Dead for Eleven Seconds

I died on September 19, a complication of aortic valve replacement surgery. (Please read my previous blog, “The Clock is Ticking,” for context.)

I was only out for eleven seconds, thanks to a cardiac arrest that happened the day after surgery when the medical team sat me up in a chair. Fortunately, the nurse with me saw what was happening and reacted quickly, calling a code blue. The team resuscitated me using the injection process popularized in “Pulp Fiction.”

During my eleven-second sabbatical, I didn’t witness a white light, angels, God, the devil, or anything else with a religious or spiritual connotation. Instead, it was just enough time to play — and win — one hand of Texas Hold’em poker against my good buddy, Frank, who died from a massive heart attack on Superbowl Sunday, 2016. My most sincere thanks to the medical pros at San Martin hospital here in Las Vegas for pulling me back from the abyss. If this doesn’t qualify me for a lifetime man card, I don’t want to know what will.

My surgeon had told me that, if all went well, I’d be in cardiac intensive care for three to five days. Unfortunately, my body kept throwing me curves. Because of my side effects, I spent more than a week in cardiac ICU, with a total of nineteen days hospitalized before they felt comfortable sending me home. After intensive care, they transferred me to a private room, where one of my earliest memories is of my wife, Tammy, greeting me with a lox, bagel, and cream cheese sandwich. I’m grateful for my family — wife, daughters, grandkids, not to mention friends and work colleagues — for the love, prayers, good vibes, crossed fingers, and overall support. I love you guys. Thanks to you all for making sure I was well taken care of and not feeling lonely or neglected. I don’t know what people with no family or friends do in these situations.

Keep in mind that, at this point, I really didn’t understand what I’d been through. When the hospital physical therapists helped me navigate down the hall with the aid of a walker, various other personnel would greet me with a big smile and some variation of “There’s the miracle man!” I would grin back and say “Hey,” but just figured they were messing with me, the way younger people sometimes do with older folks. Later, when I learned the details of my ordeal, I began to comprehend why they were truly happy to see me up and about. Many seemed to admire my resilience.

At home, which is the best healing place, I’ve been working with a seemingly endless supply of doctors, nurses, physical therapists, psychologists, and more to help me regain my strength, balance, and endurance. Nearly three months later, I’m doing much better, making physical, mental, and emotional progress each day. Bottom line: My recovery is a little slow for my taste — for example, my appetite hasn’t fully returned — but the doctors seem pleased. My cardiologist characterized my recovery as “extraordinary,” which is good enough for me.

I’ve never been a particularly emotional man, but I’m finding myself getting choked up over the most random things — a song, a scrap of conversation, a Hallmark commercial. I guess that means I’m happy to still be around. Let’s hope I can make it to the end of the twenty-year warranty on my new pig valve.

Heart Surgery