Archive for March, 2015

I Was Too Young To Die

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

February, 1997: “You have one of two options,” the cardiologist said to me and my wife of less than two years. “Either we can operate, or wait it out and see if it gets any worse.”

“How long will I have to wait to find out if it gets worse?” I asked the doctor. My mind felt squishy as I tried to process the doctor’s words, and I barely heard his response.

“I can’t tell you what to do, but at your age, I probably would opt for the surgery. That way, you won’t have to worry about it getting worse as you age,” he said looking at my wife, whose eyes now conveyed deep concern.

“Yeah, but what about the risk? I asked the doctor. “What if it isn’t successful? Worse still, what if I don’t come out of this alive? Hell, I’m too young to die.” I wasn’t exactly hyperventilating, but I was getting a little light-headed. Not exactly what my new bride, Harmony, and I had hoped for nineteen months earlier when, in July 1996, we impulsively relocated from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.


Flashback, 1994: One of the reasons we chose to move to a city where we knew nobody, was because we needed a change to generate some positive experiences to replace the adverse ones we had experienced over the previous two years.

On January 17, 1994, Southern California was hit with the 6.7 magnitude Northridge earthquake that did massive damage to the region. Several months earlier, Harmony and I had separated while trying to sort out the direction of our relationship; and the quake traumatized her. She had lost a number of valuable possessions in the quake’s aftermath, and I was greatly concerned about her safety. This devastating earthquake brought us closer together, and we agreed that I would move back in with her at her apartment.

During the next year, my personal challenges continued: I was only working part-time; we got married that April after our courtship (do they still use that term?) of nearly five years; and my father died in Texas. We struggled financially that year, so we did not have a honeymoon, which still saddens me to this day.

In July 1996, we packed up our belongings and headed to “Sin City” to start a new life. A month later we were both hired at the Luxor Hotel and Casino; and within 90 days we both qualified for and enrolled in health insurance plans through the casino. Shortly after the first of the year in 1997, I had a complete physical exam, as it had been at least three years since my last one. That’s when my primary care physician told me that he noticed a murmur when he listened to my heart. He suggested that I see a heart specialist who would “take a closer look.”

Flashforward, 1997: The cardiologist did his best to reassure me, but I was beginning to panic. The doctor reminded me of the cardiac catheterization he had done a week earlier, in which a short tube (a sheath) was inserted into a vein or artery at the top of my groin, and a hollow, flexible and longer tube ( a guide catheter) was then inserted into the sheath. The procedure was aided by X-ray images on a monitor, where the doctor could then thread the guide catheter through the artery until it reached my heart. The pressures in my heart chambers were measured and a dye was injected. The dye was seen on an X-ray, which helped the doctor see the blood flow through my heart, blood vessels and valves.

He said that the test revealed that the (mitral) valve between my heart’s left upper chamber (left atrium) and the left lower chamber (left ventricle) didn’t close properly, and that blood regurgitated backwards instead of forward.

“When the left ventricle contracts, the valve’s leaflets bulge (prolapse) upward or back into the atrium, which may causes a murmur. I want you to consider that surgery can repair or replace the valve, but that’s a decision you will have to make.”

In lay terms, blood that would normally flow out of a chamber leaked back into the chamber, and that was not good. This action was what caused the murmur. It was at this point that I breathlessly began to ask questions about risk and the possibility of dying, either on the operating table or afterwards during recovery. I repeated, “Hell, I’m too young to die.

So we found out that it was surgery either now or later, with no guarantee that the condition would improve. After a week or so of discussing it, Harmony and I decided that it would be best to have the surgery now. And that’s what we told the doctor, despite my anxiety over how this could have happened.

In my next post, I will talk about the surgery and its effects on my life. Stay tuned. And please feel free to comment below.