My dad’s about to have his second major surgery in the past three months.
Last fall, his primary care physician heard something strange during a routine physical. The doctor wasn’t sure what he was hearing – he simply knew that he didn’t like it. He immediately referred my father to the local hospital for a CT scan. The scan didn’t find anything, but somebody knew better than to just send my father home without further investigation.
I don’t know who that person was, but he saved my father’s life.
A Ticking Time Bomb
My father went home from the hospital that day with a referral to see a vascular surgeon. That surgeon found an advanced abdominal aortic aneurysm terrifyingly close to my father’s heart. It needed to be repaired – immediately. My father, the CFO of his company, begged the surgeon to let the surgery wait til May – after tax season – to do the surgery, which would put him out of work for 6-8 weeks while he recovered.
“Can’t,” said the doctor.
“Why?” my father replied.
The surgeon hesitated. “Do you want the candy-coated answer?” My father, ever the businessman, shook his head emphatically. “Because you’ll be dead by then.”
Surgery Is Scheduled
Life has a funny way of reminding us that we’re not in charge. Four days before my father’s scheduled surgery to repair the massive aneurysm, his vascular surgeon sent him to the hospital for some routine pre-surgery testing. That’s where my father met Dr. Parikh – a man my mother has deemed “the smartest person I’ve ever met” (prior to meeting Dr. Parikh, that honor had gone to me). Dr. Parikh’s resume is astounding:
- He did his undergrad at Harvard
- He received his medical degree from the medical school at Johns Hopkins
- He went on to become chief resident of internal medicine at one of the country’s top trauma hospitals, Massachusetts General
- He did a fellowship in cardiac surgery at another top-notch hospital, Brigham & Women’s
- He did another fellowship in vascular surgery at Mass Gen (many doctors don’t even do a single fellowship, by comparison)
- Then he did a third fellowship in internal medicine research, again at Mass Gen
Full disclosure, I am TOTALLY OK with now being the world’s second-most intelligent person in my mother’s eyes. I mean, how could I NOT BE???
Why do I list Dr. P’s qualifications? Because if you want someone doing a work-up on your father, you want him to be the best. You want him to find things that nobody else will find. You want him to be thorough. You want him to be compassionate.
Dr. P was all these things as he sat down with my parents in his office after a heart catheterization. The results of the test weren’t good. My father wasn’t going to have surgery to repair his vulnerable aorta the next Monday – he was going to have an emergency quadruple bypass instead.
Meet Dr. M
Although Dr. P was trained in cardiac surgery, he passed the torch to Dr. M – the chief of cardiac surgery at the hospital. And we’re not just talking any hospital – we’re talking about University Hospitals in Cleveland. Often considered the ugly step-sister to the neighboring and larger Cleveland Clinic, UH is in itself a world reknown hospital, especially in the cardiology department. Dr. M is one of the foremost surgeons in the field. We met him for the first time the night before the surgery, as he walked us through what to expect over the next 24-48 hours. He was concise and business-like, which suited my nervous father perfectly. Dressed in Italian leather loafers and sweater that only a rich man could pull off, he exuded confidence and expertise; he showed no emotion. My mom and I started calling him “Ice Cold,” as we felt he certainly had ice water running through his perfectly healthy veins. He was exactly the kind of no-nonsense surgeon I wanted operating on my dad.
Today, that successful quadruple bypass is two months in the rearview mirror. My dad was absolutely terrified as my mother and I gathered around him in pre-op. The only way we could get him to relax was to get him to give unsolicited money advice to the anesthesiologist and her team. (One of the resident’s later came back to thank my dad for his advice; she hadn’t been aware that she had until April 17th to max out her 2011 retirement contributions.)
My dad’s been officially discharged out of Dr. M’s care and back into the care of his original vascular surgeon, Dr. K. They’ve jointly determined that his heart is well enough to handle the second surgery, so now, the surgery that couldn’t wait til May is set for Monday, May 21st. We’ve been warned that this surgery is going to be more difficult than the first, for many reasons: it’s a more complicated procedure; it’s the second major surgery in under three months; and, the aneurysm itself is located in an unusual location on the aorta.
My father, however, is looking at this surgery with far less fear than the first time around. It’s not because he’s “been there, done that.” Nope, if you ask my dad why he’s so calm, this is what he’ll tell you: “Well, I’ve already reached my insurance plan’s out-of-pocket max for the year – so this surgery is going to be a freebie.”
That’s my dad – always the penny-pinching professional. They may be able to hold his heart in their hands, but they’ll never get ahold of his wallet.