By Clare Almand
4 Apr

Thoughts on the Eve of My Eleventh Heart Surgery

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Tomorrow, I’m having my eleventh heart surgery.* Whenever I’m about to have surgery, I go through the same emotions. Most of my feelings go back to how absurd it is that this is a normal thing in my life. The following is a mostly concise description of what I’ve been thinking about.

I’m annoyed that I didn’t see it coming as quickly as it did. At my last appointment, I had enough battery life on my ICD to last me until March 2017 (and that’s with the 3-month cushion). My plan was to have surgery in January or February. But thanks to an unwavering bout of atrial flutter that sent me to the ER, (while I was at Mount Vernon of all places) I discovered that I really only had 4 weeks to get my device changed. Thus began what seemed like an interminable 48-hours of back and forth between my doctors in DC (where I was hospitalized) and my doctors in LA (where I live) while we all decided where it would be best to have my surgery.

I’m upset that my heart condition is an inconvenience to others. On Sunday, I flew back from my parents’ house in Northern Virginia to my apartment in Los Angeles. My mother flew here today, which was an incredibly expensive ticket she had to buy at the last minute. Instead of going to work today, I prepared for my procedure (read: I watched Netflix). I had this nice, planned two-week break, which is why I went home. But because of the surgery, I’m spending an additional week away, which is a great inconvenience to my co-workers. Even though everyone I’m inconveniencing is supportive—my parents, my boss, my friends—I still feel like a burden.

And mostly, I’m more embarrassed by being “that sick person” than I am scared of a life of chronic illness. I left Mount Vernon in an ambulance (cause I love making an exit). I wasn’t afraid for my life—I was embarrassed that I was that person who couldn’t finish the “National Treasure 2” tour and had to be picked up by paramedics. When my stretcher was rolled into the ER in DC, the first nurse I saw was a girl I had gone to high school with that I hadn’t seen in ten years. You know, cause the ambulance wasn’t embarrassing enough.  

I’m also afraid for the surgery, but that fear hasn’t quite set in yet. It will set in tomorrow morning, approximately an hour before my procedure. I’ll sit in the waiting room with my mother and think about what’s about to happen. There is the added stress that they are hoping to fix a leak in my mechanical heart valve at the same time, but they won’t know if they can fix it until they’re in there. If they can’t plug it up, I may have to have open-heart surgery in the near future. It will be my fifth OHS and my first in 20 years. It will be my twelfth heart surgery over all, which is just slightly more ridiculous than having my eleventh. The whole thing is absurd.

For people with congenital heart disease, having surgery is always a possibility. It can come up whether we’re expecting it or not. I think the takeaway is that this is not a normal thing, so we’re entitled to feel however we want—annoyed, upset, embarrassed, etc. And at the same time, we can also still be grateful (which I am) that we have medical options and treatments to prolong our lives. No one can say that our feelings aren’t valid, because who else has had eleven heart surgeries? Seriously, please let me know if you or someone you know has, because I’m the only one I know so far.

*This post was written in October 2016. Clare survived her ICD replacement and did not have her leak fixed because it was too small. She is back in Los Angeles feeling as healthy as possible and more sarcastic than ever.

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