The complete title of this post should be “The Day They Scarred My Heart To Save My Life,” but it’s a mouthful. 😉
On Tuesday, I shared the true story of how my heart skipped 16 beats. Believe it or not, flatlining while conscious wasn’t the end of the road.
I thought I owed it to you guys to share the story of my heart surgery as well, if only to reassure you that I’m fine. Though the surgery itself was quite the ordeal, I’m fully aware of how privileged I am to have been born in a country where doctors can fix my heart condition in one day for free.
As I said before, I had Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, which basically means I had two electrical currents in my heart instead of one. The cure? Cut one of the currents. Duh!
By applying a controlled burn on the current that shouldn’t be there, the surgery creates scar tissue that is thicker than the usual tissue, hence breaking the current’s circuit. It’s called radiofrequency catheter ablation and is probably as simple as a heart surgery can get.
Now, onto the good stuff.
I got in the hospital early morning November 20th 2006 with my mother by my side and no food in my stomach. I shimmied into a hospital gown, gave blood samples and received an IV in return. I hate those things.
At about 8am, I was rolled into the operation room and strapped to a table. Apparently, some patients move around a lot while they’re drugged.
The thing is, for my surgery, they couldn’t really put me under. More like halfway there. If I was completely anesthetized, they couldn’t start a tachycardia crisis to pinpoint the problem and solve it. So I was sedated enough for most people to sleep.
See where I’m going with this?
For the catheter ablation, they needed to introduce two catheters (essentially tiny flexible plastic tubes) in the femoral vein (at the groin) and one in the carotid (which is in the neck, but I guess you knew that.) So in order to have easy asepticized access, they brushed iodine on my groin and neck, put a tiny strip of paper on my intimate parts (which had to be freshly shaved for the occasion) and spread a big blue paper in my face that only left my neck exposed.
And I’m strapped to the table, remember? Not the most comfy situation. But let’s move along, shall we?
For quite some time, I did indeed sleep. Then, I snapped out of it, adrenaline rushing through my veins while the drugs numbed every shred of reason and self-control.
To get to the carotid, one must dodge the jugular, which is practically lying over the target. Apparently, my carotid and jugular are a silly duo. The doctor literally had to poke around –to canvass my neck!– to find the right spot which is why the drugs weren’t enough to keep me under.
Let’s just say that the situation (drugged, tied down, being poked at) is the worst “bad trip” possible. I could feel the catheters being pushed along in my veins toward my heart. It wasn’t painful, but people playing in your insides remains a peculiar sensation, to say the least.
As I mentioned before, the drugs knocked out any logical thinking and self-control. All my brain processed was “danger, must flee, can’t flee,” and aimless adrenaline flooded everything. Not a good mix. Not a good mix at all. I only half-remember the moment. There was some crying, some panicked shouts… I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy.
They gave me another shot, and I drifted back to sleep.
I woke up in pain. And I mean pain.
I’m the kind of girl who almost falls asleep on her tattoo artist’s chair, so trust me when I say my surgery wake up call hurt.
A doctor was pressing on my groin with both hands and nearly all his weight to stop me from bleeding out. Seeing my silent tears, he bowed over me and said in a paternal voice: “We’re feeling a bit emotional, aren’t we?”
I swear I would have slugged him. I think I tugged on my restraints. I managed to keep my mouth shut but… arrrgggghhhh!
Minutes later, I was rolled out of surgery. My mother expected a sleeping 20-year-old and instead, much to her dismay, she got a crying baby (I was too out of it to have any control over my tears.)
I spent four hours in and out of consciousness, and another four hours immobile to ensure my wounds wouldn’t re-open. I have really sensitive skin so even medical bandages itch; the 4 inches wide bandage going around my leg was hell.
The next day, I got home and cataloged my injuries.
I had a snowflake design made out of syringe pokes through the muscle of my neck, two holes through the muscle of my groin, and a bruise about 6 inches in diameter with a missing slice on my right thigh. It made a nice Pacman once it turned yellow.
The day after that, I was back to school with a painful limp and the mother of all stiff necks. Yep, I’m crazy like that. I just wanted to go on with my life and be done with the misery.
All in all, the surgery went faster than anticipated and cured me completely. Though the experience will go down in my memory as a hard one, I’m grateful I got off so easy.
In all honesty, the worst of it all wasn’t flatlining on my day in the ER or half-waking up during surgery; it was the wait between the diagnosis and the surgery. Three weeks during which I didn’t know if and when my heart would give up on me. Three weeks not trusting my own body, and not daring to go camping or anything that would place me too far from a hospital.
The nerves were a lot to handle. Though I was still fully functional (going to school and all,) the stress and fear crept up on me at night.
And because of that, cancer patients (and other long-term illnesses such as AIDS) have my utmost respect.
And my friends who smoke and tell me that “everyone has to die of something” get told time and again how they don’t want to die from cancer.
So today, I have a literal scar on my heart and though I used to love horror movies, my body won’t let me watch them anymore. My blood pressure drops and if I don’t stop the movie, I faint. I don’t know if my subconscious will ever let go of what happened during that operation and let me enjoy my movies again.
But hey, I’m alive! What more can I possibly ask for?