It was a Dark and Snowy Night…

The best program on TV recently has been Hopkins, the six part documentary featuring the doctors and patients of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. Ironically, the show was probably born during the recent writer’s strike… there’s no need for writers when you find a willing subject who will let a film crew follow him (or her) around. Of course, you run the risk of getting either a boring subject or a slow day, or both. The producers claim they shot 1,500 hours of film, but the show consists of six hour long episodes. That’s a lot of rejected footage.

The “star” of the show is the hospital itself, Johns Hopkins. If you want the best medical care available, Hopkins is the place. U.S. News and World Report ranks America’s hospital’s every year, and either Hopkins or The Mayo Clinic (located in Rochester, Minnesota) are almost always ranked number one.

I’ve been very interested in the show because I had my first heart operation at Johns Hopkins. On February 17, 1967 — at the age of five months — I was in the operating room. The problem was, my surgeon wasn’t there.

Dr. Alex Haller was supposed to operate on me, but he was stuck in Washington, DC. The operation had already been discussed and planned for that summer, then I became critical and it had to be done as soon as possible. Most of the East Coast was snowed in that night; how my parents even got me to Hopkins from South Carolina is a miracle. They left home the day before when my local pediatrician said things were starting to go to hell in a handbasket, and stopped for the  night at a hotel in Richmond, Virginia. My mother just happened to get up during the night, glanced out of the window, and saw that it was snowing pretty hard. She woke up my father and within fifteen minutes, we were back on the road. Interstate 95 hadn’t been completed, so most of the travel was on secondary roads. Daddy was stopping every half hour to clear his side of the windshield with an old cloth, but somehow we avoided getting bogged down. After passing the “Welcome to Baltimore” sign they stopped at the first Esso station they saw (Happy Motoring!) And asked directions. The attendant, very familiar with out of towners visiting Johns Hopkins, said “Stay on this road and go through 13 stop lights. At the 14th light, turn right.” Daddy was doubtful but the directions were precise.

After an examination – an examination at 10:30 at night, mind you, outstanding hospitals do those sort of things – my Cardiologist, Dr. Richard Rowe, told my parents “It’s critical. We’re going to surgery tonight.”… and my surgeon was stuck in the snow forty miles away. Dr. Vincent Gott, the adult heart surgeon, stepped in for Dr. Haller. No matter your age or your gender, your heart is roughly the size of your fist. Imagine the size difference between an adult fist and an infant’s, and you can see the challenge that faced Dr. Gott.

My operation was known as the Glenn Procedure, or sometimes called the Glenn shunt. Readers familiar with the operation may nod their head sagely, but they would be completely wrong. The operation was changed in the mid 1980’s, and my 1967 version doesn’t resemble it. The modern operation, sometimes called the Bi-directional Glenn Shunt, disconnects the Superior Vena Cava from the heart and connects it to the Pulmonary artery, sending blood to the lungs. The Classic Glenn Shunt – mine – disconnects the Superior Vena Cava and connects it to the Pulmonary Artery. The left branch of the Pulmonary is also clamped and cut, making the right lung responsible for oxygenating all of the blood. I didn’t even know I had Version 1.0 until a few years ago, when a Cardiologist slapped my X-ray onto the lightboard and studied it. “I don’t know what the hell this is, but it ain’t a Glenn Shunt,” he said.

Dr. Gott did a great job; I was the fifth person at Hopkins to survive the Glenn Procedure, and the first one to be physically active. And 41 years later I’m still going.

As I am watching Hopkins, I’m keeping my eyes open for the Jesus statue. Really it is named Christus Consolator, or The Divine Healer, and is located in the main administration building. I had to make the trip to Baltimore yearly for several years for follow-up appointments, and seeing that statue as we walked into the hospital is my only memory of the hospital. I can’t remember doctors, nurses, or buildings, but I remember seeing that statue. This statue of Jesus Christ is ten and a half feet tall, and the podium He is standing on is probably four feet high. And when you are five years old, He looks really big!


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One Response to “It was a Dark and Snowy Night…”

  1. karen Says:

    Was great to read you are doing so well, as we have a 2 month old granddaughter that will have the Glenn in the next month.!!! Thanks for your story.

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