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If Only I could Have Bypassed Covid-19

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If Only I could Have Bypassed Covid-19

Al Ritter


I don’t always write about politics, but usually it’s my main subject. This is along the lines of a subject I’d rather not be writing about but it’s something I share in common with millions of other Americans. This situation couldn’t have come about in a worse time in our history as a country.

After a trip to my cardiologist a month before my 65thbirthday, and after he declared me in perfect health once again even after I had been complaining of loss of stamina for about 5 years, he had signed it off to “a man of my age.” Two months later I was sprawled out on my side lawn in pure agony vomiting from the pain in my chest……the date May 4th, 2020. I recovered enough to get in the house to call my cardiologist and explained that even with Covid he would see me either in his office or the ER today! He really didn’t wanting me to come in to the hospital but finally agreed to see me in his office.

After an examination he told me that he was going to schedule me for the Cath Lab the next morning at 9AM. As you can imagine, I was apprehensive but also relieved that we would finally find the reason for my lack of stamina.

Back track 12 years earlier when I first became this cardiologist’s patient. I had experienced chest pains since age 14 but they had gotten to the point where I couldn’t exert myself very much without pain and frequently had to sit down and rest. After two stress EKGs and massive health questions, he finally told me that I had to quit ALL forms of caffeine! I quit for 6 months and the chest pains were finally gone for good, until May 2020.

Every year after our first meeting he had declared me healthy and nothing wrong with my heart on annual checkups.

May 5th I appeared for my visit to the Cath Lab for Heart Catheterization. I arrived at the door by myself, because of Covid, nobody was allowed to accompany me. That is a cold empty feeling, but only the beginning of my scary journey. The Cath Lab was a breeze and in fact very interesting to me as I watched the catheter inch it’s way to my heart. The visit didn’t last long however as the Doctor doing the procedure informed me in a very poor bedside manner….”there’s nothing I can do for you”……followed by “You need a triple bypass operation.” I might as well have been hit in the face with a 2×4. All my friends have had stents installed in a Cath lab and out the next day and I assumed my situation would be the same.

It was explained by the doctor that they couldn’t do stents because the blockages in the arteries were at the point where they directly entered the heart. Blockages were 86 and 87%…..and the “widow maker” was 99%. How could this be happening to me? I followed all my cardiologist’s instructions along with medications that I had been taking for high blood pressure and also high cholesterol, and yet here I was facing one of the most invasive surgeries I have ever had.

I sat in the recovery room after the Cath Lab in total shock. My Cardiologist appeared and I asked the same question, “How can this be happening, I trusted you!” He said that I was lucky because I didn’t have a heart attack and that my heart is still perfect, but he is a cardiologist and not a plumber! The nurse arrived shortly afterwards to administer my first of MANY Covid tests.

I have endured 14 surgeries in my life including both rotator cuffs, so I thought I knew all about pain, as they had been my worst pain surgeries to date. I wondered if I would be in similar pain from a triple bypass. They wouldn’t let me go home the night of the 5th and scheduled the surgery as an emergency first thing in the morning. I could only call friends and family as there was NO visitation in the hospital what-so-ever. Thankfully my Medicare had been approved on the morning of the 5th! It was good to know that the whole operation would be covered, the only saving grace in this whole debacle.

As you can imagine I didn’t sleep much at all in the hospital that night and a 7 AM the next morning I was off to the OR. It’s important to know that the hospital I was in is noted for being the best heart hospital in my area and my Cardiologist is the head of the Heart Institute within the hospital, and the surgeon selected to do my surgery is the head of the Heart Surgery Unit. An Intern arrived to shave me head to toe, (strange experience.)

Upon arrival at the OR I was greeting by the Anesthesiologist, his staff and many OR Nurses. My surgeon arrived shortly after, a soft spoken man who had a very calming manner. I explained that my anxiety was very high and I needed to be out very soon and begged him to save my life. Screen fade to black…..

The surgery went until about 1 PM but I didn’t awaken until about 7 PM. I was actually shocked at how little pain I had, but later found out from the anesthesiologist that they administer many time release pain meds to get you up and moving right after surgery. Thankfully they had removed the tube from my throat before I awakened. There were many other things to deal with, sadly I hadn’t asked about these things prior to the operation. They were as follows; I had a main line installed in the artery in right side of my neck, travelling down the main incision covered in gauze, below that two chest tubes attached to a drainage container, multiple arm lines, then a urine catheter, and then a small incision on my right leg from the artery harvesting by way of arthroscopic surgery.

Once they removed the things they could they had me up and walking Thursday night not 7 hours out of surgery.

Friday Morning PT and OT appeared early in the morning because I live in a two story house and the bathroom and bedroom is on the second floor and they were bound and determined not to let me out of the hospital until I could climb 20 steps consecutively. Friday was BRUTAL but necessary. I was supposed to be moved down to the secondary care unit on Friday but no beds were available which turned out to be a good thing because the coronary Intensive Care Unit was much better staffed.

Saturday Morning I was transferred downstairs and back to a heavy workout with PT and OT, which yielded 20+ steps on three separate sessions. My surgeon arrived for a check over and informed me that I would be released later the afternoon! I was totally shocked as I expected to be released Sunday. I still had two chest tubes in and it was time for removal which I really wasn’t looking forward to. A nurse came in and removed the container that was attached to them containing over 3 liters. The tubes were held in by a strange attachment method, two rather long stitches were tied around the tubes themselves, and upon removal the stitches were used to tie off the holes left.

I was released that day about 4 PM and returned home, it would be a long recovery. Monday Morning the visiting nurse arrived to gauge my progress along with any changes in meds and therapy. My therapy continued for two months under the supervision of the PT first and ending up with OT. 9 weeks out I returned for my final follow up with the surgeon. I was released to drive in 6 weeks and in the 9 week final I was cleared to do most anything I wanted to do but was still limited by my own feels as to anything was too much to stop and wait a little longer before trying it again.

Twice after the surgery I had experienced slight elevation in temperature at night. Twice that triggered the Covid alert bells at the hospital and twice more I required a Covid test and a wait of 7 days to be treated.

10 ½ weeks out I had pretty much returned to light yard work including the riding mower and even push mower without too much pain. At this time period I decided to my weed eater for about 10 feet of work. It miraculously started on the second pull and did the work quickly and efficiently. 3 Hours later I was in pain that didn’t disappear the next day and I was now concerned, plus there was now a clicking in my chest. The surgeon saw me the next day and explained to me that there a thing at the bottom of the sternum called the Xiphoid process and rather that the sternum being bone this piece is cartilage. The sternum is wired back together after the surgery but the Xiphoid process has to be stitched with dissolvable stitches. He explained that the life of those stitches were at their end and starting the weed eater was the thing that broken them. The two halves of the xiphoid were now flipping over each other causing a clicking feeling that could even be heard by other people.

The surgeon advised me that we could wait and see if it would re heal or the second possibility would be to go back in and remove it entirely. I decided to wait and see, which was probably the wrong decision. Every time it would pop I knew it wasn’t healing so we scheduled another operation to remove it, because he told me it was a pretty minor operation. August 20th I was operated on to remove my Xiphoid Process. The operation isn’t done very often and this was only the second one my surgeon had done. Truth in advertising wasn’t practiced here as the recovery was pretty brutal. Sleeping in a recliner was the only way to sleep for a week and a half, much in the same way for the original bypass surgery.

The clicking sound and feeling was now gone but the discomfort level was still pretty high and the feeling in the bottom of my sternum was now annoyingly different. I scheduled another appointment with the surgeon and he confirmed that he did in fact remove the Xiphoid and apologized about the additional discomfort. I asked him when I would start to feel normal again. He said that the numbness on the left side of my chest might eventually disappear but then again it might never return to normal. He also said that it could take 1 year to 15 months after the second surgery before I even feel some sort of normalcy.

The pain I feel daily now feels like someone has punched me in the left upper ribcage. Because I have lost about 30 lb. the gap between the bottom of my ribcage and my internal organs is substantial and feels like a hollow cave.

In Conclusion:

I really have mixed feelings about the whole surgery. When I complained about the recovery time from the surgeries, I guess my surgeon said it best when he said…… “Al, you have traded your life for 15 months of discomfort, you need to be thankful.” In a way he’s right, I suppose, I could have as easily died in my yard that day. He did save my life and has given me a chance to live a few more years, and for that I thank him.

When I was on Facebook there was a group called the “Zipper Club,” for open heart surgery patients. After hearing the horrific stories some of these patients have endured, multiple open heart surgeries and untold pain and anguish that only another surgery recipient can relate to, I have told my health representatives…..I am NEVER going through this again.


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