OK, maybe Dr. Craig isn't the best analogy. Think Laurel and Hardy.

Anyway, that's apparently not how it works at all. To repair or replace a mitral valve, and the actual surgeon will go over this with me if it comes to that, so this might not be exactly how they do it, but they should be able to just cut into the muscles at the side of my rib cage, and then use a tool to slightly enlarge the space between two of my ribs so they can get another tool inside to the heart itself.

That doesn't sound bad at all. Well, except for the part about slicing the muscle. But it sure beats the alternative.

Also, the recovery period probably won't be as bad as I had feared. Yes, I'd have to stay in the hospital about a week and there might be another week of less intensive care needed, but unlike, say, a knee or hip replacement (those were the doctor's chosen analogies), the actual repair of the heart would be done once the operation concludes; I'd only be recovering from the incision itself. Yes, he thought I should not have a problem attending a concert after about two or three weeks. [Editor's Note: JT was very concerned about missing some Philadelphia Orchestra concerts while recuperating.]

He told me about a 50-year-old man with the same problem as mine; he was out jogging again within three or four weeks after the surgery. He also told me about an 80-year-old woman who's going to have the same surgery, and it should present no problems for her.

So I think I'm feeling very relieved.

Oh, and a nurse gave me another EKG, and this one showed no irregularities at all, though according to the doctor, those irregular beats might come and go.