By William Weatherstone
In 1941, I had my first operation - for tonsillitis. I could not enter school at that time unless they were removed.
In 2017, (near the end of my life now at 81 years old), I had open heart surgery to hopefully extend my life-span.
As a child, it was a horrendous experience to go through.
When my wife entered the nursing home in Blind River, Ontario, I moved there from Elliot Lake to be near her.
During the couple years that I was living in Blind River, I had a small apartment over a commercial store in the downtown strip. I would at times drive the 40 miles back to Elliot Lake for food supplies as well as visit with friends. Returning home, I would have to carry bags full up 15 stairs and down a long hall to the apartment. It would take three loads to empty the car.
During the transfer, I found that after each trip upstairs, I would have to sit down for a few minutes to regain my breath.
After my wife died, I moved back to Elliot Lake.
It was getting worse, the breathing and tiredness. Just walking from the car to the building entrance, I would have to stop twice to catch my breath again. From car to building was about a couple hundred feet.
My next medical was in a few days and when I got there, I explained to her what was happening and right away she started tests and made an appointment with a cardiologist in Sault Ste. Marie for more testing. It started with a complete stress test and then an angiogram.
That appointment was strange. They started with a nurse coming in with a shaving kit to clear out the crotch area, for going through the groin with a camera to fish its way to the heart exploring the damage.
Once on the table, the surgeon checked my wrist vein for size and took that route up through the arm artery and into the heart.
I was wide awake through the whole process and was waiting for them to start. After a while I was wheeled back to my bed area wondering why they did nothing. To my surprise it was done completely. It was so smooth and totally painless and hard to believe.
If going up through the groin, you would have to wait for four to six hours with weighted bags on the groin incision to close & heal, whereas the wrist job is about 45 minutes to an hour waiting time.
So far, this procedure was easier than my first tonsillitis operation.
The results were sclerosis of the aorta heart valve. (The opening was closing.)
For my next appointment, he sent me to a heart surgeon in Sudbury for a final interview. During this meeting, he explained all the procedures required. On his desk were models of the replacement aorta valves, a pig valve, a cow valve and then a metal mechanical valve.
A couple of days later. he gave me a call and said that he found a new type mechanical valve that he was going to use. I took the information as I would now be an old guinea pig to test these new devices.
The date was set and I blew into Sudbury the day before checking in to the motel right beside the hospital. I showered with antibiotic soap and was on the gurney by 6:00AM, rolled into the O.R. and promptly put down.
I had mention to the surgeon during our interview that if I woke up and had hoses or anything down my throat, I would panic and throw a real sh*t fit and would not take any responsibility for my actions. He simply responded with, “Tell it to the anesthesiologist, okay?”
Just as I was going to be put down, a doctor of some sort looked at me looking as miserable as one can at six in the morning. I asked if he was the gas man. Yes. I told him about the waking up problem, then I was gone into the blackness of the afterlife – or so it seemed.
When it was over, I had two quick chokes to fight off and then all smoothed out. (I’m alive, I think.)
Nothing like my 1941 operation where my guts were throwing up all over the place and my first real pain experience like my throat being torn from my body, headache like never before and, finally, only being soothed with ice cream, the medicine of the gods.
This time, I was moved into ICU (without the ice cream) but still painless and wondering what would happen next?
Shortly (I think) afterword, my two buddies arrived after a 400 mile drive to see if I was still alive or not. I think they felt obligated somewhat because I was there for both of them when they had their bypass surgeries years ago.
After the visit, I was transferred to a semi-private room with one other patient. It was on the top floor and just under the helicopter roof pad.
We seemed to get along quite well, but in a few hours, he was being released, leaving me in privacy.
Not being geared for long stays in a bed, and with too much sleep, I became wide awake at 2:30AM. What does one do now? Fortunately, I had the bed beside the window, so became a star gazer.
All of a sudden, there was a great whirling sound. I looked up above and saw three great big bright floodlights coming down on me with this whirling, beating sound. I was mesmerized, just waiting any moment for Scotty to beam me up into the Enterprise or perhaps worse, could be the Klingons?
It wasn’t five or 10 minutes later that the paramedics brought their passenger from Timmins into the empty bed, letting me know that I was safe and not going to be beamed up anywhere. (Oh, darn.)
We got along fine especially since I knew his part of the country intimately.
His problem wasthat he'd had stents put in that failed and then had to be rushed back. For warranty, I assumed.
I was pushing to get out early, at least by Sunday, the fourth day. Unfortunately, my surgeon was off on Sunday but had planned for another heart surgeon to take out all the stitches and any attachments, such as the colostomy bag. Only a heart surgeon is allowed to do this.
During this process everything was going along fine while I still had the intravenous plunger in my left wrist. While everyone was shooting the crap, his assistant took out the intravenous attachment and was hanging onto my wrist thinking that he was holding the blood flow closed while it sealed itself.
While totally in conversation with the (gorgeous) nurses (to make an impression), I started to feel my wrist and up my arm getting extremely warm. I looked down and the artery was spewing blood out like a firehose, with no fire to go to.
There was blood all over the place. The assistant holding my wrist started to throw a fit and was totally caught off guard. The heart surgeon was Joe Cool. He came around the bed and promptly put a stop to the blood flow. All he said was, “Damn, need a clean shirt.”
Me, in the meantime had thoughts of having to stay over for a new blood supply. Not so. Joe Cool said I could still go home. Ha-ha, bravo, I’m on my way before they change their minds.
Comparing my first encounter with the hospitals, painfully removing my tonsils, with this new encounter, cracking my ribs open and throwing my heart out onto the workbench for a valve job - it was totally painless.
A great amount of progress has been made since 1941. Thank God.
THE END (Hopefully not)
* * *
[EDITORIAL NOTE: This feature, TGB Readers' Stories, appears every Tuesday. Anyone age 50 and older is welcome to submit a story. You can do that by clicking the “Contact” link at the top of every TGB page or at the Guidelines/Submissions page.
Please be sure to read and follow the guidelines before submitting a story. It will save me a lot of time.]