67 days ago, I underwent heart surgery to repair a leaky mitral valve. It was the first surgery of any kind that my body had ever been subjected to. This is the story of my experience on the operating table; during my ensuing stay in the hospital; and during my recuperation after I was sent home — a recuperation that’s still ongoing. For background covering the time period from the diagnosis that I needed the surgery, through the initial pre-operative procedures that I underwent, go here, here, and here.
Prelude: my heart catheterization and the night before the operation
The catheterization: not as bad as I’d feared?
On Wednesday, September 9, I arrived at the hospital for my final pre-operative procedure: the heart catheterization, alternatively referred to as a coronary angiogram. This procedure consisted of a doctor inserting a tube into my wrist and running that tube through my radial artery, and adjoining arteries, all the way to my heart. A thinner tube, the catheter, was then run through the initial tube; attached to the catheter was a tiny video camera. At some point, a special dye was also injected into me to assist the doctor with the imaging of my arteries. The purpose of all of this was to check for arterial blockages.
As the catheterization was getting underway, when a painful needle (separate from the IV port that was already affixed to me by then) was being inserted into my wrist to forge a pathway for the tubes, I sang “My Favorite Things” (from the film The Sound of Music) in an attempt to overcome the pain. :)
The procedure was performed under sedation, with the sedative agent being fed into me via the IV port. I’d previously been informed that being sedated would feel “like twilight”; but I experienced no sensation out of the ordinary while the catheterization was ongoing. Any effect that the sedative may have had on me was very subtle; I was able to engage in a conversation with the doctor during the entire procedure.
As I’ve previously written, I’d been reluctant to agree to the catheterization and had to be talked into it by the surgeon; I feared that the tube could accidentally puncture one of my arteries while passing through it, causing me to bleed to death in 30 seconds. Fortunately, that worst-case scenario didn’t materialize. The catheterization didn’t kill me. :)
Still, I wonder how essential it was. Not surprisingly in light of my relatively young age for a heart surgery patient, the catheterization didn’t find any blockages. I could have told the doctor he wouldn’t find any; we could have just skipped the whole thing and gone straight to my surgery. :)
Following the procedure, I was taken to a recovery room where I was started on an intravenous drip to help wash out the imaging dye from my body. I was also told that due to the trauma to the point in my artery (at my wrist) where the catheter had been inserted, for the following three days I would be required to avoid bending my wrist excessively. No one told me what would happen if I did engage in such bending, but I suspect the answer probably would have involved dangerous amounts of blood gushing out of my wrist.
On the eve of my operation
Before all the dye had been flushed from my system, I was removed from the recovery room, admitted to the hospital as an inpatient, and brought to a regular hospital room. Continue reading