…An Aortic Valve Replacement, Part 1 of 2.
Authors Note: Most of my readers know that I have no problem in putting my life experiences out there for public consumption. Especially if I think and hope that it will help someone else or at the very least explain a particular incident or personal milestone. This ordeal is one of those occasions. CHII.
I’ve accumulated more than my share of nicknames over the years; some were flattering and others not so flattering. In fact, the very nature of the nicknames itself was revealing as to what the individual who created the name thought of me.
One such name given to me by a good friend I met after arriving in Oakland back in 1978. We have since lost touch, but he took one look at me. While advising that I needed to get in better physical shape, Denny issued the following summation of my body and clothing style. “Man, you and I are tight from here on out. But let me tell you…right now you’re just a little bit overweight. If you gain any more weight, you will no longer be a little plumb “Sporty Odie Cody” you will be fat. Take it from a friend, watch your weight man. Otherwise, I like your style.” Denny was a sharp dresser as was I, which is one trait that attracted us to each other. We loved to let our clothing speak to all who observed us.
I took his words as a basis of fact from a friend. I even let him in on my personal paranoia. In November of 1961, I was a 5’4”, an 115-pound youngster that had just enlisted in the US Army. I’d been small all my life and had to fight much larger guys to hold my own. I got married in 1968 and began to put on a little weight. I felt it was needed to fill out my frame as I was still in that Pit Bulldog syndrome. My silent message to anybody thinking about it was don’t screw with me because I will still kick ass if I have to make a point.
Denny was not that much taller but built slimmer than I, laughed at my comments. “Hey ‘Sporty Odie,’ just remember what I am saying to you.” He was divorced and still chasing the ladies. Obviously, my marital status left me retired from the single life. Needless to say, my wife Sandra, after meeting him upon her and our kid’s arrival in Oakland, loved Denny. As a former drinker, she was critical of his, and another buddy of ours drinking habit. He and our other friend drank to extremes. Our other friend, who shall remain nameless happened to be physically-handicapped in his legs. You can imagine the scene with him when he got drunk and suddenly had to use the toilet. He would often need our assistance with his clothes. After a few drinks, sometimes he couldn’t make it to the toilet. The problem was he was clearly alcoholic. They wanted me to run with them, but I had family obligations which they refused to take into account. So…the first California friends I’d met after checking into and living at the Oakland YMCA thought I’d abandon them. Over the next year, we drifted apart and lost contact with each other. At one point during the following year, we all rented and stayed in the same motel apartment complex. They stopped coming by our apartment even though there was an open invitation to breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Think of it. Today, my wife (50 year anniversary this August) is a retired LVN. That’s just to let you know she has a health field background. Sandra, who I have known for the last fifty-three years, has always gravitated toward being in the health field. It started with her upward progression from a nurse’s aide at a Milwaukee convalescent home to a clinical aide for the US Government after arriving in California. She worked at the old San Francisco Lettermen Hospital’s cancer ward for a little over a year. I was more depressed than she was about her position because I knew she was putting her heart and soul into each and every one of her assigned clients. There were very few happy endings with those patients. Doctors had already provided them with a lifetime expiration date. We still have Christmas decorations from some of her patients who died. And of course, Sandra took each one’s death hard.
Finally leaving there, she began work at Highland Hospital in Oakland. Here she had the opportunity to continue her professional upgrade. As stated, she retired as a License Vocational Nurse (LVN). So the fact that she insisted on sending my doctor an email asking for an appointment goes to show you. She is still in charge of health care in our two person household.
Looking back over the years, I know where I gained the extra weight. It was simply a matter of lifestyle and employment. At one time I began to smoke a pack and a half of cigarettes every two days. The weekends and holidays were my choice time for leisurely drinking and partying. Drinking would lead to smoking more cigarettes, sometimes one after another for me. My cigarette habit had gotten so bad that I felt almost sick from the cigarette smoke inhaled during the previous weekend or holiday and evening of drinking and smoking. There was no worse feeling than a residual hangover from the drinking along with feeling as though I’d kept all the smoke and nicotine inside of me. I decided my nasty habit of smoking had to end. I was able to quit after trying several times. This particular time I caught the flu and did not want a cigarette for a week. The following two weeks, I would come home from work, on my way picking up a pint of Custer Ice Cream for dessert after dinner. I gained another twenty pounds during that period. All of which went to my waistline and stomach. Nevertheless, I finally stopped smoking. That was in the early to mid-eighties. Once again I listened to my body telling me to end the smoking habit.
Meanwhile over that same period, my governmental positions ran from payroll clerk, accounting technician, to purchasing agent, all sedentary positions. No exercise during the week other than getting out of my chair to go to the bathroom, lunch or a meeting. So the weight just settled in waiting for me to initiate some kind of weight loss program. One good friend of mine suggested I start smoking again to control my weight. “No way,” I replied. Considering how I felt the next day after drinking and smoking, I would never go back to that habit. I would just have to deal with the weight issue. Although my wife no longer drank, she would attend parties, barbecues, even hosting ours after we moved from our little Mission Motel Apartment into our first purchased home in November of 1984.
Two years before retirement, I got to the place where I did lose weight. It was by a combination of walking around Oakland’s Lake Merritt (twice) early Saturday and Sunday mornings or the Marina at San Leandro. My wife and I also increased our caloric burning food intake such as more vegetables. Personally, I lost sixty-one pounds in seven months. But lo and behold, the stress of my job in Procurement caused me to abandon the exercise program and slowly began to again, add on the loss poundage. Promotions brought on more stress and the potlucks held for almost any occasions by my co-workers did me no service. It was way too much good food. Even at that, I cannot complain because life, career, and extra curriculums were great ever since my arrival in California back in 1978. Except for the accounting technician year or so, the other jobs caused me to work long hours, half or full day on Saturday. Career wise, procurement (purchasing) was where I wanted to be and stayed until I retired in 1996.
That brings me to the present era. I was sitting there watching a Monday night football game and listening to my wife insists I contact my doctor for an appointment. I could only smile through shortness of breath gasps as she used my laptop computer to email my doctor. It happened after I walked from my family room to the bedroom and became completely exhausted as if I had just run a marathon. After that short walk, I was finding it so hard to breath that I had to sit down to rest before calling out and alerting Sandra. She set up our nebulizer, pouring liquid albuterol in the machine and I proceeded to inhale the medicinal steam thinking that it was an asthma attack. Her last warning before pushing the send email button was we have to take care of each other. At that point, I was getting to weak to argue, even though I still felt it was my asthma making a comeback from my adolescence years.
We arrived on time for the December 8, 8:30-morning appointment with my doctor, who I might add she always called a quack. She continued with his nickname even after having found he was more than competent over the years. Well, Dr. “Quack” diagnosis was a bronchial infection. He prescribed a cough suppressant and directed me to take a six-day antibiotic for the infection.
And on by the way, while listening to my breathing through his statoscope, he heard an unusual noise coming from my heart. “I hear a heart murmur. When is the last time we sent you for an Echocardiogram (Echo),” asking while looking the info up on his computer. Wow, it’s been a while, back in 2009. We didn’t find anything abnormal at the time. Yes, it’s been a while, so I have scheduled you for…today or tomorrow?” “Today I guess,” I answered. “Here is one at 1:30 pm at Sand Creek in Antioch. Is that OK with you?” “Well sure I replied,” not at the very least worried about the what, why, or cause of this heart murmur?
The cause of my shortness of breath had been identified, as I seen it. What the hell, nothing like covering all the bases with one’s health, I thought. The Echo will be another chance for them to check me out. After all, I am a healthy machine for an overweight diabetic black man with high blood pressure, medicated and controlled gout tendencies, and a resurgence of asthma from my childhood. We were a few hours from the afternoon appointment time, so my wife and I went back home.
Upon arrival at the appointment, the tech was taking so long trying to locate the cause of the murmur. Even though I might add, to my credit the technician was very thorough. At one point she told me she was going to look at my 2009 results to see what, if anything they found at that time. I relayed the information of no findings at that time which was verified by her after checking the files. She returned to rubbing the lubricated probe allowing it to run smoothly along my skin while taking pictures of her findings. At one point I told her my heart had been broken so many times, it was hiding the fractures. It was not up for heartbreak number, who knows. That got a laugh from her and her trainee assistance that had joined her in with the examination.
I meant it as a joke but in my thoughts, I was serious. Laying there on that table, watching as specific areas of my heart flashed on the screen, I was beginning to have thoughts of immortality. The thought that this heart of mine had been performing for over seventy-one years, and counting was a realization that just had not occurred to me as it did on this day. At this moment in time and during this examination, my mind briefly thought of a few of my life’s disappointments. Failed expectations I’d experience from strangers, friends and family came to mind. Keeping in mind, they were who I thought these individuals should be, not who they were as a personality or person. In fact, they never had a chance in my mind. Because… I am a hopeless romantic and idealist. People like me are always shocked by the realization that others are not always going to be or behave in a manner you’ve conjured up in your perfect world. And the body organ that’s most affected, the main organic recipient taking on the oversimplification of human behavior is in my mind our heart.
After what seemed liked forever, the tech made her decision and unknown to me at the time was wrapping up her evaluation and examination. It was shortly after returning from finding no results in the 2009 report; she took a few more pictures. Her young assistance, who happened to be a pretty young black lady who I was glad to see in that position was watching as the experienced pro was going through her motions. After remarking that Dr. so-in-so had given her a major assignment which turned out to answer his phone, the tech advised her to do so to the best of her ability. In other words, as she put it, whatever assignment is given do it with the utmost expertise. I don’t know if the assistant understood what the tech was saying, but I did, which explained why she was so meticulous in her trying to find the source of my heart murmur. Concluding her examination she turned her probe, and seat over to the assistant, asking her to keep searching. The Tech made one last comment to me, remarking that she thought there was more to my problem that caused the shortness of breath and went off to see the doctor. Now convinced it was more than just an Asthma problem. Thus, she was going to have me see the Cardiologist.
Upon her return, she instructed me to put my upper garments on and take a seat in the waiting room. The doctor will see you shortly. My wife still seating in the waiting area, had a puzzling expression as I sat next her. “I was just about to go back there to see what happen with you. What took so long?” Before I could answer, they were calling me to see the Cardiologist. Maybe because events were now happening so fast, I didn’t have time to wonder about the problem. Dr. Strong would clear up all of the confusion in a very detailed explanation. She even took the time to animate my condition while going through a hand-drawn-illustration of a heart as she went through the problem, solution and recovery period.
It was not as simple as it sounds, but I will say for someone who tends to drift in and out of boring conversations I was in tuned to her every word. Given her credit in that, her description of the entire process was exact and complete. The drawing certainly complimented her description and kept me and my wife’s attention on the problem. Nevertheless, the words, “I’m recommending you for surgery” hit home like a physical sounding thud dropped on the floor with the three of us going silent for what seemed like a full sixty seconds. I was looking at her with a…well you would have to ask her the type of expression.
In fact, I think I began looking around the room as if she was directing “recommending you for surgery” for someone else. There were many seconds of doubt. Could she be talking to me? Does she know who I am? I am my daddy’s child, a Bradley County, Banks Arkansas Hampton by way of Milwaukee Wisconsin. We are tough, body and soul through and through, no matter what the problem; we adapt and live through it. Oh, I know we are not invincible, but we are the closest beings to it. Lady you are talking to Hamp, round the way Hamp, Sporty Odie Cody. The fellows use to call me TNT wrapped in a small package. Why I am…then I resigned myself to the fact they had met my heart, up close and personal via the Echocardiogram. Reality quickly brought me back to her eyes and expression as I realized her diagnosis began and ended with me.
Evan so and at this point, after hearing someone tell you that heart surgery is required to replace the Aortic Valve, I almost heard my heart yelling “Say what?” After the long pause with all waiting on my response, I heard myself asking “Well, what is the next step in the process.” No, I had not fully digested the news, but I am always in survival mode. In no way is it an exceptional characteristic on my part. Just for those who don’t know, this trait is normal for most black people. You might say it’s a common trait of people whose entire being is primed to expect bad news at any moment.
The Doctor went on to describe what was required to prepare for surgery, i.e. an EKG, Angiogram, CAT Scan, Ultra Sound, Sleep Study appointment and finally meeting the assigned surgeon who would schedule the procedure along with filling in the rest of the details. She also provided paperwork noting the website links to access for watching a video of the Angiogram, Aortic Valve Replacement and just in case, Coronary Bypass Surgery. I still had not fully digested the fact that I needed to have heart surgery. There were thoughts and braggadocio of not trusting the word of today’s era physicians as had been my nature. Yes, bragging that given any life treating news would be followed by me insisting on seeing the diagnostic doctor’s credentials or other pertinent information that would validate their opinion went by the wayside. Replaced with how do I get through this process? My most immediate thought was a need for me to cooperate; thereby helping the doctors get the maximum positive result from operating on me was the obvious answer. The other major thought in my head, God has the master plan, so I am in his hands via the surgeon and all those individuals needed to get me through the process. That was the primary gut reaction that kept running through my mind. I just didn’t think God was through with me. In my mind, the fact the discovery of the Aortic Stenosis so early was a testament to that fact.
I will always remember December 8 even more than the date after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. The fact that I am a history buff causes me to remember a US Historical event that happened before my birth. I certainly do not equate such a national tragedy with the same importance as the day before I learned I needed heart surgery. It just so happens that those two dates have suddenly taken on an extremely significant point in my life after living almost a quarter of a year over seventy-one years. Over the next eleven days, between the phone calls from the doctors, scheduler’s, attending appointments, and ensuring testing all resulting in good news in preparation for the surgery.
The only hiccup in the testing process was the Sleep Study Test. After overnight testing while wearing a watch unit with a wire connection to my finger on the night of December 10th, it turned out I also have severe Sleep Apnea. It all resulted in them providing me with a loaner machine with a mask to provide a more controlled night of rest.
Four days later, I am suffering from the cold air directed into my mouth. Even though I found, I slept longer and did not wake up every hour or so. The machine did cause another problem. Instead of allowing for a more controlled and successful sleeping experience, I now have a toothache. Thus, I needed to have my dentist identify this new issue. And so it goes?
During this period, I was able to conceptualize the fact that Hamp, Sporty Odie Cody, the kid, or simply Codis Hampton II was not invincible nor was his body oblivious to old age.
Now comes the waiting period until January 12, 2016, the day of the surgery. You know the dead time while waiting to go under the knife. Jesus Christ, did I just write the words ‘dead time’ and ‘under the knife?’ I think I’m getting a little too descriptive for my state of mind. How about the calm before the storm? No, oh forget it. As of December the twenty-first, it is twenty-two days before I have the surgery. Although it is not a long wait which was my preference, it is still a lot of time to think about what has, and is going to happen in time.
December twenty-seven and counting down, I’ve talked to an older friend of mine who had a quadruple bypass in 2008. It was a general chit-chat about the overall experience itself. You know receiving, and our reaction to getting the diagnosis that requires corrective surgery. Ironically, his reaction and mine were similar. Upon receiving the word, your first thought is to look around the room as if looking for the person the doctor is talking to because they surely are not talking to you. Wow! And I thought I was unique that reaction. During our conversation, he assured me that it is “piece of cake.” He confirmed the very thoughts that I was now experiencing every time I talked or thought about the pending surgery. “You got to get your mind straight.” Meaning one has to come to grips with what is about to happen, calm yourself down and go with the flow. At this point, I’ve got some ways to go before I get to a state of complete acceptance and resignation.
The mother of my oldest son wife tried to reassure me that it was like a “Car going in for a tune-up.” My son, Richie, and wife Liza was visiting today. Her mother Eva had Liza hand me her cell phone so she could give me her well wishes. She just wanted me to know, that I will be in her prayers. And again, don’t worry about it. “You are going to be fine. It’s just a simple procedure. I just wanted you to know that I will be praying for you.” Her reaction is just like one hundred percent of the people you talk too. The moment you mention heart surgery, you are automatically in their prayers. Hell, I would say the same thing to someone else. Now, my long-term future and getting through this process is something I pray about every morning. Yes, that’s right; I am in my prayers. I sincerely thanked her because I know she was honest.
Monday, December twenty-eight: While writing this article update and looking at a calendar I realize that December thirty is the day after tomorrow. That is the day; I go to the hospital for my Pre-Operative exams in preparation for surgery. I took this time in the quiet hour of the morning to read over the instructions. Time is moving fast. Once again, surgery is scheduled for January 12, 2016. I mean, cutting open my chest, breaking my chest bone to reach my heart. Taking it out and placing it on a machine while they replace the aortic valve. The thought of it, I could die any moment. Have a stroke, hell anything could go wrong at any time. God, you are not going to play a joke on me are you? You could have taken me on out of here without my going through this procedure, you know. I caught myself thinking as if I could tell God what to do and when. I also wondered if I would freak out the closer it got to the twelve of January? One thing is for certain; time will tell as we come closer to the actual date.
Peace, make it a day in which Jesus Christ would be proud of you,
Codis Hampton II
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