As many of you know, I underwent heart valve replacement surgery in July. I'd been putting it off for
a year and half...ostensibly waiting for medicare to kick in. But, in reality, dread was my prime motivating factor in stalling. I've had very few medical issues in my life, and wasn't ready to roll with the punches when I was informed I had congenital aortic stenosis and need open heart surgery.
Around mid-May, my doctors finally said, collectively, "Sack it up cowboy, we need to open you up."
The medical rogue's gallery...
Primary Care and George's Niece: Dr. Margret Greenough
Cardiologist and Bottomless Pit Of Good Humor: Dr. Lawrence Von Dollen
Surgeon and Scratch Golfer: Dr. Luke Faber
The procedure went to plan, and I was only in the hospital for 4 days! I even got to stay in ICU the whole time, as the main wing of French Hospital in San Luis Obispo was full up.
One of my rehab therapists was an old surfer from Santa Barbara, Tom McLaughlin. We started talking about surfing, and he broached the subject of George and surfmats.
Me: "Do you know Dr. Margret Greenough?"
Tom: "Sure, she's my primary care physician."
Me: ''You know she's George's niece, right?''
The look on his face was priceless. He had no idea.
When I got home, I couldn't believe I was still alive and already on the road to recovery. There was some discomfort in my chest at first, but no serious pain. I only needed 3 pain pills over the first few days at home, and that was a big relief, as obviously I didn't want to start taking opioids on a regular basis.
I had prepped for the heart procedure by building 40 extra mats in advance, so we could fill orders during the first month of my recovery. (And, to keep my mind from wandering to dark places.) As it turned out, we ran out of inventory just as I was ready to build mats again...so for once, one of my half-baked business plans worked out!
A number of people have asked if I'm building mats, and the answer is yes. Things have been back to normal for over a month, and orders are getting filled at our usual astonishing rate.
Surfing has been off the table, not due to my heart, but in deference to my sternum which is still healing. But recently, I started having persistent dreams about being in the water, then the other day I had a violent sneeze, and my chest didn't hurt at all. So, I decided it was time to get back in the water...not to ride waves, but to just float around and get some paddling in.
I went over to Morro Strand midday yesterday. It was small, overcast, and the water was brown. Not appealing at all.
Frame grab from around noon...
I suited up and went out anyway. Getting into my 5/4 wetsuit was a hassle, because I didn't want to strain my chest area. (I thought ahead on that point, and rinsed my full suit before I left home, to loosen it up after 4 months in dry dock.) It actually felt good to have my chest compressed by the wetsuit. It felt secure.
I even took my first, and last, selfie ever...big mistake!
I waded out as far as I could, then waited for a lull, and gingerly slid onto my mat and started kicking. About 10 kicks into it, the back of my left thigh locked up. That's when I realized the toll the operation had taken on me. I let my leg relax, then paddled some more.
That's me, floating around, courtesy of Surfline.
Soon, both feet and calfs were cramping up. I managed to stay out about 20 minutes, then I caught a tiny wave and came in. I couldn't believe how good it felt, just going straight off. Much better than I could have ever imagined. I immediately flashed back to the first wave I ever rode. I still remember it vividly. Same thing...straight off on a 2 foot wave on a mat. I was hooked after one wave!
I felt pretty good when I got home. But this morning, when I woke up, my entire body felt like a wet noodle. I could barely stand up. It was a real eye opener to realize I'm starting from scratch, fitness-wise. This is new territory for me, but in some ways, it's going to be fun. How long it will take to reconfigure myself? Many, many months. Maybe a year. Will I be stronger than before? Could be. Fitness often improves after heart valve replacement. (My old aortic valve was the size of a pencil eraser. The new one is the size of a quarter. The blood flow out of my heart now has 300 times less resistance.)
I can't thank the doctors and nurses enough, along with all of the people who have given us their support over the past few months. It's more that I deserve, especially in light of all the people suffering far worse fates in the world these days. My problems don't add up to Bogart's proverbial "hill of beans."
"Quit whining and get back in the shop and make some mats..."
Guerdon Smith wants to start a "Zipper Club," made up of mat surfers who have had open heart surgery. Since George G had his in 1952, he will, as usual, be the patriarch. Let us know if you qualify!