This is the story of my heart trauma. This is for all the people who sent cards, called and emailed me: in other words, my friends.
It started about three years ago. There was an ad in the Arizona Republic in Scottsdale. The main objective was to remind America about the veterans of the forgotten war in Korea.
I went to the first meeting at the American Legion Post in downtown Old Scottsdale. I gave them my name, rank and serial number along with my experience. I was accepted. The chapter was named after General Brad Smith, who was in charge of a division in Korea. He also lived in Scottsdale. He has since passed away, but his wife still lives here. She sometimes comes to the meetings. She spoke one time and said that she and the general were married on December 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor! The chapter now has about 40 to 50 members. We meet once a month, nine months of the year. We meet at the VFW hall in Old Town. It’s kind of interesting: we have many guests. We have political figures, war heroes, governors, soldiers serving in Iraq and representatives from the VA telling us what we can qualify for.
At one Saturday meeting, we had a lady from the Wounded War Veterans, and she gave a very nice talk. After that, there was a Q&A session. I have never used the VA nor do I have a card, but recently, 53 years after my discharge, I have developed hearing problems. So I raised my hand and asked the lady about my getting a hearing aid. She answered that if I could prove I was in a noisy combat zone, I would be able to get one.
My next step was to get my service records, so I sent to St. Louis for them. After receiving them, I went to the Wounded War Veterans facility where the lady worked. I went there on a Friday, but guess what? They were closed for a weekend convention!
After not getting to see the lady, I decided to go directly to the VA hospital, which was nearby. I went to the main office to make an inquiry. The woman looked my name up in the files. My name was in there, but I had never actually used any of the VA services.
That was the beginning. The woman registered me and gave me an ID card, which made me an active member. I would now have to take a physical, and my appointment was set for May 8, 2007.
On May 8, I met with Dr. Buckle for my physical. He was a very nice guy, and he asked about all my aches and pains and any other symptoms I might have. He even gave me an EKG. We talked, and he suggested I take a stress test.
Dr. Buckle had the Phoenix VA set up my stress test for Monday morning, July 2. I had thought that I was in pretty good shape, but it was the hardest test I ever took. I flunked. The next day, the VA called me at home and suggested I take an angiogram test. They set the date of that test for Friday, July 6. Guess what? I flunked that test, too! Dr. Cooper, the doctor who oversaw the angiogram exam, said my main artery was 85% blocked. He said it would require heart surgery. Since all VA heart surgeries are performed in Tucson, Ariz., at the VA hospital, that was where I had to go.
Upon hearing that I would need an operation, I thought that they would put me in a deuce and a half and send me right to Tucson. But that was not the case. I was told that the Tucson VA would call me at home within a week to set up a date. Then I was told that the 85% blockage wasn’t the worst kind. Those with 95%-98% blockage were the first on the table.
I went home and waited for the Tucson VA to call me. Finally, they called and set a date of Friday, July 20, 2007. At that time I was told the operation would be August 16, 2007. I was told all the preparations and the doctor’s names.
Knowing I had to have the operation, I set out to get in shape. I stopped golf, on account of the heat at that time. I belong to the 24-hour fitness club, and I was there about five days a week. I lost 12 pounds and two inches off my waist.
Now that I had the operation date set and was getting to the health club, I was anxious to have them cut me open. They said the doctor was a top-rated surgeon who was in charge of cardiothoracic surgery at the Tucson VA. He was also on the faculty at the University of Arizona.
I played the waiting game, impatient for August 16 to come. I was doing a lot of praying and going to Adoration at church. On Monday, August 13, I got a call from the Tucson VA. They had two major heart attack patients with 95% blockage. They asked me if they could change my surgery to four days later, which was August 21. I agreed to do so.
On August 20, my wife and I went to Tucson. I took a couple of blood tests. They put us up in a Comfort Inn, a few blocks away from the hospital. I would report for surgery at 6:00 a.m. on August 21.
We arrived at 5:45 a.m. I was shaved and made ready by the male nurse. At 6: 15 a.m. I met Scott Smythe, Dennis Hagly and John Burgen: all nice guys who were there to put all the pins and needles and tubes in me for the surgery. We talked quite a bit while they stuck me! Finally, I was ready. Doctor Rhenman came in, we talked, and I provided my signature. My wife, Pam, came in, and off we went to surgery. After they put the mask over my nose, I recalled nothing.
According to what they tell me it took two-and-a-half hours of labor on the old ticker. After that, I had one-and-a-half hours of sleeping in the recovery room. I awoke in the ICU. My nurse was a nice male, whose first name was Jim. I called him “Big Jim.” He was a retired Navy Captain who had graduated from the Naval Academy. I was also visited by a female nurse named Susan Bryning A.N.P., who was in charge of everybody.
Later on, the day of the surgery, they got me up and let me walk. They thought I was a bionic man. The rehab man said I did great. He made me walk a nine-minute course. I stayed in ICU for two days and then one day in a regular room.
I now walk 2/3 mile each day. I’m also a pill popper: I have three to take, although I never used them before. I visited the Phoenix VA on September 11, to see Dr. Gall. He prescribes my medications and tells me when to take them.
Upon arriving home, I started rehabilitation on my own. On October 15, I began rehabilitation at the Phoenix VA. I go each Monday and Wednesday at 6:30 a.m. I’m booked there until Wednesday, December 12. With all this working out, I’ve been holding my weight at 179. I hope I can stay there.
Thank you for letting me tell you my story. I think I will try for the hearing aide again soon. I want to thank the VAMCs in Tucson and Phoenix. Nice work, guys!