Saturday, August 23, 2008

More on the heart procedure

It was all research anyway. Me going to the hospital, I mean. OK, not really, but … One of the characters in my new novel has a heart attack and when he fails to recover as well as expected his doctor goes back in with a catheter and finds a blocked artery and puts in a stent. Having undergone that procedure before – thus refreshing my memory – I might be able to rewrite that scene and make it a little more vivid. And more comical. There were definitely some comic aspects.

I haven’t said anything about my earlier bouts with heart disease, but for those who don’t know, I had open heart surgery in October 2002 – a triple bypass – and went back to the hospital with complications repeatedly over the next few months, getting a balloon angioplasty and having two stents put in.

It wasn’t much fun. During one of the angiograms my heart stopped and they had to shock me with the paddles to get it started again – just like in the hospital shows on TV. It’s scary to think about it but I was totally unaware when it happened. The doctor had told me to let him know if anything felt odd during the procedure (yes, it has to be done with the patient completely awake). And there was a moment when something felt not right, and I started to say something, but then the next thing I knew the doctor was saying “Well that was unexpected” and I think he said he was sorry and asked if I was all right. I had no idea what he was talking about – the memories are fuzzy.

I’ve had small bouts of angina almost every day since the operation back in 2002, and I’ve talked to my cardiologist and had numerous stress tests, etc., and it’s never been anything to worry about, so when I started having pain in my chest and arm Tuesday night, I figured it would go away, and I didn’t say anything. But it didn’t go away, and it started getting stronger. It had started before dinner (we went out to El Sarape, a great Mexican restaurant), and it was 10 p.m. when I finally asked Gabi to call 911. She was pissed at me for not telling her sooner.

They gave me lots and lots of medicine – pain meds, nitro, oxygen, and I slept through the night and went in to the cath lab Wednesday morning. They shaved my groin on the right side and poked around a bit, then for some reason decided the left side would be better, so they shaved the left side and went in with the catheter.

During the procedure I started feeling like I had to pee. You know how sometimes when you can’t get to a bathroom and you have to pee so bad that it hurts and you can’t hold still? That’s the way it was, but they were poking around from my groin to my heart. It didn’t seem like a good time to take a leak. Finally I said something to the doctor about it and he told a nurse to give me a urinal. She placed a urinal between my legs and positioned me in it. (You have to put aside any sense of shame in the hospital.) Once I was in position, the doctor said, “Let her rip if you can.”

Ooh, what a relief it is!

After it was over and they showed me before and after pictures of the blockage and wheeled me back to my room, I had to lie on my back and not move my leg for two-to-four hours until they could remove what is called a vascular closure device. It’s like a very thin straw about six inches long that is inserted into the femoral artery. Removing it always takes at least two nurses (in my case a third one was observing). They have to put tremendous pressure on the insertion point to keep it from bleeding while they pull it out. I recall that it was extremely painful the first time I had this done, but this time it wasn’t very painful. One of the nurses noticed that I’d been shaven on both sides and commented on that. I joked that now I could wear a Speedo, and one of the nurses said she saw an old man wearing a Speedo once and it was a horrible sight to behold. I guess I won’t try wearing one anytime soon.

As I said in my previous post, I had to lie on my back without moving my leg for another six hours. It wasn’t so bad. They gave me morphine for pain and I managed to sleep fairly well. They sent me home the next morning. And that’s about it. Right now I feel fine.

Oh, BTW, did I mention that when I had the bypass surgery I was released from the hospital on Halloween day? My nurse, a male nurse, came to work in drag that day dressed as Nurse Ratched from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

P.S. After my surgery Gabi posted updates on her website without any links but she gave family and friends the url so they could keep up with my progress. If anyone really wants to read all the gory details, it’s still posted at

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