Thoughts at T-16 days

It's 16 days until my aortic valve replacement surgery. It's been fairly quiet on the health front, but now the February 6 date shows up in the "two-week" view on Google Calendar which drives home the reality of what's going to happen.

Yesterday I went into Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids to get a CT scan done, so my surgeon can determine just how invasive the surgery needs to be. The choices basically are "incredibly invasive" (the incision in my chest will be about 3-4 inches long) or "extremely invasive" (6-10 inches long). I don't pretend to know heart surgeons make this decision, but apparently it involves injecting dye into my bloodstream and then running me through a CAT scan machine.

I'm obviously hoping for the "incredibly invasive" option because this will cut down on my recovery time by at least a week or two. But whatever happens, happens. It's not something in my control so I am studiously avoiding worrying about it.

A note on my heart surgeon: His name is Stephane Leung, and Cathy and I met him and had a 30-minute consult back on January 7. It turns out Dr. Leung was a math minor in university and so we had a nice discussion about discrete mathematics in between talking about the inner workings of my vital organs.

On the work front, I am continuing with what I am calling "the January sprint", to get basically a semester's worth of work done in four weeks. I wrote about this here on my main website. People who know me find this completely unsurprising. (I was describing my January spring to a former student last week, and he replied, "Professor Talbert, you are always sprinting.") The FMLA paperwork is currently making the rounds; it has to be signed by my department chair, my dean, a "Work-Life Consultant" in HR, and finally by the provost. It reminds me all too much of when, after I'd defended my dissertation, I had to get five physical signatures on a cover page, and it took me six weeks thanks to a continuous stream of errors and vacations. Let's not do that again this time, OK?

At home, we're starting to think concretely about what it's going to be like during the recovery period, when my energy is going to be very limited and my physical movements restricted. The hospital gave me a binder full of information about physical activity during recovery, which includes tidbits like this:

To get out of bed:

  1. Lie on your back and slowly scoot to the edge of the bed.
  2. Bend your knees slightly and roll slowly onto your side.
  3. Carefully push your body up, using the elbow beneath you and the arm on the other side of your body. At the same time, gently swig both legs to the floor.
  4. Sit for a moment. This will help you from getting dizzy.
  5. Put your hands on your thighs. Bend forward from the hips, and push your body up with your legs.

To get into bed, do the reverse.

I tried this and promptly fell out of bed after step #2. I think the takeaway here is "Stay in bed" which is pretty solid advice no matter who you are.

Seriously though --- a lot of how I go through daily life will be seriously altered for the first 3-4 weeks after surgery, and there will be a lot of trial and error on figuring out what I can do and how to do it. My main plan is to camp out in my room most of the day and listen to music and audiobooks.

And how am I feeling? Physically, most of the time I feel very good. As a vanguard action for post-recovery life I have cut way back on caffeine and sodium, and these two things alone have improved how I feel generally speaking. But there are still moments where I just know that something's not right inside. Walking up an incline, my heart starts hammering away and I get a little woozy. Sometimes I'll just be sitting around and my heart will start palpitating crazily and then settle down, for no apparent reason.

So mentally, because of moments like that, and because I know that if I don't get this surgery done then these moments will only get more frequent and severe, I'm also feeling good --- glad that I only have 16 more days to wait.

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