Rehabilitation after such a procedure isn’t easy. I won’t go into detail about it as you can get more than enough info [and any video visuals you might want to stomach] by looking around the internet. I was left with a scar on the chest and a longer scar on my left forearm where they took a donor artery to use to replace clogged ones at the heart. Rehabilitation involves a lot of daily exercises which are mild though demanding under the circumstances. Within a few days of being home; I also started to add solo taiji work and more recently some baguazhang and xingyiquan as well [though I go carefully and not too quickly through those more demanding sets].
Sadly, for many sedentary and/or elderly heart patients, depression is also a common enough factor after major heart surgery and, again, I am convinced that being able to resume regular activity and solo form work has helped me minimize the potential for that kind of suffering as well as speeding up my physical recovery. Though I have no empiricial proof of this, I am convinced that the meditative side of doing taiji solo forms is very real for those who are experienced enough to not have to constantly think “Crap, what move comes next?” while practising.
On the other hand, and without minimizing the potential benefits, studying taiji is a funny thing as the traditional variations of that art have gotten mixed with a lot of New Age concepts and practices in many North American schools and it is often said to be almost miraculous in its healing potential. That doesn’t seem realistic to me but some people are quick to latch onto that aspect out of the need to feel hope again if they are seriously ill. It’s true that the placebo effect is a complex one and can actually sometimes provide a real benefit but it is also just as likely to fade with time or its limited benefits exploited by an unscrupulous teacher. As with anything, it’s important to remember that “if it sounds too good to be true” then it probably isn’t going to be the answer you need.
As well as solo forms, I have been happy to do even a little interactive training again. though I do have to be careful not to push and pull with my arms [or have someone else do that to me if they are holding onto my arms] until my sternum heals from having been sawn open for the surgery. In addition, “taking punches” in the upper torso, even accidentally, though I am used to such, is also out of the question so I invested in a bit of body armor [used in motocross biking sports] to wear under my shirt over the sternum and ribs while training until the end of November when I will be considered fully healed.
In the end, the pleasure of training really feels as if it has helped me deal with the emotional and physical issues of open heart surgery; not to mention the physical pain in the early days of healing. Funny to consider that all those years of regular training were more useful for defending myself after surgery than for stopping the punches of a mugger who has never materialized.
Copyright Michael A. Babin ©2019
While I am being grateful [did you know that recent studies have shown a positive correlation between being grateful and having a long life]; I would also like to thank Dr. Hadi Toeg, my skillful surgeon, as well as the staff of the 3rd Floor Ward of the Ottawa Heart Institute when I was in recovery.
Finally, and particularly, thanks to my wife who put up with my post-surgery grumpiness and was a good nurse to me despite worrying about her own elderly father who also needs a heart procedure in the near future.