Paul’s Emergency Open Heart Surgery

Three weeks ago today, on June 29, Paul underwent emergency open heart surgery.

Here’s what happened . . .

On Saturday, June 25, at about 9am Paul walked into the bedroom from outside and started to feel dizzy. Layne was lazily sleeping beneath the covers and raised her head to say “Good morning,” just as he suddenly fell to the floor. His body went into rigid convulsions in which he was unable to breathe as he turned blue.

Layne jumped out of bed and rushed to hold him and then quickly gave him mouth to mouth resuscitation. When he started taking faint breaths she reached for the phone and dialed 911. The woman’s voice at the end of the line coached Layne to keep Paul breathing until the ambulance arrived. Even though Paul’s eyes were open, it was clear he was not conscious of what was happening.

Within about fifteen minutes the paramedics arrived and revived Paul enough to speak. He was consciously aware for the first time since feeling dizzy and was surprised to find himself lying on the floor and at the paramedics hovering over him.

They quickly got Paul onto a gurney and into the ambulance on the way to St. Vincent’s Hospital Emergency Room.

Layne was beside herself with worry as she called a friend, Robin, to see if he could meet her at the hospital. Thankfully, he answered the phone and rushed to meet Layne and Paul at the emergency room where he remained with them all day.

After a full day of rigorous diagnostic testing, the cause of Paul’s collapse was clarified; he was diagnosed with a heart condition called severe aortic stenosis. This is a condition that can spontaneously close off the oxygen supply to the brain and body.  This is what happened to Paul in the bedroom.

They were told that Paul required open heart surgery to replace his aortal valve as soon as possible. Though both Paul and Layne were relieved to know what had caused the crisis of the morning, they were both reeling from the emotional aftermath of the day and the news of his impending surgery.

The closest hospital that could do the procedure was the New Mexico Heart Hospital in Albuquerque, fifty miles away. Paul’s condition was not sufficiently stable for the doctors to chance the trip that night, so they moved him to another area in the hospital to monitor him while he rested before the next day’s transfer.

As an aside, Paul was a little surprised to learn from Layne and Robin that he was talking and joking with the doctors, nurses and hospital personnel during all this. For the most part though, his memory of the day’s events are spotty and incomplete at best, probably due to traumatic amnesia.

Layne got him situated in his new room. He was hooked up to several IVs and looked exhausted, yet calm in his hospital bed. Layne stroked his brow tenderly and then gave him a teary kiss on his cheek before she went home to get some rest and prepare for the day ahead.

Then, close to midnight that evening Layne was awakened by a call from a doctor at St. Vincent’s hospital. The doctor explained Paul had had two more episodes and had been transferred to the Intensive Care Unit and asked her to return to the hospital as soon as she could.

She threw on some clothes then practically flew to the hospital to meet the doctor who had called. The doctor’s expression was solemn. He explained what had happened to Paul and that he was currently sedated and hooked up to a breathing machine because he couldn’t breathe on his own. He also added that Paul needed to be “stabilized” before he could be transferred to the other hospital that would do the surgery required. She asked if she could see Paul.

“Yes”, he answered.

“Is it possible he might die?”, she asked.

“Yes”, he responded.

“Will I see him awake before the surgery?”

“We don’t know that yet.”

Layne steeled herself for the moment ahead when she would see her beloved husband hooked up to an assortment of life support systems. The doctor guided her by several rooms of the ICU to be with Paul. Each room had a single patient in various levels of distress. There were lots of tubes and monitors and beeping sounds and nurses moving silently about.

She arrived at Paul’s bed and moved quickly to the head of it. His color was ashen and his face glistened with a thin film of perspiration. He was sedated and had no idea she was there. The intubation apparatus that held the tube down in his lungs was taped securely around his mouth. The breathing machine made a soft sound in the background.

Though this entire day was a blur, she stood there stunned, yet determined to stay calm. It seemed impossible to believe that she might never see his brilliant blue eyes smiling out at her again. She kept dozens of thoughts and fears at bay while she did her best to be as “awake and present” as she could manage.

This was time for “soul talk.” She remained silent as she reached out with her heart energy to touch his. Yes, she could feel him there. After awhile it was time to go. The doctor had been watching and simply nodded respectfully. He said he would call her if there was anything new to report.

*****

Layne called the hospital first thing in the morning. His condition had improved and he was off the breathing machine. He would be moved to the Heart Hospital on Monday to meet his surgeon and prepare for surgery.

In the meantime, Paul and Layne’s longtime friend, Pamela, had flown over from Honolulu to be with and support them during this time and remained with them through this ordeal until Paul was released from the hospital.

As it turns out, Paul’s condition was congenital because he was born with a bicuspid valve with two flaps instead of the normal three. Over time this condition produced a smaller opening for his aorta to provide the necessary oxygen for his body and brain.

The four hour operation was successful. The usual recovery time in the hospital is five to seven days, but Paul’s recovery was going so well, he was released only four days later, on Sunday July 3.

His full recovery will take three to five months for all the parts to heal from such an invasive procedure. He’s taking a ton of new and mysterious meds that have to be monitored weekly for their effect on his blood to avoid clotting.

Paul’s prognosis is great. The doctors say after his recovery he should be feeling fifteen years younger. The affects of his unknown heart condition have been taking its toll on him for several years.

*****

So, though this shocking and unexpected crisis scared the daylights out of both of us and there are yet many challenges ahead to navigate, we are optimistic about the future.

Some well-meaning folks have asked questions or made comments about the “meaning” of this event and the “lessons” to be learned from it.

Who knows? For us, this is not a time for idle or superficial metaphysical speculation. What we do know is that we are in a state of deep love and profound connection with each other in a state of wonder, curiosity and gratitude, perhaps best expressed in some of our early lessons from A Course in Miracles.

For example:

Lesson 2 – I have given everything I see . . . all the meaning that it has for me. Paying attention to our minds and any automatic fearful interpretations that arise and realizing it is safe to not know as we let them go.

Lesson 25 – I do not know what anything is for. Allowing this truth to sink in as we release any need to control or figure anything out.

Right now our time horizon is very close. Our focus is on getting through each day at hand with as much love and appreciation as we can muster. There are many new things to pay attention to; Paul’s new medications, various doctor’s appointments and new ways of being in the world as Paul recovers. Paul has been directed by his surgeon to not work for the next few months.

Some friends have graciously offered to “do anything they can” to help. Since Paul is not supposed to drive for four to six weeks, mostly this has been driving Paul to his appointments, cooking meals, shopping, picking up new prescriptions from the pharmacy and reminding him to take it easy and to allow himself to relax into occasional feelings of helplessness. The deep fatigue has passed and he is taking a little time to be off of his oxygen. Everyday there is improvement.

There are some people we would especially like to thank for their loving attention above and beyond anything expected:

  • Robin Rider for being there from day one in the emergency room and throughout  this crisis.
  • Ardyth Brock for fielding the many phone calls and e-mails from people all over the world expressing their concern and for keeping them posted on Paul’s condition and progress and letting us know about the flood of love pouring in.
  • Pamela and William Noyes for flying in all the way from Hawaii to lovingly support Layne through the ordeal of Paul’s hospitalization and surgery.
  • Jim Kinney and Jennifer Peters for showing up to share their love in the emergency room.
  • Daniel Quat and Dawn Hamilton for generously and graciously driving all the way across town several times to pick up and deliver Paul to various appointments.
  • Andrew Hogan for driving down from Denver to stay in our guest house for the next several weeks to help Layne take care of Paul, running errands, shopping and delivering Paul to appointments.

We are beyond blessed to have been the recipients of the love, blessings and healing intentions of many thousands of people around the world. We feel it deeply and for that we continue to be truly grateful.

Most of our plans for the future have been put on hold for now.

More to come . . .

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