I’ve been thinking a lot lately of a Christmas I spent some 23 years ago. It’s hard for me to believe it’s been that long, but that’s the funny thing about time–it passes both slower and more quickly than we think.
I spent Christmas of 1993 in the Intensive Care Unit of Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. I had just underwent Aortic Root Replacement surgery and was recovering. Essentially, I had part of my aorta replaced, including the valve itself, with plastic (Dacron, specifically). This was due to complications associated with Marfan Syndrome–my aorta was starting to rupture all on its own and it need reinforcement before I had a full-blown “dissection.” Such an event was what had killed my father at the age of 37. They had determined that unless I had this surgery that I would probably meet the same fate–and possibly sooner than my father did.
I don’t remember much of actual Christmas Day–I spent most of my time sleeping or on morphine. I vaguely remember some family visitations. I do remember being thankful to be alive. I remember that much.
I spent the days leading up to the surgery getting as many presents for the people I knew as I could with my meager income–I was a pizza delivery guy at the time. In the back of my mind I felt like this might be my final gift for them and I wanted it to count for something. I tried to play off my nervousness and fear, but secretly I wondered if I would survive this. I had never even had minor surgery before, much less open heart surgery, and I feared the worse.
I had nightmares of waking up in the middle of the procedure. I imagined myself dying on the table and the grief of my family and friends. But outwardly, i kept my calm. The day of, as they prepped me, I “joked” that I wasn’t ready and wanted to go home. I wasn’t really joking.
But–everything turned out fine.
I did discover that I have a low tolerance for anesthesia, though. I woke up while still intubated and kind of panicked but things were fine. Later, they had to take me in to drain some fluid off of my heart. I woke up as they were finishing that too. They told me to go back to sleep. Later still, they had to implant a pacemaker and I woke up in the middle of that. Luckily, a sheet was up between my face and chest and I asked if I should be awake and I was told “No” and was put back under.
Eventually I was taken out of ICU and went to a regular room. There I had to get up try to walk down the hall as part of my recovery. That was one, long hall. I also had breathing exercises to do. I finally got the hang of it and eventually got to home. It was 1994 by then.
And here I am, 43 years old and still recovering nicely. I see my cardiologist regularly and make sure I have no more rupturing. I’m on more medications than I care to mention, but I’m alive and my quality of life is nothing to complain about (though sometimes I still do).
I am grateful for the surgeons and nurses at Presbyterian that took such good care of me. And to my friends and family who supported me while I was down during that time. Without them I wouldn’t have found the motivation to persevere.