It has been a year

Donuts Boi! This is my favorite “heart surgery era” photo of me. My wife took it about two-and-a-half weeks after the surgery when she drove me to Hurts Donuts to celebrate the fact that I was still alive.

For those who do not know, a year ago today I underwent the Ross Procedure to fix a congenital heart defect an emergency room doctor discovered in me in May of 2020. This, naturally, was after I had suffered some serious health issues for the first five months of that year. And.. I suppose… after I had spent nearly 44 years with the defect slowly and meticulously killing me.

Yes. It was indeed a year.

Anyway, during the Ross Procedure, the surgeons cracked my sternum right down the middle and opened it. Can you hear the sound effects? I can. I think I always will. Once my chest was open the surgeons zeroed in on my heart and removed a healthy valve.

WHA-WHA-WHAT?!?!?

Keep reading. It all makes sense in the end… I think….

They replaced my healthy valve with what they call a healthy “cadaver valve.”

You know what that is, right?

I think you can figure it out…

Before they started poking around on my heart valves though, they put me on a bypass machine which does the work of the heart and lungs so the heart can chill and the lungs can deflate while this is all happening. Let me tell you, much like the COVID-19 vaccine, the bypass machine is a marvel of mankind’s medical ingenuity.

Unlike the vaccine, it is terrifying.

Paging Doctor Frankenstein: Feast your eyes upon the Cardio Pulmonary Bypass Circuit ready to use. Photo by: Thiruvenkadam from wikipedia.org

We’re not done yet though.

We’re only at the halfway mark, my dudes.

Next, they removed my bicuspid aortic valve (the bad valve, or “broken” if you will — the reason all of this is happening — follow the links, folks) from the other side of my heart, replaced it with the good valve they had taken off earlier (Do you remember that?), and discarded the bicuspid monstrosity that had been slowly killing me since the day I was born. I know. Who does that?

Finally, to the best of my knowledge, they took me off the bypass machine, got my heart pumping again, re-inflated my lungs, sewed me back up, and wheeled me to the ICU. I’m not sure if that is the correct order….

I woke up the next morning like whoa.

Good times were had by all.

And here I am, a year later, not fully recovered.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say anyone in my age bracket with my particular body type (average, if you must know — but at least I have beautiful hair), who says they are completely recovered from a surgery like this in only a year is lying to you… and themselves. Sure, my heart is beating fine these days, but when a 44 year old man’s chest is cracked open, said man needs a fair few minutes to recover. It’s hard to admit.

We have this fear of being viewed as weak where I am from (the Midwest US) that at times can feel all-encompassing, especially after you’ve gone through something like open heart surgery. In the eyes and perfectly pumping hearts of many — even if they do not realize it — simply having to go through this is a sign of weakness. Sure, they may say otherwise, they may tell you how strong and brave you are, but deep down they see something weak in you, something wrong.

And you know what? Hard truth? Real talk?

To a certain degree, they’re right. The only reason you have open heart surgery is because some part of your heart is broken. Some part of your heart is weak. Some part of your heart is wrong. The great irony, of course, is that heart disease and congenital heart defects kill or seriously incapacitate lots of strong people every year. You ever hear of this guy?

Fortunately, like my boy Bob, today, though my bones are still on the mend, my heart pumps away with a vim and vigor it never possessed. Sure, at times this manifests itself as restlessness. But I’m getting used to it. And honestly, there is something I love about sitting alone on my front step or my back porch in the wee hours of the morning, just listening to the world when everyone else is asleep.

Today, on what some might call my “valviversary” (I wouldn’t call it that — I don’t like that word), I think I might spend a fair chunk of my day doing just that.

I know everyone else won’t be asleep the whole time but it should be nice anyway.

Valviversary! Dislike the word, love the celebration.

AE Stueve teaches and writes in Omaha, NE. Check out all of his available work at aestueve.com

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AE Stueve

AE Stueve

AE Stueve teaches and writes in Omaha, NE. Check out all of his available work at aestueve.com

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