Open Heart Surgery

My 100 hour Mitral Valve Repair


As with my other "From a Patient's Perspective" web pages ( Cardioversion, TEE, Angiogram) my purpose here is to give you some idea of what you might expect, should you have to go through the same procedure I did. If you read my page on Cardioversion you know I'm pretty much a chicken when it comes to invasive medical procedures, and you can't get more invasive than Open Heart Surgery! You might ask yourself: "How did a guy that was petrified at the thought of having Cardioversion done and postponed it for over a year bring himself to having the surgery?!". Well I can tell you it wasn't easy. Three months passed between the diagnosis and actual surgery and every single day I asked myself: "How do other people do this? Knowing what is in store for them, how in the world do they go through with it?".

For me at least, the apprehension was based on not knowing what to expect: How much pain is involve and am I going to be able to handle it? What are the doctors and nurses going to do for me and what am I expected to do for myself? What are my options if any? Questions like these kept racing through my mind. I searched the web for information on Mitral Valve Repair and Replacement. There were hundreds of sites, mostly sponsored by various hospitals that do this type of surgery. You could see actual pictures of hearts at various stages of repair, animation of the surgical procedure, and boilerplate numbers on typical hospital stays, recovery times, etc. All fine and good, but none addressed my concerns: "What am I going to experience, what am I going to feel?". Hopefully I can shed a little light on this by sharing my own experiences with you here.

I'm sure there are some of you reading this that have already made up your minds that this isn't for you, and I certainly can understand. As an incentive to continue reading this page, let me assure you it is not as bad as you might imagine, and the whole process can be over and done with in just a few days. Here was my schedule of events...

Total time between entering the hospital and leaving... 100 hours (a little over 4 days)
Duration of the actual surgery... ~ 2 hours
First time I was able to sit on the edge of the bed... ~ 8 hours after surgery
First time I was able to get out of bed and sit in a chair for an hour... 2nd day
Drain tubes and Foley Catheter removed (yeah!). First time I was able to get out of bed and walk around unassisted... 3rd day
Wires for temporary pacemaker removed (pacemaker never used). Walked several hours in 1/2 to 1 hour segments. Felt great! 4th day
Dismissed from the hospital... Morning of the 5th day

If you still aren't convinced... The first day I was able to leave my room and walk the halls of the hospital, an elderly woman passed me like I was standing still (the tortoise and hare scenario). I looked at her and noticed she too had a fresh Sternotomy scar. I asked the nurse about her and was told she was 96 years old and had the same operation I did. If a 60 year old chicken going through this doesn't convince you that you can as well, think of this 96 year old woman sprinting down the hall!

I have divided my experiences with Open Heart Surgery / Mitral Valve Repair into three parts as follows:
  1. Preparation: The events that transpired between the time it was determined that Mitral Valve surgery was inevitable, and the day before the actual surgery.
  2. Screening, Surgery and Hospital Stay: This covers my initial consultation with the surgeon, the actual surgery (what I remember of it), and the recovery time in the hospital.
  3. Recovery: A work in progress, this page will (still not written) cover my recovery from the time I left the hospital to ??? To give you a little advanced preview, I think this was (and is) the most difficult of all three events, both the living of it and trying to get it documented for this web site.

Unfortunately I am no where near completing this web page. It has proven to be the most difficult of all those attempted. Perhaps it is the complexity of the procedure, or perhaps it is the fact that the recovery process is ongoing and it is pretty difficult to write about events that are still in flux. What ever the reason, there is some doubt if I will ever finish it. For that reason, I've decided to give you the summary here in the beginning, rather than wait for an end that may never come...

Mitral Valve Surgery - a quick overview...

In all of my web pages to date, I've tried to tell it as it is; i.e. to give the reader an honest representation of what is involved, both the good and the bad. I'd like to tell you that all went smooth and that I feel 20 year younger since having the surgery done, but unfortunately it just isn't true. The fact of the matter is, I feel worse now than I did before the surgery. Perhaps it is just too soon; it has been only 6 weeks since the surgery. In fact I really have no idea what the norm is. I've been told that some people have run a 10K marathon race only 6 weeks after surgery. Others have told me it can take up to a year to fully recover. It's interesting that the doctors and nurses give you a great deal of information on the surgery and the events leading up to it, but virtually no information on what to expect once it is over. Hopefully I can shed some light on the subject as time passes...

About the logo...

"Veni, Vidi, Vici" (I came, I saw, I conquered ) was Julius Caesar's battle cry. I felt that it was an appropriate motto for anyone who has undergone open heart surgery. Perhaps someday I'll make it into a button and hand them out to patients in the Cardiac Ward.

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Page Updated: 26-Apr-2005