One thing I have been unable to evade throughout my Adventures in Tachycardia is my heartbeat.
That sounds odd, but it’s a mixed blessing.
You can hear and feel it, so you know you’re still alive (which is a good thing, obviously), but it’s also a constant reminder that there, right next to the thing making that “thump-thump, thump-thump!” sound is something that shouldn’t be there – And not even the highly trained medical professionals looking after you appear to have the first clue what that thing is.
Before they let me go home for Easter I was told the hospital would be in touch on “Easter Tuesday” to let me know my travel, admission and surgery details, as I was scheduled to come back down to Wellington on Wednesday for surgery on Thursday.
When I hadn’t heard from anyone by 2pm on Tuesday I called the hospital and was told I had to make my own way down to Wellington on Wednesday – the next day – when I can’t drive and all the busses were booked out.
A frantic hour and a few phone calls secured an Air New Zealand flight down to Wellington the next morning and I made it to the hospital with time to spare, but the $333 one-way price-tag not only gored our bank account, but it galled me personally and reinforced my previously held opinion that we here in Hawke’s Bay are getting absolutely screwed over on airfares.
On readmission I am sent down for a chest X-ray and yet another blood test.
I’ve lost count of the number of blood tests, lines and needles that have been poked into me in the time I’ve been in hospital, but I’m pretty sure there’s a voodoo doll out there somewhere in a great deal of pain screaming “WHAT THE HELL DID I DO?!”
The surgeon who will be performing my biopsy (they have decided to go between my fifth and sixth ribs and take needle biopsies – kind of a medical core sample) visits and runs through how things will go.
He’s part reassuring – It all sounds very clinical and reasonably straight forward..
Part concerning – “As we don’t actually know what this thing is or how solid it is, we may not be able to take a biopsy..”
And part straight out scary – “If things go wrong, we will have the bypass machine there ready to hook you up to…”
He is followed by the anaesthetic team who let me know just what sorts of drugs I will be given for the operation and how many lines and tubes I will be hooked up to for the procedure.
As an aside they brightly inform me just how easy it is to deflate a human lung to provide easier access to the heart – charming!
The day wears on and I eventually make my way to bed, staring down the barrel of the impending unknown early the next morning, with the ever-present “Thump-thump, thump-thump!” quietly chugging away and its silent buddy right next to it.
My room is at the southern end of the hospital, right above the hospital’s Emergency Department and a short distance from Wellington Free Ambulance’s headquarters, so every once and a while the “thump-thump, thump-thump!” is interrupted by ambulance sirens as they leave or arrive. It reminds me of the line from Don Henley’s glorious “New York Minute”:
“Lying here in the darkness
I hear the sirens wail.
Somebody’s going to emergency,
Somebody’s going to jail.”
There is someone out there worse off than I am.
I wake early the next morning, go through pre-op cleaning rituals and before most of my fellow patients are even awake, I’m being wheeled down to theatre.
I’m beginning to get scared.
They wheel me into the theatre itself and I shuffle over onto the operating table where the poking and prodding of intravenous lines begins – some of these lines are quite big and local anaesthetic is used to numb the areas, but a lot of pushing and shoving is still evident.
I’m given a few drugs to take the edge off things and they get me to sit up so an epidural line can be inserted into my spine. There isn’t as much pain or discomfort as they tell me to expect, but the twinges as the line hits a nerve or two certainly makes for an interesting experience.
While I am having the epidural inserted a very nice, large, bearded English anaesthesiologist has his arm around my shoulder talking me through it.
It is very comforting and it feels like he is giving me a hug, but he is no doubt just making sure I don’t fall face-first off the operating table and onto the floor.
He tells me guys much bigger and tougher than I am have fainted during this stage.
I don’t faint.
They lay me down and start to ramp up preparations.
I’m getting a bit more scared.
I’m scared that I might not survive this.
I’m scared that this growth thing might pop, or start leaking and leave a large hole in my heart, requiring massive surgery.
Strangely I’m not scared about potentially leaving my wife and daughter behind, because I know they are both wonderful, smart and capable.
My work provides a level of life insurance, so I know they will be financially looked after for a while at least.
But I am scared that I will miss out watching my daughter grow up. It’s cheesy as hell, but when it comes to that: “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”.
I’ve been told that no matter how big or tough you are everyone cries when they are going in for heart surgery.
And it’s true – I shed a tear.
The chief anaesthesiologist says “Right, Andrew, we’re going to start sending you off to sleep now, just relax and breathe.”
I relax, breathe, blink and..