A bypass in life IV – the operation

When they got to my heart they found complications.

As a result, my quadruple bypass surgery that should have taken about 6 to 7 hours stretched to 10 hours, worrying the wife, sister and friends. The complication was that normal hearts usually beat freely in a fluid enclosed by the pericardium, a plasticky-look sac.

In my case, something had happened to have virtually shrunk-wrapped the pericardium around my heart. Instead of beating in fluid, my heart was stuck to the walls of the pericardium. The surgeon could not operate on my heart so long as they were fused together. He and his team had to spend about 2-3 hours separating the heart from the pericardium.

After that it was a fairly routine quadruple bypass procedure. When everything was ready, they stopped my heart and fed my blood through a heart-lung machine. They then started grafting the veins taken from my arms (I now have 30 centimeter scars running along my right and left forearms) and grafted them onto the blocked arteries. This was related to me by my surgeon after the operation as, of course, I was knocked out for about 12 hours that day while they operated on me. I came to about an hour after I was wheeled out of the operating theater and into the Intensive Care Unit.

I looked like some science fiction character. My sewn-up scars, one big one in the middle of my chest and two gashes along both my forearms, made me look like some cheap Asian version of Tony Stark without the Iron Man Chest-thingy. There were tubes feeding into my neck for a cocktail of intravenous drugs, two tubes sticking out from my solar plexus ares to drain the “dirty blood” from the operation, a catheter in the you-know-where to prevent me wetting the bed and various tubes sticking out from the hands. My forearms were also heavily bandaged. There was very little pain though, mainly because of the morphine they used (a first for Unspun – legal consumption of drugs).

I stayed in the ICU for four days, mainly because I was bleeding more than normal. The cause of the bleeding, said my surgeon, could be some residual effect of the cardic aspirin I had been taking but stopped a week before on his orders (Aspirins are blood thinners and prevent clotting. So if you get a cut the wound just bleeds and bleeds. Incidentally, many Chinese herbal cures such as ginseng are also very effective blood thinners and you should never consume them just before or after an operation or you’ll bleed and bleed).

Then I was discharged from the ICU to the cardiac ward. Again, there was little pain, except if I cough. Then it gets excruciating. By then I could walk and was encouraged by my surgeon to walk as much as possible and on Day #8 after the operation I was discharged from the hospital to recuperate at home, or in this case my mother’s house.

It’s all been a weird adventure with lots of things to learn but one takeout from all this is how fortunate I am, from benefiting from the kindness of strangers (the Twitterers and Facebookers who agreed to troop down to the hospital for a blood screening during office hours and who then showed up on the morning of the operation to donate their blood), my sister who’s been super organizing all the stuff “on ground” when I was in Jakarta, my wife (who devotedly stayed by my side and cared for me, even camping in my hospital bedroom for close to a week), and office that continues to kick-ass when I’m not there (proud of you guys!) as well as friends and online community members who have sent their well wishes.

Most of all, however, I felt blessed because I came under the care of the legendary Datuk Dr Rozali Wahtooth who’re regarded by my cardiologist and others as the best heart surgeon in Malaysia. I sought him out on the recommendation of my cardiologist but what I found in the lead up to and after the bypass surgery was a man who awed Unspun with his capability, gentleness, leadership, compassion and humility.

Unspun is usually snarky in his postings and in life, especially about doctors since all they specialize seem to be to rip you off. But in Dr Rozali Unspun’s faith in the medical profession has been restored. We should be so lucky if more doctors could be even half the man and doctor that Dr Rozali is and I’ll save my next post sharing with you impressions of this incredible man.

10 thoughts on “A bypass in life IV – the operation

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  1. Good to read your account of the by-pass, really appreciate the diagram, the details and your account of how it all happened. I can only imagine the delicacy and precision required to separate your heart from the pericardium on the part of the surgeons and indeed the whole procedure! Long live compassionate and highly-skilled doctors! Three cheers on your being well on your way to recovery!


  2. Thankfully for the rest of us, the brain and wit is still in order and humour and spirits, high. An excellent post.


  3. Hi Ong, thanks for sharing your experience. It’s good to know that the surgery is behind you and that you are in good spirits.I had a major surgery myself last year, so I know how it feels. Get well pronto, see you in Jakarta soon.


  4. Hi Ong, thanks for sharing your experience. It’s good to know that the surgery is behind you and that you are in good spirits.I had a major surgery myself last year, so I know how it feels. See you in Jakarta real soon.


  5. I hope you are feeling better. I have an infection in the pericardium one time and thought I was having a hear attack. Took a long time to get my strength back just from that.


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