Triple bypass

Being wheeled into op room for angiogram
Being wheeled into op room for angiogram

It didn’t really hit me as shocking news. Ok, maybe a little. Actually, what I felt, when the news was relayed to me, was, “Ok, so how do we deal with this?”

It was bad news, of course.

A week earlier, on 6 September, I kept an appointment with Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), for an Electrocardiogram (ECG). I had been feeling chest pains whenever I walked briskly, or when I jogged and swam. In fact, the symptoms had been there for more than a year. I just brushed them off as perhaps I hadn’t slept well the night before and thus was somehow physically weak.

I had taken comfort that after the initial first 20 to 30 mins of jogging or swimming, where I had to pause every short distance, I was able to continue exercising without feeling any pain in the chest.

So, I ignored the symptoms.

Then one night, while sitting in bed reading, I felt a shortness of breath.

It was highly unusual, as it has never happened to me before, while resting.

And then it happened again a few nights later.

I was now concerned.

I looked over at the lady who was also in bed, watching one of her online movies which she loves to do after a day at work, to wind down.

I distinctly remember thinking to myself, “I’d better get this thing checked out because I can’t be irresponsible towards her. If there is anything wrong, let’s get it sorted out quick.”

We have been together 6 years, and each and everyday has been a blessing. She is my world, and often I pause to realise and to remember how precious she and our boys are to me. And the life we have has been wonderful, and I want to live to a ripe old age with her, spending time even in our grey years, doing things we love, and being there for one another through whatever may come.

So, I went to Hougang Polyclinic to see a doctor and to get a referral to TTSH.

As it turned out, the ECG revealed a lack of oxygen to my heart when I was on the treadmill. The young lady doctor, who was very patient in explaining things to us, recommended further tests.

One thing quickly led to another, and before long I was at the National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS), being wheeled into this extremely cold room to have an angiogram done.

An angiogram is an X-ray test that uses a special dye and camera (fluoroscopy) to take pictures of the blood flow in an artery (such as the aorta) or a vein (such as the vena cava).

The cardiologist expected to find some blockage in an artery (or perhaps two), and to perform what would be a routine angioplasty operation.

No big deal. Day op. Done in less than two hours perhaps.

Except that what my angiogram revealed was not what was expected.

The 3 blockages
The 3 blockages

There were three blockages. Yup, all three arteries were blocked. One had a 100% blockage, while the other two were at 80% and 75%.

Not good.

The Indian doctor doing the angiogram said as much.

“It is not good, Andrew,” he said to me, as I laid on the operating table. “Looks like all three arteries are blocked.”

I remember thinking to myself, “Ok, is that bad?”

Err, yes, it is, actually.

“All three are blocked, Andrew,” Doctor Gupta repeated.

I could only manage a, “Ahh..”

“We are looking at bypass, I’m afraid,” he told me.

I only realised it would be triple bypass later because things seemed to have stopped somewhat. It was like someone had blocked my mind from processing the news. I didn’t know if it was bad news, or not so bad news, or whether it was serious, or what a bypass actually meant.

I had to read up later and understand what exactly it was all about.

After they had finished with me and had wheeled me to my bed in the ward, a cardiothoracic surgeon was on hand to speak to me about the bypass operation. But all I wanted to do was to see the lady. She had that worried and anxious look on her face when I was being taken to the operating room.

When you love someone, such a look of anxiety is like a knife into the back. It hurts to see her like that. So, I asked the nurses to call her as they were wheeling me out of the operating room. I wanted to tell her the news and to assure her I will be ok.

As they transferred me onto the bed in the ward, the nurses drew the curtains, and started to do certain things such as making sure I was bandaged properly and so on.

“Have you called my wife?” I asked the nurses.

“Yes, we have informed her you are out of the operation already.”

Don't be scared of this photo. Looks more serious than it is. Result of withdrawal of sheath in the veins during angiogram. Painful for first 3 days but will clear up within a month. This doesn't happen always. In fact, most angiograms do not result in this, as I understand it.
Don’t be scared of this photo. Looks more serious than it is. Result of withdrawal of sheath in the veins during angiogram. Painful for first 3 days but will clear up within a month. This doesn’t happen always. In fact, most angiograms do not result in this, as I understand it.

The surgeon started chatting with me then, telling me what a bypass operation entailed. But all I could think of was the lady.

After a while, they opened the curtain and there she was.

She was evidently flustered, with that look on her face again.

When the surgeon told her about the 3 blockages and how I would need a bypass op and not a simple stent, she was shocked. One of the reasons is because we have, in fact, been living healthy the past 6 years since we’ve known each other.

We live in Seng Kang and the Punggol WaterWay Park (WWP) is just a few minutes’ walk from our home. We jog, cycle, stroll, swim regularly. We also cook at least one meal at home everyday. She and I love cooking, and cooking time is also time for us to chat and catch up on the days’ happenings. Besides dinner, where we sit down with the boys, cooking time is probably the other favourite time of the day for us.

I also have regular follow-ups with my doctor at the polyclinics, especially for my cholesterol level. I had thought that it was under control. Each time I visit the doc and have a blood test every 6 months, the results always come back great. My cholesterol is well under control.

So, the blockages were unexpected.

I can only guess that they are a result of earlier years of not-so-healthy living. I was a smoker for a long time (almost 3 decades), and I always spent late nights doing stuff. And I eat out almost always.

Until I met the lady.

Anyway, I have learnt and am still learning many things about myself, my health and about life, generally, and how fragile it is. Cliched, I know, but nonetheless very true.

I am not sure what the lifespan of someone who has gone through triple bypass is, but I am determined to live a normal lifespan (which, for men in Singapore, is about 78 years or so).

As one of the nurses told me at SGH, a bypass op is a chance to start again.

And that is what I am going to do, because I love life, I love my family, I love my work and I have many things yet to do. In fact, I have been doing my own little project this last 9 months and have loved every second of it, and I was looking to start a second phase of it when this piece of news hit me. Things will thus have to be put on hold on for a while, perhaps 3 to 4 months, before I get into the full swing of things again.

Am I worried about the op, which is taking place on 22 September?

Not really.

I believe I am in good hands, and that the op will go smoothly. I am a little anxious about all that cutting, though – the surgeon is going to be taking 3 veins from my legs and my left arm, plus cutting apart my breastbone to get at my heart – and the pain I am going to have. (Doc said they will give me morphin for the first 2 days.)

That aside, good news is that I should be out of the ICU in 2 days, out of the Isolation Ward in another 2 days, and back at home within a week, able to walk and do some stuff on my own.

Full recovery will take 4 to 6 months.

Effect of aspirin allergy. Cardio did what was called an "aspirin challenge" to see if I could take aspirin. I could not.
Effect of aspirin allergy. Cardiologist did what was called an “aspirin challenge” to see if I could take aspirin. I could not. First does was fine. Second dose resulted in swollen eyes. (I’d need to take aspirin for life if I had a stent put in. Hence, the aspirin test.)

As for the financials, I have to say we were surprised when the nurse who counselled us on such matters told us the cost of the bypass surgery, and how much we are expected to pay.

The final bill is expected to be in the ballpark of $5,000, give or take.

This is after an up to 80% government subsidy.

Factor in Medishield Life (please contribute to your Medisave!), and personal insurance, and we end up paying very little (if any) by way of cash payments.

So, whatever you may say, I do appreciate that govt subsidy and Medishield Life are important and helpful.

If you do not contribute to Medisave, or do not have enough in Medisave, PLEASE find some way to contribute! It is important! If you do not, and if something untoward happens to you, you will not be covered under Medishield Life.

Life is indeed short. This news of me needing a bypass op comes barely 2 months after I had turned 50.

Such news do make you pause and ponder on life, and to treasure those around you.

As I told the lady, I do not take this news negatively. On the contrary, I am very glad I went to the doctor at Hougang Polyclinic, and subsequently at TTSH. I caught this before it was too late. And because of this, I have another chance at life.

And this is a precious gift which I shall and will hold with both hands, and make a better life of it.

Sometimes, Life takes you where you least expect.

It is your job to make the best of it, wherever it takes you.

So ya, looking forward to Thursday and getting this done, and getting on that trip to Beijing we have planned for.

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