A high-voltage song from the band AC DC rocks my headset, jolts my brain, legs, arms, and attitude. Deep below the bone-crunching guitar of “It’s A Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll)”, an accompanying hard-driving riff powers something bigger; it goes thump, thump, thump, thump, thump. I’m winded, gasp for air, and my face turns red. When I press my fingers against my sweaty neck, I count 125 thumps a minute and relish every breath.
I’m running sprints and have only been able to listen to my heart beat like this since open-heart surgery at Mayo Clinic. I was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (my story) a few years ago, a condition that inhibits blood flow because the heart muscle is too thick. I tried medicine, but decided that a procedure to remove a part of that muscle, a septal myectomy, was my best option. Immediately after surgery, a new sound with a steady rhythm and powerful cadence played through my body; this music to my ears was my new and improved heartbeat, which continues today, nearly three years later.
Over this time, I have seen a lot of similar questions about HCM surgery on social media sites. After my positive experience, I wanted to share some HCM CARE tips to help patients and families prepare for surgery:
Help – Prior to surgery; get help at home and at work. Line up a caregiver, friend, or family member for two weeks after surgery. My wife was amazing and without her, I believe I would have suffered setbacks. If you work and have a leave of absence policy, make arrangements as early as possible and try to detach from work during your recovery. In my case, that helped me recover physically and mentally.
Clean – Follow wound prep instructions precisely before and after surgery. Prepare as many laundered clean towels and wash cloths as you can before leaving for the hospital, if possible, at least 20. These need to be clean every day when you get home, so load up. In my case it was also recommended to use liquid, not bar soap.
Meals – Try to buy or prepare two weeks of frozen dinners and lunches. You might not feel like bending over after you return home. This also offers the opportunity eat healthy.
Chair – If you have a seat to recline in, great. I didn’t, and that would be one of my top recommendations. If you can afford to buy a chair or rent one of those seats that props you up, please consider that. The first few weeks after surgery, I felt like a turtle trying to roll upright after tipping over.
Area restaurants and hotels – I live in Rochester, Minnesota and work at Mayo Clinic in Communications, so this experience was easier for me, but a lot of people ask for a list of hotels and restaurants.
Rehab – Studies show that people who participate in rehab have an improved long-term outcome. When I came home, my wife would take me to the mall and I would shuffle from store to store until I built up enough stamina to work out. This report from our Mayo Clinic News Network on my cardiac rehab from about two years ago shows the benefits. Also, if it is offered to you, I recommend massages by an occupational therapist who can work the muscles that have been traumatized. I began this in the hospital and believe it helped me.
Exhale and inhale – My biggest surprise was low lung capacity. Even though my daughters tried to make me laugh in the hospital, I could barely make a squeaking sound. I used a spirometer (not quite like the one in the picture but a smaller version) to learn how to exhale and inhale after being placed on the heart-lung machine during surgery. The goal or incentive of the spirometer is to open the air sacs in your lungs, making it easier to breathe deeply and keep your lungs clear. It is believed that proper usage may speed up your recovery time while reducing your risk of developing pneumonia or other breathing problems.
Additionally, no matter how many pictures and videos as you see before your surgery, it’s still surprising to see wires and tubes coming out of your chest.
Everyone’s experience is unique, so always please keep that in mind. I would go through it again in a heartbeat (pun intended) and as I have said often, the team at Mayo exceeded all of my expectations.
The intense pain following surgery subsided after the first few days and today, I feel decades younger. I have high exercise tolerance and on most days, my overall energy level is very good. However, I occasionally experience bouts of low energy, and when that happens, I try to lay low and sleep. Atypically, my appetite is less than it was prior to surgery and my food tastes have changed. That’s good in that I lost a healthy amount of weight, but bad because I don’t enjoy my wife’s fantastic cooking like I used to. While my heart is doing well, I have experienced frequent back pain over the past few years. I have gone through physical therapy and am told my core is strong, but I continue to address this challenge.
Social media was an invaluable resource to learn about HCM and preparing to make a decision about surgery. In addition to Mayo’s online information about HCM surgery I also found support on the Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Forum on Mayo Clinic Connect as well as on Facebook in the Mayo Clinic HCM Patients Group and on the blog by fellow patient Cynthia Burstein Waldman, HCMBeat.
I felt prepared because I read posts and blogs from other patients, conducted a lot of research, and felt informed going into this. I do wish that I would have connected with more patients to learn about the post-operative challenges after going home. My surgery was a great success and I hope this post can help make your experience even better.
For those of you who have had surgery, what tips would you add ?
About Ron Petrovich:
Ron Petrovich has had a long career in journalism and public relations and has worked at Mayo Clinic since 2010. He currently serves as Communications Director, News and News Delivery in Mayo Clinic’s Department of Public Affairs.
Ron was diagnosed with HCM while an employee at Mayo Clinic (see his story here) and now generously shares the benefit of his experience in order to help others on the same journey. You can find him on Twitter @RonaldPetrovich.
Editor’s Note: If you are thinking of visiting Mayo Clinic for HCM treatment, you may also find this post from the SADS Channel blog informative.