Ready for launch!
On May 7th I underwent an Aortic valve replacement
and other high maintenance procedures, the latest thoracic applications in practice today! Additionally, the surgical team clipped an appendage from my left atrial valve that on an earlier sonogram looked just like that tag of string in the bottom of your shorts pocket that always gets tangled in your car keys. And they performed a Maze procedure.
I had this done at the VA in Gainesville, across the street from the University of Florida’s renowned UF Health Shands Hospital. The University’s College of Medicine has over 1,500 faculty and physicians and more than 8,000 nursing and support staff. It now includes a hospital in Jacksonville. Seven of Shands’ specialty programs were rated among the nation’s best in 2011-2012. Shands is rated highest among the state’s hospitals in five specialties that include Cardiology & heart (Thoracic) surgery (tied at 27th in the nation).
In 1959, before leaving for the Navy, I worked at the original J. Hillis Miller Medical Center, which became the cornerstone of today’s sprawling, multi-faceted complex.
Under the tutelage of professor/physicians a revolving cadre of Cardiology and Thoracic Surgeon residents along with other various med students do intern time at my VA hospital.
Post-surgery got me two days in ICU, which surrounds you with organized chaos & constant noise 24 hours a day. Six days of first class observation/ nursing care and a medieval test three times a day, requiring the consumption of the most horrible food ever conceived. The “chefs”and nutritionists must have to be especially trained in that it’s not humanly possible to create such epicurean disasters without special education!
In the hospital, I passed ten gallons of fluid, as my kidneys went into overdrive flushing anesthetic, a pallet of injected chemicals, and my body’s natural curative river of combat liquid. The days(night & light) were
punctuated with 2 – 4 hour intervals of blood collection (at least 5 gallons), respiratory oxygen charges, shots, intravenous injections, medication, nursing bed checks
and sundry other interruptions.
This treatment so affected my circadian clock that now 16 days after discharge I can’t stay asleep for more than 3 hours!
A Little More Digression:
Seven year’s ago I went down to Costa Rica for the first time. Prior to this trip, I had been traveling weekly to south Florida, courting my last wife and enjoying the amenities and amusing observations of how the
hip/glitzy, other half live and play.
I had quit drinking for a few years at that point, and exercised on a regular basis. I was healthy and athletically, doing about 4 to 5 miles a week on the tread mill and 45 minutes of muscle tone on the machines during each visit to the local gym. Gym time got reduced dramatically during the six months of regular turnpike circuiting from home to south Florida. But, I still felt
We were off to Costa Rica spending eight days exploring the high points across the north, from the Caribbean to La Fortuna next to the Arenal, the country’s largest active volcano with a huge manmade reservoir stretching
from its shadow for miles to the north. While there we went zip lining at one of the original zip line courses in the country.
That day, after a brief introduction re: harnessing and “controls” they hauled us out in a hay wagon, pulled over a rocky goat path, by a brand new Ford tractor. Next we walked uphill to a slightly higher departure point. With increasing length and altitude we conquered each leg of the small mountain zip line. The scenery got more beautiful and the drama increased.
Nearing the end now, the next high altitude station had a path of simple patio stones each carefully laid and aligned, obviously by hand. At twenty steps up on the steepest incline yet encountered, I had to stop and take
some wind, over and over again. It wasn’t getting easier.
I thought, ( Wow,you’re sure getting out of
At the last station, I was blowing so hard that I couldn’t stand up. It didn’t take but a few minutes to recover though and I thought that I sure needed to get back in the gym. The vista was breathtaking in and of itself. The
zip well over a quarter of a mile and more than fifteen hundred feet above the small valley below. It was a hoot!
Afterwards I felt great and we finished our trip with no major events except the discovery of a new red wine (Argentina’s Malbec at a local bodega). I went off the wagon with a large dose of temperance.
Upon our return I was scheduled for an annual physical at my VA primary care clinic. I told the doctor about the shortness of breath and added the fact that my tolerance for the treadmill had been shortened considerably when I returned to exercise. He told me that my heart was acting
up and I had an irregular heartbeat. He would order some tests to figure out what would be next. I asked him about an upcoming trip to Colorado to a retreat in the mountains at 8,500 feet. - - - - - Would it be okay to do that? He said “Sure why not?”
I went and for four days at that altitude I could barely walk 20 feet from our dorm to the chow hall or uditorium, without sitting down and resting.
Two weeks after my return from outer space I had my follow up appointment. As we went through the door to the clinic waiting room it became obvious that changes had occurred since my last visit. All the old nurses and
even the staff were new faces. A balding, cheerful doctor came to the waiting room and invited us in. I’d never been treated this personally before. My wife and I alighted in his office. We exchanged small talk and he explained the changes. The previous regime of the clinic had been a contract operation. Not VA employees per se.
After a short explanation about what they believed to be the case with my heart, he told us that I wouldn’t be going home that day. . . He was admitting me immediately to the“civilian” hospital across the street and they knew I was coming. My new doctor made me wait for an ambulance to be transported by them
about 125 feet to the Emergency room intake. I quickly figured out that this was serious and the VA was not taking any more chances with Old Dad! Duh!
Four days later, the diagnosis concluded my heart was in atrial fibrillation and I had an irregular heartbeat with leaky valves. I also had high cholesterol/triglycerides numbers (Thanx, Southern fried ecstasy) Seriously- - -
Thank you, VA medicine.
Two years ago my civilian Cardiologist recommended a heart catheterization because of severe stenosis of my Aortic valve. It was nearing closure of the wrong kind!
Back to the VA system I went and a clinical
Cardiologist ordered two echo cardiograms over a six month period. They confirmed that the calcification was slowly closing my Aorta. The Cardiologist refused to send me for a heart cath because he already knew where I was headed. He gave me the scenario and I went back to living life and waiting for further instructions.
After eighteen months of knowing where my heart condition was headed I reached the “cliff” I’d been forewarned about. In January this year, I rapidly fell off that cliff with symptoms I had been anticipating would appear. THEY DID, And the clock began to tick.
Months went by until I happened on the solution of VA hospital in Gainesville. Before you know it, I was sitting in my first pre-op doctor’s visit. The young surgical resident went over operation details. He told me, that negative occurrence statistics for death from this procedure were now less than 1 %. For rejection/complications less than 2 %. GOD is Great!
He asked me about my symptoms. I responded: Exertion resulting in neck pain combined with instant shortness of breath and overall weakness, random dizziness, but absolutely no chest/angina pains. Also, my physical sex life was in advancing collapse.
Dr Reoma informed me that I was to receive a tissue transplant - - - a cow’s heart valve. But under the circumstances, he’d try to get me a bull’s valve, even though the odds of securing one were not as
high. I immediately thought: “Yeah, they
probably cost an extra $100,000. We all know the Government’s proclivity for
paying too much for readily available goods.” I got the
Now, I’m at home experiencing a rapid and remarkable recovery. Already I’m back to a writing pace I haven’t had in a long, long time. The operation’s after effects include:
A substantial reduction in muscle mass. At first, my vision was blurred, now seems to be back to normal. Regular blood pressure reduced 25 to 30 points – My Aorta was like a needle valve, now the blood flow responds to
Bernoulli’s principle: increased flow decreased pressure. Recall and short memory improving.
A little secret, I got a bull valve! I knew it when I woke up two mornings ago.
Like I said, God is Great!