I was playing my normal friendly but intense game of squash with a regular partner. I felt really badly out of breath. Not unusual under the circumstances but somehow it felt different and took much longer to recover to normal. I suffered a repeat episode of this on the golf course a couple of weeks later. I was walking up an incline, pushing my clubs but knew there was no way I should be out of breath so badly. That helped me make a very good decision to go and see my GP. Being a normal bloke I probably hadn’t seen him for the last five years but I knew something wasn’t quite right. He agreed and undertook breathing and blood tests which were all normal until the echocardiogram. This apparently showed that I had regurgitation between two of the chambers in my heart. I was later told this was because my mitral valve had stopped working correctly and I was advised that this was going to need surgery sooner rather than later. I asked the doctor if this was a major operation and his frank response stuck with me throughout the process, he simply said “we don’t do minor heart surgery”.
I was very fortunate to have private health cover provided by my employers. Having been referred to a cardiologist at my local hospital he explained to me that the best person to look at me was Mr Ranjit Deshpande who apparently specialises in what lay people refer to as keyhole surgery. Again I was later to find this was properly referred to as minimally invasive surgery.
Having met Mr Deshpande he explained to me that in very simple terms my valve was correctly allowing blood to flow in one direction but it was also allowing some of that blood to reverse through the valve and this was what was causing my breathlessness. During further check-ups it was also discovered that my heart was racing a little – a condition known as Atrial Fibrilation (AF) which would also need to be resolved. For good measure they also discovered Atrial Septal Defect (ASD) which to most people is better known as a hole in the heart. It is amazing how quickly you learn all of these terms and acronyms when they directly affect you.
I was admitted to Guthrie Ward at Kings College Hospital, London in mid November 2016. I was there for a week and on day two Mr Deshpande along with his other consultant colleagues and amazing backup team performed the surgery. He told me he would be making a small incision on the right side of my chest explaining that this provided him the best access to my heart avoiding the significant muscular protection which surrounds our hearts. The AF team would be making an incision in my groin and would effectively block abnormal electrical signals and restore a normal heartbeat. They would also close the ASD. I have summed up in one paragraph the processes that took a full team of experts seven hours to undertake.
I was told that I would be wakening up in the high dependency unit and my wife was told that she could visit me there but that she had to be prepared to be surprised by the number of tubes and connections that would be coming from various parts of my neck and chest. This allowed the team to drain away any unwanted fluid and to accurately monitor the performance of my heart. My wife is a nurse but she was still shocked at not fully recognising me even after more than thirty years of marriage. This however was a very short term situation. The next day I was moved to a ward where I could still be monitored on a continuous basis and the main priority was to ensure I was eating and drinking sufficiently. I did feel extremely weak and exhausted which Mr Deshpande explained to me was largely caused from being on the life support machine for a number of hours during surgery. Our bodies apparently do not like the continuous and consistent pumping that these machines provide.
I returned to Guthrie Ward where the drips and drains were gradually reduced one by one until only my vital statistics were being monitored. I had been encouraged to be moving around as much as I could and by day four I was walking as far as the toilet. Believe me this provides you with great satisfaction to deal with your necessary ablutions even if it does take multiple times longer than previous to the operation.
I travelled home on day seven. From there on I was visited by our local cardiac nurse. The crucial aspect was movement. Walking whatever distance was possible, starting with the end of the driveway and slowly progressing. A road close to my house is on quite a steep incline and I could not believe I would ever make it to the top. The day I did provided cause for celebration. I realised my operation was badly timed because this meant I had to be out walking every day during December and January but you don’t get to pick and choose the timing of such things. Into January I started to attend a cardiac recovery class at our local sports centre. This started out with the minimum level of exercise and progressed over an eight week period by which time I was far more active. The crucial aspect of this was the confidence that the team gave me to push on bit by bit while wearing a heart monitor and also realising that there were several others in the class who had recently been through similar traumas of bypass operations, cardiac arrest etc.
In early March my story completes the circle when I had my first venture back onto the squash court. My fitness level had dropped significantly and it did take time to have faith in myself that I was not about to collapse after each point. That confidence slowly built up over the next few weeks. Around the same time I returned to work as a Finance Director although in retrospect I went back to work too soon. My employers had coped without me for over three months – another five or six weeks would have made no difference to them. Fellow employees assume that because you are back at work you are fit to work and fail to recognise the plan of easing yourself back in to your role.
As I write I have just passed the five year anniversary of my operation. I have since retired from work but I am still very active. I have a tiny scar on my chest but other than that nobody would ever know I have undergone such treatment. I now have time for golf and the gym a couple of times each week and I still play a bit of squash and badminton. My wife and I tow our caravan all over the country and we love meeting our family and friends. All of this is only possible due to the complete professionalism of Mr Deshpande, his colleagues and support team. My recovery was considerably enhanced as a result of the minimally invasive procedure. Yes it was still major surgery, yes it was all very scary but I am so pleased I put my life in the hands of these experts and got my problem resolved before the situation deteriorated.