Heartfelt Connection at an Open Heart Surgery

The alarm went off at 5 a.m. and shocked me out of bed. We had to be on the bus by 6:10 for my son’s field trip to The Liberty Science Center, where a live feed would virtually insert us into an operating room. I wondered as I drove my car through the unusually empty streets how the patient was anticipating his part in all of this, but I already knew.The feed sprang to life at 8:20 and the initial incision jumped out at us. A deep, red, bloody cut ran from the patient’s collar bone down his chest. The surgeon continued moving deeper into the chest, sawing through the sternum and cracking open ribs. The room teemed with an anestheologist, scrub nurse, physician’s assistant, other surgical nurses and technicians, and medical equipment and machinery. In the middle of it all, lay a human being whose only visible parts were his chest and left leg.

The surgeon calmly went about his business. He explained what he was doing and told us he had done hundreds of these operations –  sometimes up to four in a day and sometimes in the middle of the night. He used the word “enjoyable” to describe the flow of the surgical team, which worked efficiently beside him.

I’ve been told that I have the emotional memory of an elephant – whatever I remember I feel. It happened again as I saw myself in this patient’s place, naked, alone and completely vulnerable. I pictured his family waiting outside and remembered how my husband had waited and worried over me. The surgeon’s professional and matter-of-fact demeanor stood in sharp contrast to the anxiety I felt before the anestheologist’s merciful intervention.

We are all connected by shared experience. A mastectomy and TRAM flap reconstruction and open heart surgeries are not the same procedures by a long shot. But emotionally, we all know the difficulty of submitting to something we don’t want to be part of and the time it takes to heal, both physically and emotionally, from the ordeal.

I’m glad the surgeon wasn’t as emotionally involved with the patient as I was. That would not have resulted in the best care. But as survivors, we know that the practice of medicine affects us emotionally as well as physically. We will never forget and that is the basis of our bond.

Survival > Existence,


Barbara Bair's picture

Relay for Life

I participated in my first Relay for Life last Saturday at Governor Livingston in Berkeley Heights. What an experience! The Relay followed a lovely dinner, sponsored by Overlook Hospital, where I met many warm, lovely people , with whom I instantly bonded. We heard heard some very inspiring talks by a survivor and an oncologist and then walked to the track and heard more touching talks. Everyone shed some tears. The walk followed. I wasnt’ sure I could complete the track because of some back, knee, and feet problems, but I did! I think I had a rush of adrenalin caused by all the cheering and clapping the whole way around. I felt like Rocky running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum. I was so glad that I was alive, participating, and celebrating. I wore my new purple shirt home very joyously.


Debbie's picture

I’m So Glad You Had Such a Wonderful and Moving Experience


I’m so glad you had such a wonderful experience! That’s exactly how I felt about my first Relay for Life event. It’s so amazing to feel all the love and support of the many, many family, friends and supporters. There really is nothing like it!

Survival > Existence,



Nancy's picture

Relay for Life

Participated in my first Relay for Life tonight. I walked the survivor lap with a friend who is also a survivor along with a five year old girl who had lost her mom to cancer. When one of the yellow balloons went up a little early we told her it was going up to Mommy. She was so small and quiet and wore a shirt with her mom’s picture on it. We shed a few tears at the start line, but were able to pull it together to make the Survivor Lap! This year they had a Caregiver Lap and I was able to walk with a couple who are dear friends and we there for me every minute before, during, and after surgery.It was a great night and I felt like a “true” survivor. Was hard to look at all the luminaries though that said “in memory of”. So thankful for all the people who made teams and raised money for cancer research. Praying that someday soon, no little girls will have to walk without their moms!

Debbie's picture

Only Through Research Will We Defeat This Disease


It’s certainly an emotional experience to participate in Relay for Life walks. I remember feeling the same saddness when others talked about loved ones lost to cancer. It’s hard to be happy to be a survivor and sad about the loss of others at the same time.  I guess that’s why, as much as I feel the need to celebrate my survivorship, it’s so important to contribute to the research necessary to save more lives from this horrible disease.

Survival > Existence,


Dianne Duffy's picture

Wow! That would have been

Wow! That would have been cool to watch! I often wonder what happened during my surgery. Often I wonder why my incisions are so ragged. They’re not anything close to being straight. I guess I’ll never know, but it always interests me…


Debbie's picture

It Was the Most Amazing Class Trip Ever!


I always wondered what happened during my surgery too. While I was watching this surgery, I thought a lot about the family members outside, wondering what was going on, while I had a ring-side seat. It was a very cool, surreal experience and I’m glad I was able to be there.

Survival > Existence,


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