Open Heart Surgery

06/04/13

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Even if you might not be interested, people have said this is a funny read. Please enjoy.

In 2003 I had open heart surgery, like everyone else those days...

or, "How I Spent My Summer Vacation 2003".

     I was born with a bicuspid aortic valve. Your aortic valve (yeah, you've got one too) is supposed to be tricuspid and look like a Mercedes Benz logo. Only about 2-4% of guys are born with one (a bicuspid valve, not a Mercedes Benz logo). Since mine only formed into two sections, it leaked. Or, for those of you who like the fancy words: aortic regurgitation (AR), is the leaking of the aortic valve of the heart that causes blood to flow in the reverse direction during ventricular diastole, from the aorta into the left ventricle. (Now you know why I just tell people my valve simply leaked).

     Okay, so. How it came to be was that my dentist was saying that I may want to think about having my wisdom teeth taken out before I have any problems (i.e. PAIN) in the future. I agreed avoiding pain was a good idea. But he had said that since I had the heart precaution, I should see a cardiologist to make sure I would have no complications with oral surgery and whether or not it could be done in the dentist's office or if it would be better for me to have in done in the hospital, juuuuuust iiiiiiin caaaaaaase....

     So, I met my cardiologist, Dr. Anand Ramanathan, and we got to work. Long story short, it was confirmed that the valve was leaking. So much so, that Dr. Ramamanthan said it was the worst he'd seen. (See, I'm what they call "special") But, it still wasn't anything MAJOR at the time. But a while later, after running the usual checklist of tests (angiogram, echocardiograms, anal probes - those didn't make any sense, but hey, this is my life we're dealing with here), the consensus was that the valve might be fine for a while longer, but that a chamber of the heart was enlarged a bit due to the valve and that replacing the valve now would prevent the chamber from getting any larger. Again, that would be bad.

     So, I met with Dr. Zev Davis who is the medical director of cardiovascular surgery at Edward Hospital in Naperville, IL. He, like Dr. Ramanathan, is awesome. We went over the details of the procedure and set a date for 6 weeks after that meeting. I opted for a mechanical valve (it'll outlive me).

     The slight downside to the mechanical valve is that you need to take blood thinners to prevent the valve from clotting and well, not working. So, to make sure your blood is the correct thinness, you need to get a finger-prick (hu-huh, I said 'finger') blood test about once a month to let you know how much Coumadin (a blood thinning medication) you need to take every day. Well, it was this or get a pig or cadaver valve, take no medications, BUT...when either of those valves wears out, go thru the surgery again. And again (depending on how long ya live). Pig or cow valves last a few years, cadaver valves about 15-20 years. Whichever non-mechanical valve, you're pretty much gonna do the surgery again.

     BUT... the surgery itself was a blast!! I guess it was because I was unconscious, but still. The worst part for me was getting the i.v. put in the top of my hand (YECH!) when I got to the hospital the morning of the surgery. And BOY were they fast! They popped that thing into me as I got out of the car in the parking lot!! jk.

 

     The surgery went great. While back in my ICU room, a number of funny moments happened. Even while in my morphine haze (mmmmm....moooooorphine....aaagghh...) I was able to let people know I was fine. For example, when the nurses were adjusting my bed and sheets and moving me a bit to help me get comfortable, I realized that my, ahem..."personal space" was in view. My response? I asked them all to please not laugh at my tiny penis. The room filled with laughter. Problem is, I don't know if they were laughing at the joke or....

     I have (or should I say had) a handful of photos from my stay at the wonderful Edward Hospital in Naperville (seriously, this place is the BEST!!). But, it figures - as time has passed, computers have crashed, and files have unfortunately been lost. So far, I've only been able to find this one picture of my beautiful self sucking on a tube. (Why I have an 'Elvis lip curl' going is beyond me...)

     I look pretty chunky in the above picture. In grade school I was tubby. In high school I was actually not heavy (always felt I was, but I have pictures that contradict that - probably just the low self-esteem issues I had with girls made me see myself as fat. Anyway...) Once we set the date of my surgery (6 weeks prior) I figured, if I might not make it through the surgery, I don't wanna leave this earth without enjoying myself. I played A LOT of guitar and ate as crappy of and as much food as I wanted. Nancy's pizza, White Castle, Nancy's Godfather sandwiches, McDonald's, Quizno's Classic Italian sammiches, Burger King, etc... And I gained a bunch of weight.

     I figured, once they fix my heart and I can exercise without breathing problems for the first time in my life, I'll lose the weight later. Around the surgery, I was about 240lbs. These days, on my 'fat days', I'm 200-205. And I know that once I move to L.A. I'll be dropping another 10-20lbs since I'll be on the gotta-pay-rent-so-eat-Ramen-noodles-every-night diet.    :)

     Another funny thing had to do with a guitar. I did two things when I knew I was going to have open heart surgery. I ate anything and EVERYTHING I wanted for those 6 weeks and I bought myself my first Gibson Les Paul guitar.

     I figured that if I wasn't able to make it through the surgery, I didn't want to waste the last 6 weeks of my life watching what I ate. Plus, with getting my valve fixed, I was gonna finally be "normal" and could exercise like everyone else. Due to the leaky valve, my energy levels (especially with exercising) were lower than most people. So, it was 6 weeks of Nancy's pizza, McDonald's, Burger King, White Castle, Subway, etc...

     I'm a DIE-HARD Tom Anderson guitar fan. They are the best guitars on the planet to me. But, since I was a kid, I always wanted a sunburst Gibson Les Paul. So, I figured if I'm gonna go thru this surgery, I'm gonna treat myself to that guitar. I ordered it online (where I got the best price from a Musician's Friend Les Paul sale) about a week before the surgery. But even though I paid for 2-day shipping, there was a processing delay since it was the first time I was using my new Musician's Friend credit card. It turned out that the guitar would unfortunately not arrive until the day of my surgery!

     Needless to say, I wasn't going to be home that day to accept delivery, but UPS said that if I authorize my neighbor to accept, they would deliver it there. From there, my wife Sharon was going to zip back to our house to feed the animals and pick up the guitar from the neighbors.

     The funny part is that apparently the nurses were trying to get me to wake up some more from the anesthesia, but I just wasn't ready. But when Sharon told me that the guitar was here (she, of course, meant 'at the house'), I actually quickly sat up and looked at her and around the ICU room for it! And when I didn't see it, I plopped back down onto the bed and zzzz......

     Well, angel that she is, she brought the guitar to my room in the ICU later that day. I touched it, smiled and zzzz.....

     For those of you who play guitar, you may know how HEAVY a Les Paul is. Well, think of trying to lift one of those things while lying on a couch recovering from open heart surgery where your chest has been literally broken open and fused back together. Vicodin is a WONDERFUL thing, but I couldn't lift an air biscuit (let alone a Les Paul) without tearing!    =)

     One of the cool things is that I got to KEEP the valve they took out of me! It's in a small jar of formaldehyde marked "Benziger, Dave : A Heart Valve" in my studio.

     For the record, the surgery was nothing. The staff at Edward Hospital couldn't have been greater. Caring, understanding, helpful, kind, and (again) they had morphine and Vicodin.   :)

     The only thing that sucked (for those of you who headed for open heart surgery) was when they pulled the 'drainage tubes' out of mah belleh (my belly). They told me to take a deep breath and they would pull (well, YANK) them out. Do yourself a favor: do NOT take a COMPLETE breath in! Leave a little room. You're gonna need it. Cuz when they pull those suckers out, you're gonna gasp like you've never gasped before! I'm not gonna lie to ya, it HURT. BUT...within SECONDS, that morphine gets pumped thru your system with your next heartbeat that you'll be feeling fine before you could even remember what had just happened.

    

After the surgery, I had a bunch of stuff on the website right after the surgery that was also lost over time. Well, I just found some of it. Enjoy....

 

    - June 15, 2003 -

So, tomorrow's the big day. Monday. Back to work. Oh, yeah and I have that open-heart surgery thing in the morning. Mrs. Dave the Guitar Player will update this page by Tuesday at the latest to let you all know how it went. I can't thank you enough for your emails, kind words, and prayers. They're all greatly appreciated and I can sure use them. L.A. Studio guitar god Tim Pierce called me today to wish me good luck tomorrow. It was such a high that I will not need (but will still take plenty of) morphine in the hospital. Wish me luck and I'll talk to ya soon!

P.S.  Sorry this took so long!  Yesterday was just nuts! 

- June, 2003 -

I thought you might like to read what I would have had Mrs. Dave The Guitar Player post on this page if I had NOT made it through the operation. I know it's very dark humor, but hey, it's my situation and I'll handle it the way I want. Either way, I  think it's funny:

AGAIN - I AM ALIVE and doing fine. This is just what WOULD have been posted IF I did not make it.

"THE RUMORS OF MY DEATH HAVE NOT BEEN EXAGGERATED.

     If you are reading this, I have not survived my open-heart surgery. Shit. Oh, well. It was a good run anyway. But as I leave, I have some things to say...

     If my demands are not met, the screams of those who've wronged me and the smell of burning flesh will fill the halls of the ...oh, wait. That was something I had started for something else. It's nothing. Just forget about it. To my students, I can't thank you enough for giving me the greatest job for the past decade. I've never felt like it was a job, though, it simply felt like I got the chance to hang out with my friends each week and at the end of our time together they gave me money. You literally put food on our table (and into our pets' food bowls).  Never stop your drive to play something new to challenge yourself as a musician and never stop your drive to play the old things that always seem to give you happiness.

     To the musicians I have played with throughout the years, know that you all have always inspired me. I would never force myself to play in a band with musicians who did not love what they were doing. Otherwise, their lack of passion for making music would probably rub off on me. And no matter how much major success eludes me, I would have died (similar to what I have just done.....man, that's funny!) if I had lost my passion for music. Also know that I truly enjoyed your friendship. I've been (no wait, that should be "I had been", since I'm dead now. Man, that's even funnier!) lucky in every band situation to play with musicians that were not only my close friends, but people with a great sense of humor. If you don't have music or humor, life ain't worth living. Unfortunately, I won't be doing that any more. Living. ('cause I'm dead. )

     To those of you who have enjoyed my music, my playing, my jokes, whatever, I thank you. If I had the gift to do any one of those things, it brought me five times as much joy as it did you.

     I'm sure I have a lot more to say, but it'll probably be boring. Maybe funny, but most likely boring. But, I can wrap up my feelings on life and the answer to the greatest question we all ask "Why are we here?" in one simple phrase (By the way, even though I've gone, the totally cool thing is that I now know what's on the other side! I'd like to think it's pizza for every meal, the ability to actually be a good guitar player, and the fact that I can be with all those I have missed while on this rock. If you're thinking to yourselves, "he's in a better place now" - you bet your ass I am!) (I know, that was a really long parentheses thought): You know how if someone asks you about your night out? Well, I can answer someone if they ask me how I feel about my time here on earth in the exact same fashion. I simply tell them, "I had a great time." "

- Dave Benizger 2003

     Here are the updates Mrs. Dave The Guitar Player made for me while I was in recovery. She's pretty funny...

 

This is a test of the emergency broadcast system.  This is only a test!

Love, Sharon

 

Tuesday

Hi everyone!

Dave is doing great!  He is still in intensive care but he should be out by noon and into a regular room soon.  He told me to tell all of you hi and that he will be seeing you soon.  I'll keep you all updated.

Sharon (Mrs. Dave the guitar teacher)

 

Wednesday Morning

Hi everyone!  Dave is doing great!  They moved him into a regular room at 6:00 last night on the 3rd floor of the cardiovascular wing.  If you want to come by and see him please call and see when visiting hours are, and from what I heard they are kind of strange.  Well he is eating (sort of) and is in great spirits and yes he is joking around with all the cute nurses!  And for Ron, yes he had a sponge bath but he was way to out of it to know, also she wasn't that pretty (hee hee)!  He says Hi to everyone and thanks you all for your prayers and good wishes!   

Thank you all again! 

Sharon (Mrs. Dave the Guitar Player's wife)

 

Wednesday Evening

Hi Again everyone!

Dave had a great day today (besides getting stuck six times trying to find a vein).  He is eating a little better and he went for a walk around the nurses station twice.  Although, I really think he would like some more visitors (his friend/student Rob and one of his friends Scottie came by) so please stop by (I think he's getting a little bored seeing my face all day long) it really cheered him up to see Rob and Scotty today.

He also went potty today (if you know what I mean) and geez you'd think he won the Nobel prize!  I don't think he's ever gotten that much praise for doing that!  Ha Ha!   Well its a good sign that things are working well. 

Well I'll talk to you all again tomorrow night.

Sharon (Mrs. Dave the Guitar Teacher)

 

Thursday Night

Hi again to anybody who is reading this.

Well Dave is progressing just fine!  No real news.  He is eating better and they took the wires out of him today that were hook ups for a pace maker (just in case).  He had a couple of visitors, his good friend Dan Wallace, a good friend of ours Diane, Dave's sister and grandmother and my niece Christine and her boyfriend Tim.  Thank you for coming over to see him. 

A funny thing happened today which I feel I have to share.  Dave was in the bathroom when the nurse ran in the room frantic to find him.  I said he was in the bathroom and I asked her why, well his heart rate jumped real high which could mean something was wrong.  Well Dave informed her that no he gets very excited while he is sitting on the John.  We all thought it was quite amusing. 

Well thanks again for thinking of him.

Sharon (Mrs. Dave the Guitar Teacher)

 

Friday Night

Hello?

Well Dave is doing better and better each day!  Dave asked for a burrito so I snuck one in for his lunch (he ate maybe half of a baby burrito) and a small Nancy's pizza (he only had a little) for his dinner (shhhh-Please don't tell the nurses). He also received his valve that they took out of him and is now "pickling" in formaldehyde in his room so if you come by be sure to ask to see it.

Well the doctors decided he should stay until Sunday or maybe Monday.  His levels of Coomadin (sp?) (blood thinner) are way to low for him to leave so they want him to stay a little longer.  For those of you who feel like coming out to see him he is in room 3601 of the cardiovascular wing (park in the North Parking lot).  Visiting hours are 9:00 a.m. till 8:30 p.m.

Sharon (Mrs. Dave the guitar teacher)

 

Saturday Night

Hi ya everyone!

Great news!  Dave will be going home tomorrow!  Yippee!  He is doing real good!  He had a couple visitors today one was from Burt and Ron from the Bert Cattoni band and one of Dave's great students Jeff and his parents were kind enough of them to stop by and see how he is doing.  Thank you all for your kind wishes and calls.  I tried to call everyone back but its been real crazy!  Sorry if I missed some of your calls.  Also I took digital pictures of some of you that Dave will put on this website.  I missed a couple people like Jay and Rob (oops Sorry!).  I also took pictures of Dave unconscious with a breathing tube down his throat (Sick I know but Dave wanted me to!) and I'm sure he will post those also. 

Well its been nice talking to all of you! 

Signing off...

Sharon (Mrs. Dave the Guitar Teacher)

THE SURGERY IS OVER AND THE RESULTS ARE IN…I SURVIVED!!!

     By Tuesday June 17th (baring any complications) I’ll be in my recovery room until I go home. If you would like any more information, Mrs. Dave The Guitar Teacher will be checking my studio answering machine. She’ll have my room number and any other details that you might be interested in. Would I like visitors? ABSOLUTELY!!!! But please know that it is not necessary. The more friends that visit me, the sooner it will seem that I’m going home! You can leave a message on the studio number 630-778-1637. Leave your number if you would like Mrs. Dave The Guitar Teacher to call you back. She’ll be more than happy to. (Boy, I hate when I end a sentence with a predisposition.) Thank you so much for all your support - I can't tell you how much it means to me. Probably because I have a breathing tube down my throat and I can't talk right now.   

                                                                                              -Dave

 

 

     For those of you who are in-line for open heart surgery, please feel free to email me if you have any questions. Over the years, I've been honored to give people info about it all and help them relax. It's HONESTLY not as bad as you may think. Hell, it was the best medicated vacation I've ever had! Well, it was the only medicated vacation I've ever had, but it was nice!   :)

 

 

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