Open Your Heart (and your ribcage)

Someone I love is scheduled for triple bypass open heart surgery tomorrow. “Bypass surgery.” It’s one of those phrases I’ve heard a million times, never truly knowing what it meant. They’re not going to build a freeway interchange inside his chest. At least not literally.

Heart valves are a little like metering lights at a busy on-ramp during rush hour, though. They control the flow of blood into the heart, and from chamber to chamber within it. But if there is an accident on the ramp, it doesn’t matter whether the metering lights are green or red–no one is going anywhere. Oxygenated blood’s commute from the lungs to it’s coronary office is interrupted, and unless the highway patrol funnels traffic along an alternate route, the rest of the oxygen-craving body is out of luck.

To extend what I think is a fun metaphor (and if I don’t have a sense of levity about this thing I’ll be the one with the heart attack), the surgeons are the highway patrol officers. Tomorrow they’ll be standing around the operating table, listening to the beeping of the heart and lung machine that’s keeping my loved one alive. They’ll say “scalpel” or whatever surgeons say, and then proceed to close off the three affected on-ramps and divert the flow of traffic onto surface streets. Of course, if this analogy is going to work, they first have to build the surface streets. Ok, I’ve had my fun, time to move on.

As I understand it, the heart surgeons will constructs three new sections of coronary artery out of tissue from his legs or chest. They’ll skirt around the clogged sections, giving blood a clear path out of the heart. Here’s the real deal:

Or for the squeamish, an animation:

Apparently it’s what they call a ‘routine’ surgery, if there is such a thing. I hope they mean for the surgeons and not for the patient.


About szubryd

I come alive when I talk about science. Whether I'm asking about marine ecology or writing about endocrine-disrupting chemicals, I light up. I've found myself vehemently defending evolutionary theory from inside a bathroom stall, sitting at a bar holding the interest of self-proclaimed potheads with an explanation of endogenous cannabanoid receptors, and discussing the causes of eutrophication in streams on a second date (he was a keeper, by the way). It took an astute college mentor and the challenge of reporting about bisphenol A to point me toward science writing as a career. I had a hard time believing I could make a living doing something so interesting, so much more rewarding than listening to marketers pitch the environmental benefits of their latest drain cleaner—the one with "Toxic" on the label. What could be better?
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Open Your Heart (and your ribcage)

  1. DanielleVenton says:

    A most appropriate sense of levity, and a very fun metaphor. 🙂 A little piece of my own heart is going out to you and your loved one today. Let us know how it goes.

Comments are closed.