Tallahassee Writer Documents Heart Surgery Journey
Bruce Ballister is known for his Science fiction stories, the latest of which came out as the coronavirus pandemic was taking off.
"'Room for Tomorrow' examines a future in which we've gone beyond the precipice," Ballister recently explained. "There are certain persons in the novel that are trying to research technologies that are no longer available because the places that were the producers of that technology are still radioactive."
Ballister says he was a few years overdue for his annual checkup when he saw his advanced practice nurse not long ago. "And she poked at my ankles and saw how much swelling there was in my lower ankles and said, 'You know, there's more than just bad ankles here.' And I said, 'Who cares? No one's looking at my feet or ankles.' And she said, 'Well it could also be that you have congestive heart failure.'"
He suddenly wasn't so dismissive.
"And I went through stress testing at the regional hospital. Stress testing found an 80% reduction in blood flow at 150% of my standard heart rate. Which did not bode well! At rest, I was getting just enough to get by. But when I really exerted myself, I didn't have anywhere enough to get by."
There were more medical tests. One seemed a bit like a description pulled from one of Ballister's sci-fi books.
"The next steps were catheterization where you get to see in moving black-and-white in real-time, you see blood flowing through your heart. A very magical experience, because you can hear it in your ears and see it on the screen. You realize, 'That's my heart beating on the screen there.'"
Ballister says the results greatly increased his sense of urgency about the situation.
"At the end of it, the doctor stopped it and said, 'See this area where it goes from I-10 to a two-lane dirt road?' And I said, 'Yeah....' And he said, 'You have some severe blockages here.' He said there were three places he was looking at for probable bypass surgery. Which led to me meeting the cardiac surgeon. He upped the game and said I need a quadruple bypass and asked, 'What are you doing next week?'"
Where other patients wait months for surgery, Ballister's case was so severe, he got ready to go under the knife in a matter of days.
"I prepared myself mentally for the surgery and showed up and came out of that totally unprepared for the body blow that it gives you. You feel like you've been hit by the proverbial Mack truck."
Once out of the hospital, Ballister discovered a successful recovery was a matter of trial and error along with a big dose of improvisation.
"And I found there were a lot of things to do to make my recovery easier. Simple things like buying one of those wedge pillows so I can mimic the upright position of the hospital bed, which helps drain the fluids in your chest."
It seemed there were no comprehensive handbooks to help coronary patients like himself through the whole process. So, being a writer, Ballister wrote a book. It's called "The Zipper Club,' so named because the surgical aftermath resembles a zipper down the patient's chest.
Ballister says he devoted a good portion of the book to prevention; eating healthier and exercising more to avoid either a recurrence or a first-time coronary bypass procedure.
'The Zipper Club' and Ballister's other works are available at Midtown Reader, My Favorite Books and Amazon.
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