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
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).
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.
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.
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.
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. :)
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.
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...
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!
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.
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......
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
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. :)
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
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
- 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!
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)
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)
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
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)
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)
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)
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!
Sharon (Mrs. Dave the Guitar Teacher)
THE SURGERY IS OVER AND THE RESULTS ARE IN…I
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.
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! :)