It's a wonderful life!

28th April 2014
This is a Sea Mail with a bit of a difference, those of you who have been reading them over the years will spot that the pictures are a reprise of some highlights from our five and a half years away. So maybe not the usual journey we describe, but it is still about a journey, though of a different kind and the wonderful people we know.

What you won’t have known is that in 2009 I (Devala that is) was diagnosed with Aortic Valve Stenosis when a lovely doctor in Auckland listening to my chest said ‘and how long have you had a heart murmur?’ to which my reply was a somewhat nonplussed ‘What heart murmur?!’.

So then followed investigations – an echocardiogram for those of you technically minded and a diagnosis of the above. From then on we’ve known that, as there is no medical treatment, at some point the calcification of this valve (between the heart and the main blood artery the aorta) would get to the stage that the only choice was replacement of the valve and that time has arrived. Even before I went for my annual echo just before last Christmas, have to say I sort of suspected that the time for an operation was getting closer as the symptoms had been getting worse. So for those of you who had been thinking I was turning into a really unfit slug the answer is actually the old ticker wouldn’t let me walk briskly, run or generally do anything cardiovascular – well not unless I wanted to experience rather unpleasant chest pain and the sensation I was going to faint!

The hardest thing about all of this has been telling the family and friends, who have all been by turn shocked, upset and worried as they go through the vertical curve of understanding what is going on; something we have been living with and preparing for over the last four plus years. The best thing has been the wonderful response of people – friends who have given us their love and support, offered us their homes when I’m convalescing and generally just been there - what friends are best at. We’ve had the wonderful kindness of the people in Brisbane, a great yacht brokerage company called Yacht Domain, who are looking after our boat telling us not to worry, they’ll look after Sea Rover until we get back and one of them, Kelly who was visiting the UK offering to bring us anything off the boat that we might now need – knowing how we use every last gram of our luggage allowance, that was a very kind offer. Even Virgin Australia have come up trumps with regards to cancelling the return portion of our flight; not easy to get a refund on a half used ticket but still they have deferred the use and been, after a bit of a false start wonderful.

We realised we were going to have to rethink our plans when, talking to the cardiologist I said we had tickets to see Bruce Springsteen in the vineyard in the Hunter Valley on our return to Australia and she simply said ‘I don’t think so’ but I insisted we did have tickets and accommodation. I got the ‘read my lips’ look that said you’re not going anywhere. There are some of you out there who will know just how gutted I was when she didn’t change her tune! For once we were glad we had taken the ticket insurance option on the tickets. Interestingly whilst The Pokolbin Village, where we had rooms booked for a couple of days gladly refunded the booking deposit the other place The Leisure Inn, Pokolbin have charged us for the first night and then let the room out again – we know, we checked! Unnecessary profiteering to my simple mind and quite ironic from a company who are part of the ‘Stay Well’ group; maybe they should add ‘..or else’. (Know who we won’t be using when we visit the Hunter Valley on our return even though their terms and conditions said they could have charged us for both nights.)

So where are things now? Mike offered to carry out the surgery – his view being that years ago he watched several valve replacements being done by a surgeon called Bruce Keogh (now a respected NHS panjandrum) and he’s now very adept at changing pumps etc. on the generator so there can’t really be that much difference – eek! No prizes for guessing I headed to the Brompton for a rather more professional and competent consult. My wonderful surgeon there listened carefully to what we were doing, including at my mum’s insistence what we consider to be ‘normal life’ – then promptly announced she wasn’t going to do the ‘gold standard’ procedure for someone my age – a mechanical valve. As she said doing this would actually be doing me a disservice as this valve would mean being on warfarin for the rest of my life. Whilst it’s very possible to live a perfectly normal and happy life on warfarin it does require regular monitoring and tweaking of dosage, something not easily done in the middle of the Indian Ocean, when your idea of a normal life is far from normal. So she has suggested ‘going off plan’, something that appealed us having gone rather ‘off plan’ ourselves. So having been fully investigated – MRI and CT scan, cardiac angiogram, another echocardiogram all of which showed the rest of the heart to be in rude good health, and fully discussed at the MDT (multidisciplinary team meeting) at the Brompton I’m off to have the dodgy valve replaced at the end of the month; not with a mechanical valve but a biological one, most probably porcine in origin – this is my way of saying pig. I now sit back whilst all the piggy jokes flood in, am seriously thinking of compiling a list!

Have to say the care I’ve received from the Brompton to date couldn’t have been more thorough, efficient or friendly if I’d been paying for it. My cardiac nurse specialist is my new best friend with the invitation to contact him anytime I have any problems or queries – now or in the future, and giving me his direct line, bleep and email. He even called me the day after the pre admission meeting to tell me what my blood results were.
The great thing is that this means no long term medication and we’ll be able to get back to our circumnavigation, albeit knowing the valve can’t last forever and that there will be further surgery most probably in about 10 years or so. As always there are silver linings and being back in the UK longer than expected means we are catching up with more friends than we usually can and making the most of being here enjoying rugby, theatre, films and the opera season at Holland Park not to mention being able to go to Mike’s nephew’s wedding and a dear friends’ 60th celebrations. Well that is if I survive Mike’s care and cooking during the convalescence and we don’t kill each other. For some reason he thinks I might get grumpy being told to take it easy – can’t think why.

Even if things don’t go as planned and we have to change our plans we do know we have had the most unimaginably fabulous five and a half years, something we will never forget and hence the title of this Sea Mail because if nothing else this has really reminded us that there is no point in deferring the things you really want to do in life, if they are that important just get on and do them as soon as you can.
Not sure when we’ll post the next Sea Mail, but we’ll keep you updated on what happens next.

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Photo comment By Andrew & Polly: We are about to buy a 45' Contest and came across your blog. What an inspiration your sea mail is. I truly hope we can follow in your adventurous wake. All the best for getting back to sea. x
Photo comment By Nilo: Life goes as a winch turns, sometimes it turns right and fast sometimes it turns left and slow but it always wrap. I'm sure there will be new pleasant sailing days for you both guys! I look forward to reading and still learning from yours nautical adventures. All my best, my finest thoughts are with you. Nilo

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