I Am Catheterized

This is the latest chapter of the saga begun in the five part Murmurs of the Heart series and continued in the post about The Surgeon.

When the surgeon told me about the catheterization procedure, my take-away was that it involved injecting a dye into my blood stream so they could see if I had any blockages in my blood vessels. I assumed they’d inject the dye through the inside of my elbow, so it didn’t sound too bad.

So when the nurse phoned me to confirm the appointment, I was a bit taken aback when she started talking about putting a tube up my groin, and maybe putting in a stent if they found any blocked arteries. Surely that’s only for the more advanced cases, I thought.

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Schematic of a heartSchematic of a heart

Schematic of a heart

Arriving at the hospital bright and early, it didn’t take long to register and check in my valuables, and pretty soon I had changed into a hospital gown and was awaiting further instructions. A succession of nurses appeared and introduced themselves, probably eight or nine in all, each having a specific function to perform.

It was when LaShaya showed up with a razor in one hand and a demonic look in her eye that I knew for sure this wouldn’t be a simple needle in the arm type of day. (Only kidding about the demonic look.) She shaved both sides of my groin, explaining that although they’d only be working on my right side, she was prepping the other side just in case.

Just in case what?

Eventually they wheeled me into what they called the lab and after a few more explanations and introductions, they put me into a semi-sleeping state–just conscious enough so that I was aware of what was going on and could respond to simple commands like “Turn your head left.” The commands were necessary because some of the equipment used for the x-rays was floating above my chest and head, and as they moved it around to photograph my heart from different angles, I needed to move my head to avoid collisions.

Briefly, they made two incisions in my groin, one in the femoral artery and one in a vein. They then threaded a long flexible tube up the artery into my heart so they could examine my mitral valve and inject dye so they could look for blockages in my arteries. After the initial jab of lidocaine in my groin, I basically didn’t feel a thing, except when they injected the dye, I felt a burst of warmth, which they warned me to expect.

When the procedure was over, I asked if I could have some of the pictures that they took and they said they’d give me a CD. Here is what they saw:

After wheeling me back to my temporary room, they explained that the doctor decided I needed three hours of bed rest to let the incisions in my groin settle down and begin to heal. During that period, I wasn’t allowed to move my right leg, not even bend it. Every few minutes one of the nurses would gently probe around the incision site to make sure there wasn’t any swelling, which could indicate internal bleeding.

After one of these examinations the nurses decided that the dressing on the incisions needed to be changed. “We’re going to get The Groin Guy,” she said.

And sure enough, a few minutes later a fellow appeared. “I’m Pete, The Groin Guy,” he said, and he proceeded to change the dressing on my groin.

After a while one of the nurses told me that the doctor could find no trace of blocked arteries, which is what I had been telling them. My arteries are clear and free-flowing.

One of the nurses who works for my surgeon came in to give me more information about the mitral valve repair surgery, which is the ultimate goal of all these medical procedures. I told her that I understood that the mitral valve is held on by many little threads, and that in my case some of the threads are loose, causing the regurgitation. How was the surgeon going to do the repair?

She explained that (and I hope I’m getting this right) he would take a small titanium ring covered in a thin polyester-type membrane and insert that around the valve, attaching it with tiny polyester-type threads, so that the valve would close completely.

She also suggested that I might want to have the surgery on a Friday. Apparently, the normal procedure is to put the patients in a private room in intensive care for 24 hours after the surgery, then move them to a semi-private room; but sometimes, and this is not a guarantee, on weekends they keep the patients in intensive care until Monday. And she told me that I should expect a hospital stay of only three or four days. A bit better than the week I had previously been told.

As things stand now, I expect to have the surgery at the end of August.

When I had spent sufficient time in bed, they made sure I could walk without a problem, gave me my list of do’s and don’t’s for the next couple of days, and then they released me, with Pete, The Groin Guy, returning to push me out in a wheel chair. He’s a pretty versatile guy.

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