“Excuse me, I couldn’t help noticing your heart pillow.” It may not sound like much of a line, but for weeks after my open heart surgery man after man walked up to me with those words or similar on their lips, hoping to start a conversation. Continue reading
Though the nurses warned me there would be good days and bad days, I think I still expected recovery to go fairly smoothly. After the hell I’d been through, surely I deserved it, right?
I don’t know how long it was until I woke up. I know I gained consciousness in ICU at some point — later my parents said when they visited me I’d tried, multiple times, to pull my breathing tube out — but mostly what I remember of it now is a Hollywoodesque montage of masked faces, bright lights, and a bite of strawberry jello.
My memories of January 14, 2015, are sketchy at best. I remember the operation was scheduled at the beginning of the hospital day because the surgeon said the procedure itself could take up to six hours. The night before I didn’t bother trying to get too much sleep, partly because I knew I couldn’t, and partly because I wanted to be as certain as possible of pure unconsciousness throughout the surgery. I’d never been put under anesthesia before, and I didn’t know how my body would react. I wasn’t taking any chances.
The weeks that passed between my diagnosis and my operation were among the hardest days of my life so far. I grew steadily more symptomatic, and the most upsetting part was knowing that feeling worse meant the damage in my heart was getting worse, too.
By the end of December, things had gotten nightmarish.
Bicuspid aortic valve disease, or BAVD, is a rare congenital heart defect found in only about 2% of the population, affecting men twice as often as women.
I am not your typical lab rat. I am, as of this writing, a twenty-four-year-old ginger non-obese American who, for the first twenty three years of her existence, lived a relatively healthy, relatively normal life. My worst medical complaints were migraines and the occasional cold or bout of the flu. I never had food poisoning, never got into smoking or drugs, never so much as broke a single bone or needed stitches. The only daily pill I took was a vitamin.
That all changed back in December 2014 when I found out rather suddenly I was due for open heart surgery.