Oh, My Breaking Heart

Kage Baker resented illness taking her time away, time she could have spent writing. She did indeed write through most illnesses, arming herself with ginger ale and tissues and lap robes and cups of hot soup by her computer. How she never spilled something and shorted out both her computer and herself, I never knew. I suspect sheer will power, refusing to accede to an annoying reality.

Even in her last year, her mortal illness didn’t completely stop her. When she was too tired to sit at her desk, I made her a nest in her arm chair and she worked on her Buke, swaddled in blankets. When she had to take to her bed, we discussed her work; she dictated to me, even as late as a the afternoon of the day she died. I don’t think she actually had an off-switch. Death took her in an inadvertent pause.

I have been unable to resume my own work on a regular basis – this blog and the writing –  because I have been ill, and am not as determined as Kage was. Sorry, Dear Readers. I caught the flu, just a version not covered my super-duper geriatric flue vaccine – it’s a crap shoot, and my vaccine came up snake eyes. And then, there is my heart.

Happily, I have found out I do not have congestive heart failure. Annoyingly, though, I have advanced cardiac valve disease. I must sleep sitting up, am constantly exhausted, and cannot walk more than 20 feet before I am panting like an overheated hound dog. It cramps my style to be essentially chair-bound, and to spend half my day trying vainly to catch my breath while hallucinatory black polka dots sleet over my vision.

Also, I have become indecently mesmerized by the dubious progress of Trump’s impeachment trial. I spend a lot of my day online, reading various newspapers and following news sites; but I’ve managed to restrict my television consumption to Rachel Maddow (for information) and Stephen Colbert (for life-saving hilarity and pungent satire).

Lately, I have also been working my way through various books on the Trump Presidency. Even sticking to books by actual staff members and reporters, the amount of bullshit far exceeds the FDA guidelines for such more-wholesome inclusions as rat droppings and cockroach legs. However, that’s not due to hysteria or confabulation by steady people like Bob Woodward, Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig – it’s the nature of the topic which, even when reported professionally, is eyebrow deep in slime and melodrama.

But it takes some time to wade through all this. On the other hand, I have not spent so much research on current events since I was in high school and my civics grade hung precariously from the cliff-edge of forced participation. Sister Philomena and Mrs. Smith would be astounded. As I recall, I learned a lot more about the history of Gondor (from behind the camouflage of the Student Outlook) than the United States, when those noble ladies were trying to make an informed citizen out of me.

And hey! Does anyone besides me even remember the Student Outlook? It was a slick, ice white half-sheet newsletter, distributed weekly to 8th, 9th, and 10th  graders in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Nor am I referring to any racial politics here: the thing was printed on shiny, slippery white paper that smelled of licorice and bananas from the weird ink they used. However, it was providentially big enough to hide the Ballantine  paperbacks of LOTR with which I improved each shining hour in those days …

When I’m not reading late into the night, I am online compulsively researching valve disease and cardiac surgery. As of this morning, my series of rudely intrusive tests have shown that my mitral valve has essentially turned to stone: so much so, in fact, that the first level of cardiac surgery is inadequate for my wretched heart. My doctor has dismissed the idea of a valvuplasty, that famous balloon-in-a-catheter trick wherein teeny little cameras and a very detail-oriented surgeon can inflate a balloon in the offending valve, and stretch the bugger back into usefulness. My mitral valve has passed beyond that, it appears, and will probably have to be replaced.

There is a minimally invasive surgery that gets at the heart through a couple of little holes (more teeny cameras, and scalpels on sticks) or between the ribs. However, I am not only a fat old lady, I am a fat old lady who still has the remains of heroically big tits. It’ll be up to my surgeon, of course, to decide just how to access my heart, but I am pretty certain it’s the classic Aztec version for me. I am quite resigned to waking up with an extra 8-inch incision bisecting my chest – the technique requires splitting my breastbone and using a mini version of the Jaws of Life to spread my ribs like the space jockey in the original Alien.

There are YouTube videos of this fascinating procedure. I do not recommend anyone watch them. Not everyone shares my interest in how to take apart the human body.

Complaining alone should keep me at this, now that I know what will happen.  I am trying to keep some vestige of normal life going while I wait to  be escorted up to the top of the ancient pyramid. And I tell you, Dear Readers, I want some of those fancy feather headdresses and nifty obsidian blades – if I am gonna have my heart disconnected, I want all the premium props.




About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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9 Responses to Oh, My Breaking Heart

  1. buggybite says:

    I have a close friend here who had this procedure (or one very similar) done a few years ago, when she was still in her late 50s. (She had to get a valve replaced.) The open chest thing, etc. Yes, it takes a while to bounce back …BUT it has made a huge difference to her life. She is perfectly fine now, and can now do things she struggled to do before …like take overseas trips, walk the dog in very hilly terrain, etc. It’s definitely worth it, in the long run. You are likely to find yourself rejuvenated. This might be the thing that transforms your life and allows you to be active from now on.


  2. Marjorie Adams says:

    My Mom had mitral valve prolapse, and ended up having an artificial valve replacement in her mid 50s. It gave her another 20 years…
    I agree with your comment about the FDA guidelines, I think we surpassed that about 18 months ago!
    I’ve missed your words.


  3. Becky Miller says:

    My grand dad had that surgery. He said after he got used to the feeling of an elephant sitting on his chest right after he woke up, the best thing was that he actually felt BETTER!

    Keep us abreast (no pun intended) of your surgery.


  4. kararacemoore says:

    Is it bad I giggled at “the classic Aztec version” ? I remember reading somewhere that the doctors consulted by historians on how it would be possible to remove the staggering recorded amount of hearts offered up on a single holy day were just a little *too* excited about describing the best way to pop them out in quick succession.

    May the gods be happy with just the indignities of being a surgical patient and not demand anything else from you!


    • Kate says:

      Giggle away, Kara – I snickered quite a lot when I realized what I had written. And then realized that I really do want fancy props for this mess. Although likely all I can look forward to is a surgical gown in some new, freaky, 18th century trade-goods calico pattern … a good friend, though, is offering to knap me a good blade. Thank you, Mongo!

      As I must be on a heart-lung machine to accomplish this repair, I am hoping that it will technically count as a blood sacrifice. After all, my heart will be stopped.


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  6. albertcanaa says:

    Interventional Cardiologist Dr Karl Poon outlines the classic triad of symptoms severe aortic stenosis patients may present with. He also describes the signs doctors should look out for in their patients, including heart sounds, blood pressure and pulse.


  7. albertcanaa says:

    If the arteries become blocked or narrowed due to cardiovascular problems, an individual may be at risk of a heart attack. The operation involves going for a healthy blood vessel from another area of the boding using it to bypass the obstructed blood vessels. Another open-heart procedure involves replacing a faulty aortic valve.


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