It’s Tuesday morning 9AM; Denise and I are wrapping up a ten-minute walk up and down the block outside our new, temporary LA digs. We both realized at about the same time that it was exactly 7 days ago today that Rene, my OR nurse, called her in the waiting room at UCLA to say I was now on the heart-lung bypass machine and the surgeon was going to try and repair the valve.
I don’t really remember that part (although I have had a dream about it that I’ll share at some point) however, I can only imagine how hard the next few hours were for her and Mom as they waited to hear if it was able to be fixed, if it had to be replaced or, more importantly, if in fact I made it through the most difficult part of the surgery alive. She has said it was a pretty trying time and I don’t doubt that one bit.
A few hours later, as she related in an earlier post, Dr. Reemtsen himself came down to inform them that all had gone well and that he had been able to repair my tricuspid. However, and I didn’t find this out for a couple of days, he also told her it didn’t look like he would be able to when he first got in there. He said the valve had looked a lot worse than it did on the transesophageal echo and in his words he had to “try some things” before he ultimately got a good seal and could confidently say it was repaired.
From the time we learned that I was going to have this surgery, I’ve tried to keep positive. For the most part I think I did a pretty good job but, as Denise will tell you, moments of doubt and doomsday despair did creep into my head alongside images of someone cutting into my chest. Every time that would happen I got into the habit of visualizing my coming out of anesthesia with the nurse, doctor and Denise by my side. I would make myself repeat the words “Mr. Tripp everything went well, we’ve been able to repair the valve, you’re as good as new”
Despite being in the ICU and knowing I was still not out of the woods completely, I can’t tell you how relieved I was when I first heard those same words. Apparently on that first afternoon Dr. Reemtsen also told me about what he had to do and that it did not look good at first but I didn’t remember much of that conversation. A couple of days later he related to me again that my right atrium was larger and slacker than originally thought. In fact he said he had to cut out a pretty good chunk just to tighten everything up so the valves would work properly. He said he was then able to use some Gortex material to replace the damaged valve "cords" and although there was still a very tiny leak it was looking as good as new.
So now I sit here with my computer and prune juice cocktail (it’s tolerable if you add some 7-Up) one week after open-heart surgery. I’m not comfortable by any means. When the pain meds start to wear off or I do my exercises I feel like a big Mac truck has hit me but I know that this too will pass eventually. For now my visualization has shifted to that first dive a few months from now when I’m submerged in the warm waters around Saipan listening to the cracking of the reef (as opposed to my chest) and the bubbles from my regulator. That thought even makes the prune juice taste more like a rum and coke or a cold Heineken!
For those of you coming into this little open heart surgery discussion a little late you can find all the posts easily by clicking on the Open Heart Surgery Labels at the bottom of this post or by clicking on the links under open heart surgery over on the right hand side of the blog. Those ones are listed in chronological order!