A site of satirical musings, commentary and/or rhetorical criticism of the world at large.

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Location: Southeastern, Pennsylvania, United States

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Trendiness of the Aortic Valve

It has been over five months since my life changing heart surgery, and overall I’m feeling much better. The formal part of my cardiac rehab therapy is coming to an end – or at least that part of the therapy covered by my insurance - and the therapists seem very happy with my progress. Now I find that maybe my surgery was setting a trend, as a few celebrities have also undergone similar operations.

I’m not talking about a fashion trend; for example, I doubt that Milan and Paris will unveil plunging necklines this year all the better to show off the zipper scars. Rather it seems that my operation is now a fad. Previous generations stuffed themselves with live goldfish or into telephone booths. My generation is undergoing aortic valve replacement.

A few weeks ago, former First Lady Barbara Bush got a new valve. More recently, comedian Robin Williams experienced a shortness of breath episode. As soon as I heard that report, I wondered if heart surgery wasn’t also in his future. Sure enough, a few days later it was announced Williams had to cancel his forthcoming tour in order to have aortic valve surgery. “Copy cats!” I sniffed.

Anne Marie and I followed the reports of Barbara Bush’s recuperation with some amusement. The first reports stated that she was conscious and making jokes just hours after the surgery. Our reaction, as we remembered my personal experience, was, “Yeah, right!” I realized that somebody somewhere was putting a spin on this story so that the general public would not be overly concerned about Mrs. Bush’s condition.

I wondered what kind of jokes she was cracking. I hope she’s outgrown those pithy pronouncements about hurricane victims having to hunker down in stadiums a la Marie Antoinette. I also didn’t expect any reports of her giving out dark family secrets - such as the 41st President of the United States isn’t the real father of the 43rd President of the United States - while she was under the effects of the anesthesia, but cracking jokes?* I have my doubts.

From my own personal experience, I can report that I was feeling comfortable, not too alert, and maybe groggily saying something witty in the hours immediately after the surgery. The next day — or roughly 18 to 30 hours post op — was a very different story. At this point, the initial pain medications had worn off and my body figured out that there was something very wrong. Every severed nerve ending, every bisected muscle, and every inch of sawed bone sent messages to my brain. I don’t know the exact wording of these messages, but they’re probably something along the lines of “WTF!!!!!”

At this same time period, the medical establishment, who are well aware of the addictive nature of their wonderful drugs, start rationing them so that you are weaned off them in short time. I understand this, and they understand this. They are very good at dealing with middle aged men who suddenly turn into whiny five-year old boys whose toys have been taken away while they serve a time out in the corner for reasons way beyond their comprehension.

I couldn’t get comfortable to save my life. Naturally, my incision hurt, but so did my back because I had been lying on it for nearly two days at this point. Also, when I tried to reposition myself to alleviate my back pain, I aggravated an old hip injury.

Anne Marie was at my bedside for the first hours after surgery, but being no fool, wisely stayed away the entire next day. She claimed she was exhausted, but now that I think about it, I was exhausted too. The difference was I didn’t have to make the 20 mile trek in suburban Philadelphia rush hour traffic to come see me.

So it was just me and the nurses left to fend for ourselves. At one point, I would ask for pain medication and they would tell me, “Sorry, Mr. Gunther. You can’t have another dose for four hours.” So I would drift off as best I could and after a nap of what seemed like days, I would wake up and ask again for drugs. And, just as dutifully, the nurses would tell me, “Sorry, Mr. Gunther, but you can’t have any more medication for...” (and here they would glance at their watches) “...three hours and 58 minutes.”

This went on for hours. I should take the opportunity to say that the nurses at Lankenau Hospital truly did a wonderful job caring for me, despite our disagreement about medications. No, I don’t remember cracking many jokes during my immediate recovery period. Robin Williams may devise a whole new improvisational routine from his experience, and I wish him and Mrs. Bush a speedy recovery.

*I should point out that I have no historical proof about questioning the paternity of the 43rd President. It’s just the type of thing that might arise while one is feeling the effects of anesthesia. Actually, I made the whole thing up just to tease some liberal bloggers.


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