The Surgeon

So today I met the surgeon.

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The view from the cardiac surgeon's officeThe view from the cardiac surgeon's office

The view from the cardiac surgeon’s office

Arriving at his office well ahead of the scheduled time, I had perhaps the easiest check-in for a first-time visit ever. Apparently all my medical information, including my health insurance, had been forwarded to them by my referring cardiologist. All I had to do was verify a few things. And no filling out another one of those lengthy medical histories. They already had all the data they needed. Sometimes the health system can function smoothly.

The waiting room was spacious and being on an upper floor featured some great views of the city.

It wasn’t long before a nurse ushered me into the examining room, and after taking my blood pressure and verifying my medications, she told me the surgeon would be in shortly.

Actually it was another nurse who came in first. He wanted to go over my medical data, explain a few things, and answer any questions I might have. After listening to my heart to verify that it murmured (“I can hear it!” he exclaimed), he asked if I wanted a listen. I sure did. He placed the stethoscope’s ear pieces into my ears and by golly if I didn’t hear the whooshing of the mitral valve regurgitation (he told me what to listen for, of course).

He said I had a textbook case of a mitral prolapse. “Yes, I know. Whenever I go in for a checkup, if there happen to be any medical students around, the doctor will call them in to have a listen.” He said that yesterday they had a full house of medical students and if I had been there then, he would have had them all give a listen. How did I feel about that, he wanted to know. “Uh, wanted? Needed?” I thought but did not say.

I mentioned that someone had told me about a person my age having the same operation and being surprised at how much more energy she had afterwards. Was that something I could look forward to?

“Absolutely,” he replied. “I’ve been involved in thousands of these operations and the patients are always surprised at how much stronger they feel once they recover.” Thousands? He looked far too young to have been around for that many operations; when did he start? When he was six?

The surgeon appeared shortly after the nurse left. He had a friendly, informal manner about him. He explained the operation in much greater detail than I had encountered before, even drawing a diagram of the mitral valve to show me just what was wrong with it. I asked him which operating method he expected to use.

To my relief he said it would be the kind where they made a small incision on my right side and put an instrument through my ribs to get to the heart to repair the valve. Although they might also have to make an incision near my groin for the heart lung machine. He estimated that the operation should take about three to four hours, and that there was about a one percentage point of risk. “No operation is entirely without risk, but this is as close to zero as possible.”

He thought I might have to stay in the hospital for about a week, after which I could go home and take care of myself. Full recovery in four to six weeks.

I told him I’d like to have the operation as soon as possible, before I move in August if that was feasible. He said it could be done, but he strongly recommended that I move first, get settled in, and then have the operation at the end of August; that way I wouldn’t have to worry about moving while I was still recovering. Seems reasonable, I guess. But I’m really eager to get that great new burst of energy, that new lease on life, that…

“Yes, you Americans are like that. Once you make a decision, you want to do it quickly.”

He gave me the option of having a robot perform the surgery. If that’s what I wanted, he would refer me to one of his colleagues who does robotics. “I wouldn’t be offended if you choose that. He is a very capable surgeon; in fact he trained me when I was a resident.”

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“Well, the idea of having a robot operating on me is very appealing,” I said, as visions of Isaac Asimov’s robot stories danced through my head, “but I already feel comfortable with you and I think I want to keep things simple.” Did I just hear Dr. Asimov turn in his grave?

So in the latter part of August he will be cutting me open performing the surgical procedure on me. Actually, before he will do the operation, he requires that I complete a few simple tasks, to prove myself worthy.

First, I have to get a dental clearance to make sure there is nothing in my mouth that might cause complications for the heart.

Second, I have to have a cardiac catheterization to make sure I don’t have any blocked arteries that could gum up the works.

Finally, I have to bring him the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West.

Actually, if I pass the first two tests, that third one is optional.

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