from the heart- part 6


heart_logo“Mr. Kendrick, we have a problem.” Lying on this surgical table, my mind a little fuzzy from the drugs, looking at my heart on the monitor. The doctor points to a spot on the screen that shows the arteries running to and from my heart. “Look at this artery here- see how wide and thick it is? This is a healthy artery with very little blockage. Now look at this one- see how thin it is? This artery is very blocked by plaque. So is this one, and this one, and this one. Four of your coronary arteries are almost totally blocked. You’re lucky because your body tried to heal itself and see all these smaller arteries branching around this clogged one? Your arteries have developed smaller branches to carry the blood around this clog. Because of the “branching” we don’t need to bypass that one. The other three are shot to hell and they will have to be bypassed with arteries taken from somewhere else on the body and grafted onto the diseased ones. Do you understand, Mr. Kendrick?”I nod yes- I can’t speak at all. From the sheer awe of watching my own heart on the monitor to the cold fear that has just totally gripped me, I just can’t utter a sound. I hear the doctor and nurses saying they don’t think I understand what he’s telling me, interpreting my silence for drugged stupor perhaps. I just lie there and nod.To read from the heart- part 1 go hereTo read from the heart- part 2 go hereTo read from the heart- part 3 go hereTo read from the heart- part 4 go hereTo read from the heart- part 5 go here

Dr. Tawa tells me they’re going to finish and take me back to the ICU room in a few minutes. He’ll stop in and explain to my wife and I what the options are after the anesthesia has cleared from my head. All I can think of is how very cold and terrified I am. The next thing I remember clearly was back in the ICU lying in the bed and Sheri asking me if I hurt. I didn’t hurt at all but there was now a bandage on my groin where they had inserted the catheter. Since it went into a major artery they wanted to make sure the bleeding stopped completely according to the nurse on duty.The doctor came in a short while later and laid out the options. I had to have a triple bypass as soon as possible since the risk of having a heart attack soon was very high. One of the arteries was 100% clogged, one 90%, and the third over 75% clogged. He was also very concerned about strokes- when the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen bad things happen. Given what he’d seen of my arteries the likelihood was high I would have problems. After discussing it with him a while we agreed there really wasn’t any choice to make. Either have the surgery or probably die pretty soon. It’s amazing how difficult that decision was for me even given those choices. I had seen what bypass surgery entailed on one of the cable channels, the Discovery channel or another channel like that. I have always been interested in medical technology and how it has revolutionized health care and about a year before there was a show on the tube of a bypass operation. Right now I wish I’d never seen it. Usually I want to be informed about things like this so I would have no surprises but at this point I wish I did not know what they were going to do to me in the operating room. Lucky for Sheri she didn’t know exactly what would happen during the surgery. I felt pretty sure she would freak out had she known and she later admitted that was true.Coronary bypass surgery involves making an incision down the center of the chest, about 7 inches long. They cut open the breastbone with a saw and then using rib spreaders they open the ribs wide to create a workspace for the surgeons. A heart/lung machine is attached to the major arteries which takes over the circulation of blood and oxygen. This is essential because to work on the heart they have to stop it. Completely. The heart is stopped for several hours while the operation proceeds and the machine keeps the patient alive. Veins are taken, usually from the legs, and are surgically grafted onto the good part of the coronary artery, and a new blood path is created bypassing the clogged area. I have an uncle in his 70s who had a bypass operation a couple of months before and in his case they had trouble getting good veins from his legs to use for the bypass and as a result he had incisions on the inside of both legs from the calf to almost the groin. Creating a bypass with grafted veins is repeated for each artery that has to be bypassed. Once the grafts are in place and done, the doctors restart the heart with medication. If there is a problem restarting it, and there sometimes is, they use open heart massage and possibly shock to get it going again. This is the trickiest part of the procedure according to the cardiologist and often where they lose patients who don’t survive the operation, according to the documentary I had seen. When everything is done they wire the breastbone back together and close the patient up. The patient then recovers for an hour before being moved up to the ICU, as the hours immediately after the surgery are the critical ones.Dr. Tawa said he wanted to move me to Methodist Hospital in the medical center district. They have one of the best cardiac programs in the world and he was waiting for confirmation that the surgeon he wanted to do the operation agreed to take me on. He left to try to reach this doctor and I started to get really anxious as it was now sinking in what was going to happen. Like I said- I knew what the surgery entailed. He came back in the room too quickly for me, and said that Dr. Gerald Lawrie had agreed to operate on me the next day. He emphasized that Dr. Lawrie was one of the best cardiac surgeons in the world and I was extremely lucky to get him for my bypass. There we go again talking about luck but in this case it was absolutely true. I would be hearing for weeks how good Lawrie is at heart surgery. Right then it just wasn’t registering at all.The doctor told us that there were no free beds in the cardiac care wing of Methodist Hospital and they couldn’t move me until they had a confirmed room for me. I was to remain in the ICU at Cy Fair Hospital until the time to move me. I should recap the chronology of all the events that had happened to this point so it makes sense and I have to admit I’m having to rely on Sheri to keep the timeline accurate. The timing of events would be jumbled in my memory for some time to come. We had arrived at the ER at around 10 PM on September 4, 2001. It took the ER doctors and Dr. Tawa until 8 am on September 5 to get my BP down enough to move me to the ICU. The catheterization took place in the early afternoon on September 5 and we waited for hours until the word came that they were ready to move me to Methodist. The move commenced at almost midnight.An ambulance had been ordered to transport me to Methodist Hospital so I could try and get a little sleep before they prepped me for surgery. The bypass was scheduled for 3 PM the following afternoon (Sep 6) and there was a lot of medication and prepping to do before it was time. They also wanted to make sure there was time for my family to come to the hospital. Oh man. No turning back now.The two guys in the ambulance crew showed up and if the Keystone Kops had an EMT department these guys would fit right in. They were both really big guys with one of them topping 300 pounds easily. They moved me over to the ambulance gurney and started wheeling me away. Sheri asked them to wait so she could follow them in her car as she was parked pretty far away and she didn’t want to lose sight of where I was. It was nice of them to wait for her to appear behind us just outside the emergency room and it was so comforting to look out the back window of the ambulance and watch her slide in behind us. I watched her all the way to Methodist Hospital, a ride that took about 25 minutes. The EMT guys couldn’t get the electrical system to work very well at first and the interior light kept going off and on and the emergency lights on top of the vehicle wouldn’t come on. They debated for five minutes when we were just getting ready to leave Cy Fair Hospital whether they should call for a different ambulance or not. In the end they decided we’d make it OK and we took off and headed for the freeway. I watched Sheri out the window all the way to the hospital and got panicky when they switched lanes and I couldn’t see her for a while before she slid back in behind us. We made it in one piece and due to construction around the ER entrance at Methodist they had to offload me from the ambulance a good 100 feet from the door and literally push me down the street. Finally we get settled into a room for some rest. I’ve now been up for over 24 hours and it’s 2 AM Sep 6. I’m so scared I can hardly sleep and I’m starving but they won’t give me anything but ice chips pre-surgery. It would be 2 days before I got to eat and then that would be from a straw.



I’ve always had an interest in medical documentarys (kinda morbid I guess ;-). Having read your notes, I think I’ll stop watching them now. I’m 34 so hopefully a life changing instance such as your JK, is a little way off.

I’ve had a ‘few’ hospital experiences since childhood and I agree, ignorance is bliss when it comes to medical procedures on your OWN body!


Oh man…..this is chilling….I’m torn….I want to know the ending but I don’t want the story to end….keep going man!

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