The Odds Are in Our Favor

Donna is getting a heart valve replacement today (January 21, NYC). It is a big deal for both of us. If you are wondering why this is the first you are hearing about it, don’t blame me. She scheduled it last week and it blindsided me.

For three years or so Donna has had “aortic regurgitation” and fatigue. She has seen several cardiologists, and tried as hard as possible to avoid taking drugs or getting surgery. The diagnosis was heart failure and a potential valve issue, but she set out to get second opinions. She finally started taking beta-blockers over the summer. Donna can gather information to the point of procrastination.

Two weeks ago I accompanied her to a consultation with a valve surgeon at Columbia-Presbyterian. He read her the riot act and I am grateful that he did. The surgeon told her heart was working too hard to compensate for the aortic valve leakage. He told her that the risk of waiting was not worth it, and that she had a high probability of a good outcome if he did the surgery now. Low risk, high benefit. He also explained that the risk gets higher the longer she waits, and the benefits decrease. He told her to take no more than a month to decide.

I fully expected Donna to take to her computer and Google for 29 days. She took six days, and scheduled the surgery ASAP. I am glad she decided without my pressuring her. It would have been a long month if she kept searching for articles about outliers and alternative treatments.

Donna and I have been together for over 30 years and we are lucky that this is the first real health crisis that either of us have faced. My identity issues around being butch and transgender created a lot of stress, and threw a wrench in the works, but we learned to talk to each other more honestly.

I told Donna that I am concerned that she put off the surgery because she wanted to wait until we were both settled in with my top surgery. Until she felt things were solid again. But she reminded me that she has found many diversions from her diagnosis, and my surgery was just one of them. She could have come to this point earlier if she chose to make it her priority; she did not want to face up to it. She busied herself with studying Italian and going to demonstrations. She had projects to work on. There was my surgery to worry about.

Donna felt “good enough” and adapted to the gradual decline in her energy level. She wasn’t in a hurry. Until now. The surgeon said there is a “95% chance of a good outcome” which means there is a 5% chance of a really bad outcome. He has performed over 750 heart valve replacements, and I believe him. If he was my investment advisor, I’d hand over a chunk of my savings to him, and take a chance. But Donna is not my savings, she is my one and only, and I can not imagine life without her.

it wasn’t my plan to take up with someone older than me. I fell for Donna against my will. I knew on paper it was not a good decision (better to take up with someone younger and wealthier instead of someone older and more intellectual). There are no guarantees of good health, even if you are with someone your own age (my Dad died at 43 and my mother was a widow at 43). You do what you can to put the odds in your favor. I eat a healthy diet and exercise.

We have not had the “what if things go wrong” talk because I am planning on Donna being part of the 95%. We have not gotten married because Donna is planning on being part of the 95%. I am her medical proxy, and I have legal power of attorney if it comes to that. But it shouldn’t. The odds are in our favor.

Assume no news before next week is good news. I may not have the time, energy, or inclination to respond to comments. I’m going to try to post next week because writing is one of the things that keeps me grounded and sane.

40 thoughts on “The Odds Are in Our Favor

  1. Lesboi

    Good luck to Donna in her surgery and hang in there. It sounds like you’re both in good hands. Yes indeed those are great odds. Well be sending positive energy your way.

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  2. Mrs Fever

    My aunt had heart surgery this week. Two valve replacements and a bypass. It was much the same; it came down to “Do it now, while the risk is low and the odds are high.”

    She is recovering well.

    Donna will too. 🙂

    My thoughts are with you all (Gracie included.) ❤

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Donna is doing well according to all the medical staff (she doesn’t believe them but I do). She is still in the ICU (which is getting boring) but that is the standard care for open heart surgery.

      It is going to be a long recovery but better than the alternative of doing nothing.

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  3. DogDharma

    Aw, jeez, Jamie — seems surgeries are the new fad these days, eh? I personally think going for someone older and more intellectual is the best course of action — might be biased, since I’m old and feign being intellectual. My dad died when he was 48, so my mom was widowed at 35.

    I jest, per usually, but I’m pulling for you, and I hope things go well for Donna. I cannot imagine being with someone for 30 years, and I’m in awe and a state of suspended jealousy. May the Universe watch over both of you lovingly. And may the surgeon be worthy of your high regard. (I suspect he is, or your gut would have told you otherwise.)

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Donna is doing well, we now both have huge scars on our chests! Hopefully Gracie will not be next.
      We’ve been together since 1983 – I was 24. It was supposed to be a fling to get it out of our system, but here we are. 2015.

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      1. DogDharma

        There is something kind of sweet about having chest scars to compare. Well, not really cute in the trivial sense. But I’m relieved to know Donna is okay thus far, and I think the matching scars *will* be “cute” when you’ve got it safely behind you and you can reminisce about the timing. Continued best wishes. And no, Gracie is not allowed to be next.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      She is doing well (all things considered) but is in some pain as is expected. 30 years is a really long time but not impressive (quality not quantity); we are a pretty eccentric couple. And equally complicated.

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  4. Barbara

    I am with you and Donna today and always.
    Both of you are troopers and with continue the exciting and fulfilling journey for many years to come. You Jamie are a beautiful writer and touch my heart every time

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  5. The Little Butch That Could (TLBTC)

    My Mom waited for her valve surgery and waited and waited. Then, she had a major stroke. You don’t want that to happen and besides, Donna is gonna feel like a million bucks after her surgery. It’s amazing how far medicine has come. They have the patients sitting up in bed, eating and walking the halls in no time. Two tips: try not to freak out by all the tubes and how Donna will look after the surgery. When you are allowed to see her for the first time, if the nurse does not do so, ask the nurse to explain all the tubes and gadgets hooked up to her. I know it will be difficult, but the main thing Donna will need is rest. Keep your visits short and sweet and watch her blood pressure. Take care of yourself during this time, Donna will need you to be there.
    Blessing to you both. Peace.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I’m glad I read your comment before her surgery. She is still in the ICU (as expected) but everyone says she is doing great. It is freaky but the tubes are coming out one at a time and the physical therapist came today to work with her and get her into a chair.

      She is miserable (it is only 48hrs) but I am happy because she doing well.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks. The surgeons were great and she is recuperating and it all looks good. It scared both of us, neither of was prepared for the seriousness of the situation or the possibility of being the couple with the bad outcome. Fortunately she is tough.

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  6. Rona Fraser

    Wow! Probably just as well it was scheduled soon, as it allows less time to stress about upcoming surgery. Sounds like you’ve got the best doc possible and all should go fine. BTW, I totally understand Donna’s procrastination… When something is stressing me out — especially something where the timing is completely up to me — I can procrastinate forever!

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Everything went well and the doctors are happy with their progress. I understand her desire to find a less invasive solution- I put up with fibroids for years before surgery, but it wasn’t life threatening (just made me miserable). Hopefully she will regain her strength and return to her normal energy levels.

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  7. anexactinglife

    It sounds like communication has improved a lot for you two. I have great faith in modern medicine and she has the best of chances. I hope you both feel you’ve been looking after each other in these Strange Surgical Times!

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      We now have matching scars (mine horizontal and hers vertical). The surgeons are happy with the outcome and she is resting and recuperating in the hospital. It is going to be a long recovery process but we are in it for the long haul together.

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  8. dontaskformyname

    Good luck to both of you. I hope everything turns out well. It’s very heartening to hear how long you’ve been together. This blog of yours was a little bit of a life saver for me and mine. I see a lot of parallels (wishful thinking, perhaps, but it helps). Again, I sincerely hope everything works out for the best.

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  9. SashaQ

    Yes, for me as a young transgender person, someone who was older than me and intellectual was just what I needed, ♡ even though I didn’t know it at first. My partner eventually succumbed to heart failure, but she made such a difference to me in just 3.5 years (and I gave her the love and kisses she needed, too).

    Good to hear Donna is doing well so far – best wishes to you both

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      i am so sorry to hear about the loss of your partner. I have absolutely no regrets about taking up with Donna – she is 26 years older than me – but it does complicate things and I have to accept that she will probably pre-decease me. But not for a while.

      Donna is doing very well (she doesn’t feel good but she is less than a week out of surgery) and I’m hoping for a full/better than before recovery. But either way, she is my best friend and soul mate.

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      1. SashaQ

        Thank you. I have no regrets, either – my partner was only 16 years older than me, and she knew she wasn’t well when we met, but we made such a difference to each other, it was worth it… My soul mate indeed…

        I’m sure Donna feels all the better for knowing you’re there for her, and I hope she soon feels much improved.

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