Don’t feel sorry for me or be overly alarmed. I am posting this in my regular blog and on my recently restored Facebook page to keep my friends informed.
At 70 now, I am facing one of the biggest challenges of my life–suddenly put onto me for drastic, fast action. I took a routine heart ultrasound test at my cardiologist’s office here in Coffs which I had passed with flying colours at least a dozen times in the past ten years. I also had my pacemaker/defibrillator checked for battery power and life as well as if there were any incidents in the past six months that indicated it was forced to restart me. Despite walking in highly confident as usual, this time I flunked both tests. I then went into hospital for an angiogram (a line run into my heart from a groin artery to release dye and then x-rays in real time to check for blocked arteries) and a TOE scan (where an ultrasound camera is snaked down the throat to take close pics of the heart and valves from inside).
As it turns out, I have a mitral valve that is failing–the little flipper between left ventricle and left atrium–resulting in a backwash blood flow which unless corrected, would eventually kill me soon beginning with fatigue, then breathlessness, then heart failure, stroke or heart attack. There is no keyhole surgery alternative or medicine that will fix it so cracking the chest open from bellybutton to clavicle is the only way to go. I am being lined up for immediate open heart surgery at St Vincent’s Private Hospital in Sydney where they will replace the valve (I chose pig over cow or mechanical valves because the latter clatters in your chest keeping you awake). They will also perform a triple bypass while they are in there. And they figure they might as well replace the battery in the pacemaker, run an extra line into the other ventricle and maybe toss in a stent. As the Allman Brothers said in naming their 1974 album…
Now that the gory stuff is out of the way, here’s the upside. The hospital is the best in the country for cardiac care having been blessed by media mogul Kerry Packer with the highest tech and incredible accommodation. My doctor is one of the top three cardiac surgeons in Australia and the team is top notch. One day in surgery with four hours on a heart/lung machine and if they succeed, I’m whisked to Intensive Care for a three day period and then off to a private room for up to a month as my split chest heals. The rooms are quite nice and though it’s not a resort, with enough drugs, you’d believe you are in one.
I’ll be having a dear friend who’s taken care of the bird and the house a lot over the years looking after Jackson so the house will be occupied. Once my Sydney stay is done, I’ll be transported back to Coffs Harbour for another few weeks stay in the Cardiac Rehab Unit of Baringa Private Hospital just a half kilometre down the hill from my house where Jackson can visit. I’ll probably have a private nurse check in on me (hopefully a redhead!) every day for a few weeks and in another month, I’ll be cleared to drive again. But I already have acquired two new vehicles to add to the Subaru Forester SUV that is housed in my garage next to the elevator below the dining room/balcony.
The first is a $5000 motorised scooter with a red finish that will go up and down with me on it in the elevator and then throughout the house because my legs will be a bit FUBAR from the veins taken out for the bypass surgery. I’ve already driven it around the “showroom” at WillAid where I chose from a huge variety of indoor and outdoor wheelchairs and motorised transport. It was as much fun test driving it and picking it out as getting a new car.
The second one is a bit of an upmarket manual walker for both in the house as I do laps rather than zooms and also, it folds up to kick in the back of the car to go shopping. There is a science to trying out walkers–height, load-bearing, width, brakes, stability and onboard carry capacity–and I’ve been looking at a few as they course through the supermarkets or streets. This one was only $360. So like putting in that elevator a couple of years back before I needed it, preplanning is a saviour with these devices as I now do need them for mobility.
So what happens if I don’t make it through this challenge alive? Well, that is a possibility and I’m totally prepared for that eventuality. Though at first scared of the thought and then dubious I would be able to get through because of pain, discomfort and month long immobility, input from a couple of friends who’ve been through the procedure inspired me. And hey, the ‘zipper club’ has some pretty cool members, first of which is dear Jan Smith who shared her love, grace and encouragement from her personal Mitral Mission. Then there’s Jimmy Barnes and let’s face it, if he lived through it, I’ve got half a chance. My lawyer and dear friend Peter Thompson revealed that Andrew Denton had the same op and he didn’t seem to be diminished in any way. There are about 10,000 mitral valve replacement or repair surgeries a year in Australia and I’ve just entered the Cardiac Casino!
Well, I’ve put all my chips on the table and am shoving them forward so I’m all in. I, or my executor Darren will update this page and the story. Hopefully catch you mid March