I am not talking about a head of lettuce but a coronary artery bypass graft, Be happy if you never had one and your heart is functioning without any arterial disease.
My wife and I were walking along for our daily stroll when, out of the blue, I clutched my chest and said “I’m hurting, something is wrong”. That was an understatement. So off we went to my heart Dr. who did a procedure to determine blockage. Well there it was. At least two blocked arteries and with reassurance he said “you’re lucky you didn’t drop dead”. Very soothing words.
I was taken to the hospital immediately and sent to the heart unit. I had a roommate who snored and snored and snored. He snored when he was awake and snored when he slept. He snored sitting up in his chair. My wife requested I be placed in another room. So I was.
This patient had enough relatives and friends to fill up Wrigley Field. At least it felt that way. At the time I lived in Orlando, Fl so my family was called in the Chicago area and in Madison WI. At least I got to talk to my adult children and hear their concern and good wishes. A man walked in the room and said ‘My name is Dr. Mark Sand and I will perform the surgery” That was the first and only time I saw him. The nurse came in and had a list of things to do to prep me for surgery. It was scheduled for early AM the next day 7-11-97.
The numbers were good; I don’t remember much after that except they had me take showers with a medicinal soap to prevent germs. And then the unthinkable happened. Two beautiful nurses came into the room and announced they had to shave my chest and other vital organs for the surgery. Now you know you don’t feel well when two beautiful ladies shave you in your birthday suit and you don't care.
Now you’re slightly apprehensive when another nurse comes in with a portable TV monitor and wants to show you what your operations will look like. “She had to be kidding” I thought but she was serious. "No!" was my immediate reply since I was nervous enough about the surgery.
Now it’s early AM on 7-11 and again good numbers with that early cheerful voice “good morning, you have to take another shower with medicinal soap and then someone will come for you and take you to the surgery“. After coming out of the shower stall dripping wet I was surprised by my son who flew in to be with his Mother and hold her hand. My wife was also joined by the Rabbi of our Synagogue. He stayed with her during the entire time I was in surgery and recovery. The Rabbi said some prayers to comfort me and understand God was in my corner. That is all I remember.
Hours later I was told, a voice called out that "he’s up". And there he was, the largest male nurse who picked me up like a toothpick and did some procedure on me. In retrospect I was happy to have him because he made it so easy for me. At some point they took me back to my room where my wife, son and Rabbi greeted me. Of course, I was so dazed yet something told me they were there right beside me.
Now I have to get this in. My son was a surgeon in Wisconsin and was given as a courtesy an updated detailed report as best the staff could advise him. At no time did he question the Surgeon and did not watch the procedure. That was based on his knowledge and at the advice of the medical staff (Had to get that in for his Mother, my wife).
My memory is fuzzy about the next several days. They tried to have me eat on my own and to start walking with assistance. Are you kidding? I was barely in this world but struggled with prompting from my wife and the nurses. And then a nurse came into the room with a strap to be placed around my waist so I would start to walk. I felt like a cattle with a rod prodding me along. Finally when I started to think like a human being again the Dr. told me and my family that I'd had a 5 vessel bypass and they took the veins for it from my left leg.
They sliced my leg like a piece of sausage to remove the veins. And my chest was split open like a chicken with cackles and all. When I finally looked in a mirror, there was Frankenstein’s monster staring back but he was better looking. During my recovery the hospital had changed my roommate to a man who kept me in stitches and not the surgical kind. He would sleep most of the day and at night he made numerous calls. And, the kicker is that every morning a different lady left the room. He was using the hospital like Motel 6.
The it was time to go home. Living in Florida made the recovery that much easier. The weather was always favorable, my house had a swimming pool where I was able to exercise every day and my wife had me follow a strict diet with no complaints from me.
Well there you have it in a 1000 words or less about what it’s like to go through heart surgery. I tried to bring humor into it but realistically it’s not a laughing matter. So watch your diet, exercise every day, and try if possible to not allow anxiety to wear you down.
Oh by the way, 15 years later someone asked me if Dr. Sand was a good surgeon? Yes.
You have to have a smile and live a good life.
This memory lights the corners of my mind and I hope yours too. Here’s to your good health.