Five Reasons Not to Have Bypass Surgery

by Lisa Rosen on August 24, 2009

Eleven years ago today, Lee had a quintuple bypass.  The day before, the surgeon had told me they’d probably only be able to do four; one of the clogged vessels was in a hard-to-get-to spot, and he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to bypass it or not.  To his great credit, he was able to accomplish everything he set out to do, and here we are, eleven years later, working hard at keeping those replacement vessels wide open.

In case you aren’t entirely clear on the terminology, let me give you a quick primer on bypass surgery, or CABG (Coronary Artery Bypass Graft) as the folks at the hospital call it.  Here’s what they do:  they open up the patient’s chest (that involves sawing through the sternum, or breast bone), then they hook the patient up to a heart-lung machine.  The machine takes over the functions of the heart and lungs, oxygenating the blood and pumping it through the body, while the actual heart is stopped for the duration of the procedure (they can’t be doing intricate work on your heart and arteries if your heart is pumping, so they make it stop).  They they use veins removed from some other part of the body (sometimes elsewhere in the chest cavity; often the inside of a leg) to literally create a “by-pass” around the clogged part of an artery.  Think of it as a fresh new highway that bypasses the congested, traffic-ey part of a city so that long-distance truckers can just whiz on by.

They take this nice clean length of vessel and attach an end on each side of the clogged segment, rerouting the flow of blood so that the supply of oxygen to the heart never gets caught up in a constricted area.  Then they turn the heart-lung machine off, so that the body can go back to doing what it’s supposed to do (that’s the goal, anyway–it took a bit of work to get Lee’s heart going again).  Finally, they sew everything back up and send the patient off to intensive care to recover.

It all sounds fairly straight-forward, doesn’t it?  And it mostly is, for most patients.  But even when it goes perfectly, bypass surgery is a huge trauma to the body and the psyche.  If you have any risk factors for heart disease (and who doesn’t?), here’s why you should make it your business to stay as healthy as you can, so that you can avoid open heart surgery:

1)  They shave your testicles.  Obviously, if you don’t have testicles, this isn’t a concern, but since I’ve never had bypass myself, I can’t promise that they don’t do something equally unpleasant to women.  Lee is still slightly traumatized.

2) They draw “blood gases” as part of the pre-op workup.  Basically, they draw blood from an artery.  Way back in high school biology, you should’ve learned that your arteries are mostly hidden fairly deep in your body (to protect them–bleeding from an artery is a good way to die really quickly).  Think about that–it’s a standard blood draw, except that it involves finding an artery.  Lee’s still talking about how painful that was.

3)  When the surgery ends, they send you to the cardiac intensive care unit, still hooked up to all kinds of tubes and wires and things.  Lee was on a breathing machine, and there were several things protruding from his chest, which we both chose not to look at.  The breathing machine made him miserable as he came back to consciousness, but he couldn’t really communicate; he just had to cope until they took the tube out of his throat.  Luckily, he doesn’t really remember that part clearly.

4)  They give you morphine.  I realize that probably seems like a good thing, not a bad thing, but it made Lee throw up.  Tubes and cracked breastbone and all.  No, he doesn’t really remember that part, either.  Luckily, I missed it entirely.

5)  They use a titanium wire to close your chest back up again.  That wire is permanent.  The bone is never quite as strong as it was, but the wire stays there, hopefully giving it a bit of reinforcement.  Downside:  Lee has been known to set off the security machines at the airport.  He’ll deny it–he has a selective memory, which is probably not the end of the world, under the circumstances–but I was there.  They had to wand him.

Really, you should just lose the weight, keep your heart healthy, and avoid the surgery altogether.  Why risk taking any longer at airport security than absolutely necessary?!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

CATHERINE pATE August 24, 2009 at 9:49 pm

well, after that uplifting post, i must say i have decided to skip the ben and jerry’s that was calling my name… i am feeling a bit nauseous. and i recall signing lee’s will 11 years and 1 day ago too.


Bob Taurianen November 28, 2016 at 5:15 pm

In December of 1998 I underwent a quintuplet by_pass. My cardiologist visited me in the hospital and told me that when I see him for my six week, post- op exam I have to be able to walk a mile and a half for him to OK me to go back to work. In less than 4 weeks post-op I was walking 4 miles a day. When I went back to work at Michigan Truck Plant, I started working 10 hours a day, 6 days a week. The only thing I can attribute that kind of success to is prayer and faith in God.


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