My dad has always had the reputation of being a lot like the Energizer Bunny. High energy, keeps going and going and going… When he was a practicing physician at the hospital, he preferred stairs over the elevators because elevators are too slow. When I was growing up, Mom had to set a timer for twenty minutes at dinner, or he’d inhale his meal and head back down to his woodworking projects.
For the past year or more, he’s been slowing down more. At first we just attributed that to the aging process. But at a routine checkup in August, Dad’s doc observed that the longtime heart murmur had gotten much more pronounced.
He had an EKG, which he “flunked” (his words). So he went to a cardiologist, who ordered more tests, which he flunked. So then he had a heart catheterization.
“Severe Aortic Stenosis.”
He was scheduled for surgery on September 2. On August 31, the talented surgeon who was slated to perform the surgery was reviewing Dad’s case, tests, and making sure he was fully aware of everything, and he determined that perhaps Dad needed to go to a larger hospital where cases like his would be more routine.
Apparently, upon further review, the calcification around Dad’s aorta was enough to make the local surgeon hesitate. If everything went beautifully, then there wouldn’t be a problem. But if not….? Well. This surgeon didn’t want to be in that situation. He suggested UAB or Vanderbilt, both of which are 2 hours from here or less. I googled “Best Heart Center US” and The Cleveland Clinic topped the list.
Mom and Dad suggested Cleveland Clinic to the local surgeon as an option. “Oh, good! That’s where I was trained!”
So off they went to Cleveland for a consult with some of the best heart surgery teams in the world.
And more tests.
Sent home, with directives to wait until scheduling called with a date.
Cleveland called, but to request that Dad have a stent inserted into his carotid to improve blood flow before they could do the TAVR (trans-arterial valve replacement) procedure.
Dad had the stent inserted, and surgery would be a minimum 30 days post-stent. No exercise. Nothing that would raise his heart rate or blood pressure significantly. “Go watch Netflix.”
This meant that Thanksgiving plans were disturbed– because of the risks involved with jumps in Dad’s blood pressure, it was recommended that he not drive up to the woods of Virginia for our usual outdoor Thanksgiving extravaganza. To state that this irritated my dad is minimizing.
We got through it.
Dad accidentally made turkey flambÃ©, which turned out to be really delicious and juicy because I guess it sealed all the juices in. In any case, it was a good day. We missed the shenanigans with my brother and his family, who are always part of the experience.
Then December. Mom and Dad left for Cleveland on the 6th, so that they could settle in on Sunday before the pre-op festivities began on the 7th.
My brothers showed up a day before I did, so they went to all of those fun appointments.
Tuesday morning, Dad had to be there by 9.
The Cleveland Clinic is pretty amazing. Clean. Freakishly so, without smelling antiseptic or hospitalish. But everywhere is shiny and well-lit.
(I tried to upload a 9-second video of a piano/flute duet but can’t get it to finish… I’ll try again later.)
People from all corners of the world converge here for world class treatment.
Dad had a Cat Scan with the puppet he used to use for nervous patients.
He was wheeled into the OR at 11am, and Mom got a page at 12:40 that the surgery was underway. At 1:30 we were requested upstairs to meet with the surgeons, who explained that things went well, and he would be coming out of anesthesia soon and we could visit him in about an hour.
I’m not going to lie. It was scary. We heard one Code called before Dad went back, and I think there would have been a huge unraveling of everyone in the waiting area had it happened when Dad was in surgery. But thankfully it didn’t.
When we visited him later in the step-down ICU, he looked amazing. Pinker already. To respect his privacy I won’t post those photos but it was incredible. We actually got to see our dad power back up after being on reserve fuel.
He drove the staff nuts. In a good way, I guess. I suppose the really sick ones aren’t very feisty.
We’d visit until he got sick of company and then we would go eat again or play cribbage or walk back to Mom’s hotel room.
Dad’s surgery was Tuesday. On Wednesday afternoon he was walking around without much help, and on Thursday he was released from the hospital. On Friday he and Mom flew home. Yesterday he drove. Today he went to a party and stood up and visited with old friends.
I watched my dad reverse-age a decade in a matter of days.
Modern medicine is incredible. My dad has an artificial valve that has made it possible for him to return to his Energizer Bunny status. I can’t wait for my daughters to meet the REAL Papa, instead of the tired one that they’ve known most of their lives.
I’m glad I was able to be there to witness it, because I never would have believed how fast he improved if I hadn’t seen it myself.
Now Mom and Dad have the re-discovery of a Life with Energy. I know it’ll be tough for them both sometimes because the slower pace had gotten familiar, but I’m excited for them too.
Life is good.