kansas heart office plaza, wichita, kansas

Heart Surgery

In Blog by Eric Benjamin54 Comments

kansas heart office plaza, wichita, kansas

Jen and I headed down to Wichita to get a second opinion from a doctor that has been opening and fixing hearts for some 30 years. He is also able to use the DaVinci method which is much like laproscopic surgery but it uses very precise robotic arms and the surgeon doesn’t have to open up the chest by cutting through the sternum. Instead they go in through the side, between the ribs. This method is more time-consuming but the healing process is faster.

I have been feeling pretty good, but I do have some bothersome symptoms like fatigue, shortness of breath, a tiny bit of lightheadedness and a developing cough that can accompany a regurgitating mitral valve. For the record though, I don’t feel sick, just not that great. But I was hoping I was bad enough to need surgery because I don’t like feeling overly tired and lazy and this wasn’t going to get better. Waiting for things to get worse seems terrible and could end up being a motivation zapper. And what if one of the heart strings holding my valve in place snaps while I am out in the California mountains or way out in the middle of the Flint Hills?

There is no way I am going to become inactive and just wait for things to go south. In fact if I don’t need surgery, I will just push myself even harder on my bike to make this happen. That’s just me. I am an all or nothing guy, and nothing doesn’t look so good. I want to tackle this problem head on and get it taken care of ASAP. For crying out loud, I have some things in my life I want to do. Let’s get this behind us!

To be honest, going on a 400 mile race through the mountains and desert of California is making me a little nervous, but if you think I am going to wimp out, you have another thing coming. The truth is I get really fatigued on my rides. Last week I did make it 80 miles, but after 50 I was beat and a little nauseous. If the Doctor says things don’t look that bad, then I will feel like I am being a wimp, letting my mind get the best of me, so I will go ahead and continue training and head to the California desert in April.

Just like Marty McFly when someone calls him chicken, I can’t back down once I say I am going to do something. That’s how I am wired. But knowing I don’t feel 100% I was hoping the doctor would say I needed to get surgery STAT! That means right away to those of you that didn’t used to watch ER.

In the waiting room

Once again, I was the youngest guy there. It’s comical and it’s not. The wait was short as a very attractive nurse led us back into the room. I hate to look like a complete chauvinistic pig, but all of the nurses I saw were smoking. Even Jen commented on this fact, so I know it wasn’t just me. Hot may not mean competent, but who doesn’t want attractive nurses taking care of them? Who? No one that’s who. I was liking the situation more and more.

The nurse took my history and got my symptoms and as usual was like, “Why is a guy like you here?” Yeah, and it is not in the form of a pick-up line. It’s more like I got caught at a Barry Manilow concert or something.

I gave her the symptoms I was having and told her that I rode my bike last week and I was very fatigued after 50 but made it 80 miles.

“Did you stop because you couldn’t go anymore?” she asked.
“No I was done with my ride at that point, so I stopped,” Jeez, she asked as if I wimped out at 80 or something.

I thought about that statement and knew I wouldn’t need surgery if I was able to ride 80 miles. Not having surgery would leave me in a sort of limbo that I didn’t want to be in.

After she described the pain and details of the surgery, if I would need it, she went out to get the doctor. He was looking over my TEE, other echocardiogram and the stress test I brought with us.

He came in the room introduced himself and shook my hand. I liked him immediately. He was very confident and seemed like a regular guy except for the fact that he had the power and knowledge to open someone’s heart. Then he point-blank and matter of factly stated,

“You have a ruptured at least one of the chordae tendineae holding your mitral valve in your heart.”

“Wait, what? The other doctors said there is a chance of that happening in the future.” I can’t remember if it was Jen or I that blurted that out first.

He stated in the nicest way possible that it was “pretty darn obvious that there was a rupture” from looking at the TEE and that “one has to look at a lot of these to be able to recognize a rupture,” trying to be polite about the results of the other doctors. I did like this guy’s confidence and experience. He seemed cocky, in the kind of way you want someone to be that is going to operate on your heart. I certainly don’t want someone looking like they are nervously playing the Operation game working on me.

Then he chuckled and asked, “So you rode 80 miles last week huh?” “I’m surprised you can ride ten.”

Yeah, I’m kind of a big deal. Oh wait, my mind went from sarcastic and joking to holy sh*t, what if something really bad would have happened out in the Flint Hills, to wow if I can ride 80 miles with a busted up heart valve, then I am going to be amazing once this thing is fixed! I may be able to keep up with male riders instead of trying to beat the girls, well mainly just Kristi Mohn, but maybe I can hang with the big boys. No, quit dreaming, I am no athlete, never have been better than average at any sport, but maybe I will be able to ride without cramps and fatigue. And frankly maybe I will be able to live a long, productive life.

My mind returned to reality. A reality where riding a bike really fast is not the most important thing in life. A reality where I am a husband and dad and cubicle worker. I just need my heart to beat normally. I need to get well. After he told me about the broken heart string and what was going on in there I said, “OK, so now what do we do?”

“Well at some point you will need surgery to fix it. It is only going to get worse from here,” he said.

I think my response was atypical. At least they seemed a little surprised by it. Maybe most people slump into their chair and want to postpone heart surgery for as long as possible. Maybe the prospect of having their heart opened up is a little scary. Maybe they don’t look death in the eye everyday. OK, I don’t either but I said,

“When’s the soonest we can do it?”

We found out that the doctor has a skiing trip next week and we would need to see when the robot would be free.

Eleven days. I could get in on the 26th after the doctor’s vacation. I liked the sound of that. He should be nice and relaxed. I looked at Jen as she opened her calendar to check things out. What could be more important in her calendar than heart surgery? All I had was work and you know how I feel about missing out on four to six weeks of that – pretty good. I was thinking about getting this site finally finished and working on AM stuff while I healed. Everything was working out.

wife making heart surgery calls

Jen making calls

We made the appointment for March 26th. I would be admitted on the day before so I could get a good night’s sleep at the hospital and be wheeled in for at least eight hours of surgery on Monday morning. I had my doubts about the good night’s sleep the night before at a hospital, but whatever I needed to do, I wanted do it.

So there it is. I will be in the hands of a robot for at least eight hours on the 26th of March. I will get my mitral valve fixed and my heart should be as good as new.

The Doc then sadly told me that the California trip would not be possible. I figured so. But he went on to ask when the Dirty Kanza was.

“It’s in June,” I replied.
“The middle of June?” he asked.
“No, it’s on June 2,” I said.
“Well that maaAAaay be possible,” he said with a tone that meant it may be possible if I heal up like Wolverine or a Honey Badger or something along those lines.

That’s all I needed to hear. A new goal has been set. I will keep you posted.

Feed Your Monkey!
Eric