At least the surgeon was not C. D. Ward

I have lost count of how many times I have written this blog entry or variations on it, over the last five weeks. It probably doesn’t matter. The process was more important than the resulting text and odds are very good that there are far better, more compelling, more readable, versions if this that will never appear online, and so it should be. This blog was always designed as a means to enable the writing process, and that process was always more important than the product that did, or did not, find its way here. Nothing I have written, with this blog in mind, needed completion and uploading but there is a motivational value in having that option. That was essential, really, because the value of practice and conditioned habits do not have the power themselves to motivate the writer.

Sometimes there are subjects that lend themselves to this exercise. They are written quickly and enthusiastically and uploaded with a neat sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. That’s how most of the content makes its way onto the blog. Some entries were written out of a sense of obligation or an abstract feeling that it would help record an event or stage of progression in a way that would help me to forget it, or file it away, to make it less present. Often those were related to the many strains of being a doctoral student and more individual problems specific to me, but not entirely worth exploring in beyond the very abstract. That is the purpose of this entry, or at least the process of creating it, and the now innumerable versions that will never appear.

The entry I have chosen to make is, I hope, an award worthy example of my favourite literary trope; litotes.

My partner and I came home from Oxford on 10 July. I had an appointment to see Z’s family doctor on the 29th for a routine check-up and to ask about some pain I had experienced in Oxford, something I associated with the fatigue and stress. He referred me to a cardiologist who made an ultrasound of my heart on the 31st. On 6 August the cardiologist explained that I had a congenital defect, a bicuspid aortic valve, now seriously calcified. The valve, and an unknown amount of aortic stem, would need to be removed surgically, and replaced with a mechanical valve and artificial artery. He scheduled an angiogram as a further diagnostic for 24 August, the day after my 41st birthday.

On 4th September I underwent surgery to replace the valve and what turned out to be most of the ascending aorta. It took 8 hours. In the middle of all that they shut off my circulatory system and blood flow to the brain for 13 minutes. Stainless steel wires hold my sternum together under the 9.5 inch incision from collarbones to midriff. The wires will stay there for the rest of my life. So too will the mechanical valve and the discomforting tick it makes with each beat. I am told the valve will outlive me. I don’t know how long that actually is. It’s probably more than 20 years.

The valve does not sustain life without assistance. It is a foreign body and immune system wants to remove it but all it can do is make blood clots around it and these will of course case untold and eventually fatal damage elsewhere. I will, therefore, take anti-coagulants, regularly monitored through blood tests, for the rest of my life. The valve is also vulnerable to blood-transmitted infections and any medical procedure, even something as minor as a dental cleaning, will require a course of preventative antibiotics.

I have the vague feeling that I am occupying a reanimated corpse of myself. Most everything feels slightly off, or different. Cognitively I am largely unaffected but nothing else feels quite the way it did before surgery. It probably never will. It feels artificial because it is.

The thesis is delayed, I know not for how long. I have every intention of finishing it. It’s entirely possible that it will be finished, and defended, by March or April next year. I did manage to finish this blog entry, which is a good sign I think.

But who knows. I try not to plan to far ahead anymore, given how unpredictable events have been lately.

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One thought on “At least the surgeon was not C. D. Ward

  1. We’re not a very demonstrative bunch, so when I say I’m overjoyed to hear of your recovery and stunned to hear of the events leading up to it, I’m sure you’ll perceive the subtext of gushing emotions. Do make a point of pushing the warranty on that thing, too– the world needs more of your sort in it, not less.

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