"Having a cabbage" is a quaint way of expressing the acronym CABG which stands for Coronary Artery Bypass Graft and on 4th March 1993, I came face to mask with a roomful of men (and possibly a few women) who cut me open and tinkered with my ticker, as bypass surgery was simplistically explained to Homer Simpson in Series 4, episode 11 when he too had a heart attack.
I remember I got a bit more detail than that when the surgeon came to have a chat with me but I was a bit traumatised by the whole thing and didn't really take it all in. I do remember him saying he had a 98% success rate but being a 'glass half empty' type of character, I was left to fret about being part of the remaining 2%.
The fact that I'm typing this 17 years later shows that I'd nothing to worry about and that I added to the 98% stat instead ! Of course no surgery comes with a guarantee and I don't know about the lifetime of an artery graft but one thing is for sure; its lifetime pretty much ties in with my lifetime !!
I was, at 41, by far the youngest on the 'ward' and after a day and a half, I was running and jumping along the hospital corridors like a spring lamb. Well no actually, I was slowly stumbling a few feet from my bed with the help of a physiotherapist but hey, I was alive and my ticker was ticking. They'd taken a vein from my left leg to use for the grafts and ironically, that was the only painful area on my body. Never mind that my chest had been opened, my rib cage split apart and my heart had been exposed, stopped and then started again by the operating team; my bloody (and stapled) leg hurt !
With the surgery behind me and with plenty of blood rushing along my newly constructed pipework, I quite enjoyed the next few days in the private hospital. I wasn't quite ready for glazed donuts and pate de foie gras sandwiches but the food was excellent. The physio was hard work but necessary and when I was eventually told I could go home, I did have a strange reluctance about doing so. I was content in the warm and comforting surroundings of the hospital, where experts were at my beck and call to deal with my hypochondriacal symptoms.
Every chest twinge, every chest pain, led me to think that something was wrong inside me and I was used to a nurse or a doctor telling me it was perfectly normal and all their tests were showing I was going well. Once home, who would reassure me ?
Of course as the days became weeks and the weeks became 17 years, I've worried less and less about such aches and pains around my heart. It's just a muscle after all and now and then it'll send out a pain to tell me that I've overdone it. After the surgery I came to an agreement with it that I'd do my best not to exert it and it would do its best not to stop working !
So far we've both kept to the agreement although of course you won't be hearing from me if it lets me down.
That's the thing about hearts. They can be described in many ways - faint, broken, strong, pure, big, happy and so on - but the only description that really matters is....beating. Mine beats about 26 million times a year (thanks to beta blockers and other medication) and I'm very grateful for every beat. I don't mind an occasional missing beat or an even less occasional extra beat but I try not to think about a complete lack of beating.
I can do without cabbage as a vegetable.
And although, 17 years ago today, it saved my life, I can do without it even more as a surgical procedure.