A matter of heart

Castlegar News bi-weekly columnist Gord Turner marvels at today's non-invasive medical techniques

We hear regularly about friends having heart attacks. They spend time in hospital, and often they are sent to a major hospital for the modern version of heart surgery.

Heart surgery today does not usually mean “open heart” surgery, where your chest is cut open, your heart is repaired, and then you are sewn up—a whole lot of hurt.

Heart surgery today is likely an angioplasty. During this surgery, a wire is inserted into the femoral artery near a person’s groin or through the wrist. The wire is then pushed all the way along the artery and into the heart.

People I’ve talked to are shaken initially at the nature of the angioplasty method of getting in and fixing the heart. Perhaps something could go wrong, but when I had my angioplasty, it was quite uneventful. It was less painful than going to the dentist.

After my heart attack, I was sent to Kelowna General where I was subjected to an angiogram. I ended up with a picture of my heart with the blockages and partial blockages shown.  One artery was listed as 99 per cent occluded, and so I was booked for an angioplasty in Vancouver General.

After six weeks, I was phoned and told to be in Vancouver the following Monday. I spent the first morning being interviewed by nurses and being shown videos of the angioplasty operation.

At noon, I donned a hospital gown before being wheeled in a moveable bed into the surgical area. I was # 6 in a line waiting for surgery. It was like flying and being stacked up at a busy major airport while waiting to land.

Finally, I was wheeled into a chilly room with lots of machines and tv monitors above me. I was helped onto a narrow table where I was prepped.

A nurse prepped me by locating the artery near my groin, slightly freezing the spot, and then inserting a catheter for entry to my body. This was the one part of the surgery that had some pain—like a wasp sting.

The doctor said I could watch the procedure on the tv just above me. He inserted the wire through the catheter and up into my heart. Dye was then injected into my heart so that it was possible to see the inside of the heart.

I was amazed as I watched the wire moving here and there in my heart. It was like viewing an underwater scene with sea plants waving back and forth.

I could not feel the wire in my heart. I only knew it was there because of the pictures and the doctor’s comments.

As the medical team worked, they joked about local events. Then, the chatter switched to hospital staffing issues. I wanted to tell them to concentrate on my heart, please.

At one point, I heard the doctor say he had to “cross over,” which I found out meant to push the wire through the 99 per cent blockage and open the artery. A minute later the nurse said she didn’t have the right size stent. I was quite grateful when she went to another room to find the correct size.

Eventually, the stent was inserted and sprung against the walls of the artery to create a “culvert” passageway. Then the wire was taken out, the catheter was removed, and a clamp was used to put pressure on the artery opening. That hurt a bit and stayed in place for 24 hours to be sure I wouldn’t bleed.

I was allowed to walk the next afternoon and sent home the following day. Feeling totally renewed, a week later I went back to teaching my college classes.

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