Tuesday, September 4, 2018


If you inspect the blog archive listed along the left-hand column, you will note that I started with great energy, posting 70 entries in 2011, most of them related to my work on the Farm House. My output plunged in 2012, because of a creeping lack of energy, and occasional balance issues. I was under a doctor's care throughout this period, but they reported my health as excellent. I thus pushed onward.

A crippling right-shoulder tendinitis, brought on by hanging by my left hand from the peak of the north front dormer to work with my right hand on the part I couldn't reach standing on the scaffold, shut me down completely for most of 2013. I rallied somewhat in 2014, but never really got back up to speed; my last work-related post was in March 2016.

Don't worry: all this navel-gazing has a point.

I struggled to get back on the horse until the end of 2017, when Wifey found a new family doctor. I was skeptical at first. Frankly, I was tired of hearing that nothing was wrong with me, and had been made positively gun-shy by a succession of rude doctors with dehumanizing front offices.

Wifey's report of her first visit to this new doctor indicated strongly to me that she was worth taking a flyer on, and so the week after Thanksgiving I had my first appointment with her. We had a delightful visit, and as she proceeded through her examination, she became increasingly pleased by the state of my health.

Then she said, "Well, we're almost done here. Let me just take a listen to your heart." She did so, then said, "Hmm. . . I'm hearing quite a murmur here. Do you know what a heart murmur is?" I said I'd heard of it, but didn't know what caused it. She put her stethoscope on me and had me listen to her heart: "bump-bump, bump-bump."

Then she had me listen to my heart: "bump-FWOOMPH, bump-FWOOMPH."

She told me that she thought I had a bicuspid aortic valve, and subsequent testing confirmed that diagnosis. Briefly, this means that I was born with only two leaflets in my heart's aortic valve; the factory standard is three. It's the most common form of heart disease present at birth, and it affects about 1.3% of adults. It typically doesn't start to make itself known until one's fifties.

After the diagnosis, our efforts turned towards a fix. Traditionally, heart-valve replacement has involved open-heart surgery, but recently alternate options have become available. We spent a great deal of time trying to qualify for a study of a minimally-invasive procedure known as TAVR, where they access the heart through one's groin. It's a lot safer than open-heart surgery and the recovery time is considerably shorter; our doctor was extremely enthusiastic about it and the study's lead doctor, one of the two leading cardiothoracic surgeons hereabouts.

Well, after a lot of testing, and months of waiting with no news, it finally came down that I was rejected for the TAVR study, even though my age and my complete lack of other heart or vascular disease supposedly made me a good candidate. The study doctors provided no reason for my rejection.

So, I resigned myself to the necessity of having an open-heart procedure. This was made much easier by the realization that the TAVR procedure does come with its own risks. I decided that, given my otherwise excellent cardiovascular health, the traditional procedure would give me a greater chance of unconditional recovery.

And so, we investigated the possibility of getting in with the other leading cardiothoracic surgeon in town. That proved, blessedly, to be no problem. We had actually received several personal recommendations for this doctor from former patients, but our family doctor was more enthusiastic about the other one.

This angel of healing looked over all my health records and test results, in conference with his staff, then came into my exam room and said, "How would you feel about a new minimally-invasive procedure where we go in through a relatively short incision on your upper chest to do the work?"

Uh, how do I feel about a miracle? The most munificent answer to a prayer I have ever received? "Yes, that'd be great!" I exploded as calmly as possible (I had learned by that point that I needed to stay calm at all times, in order to keep my pulse below three digits).

Cutting to the present, the operation was last Tuesday. It took a snappy hour and forty-five minutes for my doctor and his associates to bring me up to design specs. I came home on Saturday, after a surprisingly enjoyable hospital stay. Without exception, every doctor, nurse and technician with whom I came in contact treated me with a friendly respect. That is a huge understatement, but it is at least accurate; all seemed to enjoy their job greatly, and showed genuine personal interest in my recovery.

Moreover, I was deeply moved by the attention and concern shown, and help rendered, by my family and friends. I sincerely did not know that I mattered so much in this world. I thank you, Wifey thanks you, and our pets thank you.

I have about a month of closely-monitored recovery in front of me, but even under the dizzying influence of a dozen medicines, I feel much better than I did before the operation.

So soon after my recovery is complete, I hope to debut Otis 2.0: now with increased oxygen content!

And I did eventually learn why I was rejected for the TAVR procedure: my aorta is bigger than their biggest artificial valve! I thus have documentary proof of what I've been saying all along: I'm a big-hearted fellow.

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"Where were you?"