What I did on my summer vacation

Rather than a big lead-up I'll just cut to the chase. On July 27th I had open heart surgery, and the rest is history--in the making. June and July proved to be a whirlwind.

In mid-June it was the cardiac catheterization. It was very manageable and not something to fear if you're ever faced with the prospect, but the recovery took a little longer than I was lead to believe. They gave me all kinds of drugs and I barely remember most of it. Bliss.

In early July it was time for the surgical consultation. Dan and I knew in very short order that we had found the right guy for us. There was virtually no discussion about whether I needed the surgery. We left the office having signed many papers, had a few tests, been scheduled for more, and finally been given a surgery date just a little more than 3 weeks away. The rest of July was spent packing the freezer with food to live on after surgery and trying to get my work affairs in order. There was also a lovely lunch break spent getting a thoracic contrast CT. Very weird. There was no pain, but the tech did connect me to a machine that injected something that looked like a liter of contrast solution during the scan. I'm not kidding. This wasn't a drip it was a push.

So, what did we learn from all of these high-tech and expensive tests?

  • Bad: Yes, I did have a bicuspid aortic valve that was very stenotic and severely regurgitating.
  • Good: I have lovely clear arteries, so no bypass was necessary.
  • Bad: The enlargement of my aorta had reached the point of being considered an aneurysm. (4.8 cm in diameter instead of the normal 2.5 - 3 cm).

That changed the game plan a little. Now I was having valve replacement and aortic resection, which meant a longer procedure, more time on the heart bypass machine, and a bigger incision (i.e., a traditional median sternotomy instead of a "mini").

Again, let's cut to the chase. It all went very well. Dan and I arrived at the INOVA Heart and Vascular Institute at Fairfax Hospital at 530 am on Monday where we were met by my parents. The prep was easy. I was unconscious before they took me to the OR. Surgery started at 7 am and the surgeon was briefing my family by about 1030 am. I woke up in ICU in the late afternoon. I remember parts of the ICU experience that I would prefer not to, but that's life. Bottom line: Dilaudid is a good thing. The next morning I moved to stepdown care and started walking and trying to get the other bodily functions going (easier said than done). I was discharged on Thursday--total stay 3 nights. It was amazing.

Today marks four weeks since my discharge. The first 2 weeks were difficult, but the recovery was fairly linear. Each day I felt a little better than the previous. I must have been running on adrenaline or maybe it was just my body fighting to get over the trauma of the bypass machine and the anesthesia, both of which cause of number of strange side effects. The last 2 weeks have been a cycle of good and bad days. On good days I'm up and around the house doing things and taking my exercise walks. On "bad" days it's all I can do to get off the sofa and I nap almost as much as the cats. Lately I've started to realize that these "bad" days are probably the times when my body is doing the most healing, sending all of the energy into repairing damaged tissue and bone. Now I'm trying to celebrate both the good days and the bad days for what they are.

I'll probably be off work for another 2 weeks. I need to be able to get though an entire day sitting up and not napping before considering a day at the office. Between now and then I need to start driving again, get back to the studio, and still not overdo it. No small task.

Sorry, no pictures of artwork in process for now. But, I can offer this. It's a link to a site showing the artful work of others. Follow this link to read about my fancy new aortic valve, the St. Jude Epic Supra bioprothesis (ESP-100-27-00). Truly miraculous.