Don’t Worry: You’re Probably Nothing Special


At the end of every year, when my “valversary” rolls around, I’m grateful all over again. I had open-heart surgery for a mitral valve repair in December 2014, and the gratitude for good health ever since drives me to “pay it forward.”

Finding Help in Facebook Groups

We all know the vast time suck that is social media, but that generalization doesn’t apply to all of it. People who are experiencing a frightening medical condition can find a lot of information and reassurance on Facebook’s various health support pages. The two pages on Facebook that I try to make time for are “Heart Valve Surgery Support Group” and “Mitral Valve Repair Patients Group.”

People come looking for answers about the chances of valve repair vs. valve replacement. If they know that the replacement will be necessary, they may seek advice for deciding between a tissue valve and a mechanical valve. Those who already have a mechanical valve might ask questions about taking warfarin.

All heart conditions are potentially life-threatening, and some members of these groups share their challenges with congenital birth defects, multiple surgeries, chronic illnesses, comorbities, or debilitating pain. They teach us about perseverance and survival, and they remind us to take our heart issues seriously.

Greeting Someone New

But the most typical pattern of discussion on these pages comes at the beginning of the new member’s journey. Someone needs heart surgery to repair or replace a heart valve, and they land on the page in desperation. They ask: “Has anyone here been as scared as I am?” They fret: “I don’t think I can go through this!”

Our responses come quickly and bring comfort. “All of us here have experienced exactly what you’re experiencing,” we tell them. We cannot guarantee that someone’s surgery will be successful, because not everyone’s story ends happily. But today these procedures are routine, and the majority of patients do very well.

Finding Comfort in the Ordinary Case

That “routine procedure” message is often the opposite of what the person is hoping to hear. Many will say they don’t know anyone who has needed valve surgery, and they can be looking for permission to identify as a victim – different from their friends. Those who believe in God sometimes seek support for the concept of a plan that they just haven’t figured out yet. It’s the plan God has for them individually.

I pray, too, and think of myself as unique. But with my valve repair and also my breast cancer two decades earlier, I was enough of a textbook case that I took comfort in just that aspect. Many conditions baffle the medical community, or the prognosis is simply not good. Ordinary valve issues, though, tend to have good outcomes.

Nothing Special

New patients, feeling alone in suffering from a faulty heart valve, discover on the appointed Facebook pages that there are loads of people who once faced the same crossroads at which they find themselves now. While considered elective surgery, a severely leaking heart valve really presents little choice. The patient can delay it but probably not for long without adjusting life expectancy.

“So go get the surgery,” we tell everyone. “You’re not special, you’re not different, and that is the best news. You’re just your medical team’s Thursday a.m. or whatever, and you should be fine.”

What is the condition of your heart? Have you had to deal with a valve issue? Where did you seek support? Have you tried looking on Facebook? Would you find comfort that your case is ‘nothing special’ and a ‘routine procedure’ or would that disturb you?

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