When my husband woke up from open heart surgery, he was the proud new owner of a mechanical heart valve (that audibly ticks like clockwork) and a new piece of pipe that fixed his diseased aorta. In more exciting news, he also became a member of the “zipper club” because of his fancy new open heart surgery scar! This membership was never one he envisioned for his life, especially at the age of 35. But, induction into this club not only saved his physical life; it taught our entire family lessons that would change the way we lived, loved and saw the world.
Lessons Learned From My Husband’s Open Heart Surgery Scar
Importance of Routine Well Check Ups:
As we age, going to the doctor becomes more routine. We will most likely add a specialist or two to our medical care team and we begin to routinely track more and more health markers. However, when we are young, going to a well check is usually something that we put off. Most of us do not make it a priority!
In our family’s case, a routine physical exam, literally (not metaphorically) saved my husband’s life! At age 35, our family care physician discovered that my husband had a significant heart murmur. After further testing, it was determined that he needed open heart surgery to replace his aortic valve and part of his aortic root due to an aortic aneurysm.
What an Open Heart Surgery Scar Taught Us About Patient Advocacy:
Navigating the health care system at any age is not an easy feat. Health care is complex and not always patient friendly. My husband and I learned very early on that you must become your own health care advocate. No one is more committed and vested in your care than you and your family.
You have a responsibility to understand your condition and your treatment options. Do your own research and commit to staying informed throughout the process. I am NOT suggesting that you go to Dr. Google and research your diagnosis. Matter of fact, I would strongly advise AGAINST doing this! Ask your health care provider for a list of reputable resources of where you can find more information to educate yourself about your condition or that of a loved one. There is a lot of information out there-but not all information is accurate or helpful!
If time allows, never be afraid to ask for a second (or even third) opinion. Ask questions! Lots of them! It never hurts to gather more information and to talk with additional professionals about your condition or recommended care plan. Open heart surgery is a significant life event. Take your care seriously and make sure you are comfortable with your medical care team, the facility and the proposed plan.
Fragility of Life and Preciousness of Time:
Never, in a million years, could we have seen open heart surgery coming for my husband at 35 years old. We hear how precious life is (all the time) but how often do we allow it to soak in and truly change our behavior and our perspective. Many times, we live under this delusion that these unexpected events only happen to “other people.” But, how drastically things change when life happens to you and your family. Your perspective sharpens immediately.
Our family is incredibly grateful for the gift of perspective that we received throughout this open heart surgery journey. Eyes were opened to the true fragility of life. Family moments together are precious and far too few to take for granted. God saved my husband’s life during that routine well visit. I shudder to think of what the alternative would’ve looked like. We received a second chance at life together as a family and we want to fully embrace it and make meaningful moments together.
Importance of Community:
When something unexpected happens to your family, you quickly realize why God created us to live in community with one another. We cannot do everything on our own. We NEED each other. When Russ found out that he needed open heart surgery, we had a 2 year old and a 2 month old baby at home. He was the sole income provider in our home and the logistics of open heart surgery and taking care of a young family were more than we could’ve handled alone. The Lord blessed and surrounded us with family, friends, neighbors and co-workers, who showed up in big and small ways for several months. Without the help of our community, things would not have gone as smoothly as they did. God was so faithful in providing for our family throughout that time. He put people in place to meet our every spoken and spoken need.
Having lived through such a life altering event, has truly changed our hearts and understanding of what Christian community can and should look like. God gives us endless opportunities to be the hands and feet of Jesus to people we know and love and to people who are yet strangers to us. My prayer is that we will look continue to look for opportunities to serve others in their desperate times of need. You have no idea what kind of impact a small meaningful act of love can have on someone’s life, until you have been on the receiving end of such a blessing.
Power of Love and Laughter:
Walking through open heart surgery, recovery and cardiac rehab was a trying and challenging time in our lives. However, it was full of BIG love and A LOT of laughter! There is so much healing power in love and in laughter for your body, mind and spirit. Even though the stress of the circumstances threatened to steal our joy, we intentionally chose our attitudes. My husband had a much easier time infusing our days with laughter but I tried my best to follow his lead. He chose a sense of humor from day one (mine took a few days to rev up.)
As he lay on the surgical gurney, in the OR suite at the Cleveland Clinic, he was surrounded by more than 10 individuals, each one with a specific part to play in his surgery. They stood over him, gathered together for pre-surgical huddle, led by his surgeon. As they discussed the diagnosis and plan for surgery, Russ lay there, wide awake, with a smile on his face. Before putting Russ to sleep, his surgeon asked if he had anything to add. Russ took the liberty of telling the entire OR suite a joke before he closed his eyes. I’ll spare you the details of the joke but I will tell you he had one last request for the surgeon before surgery could be set into motion. He kindly asked if a vasectomy could be added as a last minute surgical addition…I kid you not, TRUE STORY!
Russ wanted to go to sleep with a smile on his face and his desire was for everyone around him that day to be smiling too!
Peace in Rest:
As a 35- year- old, young, VERY active man, Russ was a stranger to what physical rest looked and felt like. Having open heart surgery rocked his world of perpetual motion and productivity. He was forced to get acquainted with rest and being still. This was one of those most difficult lessons for Russ to learn and embrace. However, Russ found great peace in his time of physical rest. Being forced to physically slow down, brought his mind and spirit to a place of rest as well. He was able to connect with the Lord, his family and his surroundings in new ways. As his world shrunk down around him, with his only responsibilities being to heal and rest, he was able to discover a peace that he had never experienced before. There is tremendous power and peace when we are forced to slow down and just be still.
Embrace the Journey and Find the Joy:
There are many things in life we cannot control. Requiring open heart surgery was one of those things. We chose early on to embrace the journey we were put on. Our family decided to fully lean in to our circumstances and not resist it. We found by choosing to be present and open we were able to see God show up in big obvious ways and more silent, subtle ways. Choosing to embrace the journey with open eyes, hands and hearts, we were giving permission to the Lord to change, refine and transform us through this journey. Had we fought it and closed ourselves off, we would’ve missed what God had for us throughout this experience. The joy and perspective that we found during this time were treasured blessings that held eternal value.
Living Life in Light of Eternity:
Living our daily lives in light of eternity sounds great (in theory, right?) But, I think many of us, as Christians, haphazardly proclaim to live this way. However, how many of us are truly LIVING it out in thought, word and deed? Living through unexpected open heart surgery certainly brought the reality of our mortality into sharp focus and gave new meaning to living on purpose, for a purpose. None of us know when we will be called into our eternal home. If you don’t know Jesus or have waited to establish a personal relationship with him, don’t wait another second. Commit to having a personal relationship with him. I promise you, it will be the most important thing you will ever do in your life! It will change your world forever.
More “Practical” Bonus Lesson(s) from Open Heart Surgery:
Hiccups after open heart surgery are almost worse than the surgery itself! Find a remedy as soon as possible. If you wait, misery may ensue. (Ask my husband) Unfortunately, he learned the painful reality of this issue first hand.
Narcotics may cause miserable constipation!
DISCLAIMER: [Please know, we are not medical professionals. We are only sharing this information as part of our personal experience with open heart surgery. By no means are we trying to give you medical advice. We just want you to be aware and be involved in your own health care! Stay proactive and ask questions!]
We encourage you to stay ahead of your surgical pain. However, be aware that many pain medications may cause some very uncomfortable belly pains! Ask your healthcare team for the list of available pain relievers and what are the potential side effects for each one. Work with your medical team to find the combination that is right for you!
My husband rarely speaks with an ugly tone. But, when he does, you know something is going on. I remember having a brief visit with him during our hospital stay and he (un)kindly told me I could “just leave and go back to the hotel!” Well, that was definitely good bye for the night! Constipation after open heart surgery is no joke. It can make you say and do things to your loved ones that you don’t mean J
An Open Heart Surgery Scar is a Forever Reminder of Our Changed Lives
Open heart surgery was an unexpected gift and blessing to our entire family. I’ll be honest, it rocked our world! However, sometimes God has to dramatically take us (way) outside of our comfort zones to get our attention, to wake us up and shake us up! Open heart surgery saved my husband’s life. Through the process, it completely transformed our hearts and changed the way we were committed to living our lives. The lessons we learned were invaluable and his open heart surgery scar is a forever reminder of our transformation. It is our prayer that if you find yourself in a position where open heart surgery becomes a part of your story, we pray that our experience will be a comfort and blessing to you and your family.