There has been a plethora of phone calls, E mails and notes along with an occasional flower arrangement. All of it is appreciated more than I can say, but I thought I would try to say so anyhow. While at that, I thought I should probably explain what happened... not only to dispel bad information, but to clarify just what is going on and to allay any unnecessary concerns. There is also the possibility that what follows could be helpful should any of you experience something similar. So to the VGFOB (the Very Good Friends of Barney) here goes:
As most of you know, I came out to LA from beautiful Fisher Island to follow my custom and my passion: the USC football team. The trip also allows for quality time at that happy season with old LA friends and family. This year also happens to be the 50th reunion of my SC graduating class of which I am something called the "Legacy Chair" which requires some minimal amount of my time and attention. Coincidental with all this there is a bit of stir among the itinerant managers of the Cagney & Lacey library to actually do something, and, in addition, Sharon's play will be going into rehearsals in San Francisco early December so I found myself with more time on my hands than usual and decided to fill some of that with a visit to my LA Doctor for a check up and to discuss some pretty drastic weight loss ideas I have wanted to explore. Forget about the latter. DR Brodhead informed me that I was in Atrial Fibrillation and that he wanted me to see a cardiac specialist right away.
Now the Atrial thing is something that I knew a little about. I had experienced it for the first time last February following a bout with food poisoning that left me seriously dehydrated.
At that time, my heart very quickly went back into sinus rhythm pretty much on its own and I believed it was just one of those things that had corrected itself and would pretty much be a one-time event. Ancillary testing in Miami last February indicated another issue: my right carotid artery was 60% blocked. All the Cardiologists I spoke with said "take aspirin" and monitor the artery annually... it seemed that until there was 75% blockage, attempting to correct the thing could cause more harm than good. I quickly got back onto the tennis courts and was playing better than at anytime in my life when (in early May) I got knocked off my bicycle by an oncoming golf cart resulting in my getting banged up just enough to keep me on the side lines for six weeks, during which time I experienced a loss of physical conditioning and a corresponding weight gain. Back I went to the Miami doctors. While at it, they checked the artery again which was still registering 60-65% blockage... nothing to be concerned about as long as I was.taking aspirin.
I told all this last week to my new LA cardiologist, Dr. Leslie Saxon who is also head of the Cardiology Department at the USC Medical Center. The fact that I was back in sinus rhythm without medication and without feeling any differently than when I was in Fibrillation concerned her and she put me on some pills, ordered a stress test to take place in a few days and said she wanted to carefully monitor what was going on. I seem to be continuing to have an irregular heart beat without realizing it.
Last Saturday night, Sharon and I went out to dinner. I was feeling "edgy".... sort of in a bad mood (did I hear anyone ask "how could you tell?") I noticed that my lips felt numb... sort of the way they do when you leave the dentist. Then there was the same sensation in my finger tips on my left hand and eventually the entire hand and forearm and then my left foot and leg up to the lower calf. It was different than the sensation one has when an extremity "falls asleep"; there was no tingling sensation of the kind when normal blood flow returns. Sharon was nervous about what I was describing and from what she could discern from looking under "numbness" on the Internet she feared I might be having a stroke. Still I resisted her calls for me to go the hospital. It was 11 PM on a Saturday and I had no desire to spend the night in a LA Emergency room watching knife victims being patched together. I took an aspirin and went to bed, telling her I was feeling better (and the truth was I slept well) and woke up with no further symptoms. That lasted for about an hour and then the numb lips and numb left hand finger tips were back. This time my right leg was also slightly numb . It was Sunday morning. I called my doctor at home (who was concerned enough at our earlier meeting to give me his home number). Dr Brodhead said that he wanted me in the hospital for observation and that he would see to it that the admitting office would call me in a half hour with instructions of where to go. I asked if I could first attend an award event honoring my wife later that afternoon and he was incredulous. He told me to get my ass into the hospital and fast. Sunday came and went as did Monday and most of Tuesday. Lots of tests and constant monitoring... doctors in and out of my hospital room, meds and/or dosages changing and a strange discovery... that right carotid artery was now 85% blocked. The pictures of my heart revealed no damage and no clot forming activity (good news)... the brain scans showed no signs of any sort of incident or stroke (more good news), but the fact that my artery was now 20% more blocked than it was last July meant something must be going on that could become very bad news. The numbing I had experienced was being called a TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack). One third of the people who have them never have them again. One third have them repeatedly, and one third (the remaining folks) go on to have a major stroke. I was already in the second group and had no desire to be part of the third. I agreed to surgery on my carotid artery.
On Wednesday morning they cut me just below the jaw line and opened up my neck (what I believe used to be called "the mafia smile"). They did this while respecting the fact that my wife and grandchildren had never seen me without a beard and so, while I was unconscious, and before the operation itself, they made an effort to give me a better than average beard trim so that I would still look like me when the operation was over. Surgery time was under three hours and I was in "recovery" for about five more. The surgeon (Dr. Weaver) did a great job and released me from the hospital the next day. The neurological team concurred. Not so fast was what the cardiologist contributed and she kept me there for two and one half more days, moving me to the cardiac care floor to monitor my irregular heart beat while taking off for the SC/ Notre Dame game in South Bend and leaving me to watch the thing on television. (For those of you who saw the game, I have never been so grateful for blood pressure medication which is now a new addition to my medicine cabinet.)
I was surrounded the whole time by fabulous women... not just my cardiologist and those members of the medical and nursing team who are female, but by my wonderful granddaughters, my beautiful and caring children and my wife who fought for and got the private room, badgered everyone for constant reports from the staff, slept in a chair by my side while also guiding my middle daughter with her painful Kidney infection through a different medical bureaucracy, and managing to get me checked out of the hospital, handling all that paper work in record time, in order to get me to my kid's home for a plop down in front of the TV with my family in time for the kick-off of the SC/Notre Dame game... She did all of this while flying back and forth to San Francisco for casting sessions and production meetings on her play. You sort of have to see her in action to appreciate this combo of Sister Kinney and Jimmy Hoffa.
I am very okay. My doctors say I dodged a "major bullet." I spent Sunday shopping for new tires for my car. I am good for another 70,000 miles. A lot of those I hope to spend with you all. Many thanks again for your love and concern and for letting me know how much I am cared for.