It has been a tough six weeks since my heart failed. At 71, I simply did not consider another valve failure a possibility, but it happened. Everything was fine … and then it wasn’t. Perhaps it was the sinister way it all sneaked up on me that surprised me the most. One day I thought I had allergies from the oak pollen that blooms this time of year, and the next I couldn’t brush my teeth without gasping for breath. My lungs had filled with water overnight. I couldn’t breathe, and only the quick response from our primary care doctors saved me.
Very soon I entered the Plano Heart Hospital and was the recipient of a science fiction-like operation via robotics. A tiny slit under my arm provided access for precision tools that removed the old valve repair and rebuilt a new mitral valve inside my heart. But that’s not what this blog is about.
What happened next is the amazing part. I was walking around the ward on the second day after the operation--off pain pails on day three. I felt and looked great. I thought I had dodged a bullet, but no, there was more to come--and I would not have guessed it in a million years.
A couple of weeks after surgery, I was on my way to cardiac rehab when suddenly I lost all my energy. I felt faint, like I couldn’t take another step. I found a chair in the hospital and sat for about 15 minutes before pressing on. At rehab, the technicians wired me up as usual, but they wouldn’t take their eyes of their monitors. They soon told me to stop and sit. I found a chair where I could see the monitor. I was stunned, mostly because I still felt good. The lower chambers of my heart were beating around 140, way too high, and the upper chambers were working at around 300 beats per minute. That is very abnormal--more like a vibration that a real heart beat.
After about 45 minutes, things settled down. The technicians scurried off to set up a battery of appointments for me for the next day, and in time, I was allowed to leave. I made it as far as the grocery store. As I put a small watermelon on the back seat floor, I felt a wave of nausea in my stomach and darkness closing in. It’s a very distinct feeling, and your body instinctively knows it’s in deep trouble. I managed to push the cart away from my car, climb in the front seat, start the vehicle, and turn the A/C on high. The blackness continued to close in, and my mind swam in a thick soup of jumbled thoughts. For the first time in my life, I believed I was dying. I had always wondered what that would be like. What last thought would I cling to? I knew without question my newly-repaired valve had failed, and thought only of my wife as the blackness and nausea took me away.
I woke about 30 minutes later, totally confused. I didn’t know where I was or who I was. I drifted in and out of semi-awareness for about 15 minutes as my vision cleared from gray with red spots to blurred vehicles around me. In another 15 minutes, I thought I would be able to drive home, and I did. The next few days meant lots of tests and some uncomfortable procedures; however, I was delighted to learn I was wrong about the valve. The valve repair was okay, but the heart was not accommodating the repair. After a few severe shocks to reset the rhythm, everything returned to normal, everything except my attitude.
It is strange how your perspective changes when you are so very certain you are going to die, and then don’t. Suddenly you have a new lease on life, a different way of viewing things. As for me, I will take everything far easier in the future. I will take my wife on more cruises. I will enjoy my grand kids even more. The “age of relaxation” has finally been thrust upon me.
My only advice to anyone reading this is simple. Enjoy every second of every day. Repair your relationship with your wife if you are at odds, and if you are not, then make the effort to bring romance back into your marriage. Forget the small things; love the big things. Life is short, perhaps shorter than any of us believe. Live each day like it could be your last.
Yes, this event will impact my writing. I want to return to what I love most--writing comedy with Miss Havana. So, after I publish my true WWII story (Ordinary People; Extraordinary Times), I will write the next Miss Havana novel. That one will be called Sisters, and anyone who has read the last book in the series, The Trophy Wife, will understand both the title and the reason I simply MUST write it.
BTW, my latest novel, Aftermath Horizon, will be released by Eternal Press on November 1, 2015. That one is a young adult romantic adventure. If anyone out there wants to provide an honest review of that novel, I will be happy to send an ARC .pdf copy for that purpose. Just let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading,