Believe Me; It's Not Like An Appendectomy

BFP Magazine

Cardio-vascular Health

Coronary by-pass Surgery, Operation

Believe Me; It's Not Like An Appendectomy

By Dr. W. Gifford Jones

"Have you had your bypass operation?" and "How are you doing?" I've had a massive response from readers asking these questions. But I've delayed writing about my experience as a patient so I could sit back, reflect on it, and provide a more rational answer.

Well I'm a bit scarred. So I won't win a beauty contest! But I'm grateful to be alive and well.

First, the humorous side to the surgery. My operation was scheduled on a Thursday morning, the same day my column appears in The Toronto Sun. Early that day on our way to the hospital I casually asked my wife to bring me a copy. She agreed impatiently, suggesting that I get my priorities in order!

Later that afternoon as I emerged from anesthesia I opened my eyes to see my wife standing at my bedside. She claims the first thing I said was, "Did you bring the Toronto Sun?" Luckily she has a sense of humour and is still living with me.

Many readers have written, asking, "Did you approach the surgery with apprehension?" You bet I did. Primarily because I had witnessed many bypass operations. I had no illusions about what surgeons were going to do to my body!

I also knew the statistics. That there is a one to four percent chance of dying depending on your health. And I had read a report in the New England Journal of Medicine showing the risk of stroke could be as high as 7 percent. My surgeon insisted I was in good shape and my risk was less than one percent.

Not being a surgeon would have made life a lot easier. But at least I knew that Dr. Tirone David, one of the world's best cardiovascular surgeons, was performing the operation. That made me sleep better.

I assumed I'd have considerable pain after such an invasive procedure. But to my surprise I had relatively little need for painkillers during my hospital stay.

However, I was in for a major surprise. In my wildest nightmares I had not expected such intense post©operative fatigue. It became my primary problem, in part due to anemia. But as a type A personality I found this constant weariness extremely frustrating. A very impatient patient!

Having gone through this traumatic experience one thing continues to amaze me. The current blase' attitude of the public about bypass surgery. Ô 0*0*0* Today many people speak casually of bypass surgery as if it's an appendectomy. Believe me it's no appendectomy!

Patients and families know that thousands of bypass operations are done every year. That most patients recover and lead active lives. And the fact that patients are discharged from hospital in four or five days tends to de©emphasize the seriousness of the surgery.

It's not the purpose of this column to worry patients. But take my word, this is a complicated and potentially hazardous operation. The miracle is that so many patients survive it.

Many people were surprised when they learned of my illness. They said, "Why did this happen to you? You're not obese, you lead an active life, play tennis and you don't smoke." I also didn't suffer from diabetes or hypertension. And was rarely ill.

I've also taken vitamin E, C and the B vitamins for years, all helpful in fighting coronary disease. But I wasn't lily white. I did enjoy french fries and gravy! Most likely my Waterloo was grey hair and genetics. My Mother had a coronary at about the same age. I mentioned in an earlier column she lived on until 93.

The great tragedy is that many bypass operations are not performed because of old age and genetics. Rather, they're the result of bad habits that could and should be corrected.

Prior to surgery I needed an angiogram to assess the status of my coronary arteries. A 55 year old woman nearby also waiting for the procedure was crying. Not knowing anything about her I tried to reassure her.

Later a doctor told me she had had two previous angioplasties to open coronary vessels and one previous bypass. Now she was awaiting another bypass. With some impatience he commented, "Can you believe it, she is still smoking?"

In retrospect I should have taken a baby Aspirin every day starting at about 55 years of age. There's ample evidence that this helps to keep the blood oiled and decrease the risk of coronary attack.

Why didn't I do it? I hate to admit it, but it seems I'm not perfect. I thought I was Superman! And what idiot following a bypass operation would open his eyes, look up at his wife and say, "Did you pick up The Toronto Sun!"

Next week, a column about your letters. A simple thanks seems inadequate. Besides, there's much to learn from them.

W. Gifford-Jones M.D is the pen name of Dr. Ken Walker graduate of The Harvard Medical School. He's been a ship's surgeon, hotel physician and family doctor and later trained in surgery at McGill in Montreal, University of Rochester N.Y. and Harvard. His medical column is published by 60 Canadian newspapers and several in the U.S. He is the author of seven books. Dr. Walker has a medical practice in Toronto. His Web site is: He can be reached at

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