I am...not entirely human.
I am the result of multiple surgical techniques, the product of which is a body that is beyond what nature intended. I am a hybrid.
Some parts are man.
Some parts are machine.
Some parts are...pork.
Roughly 38 years ago, give or take some weeks, I had part of my heart replaced. A dysfunctional valve was removed, and in its place was sewn a similar valve from a pig.
It's a good thing I wasn't born Muslim. Or an orthodox Jew.
But after nearly four decades, during which I kept many a cardiologist stunned and amazed by the consistent performance of my ham heart, it looks like its days may be numbered. They've put me through every non-invasive test they've got, and they're just not satisfied that things are still kosher. So in a couple of days, they're gonna snake a camera up my femoral vein and take a good look around.
I'm not hog-wild about the prospect.
I can only imagine what they'll see. Arteries stuffed like pork chops. Heart muscles threatening to burst like bratwurst straining in their casings. A valve of pancetta, wrapped in prosciutto, stuffed with guanciale.
I can't help it; I'm drawn to pork by unnatural cravings. Like that horror movie where the guy gets the hand transplant from an executed murderer, then starts killing! Or like the little chunks of the Iron Giant, maybe the pig valve is trying to pull together its original component parts, so it can be a pig again.
Which makes me wonder where my pig came from. You see stories all the time about people who, after they've received an organ donation, locate the donor's family and all but adopt them. So what of my pig? Did he suffer? Was he just a lab pig, raised for harvesting parts? Did he have a sty, a pen or a poke? Were his other, non-transferable parts eaten? Was he "some pig," after all, or just some nameless, thankless sow?
The lifespan of a wild pig, which the previous owner of my valve was almost certainly not, may be as long as 25 years. A domesticated pig only lives a fraction of that, perhaps 10-15 years. So if it's truly time for this pork to be pulled, I can appreciate that I gave it a much fuller life than it would have had on its own; to its credit, it's done the same for me. We've been a good team, my throbbing, pulsing piggy and I.
Should it be replaced, I will likely receive a mechanical valve. They last longer. I have other mechanical parts already, so one more won't be that big a deal. But I'll have to be on anti-coagulants for the rest of my life. That's the trade-off. Pig valves don't clot up. But pig valves aren't supposed to last that long. Certainly not 40 years.
Come to think of it, that really was "some pig" they stuck in me. Like the porcine equivalent of one of those Mercedes or Volvos that some little old lady nursed well past 500,000 miles. The Timex of trotters. (Must've come from Iowa; that'd explain the bizarre affinity I have for the Hawkeye State.)
I should know pretty soon after Friday what's going to happen, but I'm already steeling myself up to say goodbye. This is no casual tour of my vena cava, this is recon for a surgical strike. My cardiologist is after that pig like an angry bird. (He's a Kiwi, my cardie, so the bird reference isn't without merit.)
Maybe...just maybe... my piggy valve will check out. Maybe stick a stent up there to open me up, and that'll be enough -- a silk purse from a sow's ear. I can hope. And pray.
But if this is the end, and I'm faced with the inevitable valve replacement surgery, to be followed by a lifelong diet of porcine moderation, I'll take one last wistful trip to Five Guys for a bacon cheeseburger and, in between salty, meaty bites, whisper a heartfelt farewell to my valve's decades of service:
"That'll do, pig. That'll do."
If the media is the eye on the world, Russ Carr is the finger in that eye. Tune in each month to see him dispersing the smoke and smashing the mirrors of modern mass communication. The world lost Russ on 2/7/12, but he lives on.
ABOUT RUSS CARR
more about russ carr
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
3.23.11 @ 12:09a
Ow, indeed, my friend. And only you could wring this much good humor and punnery out of a hinky valve.
3.23.11 @ 12:25a
Wow, Russ. I only wish you the best, and look forward to reading a piece talking about what a piece of cake it all turned out to be.
3.23.11 @ 10:45a
i knew i liked you special for some reason, russ. now i know it's because you're kind of a pork product yourself!
best of luck with the icky (but crucial) procedure!
3.23.11 @ 10:59a
Best case scenario.
3.23.11 @ 1:09p
3.23.11 @ 1:17p
Hey! I take pig hormones, so, you know, we ARE related! :D
Good luck, buddy.
3.24.11 @ 11:15a
Reprieve! My cardiologist has spilled boiling water on his foot, resulting in 3rd-degree burns. As a result, he cannot run the cath on me tomorrow. The pig and I get two weeks to live it up, before we try again.
3.24.11 @ 4:42p
Is there any connection in pig-hearted and big-hearted? Some who know how stubborn you can be might say pig-headed! Nice article, love. Keep on rocking! and blub - blubbing too. I bet it was a really nice pig.
3.24.11 @ 5:51p
Oink. This was great to read. Knock on hoof.
3.24.11 @ 7:02p
I think the reprieve calls for a bacon cheeseburger AND the Five Guys bacon cheddar dog. If the replacement is mechanical, will you go from pork to Borg?
3.24.11 @ 7:22p
"I am the cutest of Borg!" Hm. There's an angle.
4.8.11 @ 6:45p
RESULT! The pig is dead and I'm a mutant.
4.11.11 @ 11:00a
Good news! Magneto, or Professor X?
9.27.11 @ 9:17p
Apropos: my final pre-op meal is going to be...pulled pork.
10.3.11 @ 10:42a
For those following along - Russ is recovering nicely. We're all thrilled at the success of the surgery.
10.10.11 @ 10:28a
Just saw this. That's great to hear. Thanks for keeping us posted.