The Next Two Appointments

I’m surprised that it happened as quickly as the consultant said it would, just four weeks and two days after my last appointment, the CT Scan to provide the surgeons with an understanding of everything around the damaged valve, I now have a double whammy – a surgery consultation followed by the scarily titled, “Pre-Op Assessment”.

It’s happening, and it looks like its going to be soon.

There’s no denying that I’ve been worrying about the next step, not because of what it might bring in itself – I’m used to tests galore, I’ve had so many X-Rays, MRIs, Echocardiograms, ECGs, and straight consultations, I don’t even think about them now, In fact I know my way around Edinburgh Royal Infirmary pretty well and going there doesn’t phase me in the slightest – no, it’s because of what it means in its entirety. The operation is coming and there’s nothing I can do about it.

I cycle 12-13km a day in and out of work, and the cycle home is rather uphill, on Fridays I’ve taken to running in and out of work, and on the weekends I will try and do a 10km run into the Pentlands, a trail run. There’s also some dog walking in there, although to be fair my wife does do most of it. My point is I’m pretty active and I’m still surprised by the idea that I need heart surgery, that my heart doesn’t work that well. I’ve said it before in my previous post, there’s no need to go over old ground, but part of me still believes that if I can keep doing this level of exercise then I don’t really need to have the surgery. While I’ve been thinking like that, the medical process has been continuing.

Since the last appointment, when it struck me that I really was going to have open heart surgery, I’ve become paranoid about my heart. While I’m carrying these desires to keep doing what I’m doing, I’ve been feeling a weight on my chest, tingling sensations, the feeling of my heart beating inside my rib cage. I don’t believe I’m suddenly feeling the symptoms I’ve never before experienced, I think it’s either psycho-sematic, or I’m stressing myself out about what’s happening.

Starting running has fired something in me similar to the time when I started mountain biking. I enjoy it, it gives me a great buzz, I have a passion about it (even if I’m not great at it), particularly trail running. With nothing else beside some of my favourite audiocasts to learn from, I’m off into the hills and running across fields filled with sheep, alongside foxes, chasing squirrels and unidentifiable, fast moving creatures in the woods, away from everything else in my life and the world. It’s me concentrating on my running form and listening to Criminal and Guardian’s Long Read while enjoying the glorious sunshine – that describes today’s 10km perfectly. It’s something about going out there under my own steam, and the segment comparisons in Garmin Connect and Strava are just an added bonus.

I fear losing that and cycling. I fear piling on weight and not enjoying the post exercise buzz.

That’s a nice story in all, but I have to admit I’m also scared of something more serious, and while chances are slim and this is a routine procedure these days, I’m still thinking about and scared of dying. We all go sometime, and as Richard Dawkins wrote (I just listened to a Guardian Long Read audiocast about him):

“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?”

I really like those lines, taken from his book Unweaving the Rainbow (Amazon UK / Amazon US). The audiocast delivered just the opening sentence, noting that these words were going to be read at Dawkins funeral, but the entire passage resonates with me. So I’m going to approach it looking to the recovery and trying not to think of worst case scenarios, of returning to running, and preventing a future heart failure so I can live longer.

Another part of me will turn to the way my mother behaved outwardly regarding her bypass, I think it was a triple, and it’s fair to say in many respects I am most like her. She wanted to know everything about it before it happened, even watched videos of the operation. She kept positive, upbeat and joked about it all the time, and while that might not be what she was feeling inside or in private, that’s how she behaved around others. That is the way I am. While I’ve never looked at a video of the operation, I have learned much about the condition and operation, watched and read about the recovery and the immediate hours following.

Going towards this I shall be taking the Richard Dawkins and Moira Brunton approach. In fact one of my questions to the consultant when he said it was going ahead was “can I still drink red wine on Warfarin?”, the other was “can I get back to running and cycling?”.

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