Friday, April 20, 2007

Getting To The Heart Of What Makes Me Tick

This is about 3 days worth of blogging space for me, so I am posting it today. I’ll post again on Sunday or Monday, so feel free to read it in chunks if your attention span is as short as mine is. What was I talking about again?

I was recently engaged in a very interesting conversation with one of my favorite bloggers, Mist1, about the role of the animal kingdom in human cardiology. Translated= putting animal heart parts into humans. I decided to write about my somewhat non-humaness. It got me thinking about all of my heart related stuff and since my therapist told me it’s been almost two years now since my surgery and that I need to get over it, I figured what better way than to blog about it, right?

For those of you who may not be aware, in June 2005, I had my second open-heart surgery to replace my bad aortic valve with a nice shiny artificial one. The ring on the picture to the left is now a foreign object deep within my chest cavity. How they got it there is another story entirely, but I tend to wrap my arms around my chest and curl into a fetal position when I think about its installation (for lack of a better and more humane description) and that makes it hard to type, so I’ll write about that some other time…maybe.

The choice of whether I was going to get a pig valve or the artificial one was entirely mine to make, although I didn’t have a lot of input from my cardiologist or the surgeons. So, like any semi-literate person, I took to the internet to educate myself about the pros and cons of animal or artificial valvization (I made that up, but boy it sounds scientific, doesn’t it). Consulting the interweb was my first mistake. Not only did I read lots of testimonials by patients who went through the surgery who thought it appropriate to describe what the removal of their chest tube felt like, but I also found actual footage of the surgery itself. I’m not normally squeamish but I don’t think I could close my eyes for about a week and a half after that.

If I went with a pig valve, I would have to have had surgery in another 15 years to replace it, but I wouldn’t need to be on blood thinners for the rest of my life. I had many concerns about getting a pig’s valve that I could not find addressed anywhere on the interweb. The concerns might seem trivial to you, but as someone deciding whether to have pork parts sewed into me, let me assure you that they were important to me. My first concern was whether or not I would smell like bacon on a hot day. What would happen to the pig who ‘donated’ the valve (most likely without its consent)? Would that pig then get an artificial valve to replace the one it just had removed? Does the rest of the pig’s heart just get BBQ’d with an age-old slow smoking process? Isn’t there a cleaner, more well respected animal that I could select from? If I decided on a pig valve, would I then take on a pig’s characteristics over time (besides the aggressive eating, which I already seem to have)? Would filthiness all around me not bother me? Would I rather play in mud than take a swim? Would the knowledge of my piggyness cause my friends to call me Hammy, Porky or Oinky? Would my speech become peppered with phrases like ‘whole hog’ or would I start to stutter like Porky Pig?

Perhaps I could choose a dolphin’s valve. Surely, this would improve my ability to hold my breath longer or eat fish whole. It might even improve my entertaining skills. How about a cow? If a bovine has several stomachs, would I adapt over time to have several stomachs too? Then I could eat nachos across the street from my office and not have to walk 4 miles just to burn off the 1300 calories from them. Mist1 suggested something small like a rabbit’s heart. My only concern with that is if a heart that small could efficiently pump blood to my extremities, like my feet for instance. Think of the sad irony if I lost some of the use of my feet from this and then could no longer aspire to perform the bunny hop on ‘Dancing With the Stars.’ I guess that’s more of a moot point since I am neither a dancer nor a star.

Then there were the pros and cons of becoming the $60,000 man (after all the medical bills are tallied) if I chose the artificial valve. Perhaps my biggest concern with that was being perceived as too fake (get it, artificial, fake – trust me, you’ll laugh about that later tonight). Would I lose some of my human-like qualities if I went with the mechanical valve? Would I become more of a cyborg? Really, by definition, I could be considered a cyborg. Knowing myself as well as I do though, I would take it too far and ask to be dressed like Darth Vader or Cylons from the original Battlestar Gallatica (Borgs from Star Trek were too ugly). Heck, I’d just settle for Vader’s or the Cylons’ voices!

I could imagine how excited my friends would be to brag about their friendship with a real cyborg. Just like plastic surgery though, once I consented to mechanical implantation within me, would I be able to stop there? Would I ask for technologically enhanced vision or muscle strength? Would I ask to be able to lift my enemies off the ground by crushing their necks? Would I want better lung capacity so that I walked around breathing like Darth Vader? I might ask to be able to receive email in my head rather than the computer. I’d also like to be taller. Then there’s the fact that I would need to be on blood thinners for the rest of my life and that I might tick, sometimes loudly. Clearly, I had a decision to make.

After much introspection, I decided that my desire to become a cyborg was just too good of an opportunity to pass up. I was so excited with my choice. The burning question of whether or not my tick could be heard was answered before I even opened my eyes after surgery. The first time I was almost coherent, I remember hearing something inside of my head that I had never heard before. It was a very mechanical ticking sound, almost like the sound of hitting keys on a keyboard. This probably helped me wake up quicker, but as I did, I discovered that they had not mechanically altered any other part of me.

It did not take long to realize how different it was going to be living as part human and part machine. By the time I was ok to leave the hospital, I was already very annoyed at the sound of…well, me. The novelty of the ticking wore off very quickly. A few days after getting home from the hospital, I had to go have my first blood test. I could hear the older guy in front of me ticking, so I asked him when he had his valve replaced and he had a surprised look on his face until he heard mine tick. I still can’t fall asleep easily at night because I constantly hear the ticking (ticking, ticking, always ticking...). There were a few side affects that I did not anticipate. For some reason, I like to listen to Helen Reddy’s version of ‘Delta Dawn’ daily now and I am very, very attracted to stainless steel. It’s almost magnetic, like love at first shine or something. I can just sit now in front of a stainless steel piece for hours just gazing into its smooth and shiny surface. This has me scared (and scarred, but who cares about semantics).

There have been some interesting situations because of my valve. A different doctor wanted to do an MRI on my head to see if there was anything in there causing some difficulties I was having. Now that didn’t sound right, did it? He decided not to proceed out of fear that the magnetic power of the MRI could yank the valve right out of my chest. Boy am I glad he remembered that! I wanted to buy a scale that would also monitor body mass or body fat, but the label said it could not be used for anyone who has an implanted device. That was fine with me since I was able to get another scale much cheaper that didn’t exclude people with artificial components. Although I have not flown since surgery, I have had the opportunity to walk through a metal detector and flash my implanted device card. As soon as the detector went off, I showed the officer my card and explained why. I think I overwhelmed him with my story and he gestured me right through. In hindsight, it was probably the keys that I forgot to take out of my pocket.

Because my valve can be heard by others in a silent room or by anyone who places their head upon my chest (obviously a small group), there is the potential for a lot of fun. Although for some reason, people look at me oddly when I tell them to place their head upon my chest to listen to what makes me tick. I am eagerly waiting for the time when a member of my company’s upper management is with me and my coworkers in a quiet conference room or elevator. Everyone I work with has been instructed to say ‘I don’t hear anything’ whenever that upper manager finally questions whether or not anyone hears that ticking and asks what it might be.

I am not, however, looking forward to the time I enter a federal building or airport and am accused of carrying (or being) a bomb. I just don’t think the excuse ‘oh, that’s just my chest,’ is going to cut it. I have also thrown my wristwatch down in disgust several times after realizing that what was bugging me was my valve and not what I perceived to be my unusually loud watch. Now, I own a digital watch. It’s funny how people still ask me if the ticking will ever go away. All I can say in response to that is, ‘if it does go away, I’ll certainly be the last to know.’

So there you have it, that’s the story behind what makes me tick, literally. Assuming I live a few more years, hopefully I’ll get used to it. I certainly don’t wish to grow old mumbling about my ticking. Now I’m off to try and be fitted for metal arms so that I can finally pick up the cubicle next to mine and move it about 20 feet before I go Alec Baldwin on any of my coworkers. A cyborg needs its space people!


Ralph said...

Despite ths angst that obviously surrouds your valve, it's nice to be able to still be able to write about it...

I am one of seven children, but two are gone. At my age, and despite the wheelchair, I am delighted to see the sun shine another have the opportunity to fight the fight for snother day...that day, really every day is a great day.

You aren't heartless at all! You have every reason to now enjoy life...and of course you do!

Patti said...

Michael, I have been alternately laughing and coughing (I have a lingering cold) as I read this. It is soooo funny.
A therapist who tells you to get over having heart valve surgery/installation? Where is the love? I'd suggest you find yourself a new therapist.

You are indeed an inspiration. It's great you can see the humor in such serious stuff.
I'm sure Lucy and Ethel must have fun listening to their father tick.

Michael C said...

Ralph: Yeah, life's pretty fun. Especially when you listen to Jimmy Buffett all the time ;-)

Patti: Lucy and Ethel call me the tick-tock from the crocodile in Peter Pan. When they rolled me in for surgery and verified what I was there for, I told them to deliver twins. Shortly after that they put me out with anesthesia for some reason ;-)

mist1 said...

I just thought that a rabbit heart would be cute. Also, it's not the kind of thing that you can find on a grocery store shelf here in the South. Here, I can buy a jar of pickled pig valves for $2.50 Pig lips are slightly cheaper. If you ever need a lip replaced, let me know. I'll send you a jar.

Michael C said...

Mist1: Are the pickled pig lips (my that's fun to say)as big as after someone has a collagen injection? If so, please send me a few jars. I could make a killing selling them out here!

Awesome Mom said...

That has to be a tough decision to make. Would you have to have been on anti rejection drugs if you had gone for the pig valve?

When Evan had his stroke the Neurologist wanted to give him an MRI. I had to point out to him that a child with a pacemaker should not be having an MRI. There is something to be said about having hardware in you. I know that Evan's heart will not stop beating until he is long dead.

Michael C said...

Awesome Mom: There was no mention of anti-rejection drugs, just blood thinners for a short while after surgery. The doctor's description of what he thought could happen during an MRI scared the heck out of me! It's funny that I'm 33 but my valve is only 2. ;-)

Patti said...

so Michael, how many people have kidded you about your magnetic personality?
Lionel Richie's song from the 80s, "Stuck on You," must be among your favorites.

Odat said...

I'm reading this with my coffee on Saturday sure "beats" reading the paper....but twice as long (hehe)....Hey are you allowed near microwave ovens?
Thanks for sharing all that with us Michael....

Patti said...

Hey is that guy in the photo your pal Dwight wearing surgical scrubs?

Michael C said...

Patti: I can tell you that no one has ever called my personality magnetic...annoying perhaps, but not magnetic. I do like Lionel Richie, but Queezy Like Sunday Morning is one of my favorites ;-)

Odat: Beat, that's funny! Brevity was never one of my strong points. I use Microwaves all the time but for some reason I always black out and my popcorn usually gets burned. I figured it was a faulty microwave, but now that you bring it up, maybe it's me ;-)

Patti: No, but now that I really look at the photo, that's one mean looking surgeon!

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Wow. I can't imagine going through all this, especially so young.

Michael, you're amazing.

I think that I would have made the same choice as you did, reasoning that material from a living being could get diseased, too, and cause further complications.

Hopefully, your medical problems are over, and your life will be blissfully normal from now on.

I also take exception to a therapist who would tell you to "get over it." The old thing about walking a mile in another's shoes comes to mind here.

Michael C said...

HeartsinSanFran: The best thing about it is that I am now guaranteed to win just about every scar comparison or discussion that I might ever be in. I've already won two at work ;-)

captain corky said...

Perhaps you should change the title of your blog to the Wonderful World of Hammy the Cyborg. Sounds good doesn't it?

~*SilverNeurotic*~ said...

I now have a desire to meet you, just to hear your ticking heart.

Did that make me sound really creepy and stalkerly?

Michael C said...

Captain: I like that name for a blog. Maybe I should ask people to start calling me that.

Silverneurotic: Just type at regular intervals on your keyboard and it'll sound like I'm standing in the same room, just without the smell of the grilled onions I had for lunch.

Empress Bee (of the High Sea) said...

charlie has a pacemaker and can't go through the devices in airports (or cruise ships) but he likes it because he gets felt up every time, and sometimes it's by a lady even...

smiles, bee

Terri said...

Michael, great post. I'm really sorry you and your family have had to go through so much medical trauma!

I love the reference to the rabbit heart valve, but then would your heart be overtaxed because of all the rabbit like sex? :o)