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An Affair of the Heart

· heart bypass surgery

It's just over a week since Philip had a triple heart bypass. It has transformed my husband - recently likened by a friend to Action Man - into someone who cannot bend, carry, lift or walk very far. This is hard for a man whose greatest loves are skiing, mountaineering, jumping out of aeroplanes and leading expeditions into the Arctic. But there again, he has undergone an experience that has much the same effect as being hit by a bus.

It took place at St Thomas's Hospital on Westminster Bridge. As one of London's great teaching hospitals, he was in good hands. As was his heart. Because, during a bypass, your heart is removed from your body for up to an hour. It is, quite literally, in someone else's hands. This possibility had never occurred to me but then, not being a medic of any kind, nor had any of the other wonders that take place. There again, everything about this has been a shock. Philip has none of the usual factors (overweight, smoker, bad diet etc) that underlie the high cholesterol that is at the heart (sorry) of all this. So each time there was a test, I was confident he would pass with flying colours, that he would require only the most limited intervention. I was wrong every time. As his surgeon pointed out, sometimes this is a condition that is simply inherited. He could have lived on lettuce leaves and still had the same problem. He also pointed out Philip's condition was aggressive and would be fatal if he did not have a bypass within the month (November). So it felt pretty much like being hit by a bus for me, too. In the end, the operation took place on 1st December.

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So what is a heart bypass? The bypass is simply a new route for the blood supply to go, thereby avoiding arteries narrowed by deposits caused by high cholesterol. The new route is a new blood vessel - in Philip's case, a vein that ran from his ankle to his groin in his left leg. So, during the operation, one team is working on taking this out and sewing his leg up again while another opens up his chest, saws through the breastbone and puts in the new plumbing while the heart-lung bypass machine keeps the blood flowing (at a much slower rate) and the heart waits to be put back in.

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So, that's all it is then...

Now, we're into recovery time and the patient is doing remarkably well. This morning (less than two weeks on), we walked to our local Pret, next it will a bit further to the Young Vic cafe, then perhaps on to Le Pain Quotidien opposite the Royal Festival Hall. Is there a pattern emerging here? Philip has reluctantly admitted that skiing isn't a possibility this year but has pointed out that Ranulph Fiennes after a similar operation did seven marathons in seven days. In the meantime, Philip is starting small and merely considering the mountains he has yet to tick off his list.

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aka Indiana Cottam.....