Operation Iron Man: The Prelude (part 1)

Three days before Christmas 2017, we found out that my husband, Herbert, needs to have triple bypass surgery. The surgery is this Wednesday, January 10th, 2018. Our pastor suggested I journal through the experience as a way to document how God orchestrated certain events leading up to and following the surgery. I’m choosing to blog about it because I think there are some great lessons we’ve already learned that could be of benefit to others.

I am calling this series, “Operation Iron Man” because after the surgeons saw through Herb’s sternum and use rib-spreaders to “crack” his chest, they will use a metal plate and titanium screws to put his breast-bone back together. My own personal Iron Man (minus the cool flying suit).

Here are the events that led up to the discovery that Herb needs this life-saving surgery…

My guy is 6 feet, 225 pounds. Like almost everyone I know, he could stand to lose 15-20 pounds but is by no means obese. He’s active and loves to run, ride his bike, and lift weights. We believe that good nutrition is important and try to minimize eating processed foods. Fast food is a once-in-a-while special treat, not an every day staple. Are we perfect? Of course not. Overall, I’d say that we eat a healthy, balanced diet.

That being said, heart disease runs in Herb’s family. His dad (also named Herbert) had his first heart attack when he was just 42 years-old and in peak physical condition. My father-in-law has had at least two bypass surgeries because his arteries form plaque at an accelerated rate. Believe me, as my Herb cruised through his 40’s, it was always in the back of my mind of when that shoe was going to drop. Was he destined to have heart problems too?

We were diligent in making sure that Herb got regular check-ups. He was managing his cholesterol and blood pressure with diet and exercise. Other than an annoying case of plantar fasciitis, which kept him from running for about a year (he started biking instead), he felt fine–well, other than being tired most of the time.

We explained away his chronic tiredness as “just life”. We have three kids with special needs (13yo, 7yo, and 6yo). Our youngest two are adopted and have their own set of challenges from being in foster care. Life in our house is frequently hard as we manage ADHD, Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), and Intermittent Explosive Disorder. It was understandable why Herb was exhausted on weekends and just wanted to sleep.

Fast forward to July 2017. Herb just turned 52 and realized that he should probably get those pesky 50-something exams done: stress test, colonoscopy, etc.

First came the colonoscopy. We got the results right away. Negative. Everything in that test was perfect! He would just have to repeat the test every 5 years or so.

Then came the stress-test, EKG and CT scan (this is when they insert dye into the heart and take an x-ray to see how the blood is flowing). It would be several weeks to get those results back.

Immediately after the colonoscopy, however, Herb started having severe bouts of burping. It was aggravating, but we figured it was his body eliminating the extra air the doctor pumped into his gut during the procedure. Days turned into a few weeks and the burping continued. It seemed to get worse when Herb exercised or exerted himself in any way. When he was sitting still, the burping would stop. This was not the I’ve-eaten-my-body-weight-in-hot-wings or drank-a-gallon-of soda burping. This was a painful build-up of gas in his chest. Very painful.

Finally he’d had enough and went back to the gastroenterologist for answers. The doctor was perplexed as to the cause, because that was not a normal side effect of the colonoscopy. He wanted Herb to have an upper GI scope test done to see if they could figure out this strange condition. The GI doctor knew that Herb had seen the cardiologist for the stress test and wanted that doctor to clear Herb to be put under general anesthesia for the GI test.

Whew! Still with me? I know, I’m trying to keep it all straight too.

So back to cardiology for the results of the stress test…

The EKG/stress-test showed an irregular heartbeat. The cardiologist was not overly concerned about this because Herb wasn’t having any cardiac symptoms (being lightheaded, shortness of breath, chest pain, etc.). The CT scan indicated that there might be a partial blockage in one of his arteries. When Herb mentioned the burping, the doctor became very concerned and scheduled him for a heart catheter test that Friday, December 22nd.

[All of this was overwhelming and I did some Googling to wrap my mind around how burping and heart problems were related. Apparently, burping when exercising or doing strenuous activity (not related to eating), is one of the lesser-known cardiac symptoms.]

That Friday, Herb had the catheter test. The kids were on Christmas break, so I stayed home with them while Herb was at the hospital. I was on pins and needles all day, just waiting for a call with some news.  When Herb finally called (still drowsy from the anesthesia) all I heard was, “Doctor says it’s not good. I need a triple bypass.”


To be continued…





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