ESRA Magazine
ESRAmagazine categories

Close Encounter Of The Heart And The Spirit

fellerman The Fellerman family photo taken just before David’s open heart surgery, 2004

Dr Nathan, a highly qualified and trusted cardiologist, looked me straight in the eyes and advised "The time had arrived". The angiogram he performed earlier in the day indicated bypass surgery was the safest option and he referred me for further consultation to Mr Wood, a prominent heart surgeon.

My reaction was calm resignation and the nursing team presented me with well-drafted British Heart Foundation booklets, explaining the process.

I was ready and willing to place myself in the hands of G-d and great men who would reach deep into my impaired body to extend my life. I felt inexplicably exhilarated and was to embark upon a great adventure; there had been many but none equalled this.

Mr Wood had sparkling eyes and a knowing smile, he was a mountain of a man. We looked at the angiogram on his laptop whilst he explained the images, he questioned my health and confirmed there were no options; it was simply a question of when and the sooner the better. He said that given my age the odds of success were 95% in my favor, odds I could live, with and subsequently did.

He added jokingly "I haven't not lost a patient yet"; I did not want to be responsible for breaking his unblemished record.

Four days later on a bright Sunday morning, my brother Raymond drove us to the hospital in St. Johns Wood. It was an emotional departure, despite the reassurances there was this lurking furtive thought in my subconscious; I might not be coming back.
We lunched at Harry Morgan's before checking into the hospital. My wife Sylvia, together with our children Mark and Suzanne, checked into an apartment near the hospital. Suzanne, who lives in Israel, had dropped everything to be with us. Her hastily arranged flight to the UK reflected the perceived seriousness of the moment.

Early next morning a nurse shaved my chest and administered a pre-operative sedative; orderlies wheeled me to the theater…then oblivion. Several hours later Dr Nathan called Sylvia to confirm the operation was completed successfully.

One fleeting memory was being awakened from anesthetized heaven in the I.C.U. momentarily surfacing from a deeply induced sleep, to hear a dream-like voice, "It's OK, we're removing your breathing apparatus, breathe normally in and out, you will be fine". I recall the thought, what if I can't breathe? and reverted to the warm world of slumber.

The next morning, I woke early in a cardiac ward. Sylvia and the children were there to greet me and we enjoyed a visit from our daughter-in-law Amanda and three beautiful grandchildren who looked aghast as I lay in bed with drips and wires attached and machines bleeping and twitching in the background, adding a touch of drama to the scene.

Where the surgeon had cut through the cartilage and long flat breastbone (sternum) my chest felt bruised and sore; this bone attaches the rib cage and enables them to open the chest deflate the lungs and access the heart. The permanent metal wires to fix the breastbone and dissolvable stitches in my chest were somewhat raw; the stitches would dissolve leaving a virtually invisible scar.

Moving without serious discomfort was nigh impossible as the veins required for the bypass grafts were taken from my left leg.
The "goodbye note" I had drafted, just in case, need not be opened.

The first days of the recovery process were tough; by the fourth, I was feeling almost normal and with the aid of a kind nurse managed to navigate the corridors of the heart ward and several stairs. My recovery was well and truly happening.

Dr Nathan visited regularly to update on my progress. He informed I would be returning home on the eighth day. A discharge nurse gave me instructions for recovery and provided a strange-looking breathing apparatus to blow in frequently and measure lung strength.
Walking daily, gradually increasing distances are all part of the recovery process; I discovered the joys of walking often for miles each day, this helped improve mental and physical health. The benefits of this simple exercise are vastly understated.

Having made it through major surgery and resolved life would be different, I was unsure how to proceed so mentioned this to one of the nurses who suggested a meeting with a hospital therapist. Heart operations can often have profound psychological and emotional side effects; there were issues which needed airing.

Smoking was not my thing, but just as serious was my workaholism with a tendency to push too hard and risk everything. This disease may have been impelled by my fear of poverty, desire for success, or perhaps lack of self-esteem.

Post-war east London was not an easy place to grow up, food rationing and scant financial resources created intolerable stresses for our family. It was no one's fault, it was what it was. My brother Raymond and I suffered the fallout when these issues surfaced into raging arguments in the small prefabricated home we occupied.

Transitioning from this modest beginning to the owner of my own business is another interesting story, but I was prone to bite off more than I could chew and the self-inflicted stress took me to the edge of reason, with an adrenalin buzz like no other, and this was a serious problem.

The therapist listened, then, to my astonishment, explained I was reiterating the drama and emotions of my childhood; this was "my comfort zone". Incredibly I was drawn towards risk and danger "If you put as much effort and energy into exercise and healthy pursuits as you do into work"', he stressed, and "you'll be fine".
It was then a lightbulb switched on in my head!

During the months of recuperation, the gardens and countryside where we lived were revealed to me in all its glory. Our suburban apartment was positioned at the top of a hill with stunning views towards London and surrounded by ancient forests, lakes, small villages, farms, fields, lanes and byways, which I rambled joyfully in all weather, storm or shine.

Changing one's ingrained behavior is nigh impossible and my perceived reformation did not last long. The global financial crisis of 2007-8 altered the status quo. Allegedly the most serious economic downturn since the great depression caused huge changes to our finances.

Our fight back reverted to work and risk, the difference was I now realized I was emotionally engineered, at a young age, to handle extreme conditions. This was an environment in which I thrived and grew stronger and my addiction to work became a major asset. Fear or thought of failure was never an issue, but the crisis dragged on far longer than anyone expected; as months become years and with mature age, there's less time and energy to climb out from under.

Open-heart surgery enticed gifted men to reach inside my body, shut me down and repair my defects. In that austere moment, G-d looked closer into my heart, touched my spirit, and considered me worthy; he granted me a reprieve and used the opportunity to bring my heart and spirit closer.

I had come close to the edge of darkness, or perhaps everlasting light, but most of all realized life itself is precious and surprised myself with acceptance of whatever the almighty decided was all right by me. I do believe destiny plays a great role in outcome, although we all have a "divine obligation"' to try our best in every possible way.

The months following surgery became the long overdue sabbatical I had always promised Sylvia and myself, giving us time for rest and rehabilitation and for re-prioritizing life; the lessons learnt were clear.

The combined efforts of man and the Almighty had joined forces to provide us with a wonderful new opportunity; it was up to us to respond accordingly.

Another great challenge.

Originally written following surgery. Redrafted for ESRA August 4, 2023 



No comments made yet. Be the first to submit a comment
Friday, 19 July 2024

Captcha Image


MagazineIsrael- 2019-homepage
There are pockets of coexistence
which kindle hope.
Old cities and very new cities with amazing stories
Find out about the Israeli art scene
The best tours in Israel with ESRA members