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A Christmas Tale...
That which does not destroy us...

By: David K. Every
(C) 1997 - All Rights Reserved

This is not necessarily a cheery story. Years ago, I learned that I can write as a way to think through issues in my life. It is a way to relieve stress, and reflect -- and hopefully, by making some of my thoughts available, I can help others reflect on themselves and events in their lives as well, and make some small positive impact.

The first part of this story was written before (and during) lifes little trial. The latter part was written after the fact.

One of the saddest commentaries I can make on society is how many people run through life on auto-pilot. They get the little pictures, and miss the bigger ones and forget about what is really important to them -- but that is easy to do if there aren't enough trials and pressures. We learn the most in our lives under periods of extreme stress or even pain. It is sad that wisdom has such a high cost, but it often does. Hopefully by writing (or reading) we can learn from others experiences without paying such a high price.

My wife is in the Hospital. She spent the night in the ICU because of her heart... and they are doing an angeogram on her as I write this (1). Even though this is not an incredibly risky procedure, it is still very stressful.

(1) An angeogram is a procedure where they put a catheter inside your artery (usually the femoral artery or through the inner thy), and push it into the heart, and then shoot a dye in, and then film the results.

The Ghost of Christmas Past

Melissa (my wife) is only 29, but had a congenital birth defect (deformed coronary artery) since birth (of course congenital means since birth -- but I will be redundant for the sake of clarity). When she was 14 they did a double bypass on her. She lives an ordinary life style (except for being vegetarian, by choice), and has never let her heart problems keep her down.

We were married about three and a half years ago (but were together for 3 years before that), and it has been the best years of my life (and the best decision I ever made) -- and I believe she feels the same. Around 3 years ago, her heart started bothering her again, and we went through the whole test route. It takes weeks (months) for them to get to the serious tests, even with her history. We learned the hard way that most diagnostic procedures for the heart are near useless, and it wasn't until they ran an Angeogram that we found out what was wrong. (I have a very cynical view of most tests, since they are more for liability and an insurance check-off list than any real practical usage).

Well, it turned out that her venous bypasses had aneurized (they were swelling up, and giving out under the pressure). So they had to do another bypass on her. That was a very stressful period in our lives. The impotence of watching a loved one being wheeled away, so that they can cut them open (in the hopes of doing more good than harm), is unexplainable. The fear of loss is even worse. It is amazing how long minutes can be -- but waiting 6 or more hours is unbearable, plus we got the bonus plan of another 4 hours for an emergency surgery after that. (The main surgery was a success, but my wife started bleeding out a few hours later. Something inside her heart had opened up, and she went through 13 units of blood and was rushed in for a second emergency surgery). In the end she was better, and the new arterial bypasses are supposed to last a lot longer than the old ones (2).

(2) One way of doing a bypass is by stealing veins from other parts of the body (usually the leg) and rerouting around a blockage or problem in the heart. The problem is that the veins are a low-pressure system (blood returning to the heart), the arteries are a high pressure system (blood being pumped from the heart). Sometimes veins can't handle the pressure, and either slowly clog up (to try to cope), or slowly expand -- so I think they say you've got about 10-15 years out of most venous bypasses (my wife's lasted 13). The arterial bypass used mamarial arteries (that supply blood to the breast bone) and they just route those over and use them. Since they are already high pressure, they should last a lot longer. On a 28 year old, this is important.

It is horrible to watch a person suffer through the recovery, and you can't imagine the torture of seeing a loved one on a ventilator and hooked up to machines (unless you've been there). Recovery is a long painful period, and most do not like their new "invalid" status. It is amazing that a something that takes a couple hours can just wipe out strength so severely and cause effects that last for months (or more). She recovered quickly, but it was still very hard for her -- and there is post operative depression and other stresses. Still, it may as hard (or worse) for all those who care about her, and can do nothing to help. Just watching and waiting.

The Ghost of Christmas Present

We all have tough times in our lives -- it is usually not a matter of "if", more a matter of "when". Well, now is one of those times for my wife (and me).

Her heart has been bugging her again (it has been a few years of "fine"), and so they have been trying to treat it with drugs. Well, it started hurting her the other day, and so they decided to schedule her for another angeogram (for Friday). Then due to scheduling conflicts, it got postponed to Monday. On Sunday she had a lot of pain, and could not breath and was brought to tears (and the Emergency room) by her chest pain. They decided to keep her in the ICU overnight, and had lots of ectopic heart beats (normal for her), and low blood pressure (68 over 26). Tomorrow they will run the test.

Once again the waiting begins, and is aggravated by Hospital time (3).

(3) See the following translation table to understand better how time is relative... 

Hospital Time
Normal Time
5 Minutes
1 Hour
10 Minutes
Later tonight
Did we mention a.m.?

I am convinced that Hospital time proves Einstein's theory of relativity -- in that some actions inside the Hospital are approaching the speed of light, and so for all of us outside observers, time seems to have slowed down (or stopped).

(After Procedure)

The test was a success, in that my wife is fine. As far as procedures go, an angeogram is not very bad (more annoying than painful). The worst part of the procedure is the 6 hours you (she) have to lie flat on your back, just waiting for your femoral artery to heal itself -- eating Hospital Food, and trying to work a Hospital T.V. (that can only change channels in one direction). They practically have to strap my wife down to keep her there (which under other circumstances might not be so bad).

The results of the test are perplexing. Before the test they were talking congestive heart failure, and a Mitral Value Prolapse in the 3 range (which would require replacement) -- I guess they want to prepare you for the worst by scaring the crud out of you. After the surgery, they are saying that everything looks fine. The pain is caused by growing up with a deficient coronary artery, which caused all the feeder arteries to grow in too small, and now the replaced one can't help with the rest of the plumbing on that side. So serious angina is something she is going to have to live with -- but they will try to treat with drugs. Considering the amount of pain my wife has been experiencing of late, this diagnosis does not exactly make her cheerful.

Of course, we still have a concern or two. Last time the Doctors lied to us. They don't want to stress people out unnecessarily, so they will lie to you (sometimes) when something is wrong, until they can review the case with other doctors. They did this to us after her last Angeogram; telling us that everything looked good, then calling us a week later, and saying that they need to schedule her for surgery -- urgently. This time the doctor seemed more definitive in his positive reaction, and I asked some very specific questions (and this is a different doctor), but still the bond of trust is not completely healed (for me). The Doctor also mentioned that he was going to bring the case up for a full review (this is at a teaching hospital). So the stress is not exactly gone, and won't be for quite a while.

The Ghost of Christmas Future

There are some positives you can learn from stressful events (if you chose to). These events have caused my wife and I to face our own mortality -- and has done a lot to help us reshape our world views. We know the value of each other, because we almost lost it. We know the value of life, because we almost lost that too. These tragedies can be of great value if you want to learn from them, and apply he lessons in a positive way (as I believe my wife an I have done, or at least tried to do).

My wife and I were discussing the Christmas spirit the other day, and were wondering why people change so much during the holidays. Our opinion is that if someone is radically different during the "holidays", then they have a serious problem during the rest of the year. Why should Christmas be the time to be "nice" and civil, and not the other 11 months? We have made an effort (for years) to NOT become different people during the holidays, and instead try to make sure that "holiday persona" is our normal selves.

So I don't mean to "bumb you out"... and I am not trying to whine, or wallow in self-pitty -- in fact I am ecstatic that my wife is going to be fine. I just hope that by telling you our tale (along with venting), that you can have extra special appreciation for your family and loved ones this Christmas Holiday (even when they annoy the heck out of you), and remember to value what you have. But I also hope that reading about our trying experiences (which is mild compared to many other peoples), that you will be reminded to apply those feelings of love and caring (and treasuring what you have) for the rest of the year as well. If you want to give me thanks for this letter, then write me in 6 months or a year, and tell me that this article has made a you remember how much you value those you love.

Created: 12/16/97
Updated: 11/09/02

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