I scurry between the oncoming traffic and the sidewalk that’s closed for construction as I continue up Jefferson Street. Then I spot the hospital ahead on the left. It’s the first time I’ve seen it since they discharged me almost a month ago. My sister and mother drove me home that day. I remember saying goodbye to Gail, my nurse. All the nurses in the Telemetry Unit treated me well, but Gail had been especially thoughtful. I’m glad that she was on duty that last day to handle my discharge.
One month ago today they stopped my heart to repair the mitral valve. Of course, they kept my blood pumping and oxygenated with a machine all that time, so I wasn’t really dead, but I like to think of myself as resurrected anyway. By any standard older than a century, my revival was nothing short of miraculous. Is it any less miraculous because we know how it’s done?
I’m walking from the ferry to the hospital today (a mile and a half, almost all uphill) to see my surgeon, Dr. Eric Lehr, for my one-month follow-up. That’s possible because of a minimally invasive approach that the good doctor employed. Instead of breaking the sternum, he used robotic arms to enter my right side and pass behind the sternum to operate on the heart. I was up and walking almost immediately afterwards, and back to work within a week. Now, I’m able to walk three to six miles every day, and feeling more stamina than I had before the surgery.
I got to meet the robot before they put me under. I have to admit that I didn’t find it as impressive as I had hoped. Just a big, grey machine with arms. And it doesn’t function autonomously, so it’s really just an extension of the surgeon’s hands. But I still like to say that a robot fixed my heart — it sounds so geeky.
Thanks to the ferry schedule, I arrive at the hospital forty minutes early for my appointment. I consider going to the cafeteria to eat something. Then an idea occurs to me. I walk into the gift shop and pick out a small arrangement of African violets. I take the elevator up to the fourth floor, then find the Telemetry Unit. At the desk I ask if Gail is working today.
“Yes, she is.” They page her.
After a few moments, her slender figure appears around a corner.
“Remember me?” I say.
It takes her a second, then she puts it all together. “You’re the one who has a son living in California, right?” My son visited for part of my stay. I can see what she remembers.
“Yes,” I reply. “The surgery was a month ago, and today I walked here from the ferry.”
“Over all those hills?” she asks, incredulous.
“Yes, and I don’t even feel winded. I have an appointment with Dr. Lehr, but I wanted to give you these and to say ‘thank you.’ You made my stay here a very pleasant experience.”
Gail begins to tear up, and then she hugs me. She apologizes for stepping on my foot in the process.
“It’s OK. Thanks again,” I say, and then we say goodbye.