It's been almost three months since I had open heart surgery to remove an aortic aneurysm. I can finally say that the chest soreness and breastbone pain are gone. I can sneeze or cough freely without having to quickly grab a pillow and press it up to my chest so that my sutures don't pop out.
The zipper-like scar that lines the center of my chest is fading. I have gotten used to it. Six weeks after my surgery, my surgeon and his physician assistant lifted the physical restrictions they had me following. Now I can drive, lift light weights, swim, and more importantly, run, one of my favorite things to do.
I returned to running last month. I began modestly, running half a mile. I did not want to overdo it, knowing that I have new piping in my heart. A side affect from the surgery is that I sometimes feel and hear my heart pumping. It's strange and unnerving. Who wants to hear their heartbeat in their ears? It's weird but I was told that would eventually go away.
Although my doctors cleared me to exercise, they strongly suggested that I do not over do it with the running and weights even though I was feeling good.
"Don't go lifting 200 pounds now, Johnny,'' my surgeon said. "Start at 10 pounds. Take it easy. Progress slowly. Listen to your body."
Like a blinking yellow traffic light, caution ran through my head as I began to hit the pavement. Instead of running like a colt, I slowly jogged, which felt like I was running in place and not going anywhere but I was moving and that was the goal.
Other runners, mostly University of Miami students, whooshed by me but that didn't matter. I was going to run on my own terms. This was not a race. This was me literally getting back on my feet. When I reached my half mile goal, I smiled. A great sense of accomplishment washed over me. I did it!
I couldn't believe that just a few weeks before, my chest had been cut open. I was in the hospital for five days attached to a tangle of IVs. I could barely move around without feeling searing pangs of pain in my torso. I finally recovered, cured of the aneurysm, untethered from the paranoia and fear of it suddenly bursting. Running was my way of celebrating that feat.
It felt so good to run again, the freedom that it brings. The breezes tickled my face, the sweat beaded on the back of my neck and my shadow accompanied me each way as if watching out for me. Knowing that I could get around on my own boosted my confidence.
I enjoyed running to the tropical rhythms of Jimmy Buffet such as “Brown Eyed Girl” and The Beach Boys including "Sloop John B." These songs always put me in a good mood. I imagined I was back in the Keys and gazing at the various shades of blue in the water. I also ran to a medley of Pussy Cat Dolls hits because their infectious pop-dance songs make me want to run faster and their lyrics are fun to bounce along to. "Tip top, drip drop, Bottles drop, lips lock..."
My confidence continued to blossom. I began running a mile which is what I am doing lately. Again, I do not want to over do it. My doctors told me that my heart was stopped for about 2.5 hours during the 5 hour surgery so they could cut out the aneurysm. The heart was kept cool with a special fluid while I was hooked up to a bypass machine which did the work of my heart and lungs. I do not want my heart to suddenly stop because I overexerted myself with the running and weights.
My goal is to eventually return to 2 and 3 mile runs, my previous routine. But I am in no rush. I know it will happen. I am already half way there.