Warning: this post is highly personal. It is also a bit graphic. We are telling our story mainly for family and friends who have been concerned. If you are a client or a lurker, feel free to skip ahead to sunnier, more relevent posts. But if you are so inclined, you might decide to take the bait and read this dissertation, thereby gaining some valuable insight from the lessons we have learned over the last few weeks.
Hi there. If you are a regular visitor you may have been wondering where we’ve been for the past few weeks. While it would be lovely to say we were off on location shooting the wedding of our dreams; the reality is we are at the Ottawa Heart Institute where Alvi is getting a new heart in quite the literal sense.
Initially we were hesitant to post anything related to our current situation — waffling between his desire to “keep it quiet” and my desire to be transparent — but tonight we decided to tell our story because perhaps one day it could be you and we’d like to share some vital perspective we’ve gained about life.
Planning a wedding is no easy task, but when that blissful day arrives it can be the stuff that dreams are made of. There is so much emphasis on the dress, the flowers, the reception venue, the food, the wine, the band… And yes, of course we do take the time to reflect on vows and the sanctity of the commitment being made. But, it’s possible we can take for granted that those promises can and may be put to the test… perhaps sooner than we would ever imagine.
Who knew that “in sickness and in health” would crop up just seven years into our marriage.
Alvi was born with a congenital heart defect whereby his aortic valve had two of its three leaflets fused together. This bicuspid valve lead to a condition called severe aortic stenosis where, over time, the valve narrowed and calcified. And because the aortic valve works like a one-way gate to ensure that oxygen-rich blood is supplied to the body, if it becomes too narrow then the heart will fail.
In our eleven years of togetherness I was always aware of his heart “issue” but I will confess to never really grasping the severity of it. I knew it wasn’t so Mickey Mouse that it shouldn’t be taken seriously as we were never able to get him any life insurance. And yet he just did not exude any sort of “I’m sick” vibe. On the contrary he was always up to something and seemingly keeping up with the rest of us.
And when you live with someone time can erode your sense of judgement…what is actually happening gradually becomes imperceptible when you spend every waking hour with a person. Because the fact is over the last few years Alvi’s health has been going down hill and the only one who really noticed was him. How terrible is that?
Now we always knew that one day he might need his valve full-on replaced; but both of us figured that would be something to look forward to at the ripe old age of 60-70. Not 41.
So rewind to a few weeks ago when something must have shifted in his thinking. A simple conversation at the gas pump lead to an intense and yet vulnerable moment when he finally spoke the words that had been churning around in his noggin for quite some time: “Sam, I am really not feeling right.”
Well that was all I needed to hear. The phone call was made and what shocked me at the other end was the nurse who spoke the words I will never forget; “We have been just waiting for the call. His numbers are not good. We’ll get him in right away.”
A flood of emotions went through me; part overwhelm <for not realizing just how bad things were>; part compassion <for thinking he must have really been conflicted and scared to have kept all this inside>; to part shame <for wishing I had accompanied him to every single heart appointment so that I would have had an inkling as to his situation>.
But I digress. Ten days later we were on a plane and surgery was scheduled. The days leading up to the event have been fraught with stress, anxiety and fear. This was major open heart surgery. They saw open the breastbone to give access to the heart; which they then stop, cool down and begin to work on. The body is kept alive via the heart/lung machine and when all is said and done, the whole thing takes about 5 hours. In the end the aortic valve <or what’s left of it> is completely replaced by a mechanical one. Given his young age we chose to go with this option as opposed to the tissue valve <from a pig> as he would likely wear it out within 10 years. The mechanical valve is designed to outlast all of us though it is not without its warts.
Our biggest fear was something going wrong; the obvious risks one faces when on the table for surgery like this. It stood to reason that he was alive and kicking now and did not appear to be dying or anything… how would we <I> feel should something go awry? Indeed there were many tears shed in the few days before he went under the knife. Discussions I never envisioned us having that needed to be had; not because we are pessimistic people; more because when you face your own mortality and you have children, there are practical things that require discussion.
And although I just knew in my heart things would turn out ok, there is always the “what if.” The 5.5 hour wait with my mom while he was under was nearly interminable. I realized at that moment several things: (1) I take Alvi for granted; (2) he is the best thing to have ever happened to me and (3) this was an incredible opportunity for a new start.
Seeing Dr. Maharajh emerge with the smile on his face was all I needed. Immediate hugs were distributed to this great man who fixed my husband and then we were ushered off to a private room. What happened next leaves me nearly speechless <and if you know me, I am hardly one to have a lack of words for anything>. When they opened him up expecting to find his “bicuspid” valve what greeted them instead was a valve with just one leaflet. Just one. A small, tiny thread that had been overworked and gutted to the max trying to keep his large frame alive for the past however many years. In his words, “this surgery has probably saved your husband’s life. He would not have lasted the year and it would have ended badly.”
Oh my word. This was a shocking and critical moment for me. To think what might have happened. These thoughts were never far from my head and heart as we were eventually lead into ICU to see the man I now call “the champ” <also affectionately dubbed “The Valvinator”>; full of tubes and completely out of it but able to squeeze my hand and utter the words “sore”.
So enough of the misery. What have we learned? Well, I think it’s safe to say our marriage is as solid as a rock following the very real prospect of the alternative. It has brought us closer together. It has made us realize that our health is precious and we cannot take it for granted. That we have to take care of each other and ourselves, body, mind and spirit.
We have learned that in the face of something serious all the nagging little things we quetch about on a daily basis really just vanish away. They are inconsequential. Nothing matters except life itself. It is a gift that we all should cherish and respect.
And although we are by no means out of the woods <good Lord he only just woke up 24 hours ago> the worst is behind us and things can only go up from here. Alvi’s recovery will be slow and steady and he’ll have a small army of loved ones getting him through the rough patches.
But wanna know what’s really cool? For years his heart has always sounded like a sluggish “slosh slosh” when my head went to his chest at night. And now, as I lean close I can hear a definite, regular, metric tick-tick-ticking which is the heavenly sound of his new valve working. It is the sweetest sound I have ever heard.
In a few days we will post something more uplifting and introduce you to the new Alvi; Version 2.0!
If you do happen to be a client and you are wondering when you might be hearing from us; please know that you are on the list and that for now, just for the next few weeks, we’ll be focussing on getting him better.