This is certainly not an everyday occurrence for people like us. I mean, we’re not medical personnel, not related to any department of the hospital or even related to the patient. But when an opportunity like this presents itself, as in an offer from the surgeon performing the surgery, you do what you have to do to make it happen. This is/was a once in a lifetime opportunity! There was no option to miss it. The only options in my mind were going to be when I got there and when I left. You see, what I’m referring to is the call I got from Dr. Balkhy’s office, from Ruth Buckner actually, inviting me to attend a robotic unroofing procedure. I was floored! And while my answer was an absolute “yes”, I had to rearrange a significant number of events/appts to make it all happen. Sacramento to Chicago isn’t quite the easiest flight arrangement. What that meant for me was taking the 5:30a flight out. You know what that means, I’m sure. 3a rise time to get to the airport on time. Ugh. It all worked out though. I spent the night with some friends not far from the hospital and was there bright and early, albeit a bit tired, to be sure I was able to take it all in. I didn’t want to miss a beat. You can only imagine my amazement when I was asked to “gown up” in the doctor’s locker room. It was like being asked to get my racing suit on in the paddock of an F1 race and I had to step into the driver’s locker room to do so. I couldn’t have felt any more awkward, anxious or intimidated. I’m standing in the same place as the people who are medically and surgically saving lives. I’m just me. A layperson. A communicator, a podcaster. I don’t even come close to the caliber of people I’m “gowning up” like. And to add even more to the insecurity, it seemed as if everyone I came across while wearing my scrubs, treated me as if I was somebody that had something to do with something medically related. Imposter syndrome at its best.
As I was led into Operating Room #4, I couldn’t help but be surprised by the fact that I was literally in the room with everyone else. Not in a gallery above or looking through some fishbowl glass at what was going on. I was 6 feet from the patient, and 10 feet from Dr. Balkhy on the control device for the robot! Are you kidding me! I couldn’t help but think they made a mistake and I was really supposed to be watching the video monitors from somewhere else. Pinch me. This can’t really be happening. That machine behind me, with all the arms, that’s the robot? And those long cylindrical tubes sticking out of the patient are the portals to the cavity where it’s all taking place? What if I pass out and hit something? What if I say something stupid and distract somebody from doing what they’re supposed to be doing? Am I really supposed to be in here standing next to a visiting doctor from India who is here to learn more about robotic surgery? Oh my, do I ever feel like I’m in the way. Then Dr. Balkhy suggests I get my headset on. My what? Aren’t those for the people doing something? Actually, it really helped as I was able to hear everything that was being communicated in the room and very descriptive details about what was going on. Not for just my benefit but for everyone in the room. And to my surprise, we’re not even looking at the patient, we’re all focused on what’s going on inside the patient and being shown on video screens from inside this human auditorium of a body cavity. I’ll save the detailed explanation as you can see it all on the YouTube video that’s now posted but let me summarize a few things. This surgery is no joke. It’s very detailed, specific and quite remarkable in that it can even be done robotically. The less invasive nature simplifies a lot of things including the recovery and the risk to the patient by comparison to sternotomy and the heart/lung machine to allow for working on a “still” heart. (Gives a whole new meaning for me to the phrase, “be still my beating heart”!) It also gave me a much better understanding of how the artery looks tunneled in the heart muscle and what it looks like when it’s getting compressed with each beat. Frightening to think so many people are walking around with myocardial bridges and even more so, not impacted…yet. When you see the trauma to that primary artery, our LAD, it’s perfectly clear why there are symptoms. What a visual and what a lesson. The surgery went beautifully and accomplished the mission of “unroofing” the artery. It is nothing short of miraculous that this can be done and can change one’s life in just a few short hours of surgery.
This was most certainly an experience I will never forget, never minimize and always have at the ready for discussion should anyone want to engage in that conversation with me. I was also allowed to record much of the procedure for a variety of reasons but suffice to say that if you’re up to watching it, it is well worth the time invested to help you better understand myocardial bridges and the procedure to remedy the defect of their passage. I can’t do justice to what I saw in words but you can see it all on the “Imperfect Heart” YouTube channel. The link is https://youtu.be/4NRb9VWteCY If you, or someone you know, is in the process of deciding on what type of surgery to correct their MB, this is a must watch. And while every surgical candidate is not eligible for robotic unroofing, the visual of what you’ll see on the post is still what happens when the sternum is opened for the same reasons. I hope you find value in what was my good fortune to share and that you may even be able to help others with this video. My hope is those with myocardial bridges will have a lot to glean from this informative video and that, if it’s shared aggressively, we’ll be able to convince a few more cardiologists and surgeons that this condition is real, it does create life threatening symptoms and it can debilitate a perfectly strong and healthy individual. Thanks for allowing me to share the privilege and blessing I was given to attend. And thank you to Dr. Balkhy for the invitation. It will not be squandered.