Yes, last week I only posted twice. I swear, this was for good reason: I had heart surgery! And, though I knew about the procedure well in advance, the doctors called at the end of the week before to move it up by two days. I didn’t really have the time (or the content, if I’m being honest) to scrape together some pre-scheduled posts, and so, here we are instead.
First, some background. As some of you who have been reading this blog for a while (and/or who know me in real life, or on Facebook) may know, this past summer I found out that I was born with a literal hole in my heart. That sounds like a bad metaphor, but I am 100% serious. When they first found it, they estimated its diameter was 18 millimeters; as of last week, that estimate was closer to 23 millimeters. It’s been there since I was born, but since it didn’t cause any sort of heart murmur, my doctors only found it because of a total fluke (story for another day, maybe?).
Here’s the problem with this type of defect: it makes your heart super inefficient, which leads to fatigue that worsens over time and, if untreated, can lead to pulmonary hypertension (pressure in your lungs, which shortens your lifespan and causes other physical problems) in your 30s or 40s. Fun stuff.
So, now for a science lesson, in relatively easy-to-follow terms. (This is a little oversimplified, so those of you with medical background, please don’t lecture me!) Your heart has four chambers: two atria, which receive incoming blood (one from your body, the other from your lungs), and two ventricles, which push blood out (to those same two destinations). My defect (the hole) is between the two atria.
Now, the two atria have very different contents. The one with blood from your body contains deoxygenated blood, since it just came from places that use it up. The one with blood from your lungs has fully oxygenated blood, because your lungs just filled it up. With a hole between those two chambers, the oxygenated and deoxygenated blood mix together, so each chamber instead just has semi-oxygenates blood.
This causes a twofold problem. First, when your heart pushes that blood to your lungs, you’re sending blood that has already done what it needs to in the lungs, which means it is doing extra work with no real benefit. At the same time, pushing that blood through the body is bad because it doesn’t have enough oxygen in it; to keep the body functioning, your heart has to work overtime, sending extra blood out to your body so it gets all the oxygen it needs.
What does this mean? Big-time inefficiency, which manifests physically. In fact, in my case, from all its overtime work, the ventricle of my heart that sends blood to the body is now 2.2 times the volume of its counterpart that sends blood to the lungs. Yes, you read that right–it is more than DOUBLE the size it should be. In terms of how much backflow and extra work is being done, a cardiac MRI in September estimated that, depending on the metric you use, my heart was working 1.8-1.9 times harder than it should have had to. Yaaayyyyy. (And no wonder I’ve been getting so exhausted all the time, worsening the past several years! Here we all just thought I was being lazy…)
Fortunately, there is a medical device that can plug the hole. Look up “ASD closure device”–there are some really cool animations of how it works. It can be maneuvered and inserted through a catheter, with an incision near your groin (using the femoral vein), so you don’t have to get your ribs cracked open. And last week, Monday the 13th, I got that device put in place by a team of surgeons. The surgery did not go off flawlessly, but it was ultimately successful. For those of you who like slightly-bloody details, those complications included:
- An improperly placed closure device, partially because the hole was even bigger than they thought, that had to be removed and replaced, resulting in extra time under anesthesia (3.5 hours, roughly)
- The mechanism for that retrieval malfunctioning, something which has literally never happened before with this device and further complicated things, requiring the doctor to manually remove the device instead
- Because the new device was larger, the incision had to be made larger
- An extra 2 hours being added to my already-required 4 hours of “flat time” post-procedure, where I couldn’t bend my right leg at all or bend at the waist or anything, so pressure could be applied to the incision and make sure I didn’t bleed out
- The incision reopening 4 hours in, which meant we had to go back to 0, resulting in 10 straight hours of that flat time
- Almost no sleep that night because of how uncomfortable that flat time was
- Over the next few days, lots of gastrointestinal distress (yikes) because the anesthesia took extra-long to wear off my digestive system. Normally the best way to prevent that sort of thing is to move around/walk a little after anesthesia, but–again–I had to spend 10 HOURS lying down and obviously not moving.
In spite of all that chaos, though, I made it, and I’m at home on the mend now. While I’m not quite well enough to make the commute to work yet (my commute includes a 1.5-mile walk each way from the train station to the office), I’m squeezing in some work from home, as well as reading (of course) and generally getting along quite well. The doctors have said that, with this repair, as everything heals, my cardiac efficiency will increase back to its normal levels or possibly better, which means more energy for me! Seriously, I’m so excited about it.
If you’re still reading…well, thank you! I appreciate it. Here’s a picture of my dog as a reward:
No real discussion questions for today. Hope your weeks are off to a good start!
Until next time,