Monday, August 4, 2008

Heart Surgery

"Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me." Psalm 51:10

That has become my mantra ever since I found out that I was facing aortic heart valve replacement surgery. I came across it quite by divine intervention in the middle of the night. I have noticed that when you know you are going to have this kind of "moment" it is harder to go back to sleep in the wee hours. My mind has a tendancy to create a "thinking problem" and so I got up to read for awhile.

I enjoy the UPPER ROOM and as I read the daily lesson, I turned to my bible to read the selected verses. Then I discovered Psalm 51, verse 10. That's what I need God and my doctors to do, and it will be in the form of a mechanical valve, the On-X. I saw one and got to hold it. It's awfully pretty. By renewing the right spirit in me, I hope to face the future with a greater appreciation for all the blessings God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit have sent my way. Perhaps by documenting my experience I can provide information and reassurance to others facing the same situation.

Ever since I was pregnant with my first baby, I have been told I have a heart murmur. I don't think I have any symptoms, but have been seeing a cardiologist on a regular basis. Three months ago he didn't think surgery was imminent. Now he says the function has lessened to the extent that it is time to replace the valve. I had a heart catherization to make sure all other functions of the heart are normal, and they are. Both my dad and my younger brother had aortic heart valve replacement surgery in the mid-80's. My dad got a pig valve and my brother the Bjork-Shiley valve that has since been-recalled, a process which caused the company to go broke. Fortunately, my brother has not had any problems with his valve.

A friend and neighbor, where we normally would be at this time of year when it is 108 degrees in Tucson, had the same surgery. The only difference is that she received a pig valve, or "tissue" as the professionals prefer to call it. She gave me great encourgement as she passed on the lessons she learned. Follow the rules, get up and walk, have a good attitude, and press a pillow to your chest if you have to cough or sneeze. I can do all that!

Another friend at my church said he had the same surgery eight years ago. They told him he would have two good days and then a bad day, then two good days followed by another bad day. He said, "It's all about your attitude. I didn't like the sound of the bad day routine and I can honestly tell you I never had one."

As the big day approached, our family rallied and gathered to lend support. Lynne and Barry and their two doggies drove all the way from Lexington, Kentucky. Marja made plans to move in and provide round-the-clock care. Lisa, with two little boys to worry about, was the back-up go-to guy. On Monday, the pre-op day, Marja and Lynne insisted on accompanying me to all the appointments and interviews. They made an ordeal turn into fun and time passed quickly. They, ever since they were about 4 and 5 years old, have seen the humor in just about any situation, and they didn't let me down on pre-op day.

Since daughter Lynne is president of the International Spa Association, we were introduced to the world of "healing touch practitioners." You can google it and get a wonderful, wealth of information. One of Lynne's board members knew of a healing touch practitioner here in Tucson and I was fortunate to get an appointment with her on very short notice. You stretch out on a massage table, although there is a miminal amount of touching. Soft "spa music" fills the darkened room. It is a peaceful and soothing atmosphere. No words are said in the beginning. When she did put her hands on me, the result was sometimes a feeling of warmth, but more often just the gentle squeeze of her touch. Softly, she begins to offer guidance:

Think of a safe and peaceful place and go there in your mind. I went to a chair on the deck of our home in Wyoming, right under the view of the Grand Tetons.

Picture yourself surrounded by people who love you.

Imagine a white light coming from the heart of each person and shining on you. Breathe in that white light with each breath you take. It is the healing light of love and gratitude. (I came to think of it as the healing light of God's love.) Visualize the light coming into your heart as you inhale and exiting through the solar plexus when you exhale.

Let the faces fade and remain in this peaceful place surrounded by the white light. If/when your mind wanders, bring it back to the white light, your breath, and the peaceful place you have chosen.

You can "go to" this special place whenever you feel the need, and as often as you want to go. During the post op day, as the nurse got ready to draw blood, Lynne reminded me to go to my "place." It was good and wonderful advice.

The surgery was on tuesday, scheduled in the second time slot. Before I could begin complaining about not being first, I was told that the doc was operating on a six year old in the morning. I didn't utter my initial concern. The procedure took four and a half hours. I had wonderful care and can't say enough about my gifted (and famous) surgeons and doctors.

The only down time was during the dreaded "breather tube hours," when you can't talk. That's when the terrorist, in deep cover nurse-mode and sent by Saddam, came to kill me. Since I couldn't talk, nobody could listen to my concerns nor were they too interested in what I was trying to scribble on a pad of paper. My ever keen sense of survival kept me alert and somehow I was able to thwart the terrorist-nurse's attempt to sabotage my recovery.

The other worst time was when I had to prove that I could breathe on my own, or they wouldn't remove the breathing tube. Except that I couldn't stay awake and when I fell asleep the breathing tube took over. Nobody could make me stay awake. That is, not until they put Ron in charge. He was brutal, tenacious, loving, caring and accepted no excuses. I don't know how he did it, but he finally succeeded and the breathing tube was history. Oh happy day!

My healing touch practioner came in my hospital room twice. Quietly, and bringing a sense of peace, she walked around the bed, touched me gently, and left in a few minutes. I had been told that I would be in the hospital for six days. I came home in four. Healing energy, the best of care, and some of my resolve all must have played important roles.

Talk about loving, hovering home care. My team here is amazing. Great nourishing food, soothing glasses full of ice and juice, plump pillows, and hands extended to help at every turn. And not everyone is lucky enough to have a team of four nurse doggies on hand to lend warmth and comfort. They have each picked their spot to provide healing, two on my footstool and one by each side. I can't describe the feeling of healing warmth that was present when the five of us would take our assigned places and enjoy a snooze. How do doggies know when they are needed for special assignments? God works in wonderous ways, and doggies are certainly an important part of His army of angels.

Each day brings a feeling of getting stronger. Pain isn't so much a true feeling of pain, as it is one of pressure. I have never had a bad day, but I'm not doing jumping jacks or running sprints yet either. I started out doing laps around the back yard, increasing a lap each day. Then Ron and I would do an early morning walk on the High Mesa, going a little further each time. (You gotta get out early, we have been having hot, 108 degree days. UGH) In times of quiet, I can hear the On-X valve thumping along. A comforting sound, somehow.

TIP: The thought of wearing a bra was not a happy one. Then I had an "ah-ha!" and put a "sleep bra" over a T.shirt, and behold, it was pretty comfortable. Of course I covered all that up with another shirt before I ventured out in public. . . . and I've given away all my low cut shirts and strapless ball gowns. I don't want to look at the scar and don't think I should subject others to having to look at it either.

At one day shy of four weeks since surgery, I received a a final OK from my docs. We will soon be able to escape the desert heat and spend a few weeks in much cooler Jackson Hole. I need to sit on my deck, look at the Grand Tetons, and breathe a huge sigh of thanks for the role that special place played in making my "moment" much easier. And of course, thanks be to God.

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