Those were the words that my surgeon said when he left my room after speaking with me for fifteen minutes after a 12-hour ablation surgery at the OU Medical Center on May 29th, 2020.
Let’s back up 30 hours or so…
On May 29th I checked into the OU Medical Center patient waiting room at 5 a.m. for my third ablation surgery. At this stage I was ready to go. I sat in the waiting room for one hour before I was called for pre-op.
The first thing to do was to step on the scale so that my weight could be checked.
Not a great start…
The highest I had ever weighed. The two months I spent as a virtual teacher sitting in front of a computer did my overall health no favors. Despite the fact that I exercised most days during that time. The moving around the classroom and the general hustle and bustle of a day in the classroom was just one of the things I missed last spring…
I had done a lot of thinking on the drive down the turnpike.
In terms of how anxious I was feeling about this operation I was probably most nervous about this third surgery. There was a 1% chance that something could go wrong.
However, when I had consulted with my electrophysiologist in the months leading up to the operation he had advised that the benefits very much outweighed the risks. It made sense to me and frankly I was tired of having my heart out of rhythm every week or so.
I read a lot of Wayne Dyer. I find that when I read his books it brings me calm and to a peaceful place. I had thought about what happens on the other side. Dyer’s conclusion is that what awaits us all is a place of pure love. I was at peace with things much more after reading some of his thoughts. I was ready for this journey.
After the initial weigh in, I was brought to a waiting room and spent a few minutes removing my clothes. I signed a few pieces of paper and sat there watching the clock run.
I was then wheeled to the surgery area. Where I met with the anesthesiologist, got shaved etc. They all explained what they were going to do during the operation and did I have any questions?
“No, I trust what you folks are going to do, let’s do this,” was all I said.
The mood was light considering what was about to happen.
I remember making a lot of jokes (there’s always time for a dad joke!) That has been my experience for all three of my operations. I think the medical staff try to keep it light and help with some of the anxiety that patients feel. I am sure they dial it in once the anesthesia kicks in.
The next thing I know, the anesthesiologist is putting a mask on me and I’m being fed a drug intravenously that started the process of anesthesia. That’s the last thing I remember before my operation.
The next thing I know, I wake up and it’s 12 hours later. Somebody put my phone by my head, I vaguely remember someone telling me that I should probably call my wife.
12 hours of anesthesia is no joke and I think I went back to sleep for another 2 or 3 hours.
The next thing I know, I am in a hospital room looking up at the ceiling. For some reason, it was hard for me to understand where I was. I thought that perhaps I was on a spaceship because the ceiling looked metallic (it wasn’t) and I was still clearly out of it. I fumbled my phone to call my wife Cathy and talk to her and let her know how I was doing.
Due to COVID-19, Cathy was not allowed into the hospital. She spent the day in the hotel room, getting updates from the hospital as to how my surgery was going. For me, I was out the whole experience, but if the roles had been reversed, I could empathize with how she must have been feeling. My other two operations had lasted around six hours or so. So for this one to be 12 hours long must have been very difficult for her and the rest of my supportive family.
I spent the night mostly awake. I’ve never slept well in the hospital following either of my other operations. I meditated my way through most of the night, looking forward to my discharge the next day.
Around about 8:30am the following morning, I was visited by my surgeon. I was grateful to him on many levels (as you can imagine). I was grateful that he took the time to speak with me for fifteen minutes to discuss how the surgery had gone.
The first thing he said was I had a strange heart, as I have previously mentioned.
He took the time to draw pictures of my heart and showed all the places where he had scarred the tissue of the heart to stop the electrical circuitry of the heart from initiating atrial fibrillation episodes. He had burned my heart tissue in 109 places.
The aspect of my heart anatomy that was strange was the fact that I have three pulmonary veins on the right side of the heart. In a normal heart there should be four veins, two on each side.
The most challenging part of my operation was there was a 2 mm area where he needed to scar the tissue to prevent electrical impulses from going in a direction that would cause an atrial fibrillation episode.
He explained to me that despite the fact that my resting heart rate had gone into the thirties it proved very challenging to hit that point correctly and not scar the pulmonary vein. He said that if he had hit that third pulmonary vein it would have been a real mess…
Finally, he explained that there was one source of atrial fibrillation that he couldn’t isolate. He was observing a fibrillation that would last for 20-30 seconds, and then it would dissipate on it’s own. Because of the short length of this, he was not able to locate the source of the issue.
We then had a conversation about me being a teacher and COVID-19. Basically, he felt that being a teacher was a risk at this time. In his country of origin, it was understood that you wore the mask because you personally might have the virus. They had managed to keep the rate of infection to a minimum. I have since spoken with my electrophysiologist and he is comfortable that I am not at a greater risk because of this operation. Frankly, I think I am better off moving around and being active than being set in front of a screen all day. I have started to lose weight once more now that I am more active.
At the end of the conversation, he stood up. I looked up at him and said “Thank you.” (which really didn’t do it justice)
He looked down at me and he said “don’t thank me, thank God.”
At the end of our conversation he stepped six-feet away from me and pulled down his mask.
“I just wanted you to see my full face,” he said. He then let out a breath, perhaps to let out some of the stress that the operation had caused him. I felt the weight of the moment.
As he turned to head for the door he said “You have a strange heart…it is a good heart, but it is strange.”
I spent the rest of the morning getting ready to be discharged. I had an ultrasound in my heart and despite a little fluid around my heart, it was nothing out of the ordinary as a result of my lengthy surgery.
I am grateful to all of the staff that helped support me during my time spent at the OU Medical Center. I felt truly cared for.
Around 11:00am that morning, just before I was discharged, I received an email from Heather Alschuler of the George Pocock Rowing foundation that our Erg Ed grant for Tulsa Public Schools was successful.
It was all a bit much to take in at the time.
Erg Ed is another journey that will be another story at another time….