[This is the second installment of a multiple-chapter essay on my recent heart surgery. Scroll down to read Part 1.]
Following my surgery, I have some vague recollection of being wheeled somewhere and perhaps even of being on an elevator. (Wondrous sedatives keep the new heart patient in a heavenly guessing game.) By the time I got my mental bearings, and some physical clarity, I found myself in Room 7016, Bed B, in Vanderbilt Medical Center’s cardiology unit, which actually spans several floors.
Before I learned exactly what had happened to me, I was approached by a registered nurse named Heather Jones, who soon enough let it be known that she was not only blessed with good nursing and charming people skills but also—well, how else to say it?—was simply a beautiful angel of mercy walking. She oversaw the work of another very earnest young nurse’s assistant named Brittany (didn’t catch the last name), and the evening and early morning shift was handled by one Rachel Fowler, who was wonderful to me.
The exact sequence of early events remains a tad fuzzy, but at some point doctor(s) came to inform me that I had what was classified as a “mild” heart attack, but nonetheless one with real concerns for the future and potential negative outcomes that demanded forestalling by lifestyle changes.
Like former president Bill Clinton that very day, I’d had a stent placed into a blood vessel in my heart. Let’s skip exactly how this is done, though it is a wonder of medical science, if by now a fairly routine procedure. The stent opens the sluggish vessel and allows blood to flow more freely. Even better for me, the vessel of concern was not a “major” one—all things being equal, you understand—but rather a tributary connecting the heart’s outer wall (left, from my POV) to a major vessel.
I am a lucky one. Well past 50, and having been a heavy, and heavier, smoker since high school, I’m frankly surprised that my heart didn’t give out a lot more. (Really, if I tell you how old I was when I took my first drag on a cigarette...well, it’s just not right, though it certainly is a testament to the essential resilience of the human body.) My two different roommates were facing really serious triple and/or quadruple bypass surgeries, some of the details of which I overheard on my side of the partition. One gent was even going over his will on the phone. Poignant stuff.
Meanwhile, I felt surprisingly and increasingly chipper. Nurses brought me food, which I picked at, mostly because I was too damn excited to focus on eating, though eventually I found my appetite. Then my phone started ringing, as friends and relatives began to call, and things started to feel almost sociable. The fact that my blood pressure kept dropping and all other vital signs were stable certainly improved my spirits, and it crossed my mind that maybe—just maybe—I'd dodged a major bullet.
I had a few important visitors in my first 36 hours in Room 7016, including filmmaker Glen Weiss, sportswriter/radio host Henry Nichols, writer/library official Deanna Larson, theatrical producer Ken Bernstein and actor Ian Jameson. These awesome folks all played a role in elevating my spirits and getting me safely home by early afternoon on Saturday, Feb. 13.
Yet the heavy lifting was still ahead of me.