Temporarily Heartless

And so life continues…

My ability to walk up hills or even slight inclines without feeling winded was becoming a real concern and even though my GP suggested it was due to age and “being out of shape” (which is easy for a guy in his early 30’s to say and not completely true in my case), I insisted on a cardiologist referral. It was a good thing I insisted.

After numerous scans and tests it was established that I had Atrial Fibrillation, an irregular heart rhythm that begins in the heart’s upper chambers with symptoms including fatigue, heart palpitations, trouble breathing and dizziness. I was prescribed a collection of medications and scheduled for a checkup. Not a great outcome but AFib, as it’s commonly referred to, it quite common and has a number of causes including a congenital heart defect, obstructive sleep apnea, high blood pressure and narrowed or blocked arteries (coronary artery disease) among others.

After taking the prescribed medications as directed I felt worse with chest pain and losing the ability to walk short distances or use any stairs. Another trip to the cardiologist who sent me for a coronary angioplasty with the hope that stents would fix me up. The angioplasty showed my heart arteries were partially or completely blocked in a number of locations as revealed in the image.

Blockages varied from 40% to 100% and most couldn’t be penetrated to insert stents which would return blood flow. My only alternative was open heart surgery but the wait was a long one. I was ‘lucky’ to start having severe symptoms within a few weeks of being diagnosed and on April 21, 2022, was carted off to the hospital by ambulance at 3 am after my nitro spray failed to reduce chest pain. This was a good thing as it fast-tracked me for surgery and ensured I wouldn’t die face down in my tomato soup any time soon.

I had quadruple bypass surgery on April 27, 2022 and can report that it was absolutely not fun. Having your heart stopped for a few hours can have residual effects. Who knew?

During the 4 hour surgery the surgeon removed two long, healthy blood vessels from my left lower and upper leg to create a new path for blood in my heart. The chest incision was about 10 inches but the leg wounds were significantly larger as seen in the photo. I also had three 1 inch cuts in my abdomen where the drainage tubes protruded (the removal of those tubes was the most painful part of the entire ordeal). The wounds were significant and I hobbled around for weeks although I was directed to start walking as soon as possible. I spent a total of 1 1/2 weeks in the hospital and was discharged four days after surgery. There are not enough positive words about sleeping in your own comfortable bed after a week and a half in the hospital. I started walking the day after arriving home which was extremely challenging as I could barely walk a quarter block before running out of steam and heading back to bed.

It’s been a year and a half since the surgery and other than daily medication, my life has returned to normal. I visited the cardiologist today after feeling dizzy, weak and having problems advancing my gym workouts and was advised to stop taking Toloxin, a drug that helps regulate my heart rate. It seems I had taken it for too long though I was never advised to stop and he seemed surprised that I was still taking it. Our medical system is overloaded and you have to be your own advocate, insisting on attention to issues or concerns as they arise rather than hoping it gets better (as men can do). Doctors, no matter what they think, are not infallible and can forget details or simply make mistakes. Listen to your body.

This image is my crude attempt to show the four arteries (in red) that were attached to my heart (blue dots), bypassing the blockages and rerouting the blood supply. Click the image for a larger view to see the position of each of the attached arteries. It still amazes me that I’ve actually undergone the surgery, managed to come back from such trauma to my body and actually feel little or no side effects other than a few scars. We’re resilient creatures and our bodies are amazing machines.

If you have bypass surgery in your future, know that it will eventually become an uncomfortable memory but an interesting anecdote you can relate at cocktail parties or wedding receptions. I’ve had other bumps in my road over the years but I’m still chugging along nicely with the help of modern medicine.

Stay tuned.

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