Here's a picture of what your heart doesn't really look like - it's a (probably) plasltic model but it gives you an idea. Your actual heart could be held in your hand. It's larger than a big apple and smaller than mango -- and messy, soft, wet and attached to arteries. I hope never to see my actual heart. I think most people feel the same.
When she was younger than I now am, my mother had a very major heart attack. The doctors and nurses sent us home from the hospital saying she would not wake up and they'd let us know when she was gone. They didn't. She revived, had triple by-pass surgery and lived another seven years. Her recovery was difficult and lengthy. Of course, I think about that often and am thankful (this IS Thanksgiving) that I not only had a different lifestyle -- because our circumstances changed -- and have good cardiac care both from doctors and self-administered in the sense of exercise and diet.
This is on my mind today because yesterday a friend, Anna, about my age, emailed me about her heart valve replacement that occurred earlier this week. Now, heart valve replacement is somewhat less drastic than the need for transplant, I only sort of understand all this. What I do understand is that my friend wrote of having her valve replaced without surgery. I somewhat understand the procedure she experienced. About 10 years ago I had a 60% blocked artery, a stent was placed in the artery to keep it open. This replacement was done while I was awake, mildly sedated, as a catheter was threaded from a vein in my groin up into my heart. This still sounds incredible to me but it did not take very long, they were able to watch on a video-ed sort of x-ray and knew exactly what they were doing. I wished I could see the video (I had seen the live video of a root canal operation and found it fascinating) but of course the monitor was where the doctors could see it and not I. The procedure took only a short time. I was rolled out and up to a room in the hospital and instructed to lie absolutely flat on my back and not move for about six hours.
I write about all this because what Anna described as her valve replacement seemed to be almost the same thing but with a valve instead of a stent. In the intervening ten years a variety of improvements have probably been devised. I can kind of picture a tiny piece of metal being placed in an artery. I cannot picture how a valve could be affixed -- actually I cannot really picture heart valves -- But so it was. Anna, too, wished she could see what was happening. However, after a recovery period -- she didn't say how long -- she was allowed to leave the hospital with her niece and they were able to go to dinner in the evening and even celebrate with a glass of wine.
I am astonished by the seeming simplicity of this procedure. I am very happy for Anna. I supposed that being at one of Boston's several very excellent hospitals makes this kind of treatment probably unavailable to many people who live in other parts of the country. As a person with diagnosis of heart disease, I am thankful such advances continue to be made. I am thankful that times have changed, that so much more is known about how the body works and what we can do to maintain our own health.
I wish that this kind of care were available for everyone. I know that for the vast majority of people in the world such things are beyond all possibility. On Thanksgiving I can be grateful I am where I am but I cannot forget, as I read the paper, which I did a short time ago, that in many places in the world people are in danger and have almost none of the comforts I have. We really must enjoy the feasts we will have today and the family and friends but never forget we are in a very big world with very many people who are not as lucky as we are.
The mid-70s are a surprise! Part of me remains in the 50s -- age, I mean, not decade of 20th century. It's a joy ride, new experiences land in my lap and I've become a better quilter, poet, writer than I expected. It's a rich life for a person never rich financially. Hey, this is what the mid-70s are like!