That is, if you define "vacation" to include intense, non-monotonically decreasing pain, episodes of debilitating depression, and some cognitive and physical hiccups.
The good news, of course, is that which was surely going to kill me (namely, an aneurysm of the ascending aorta) has been expunged from my life. Thanks to the incredible care I received at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, my demise is now more likely to come from being hit by a bus or via a tragic paper cut. As the only surviving male of the Booch lineage, since those immediately before me and after me have all died of the same condition, I owe my survival to early detection and the skill of the surgeons, physicians, nurses, and staff of the Mayo. The death of my nephew at age 20 was a gift of life to me, for it led to my being tested and that CT scan revealed I had the same condition. We were able to monitor the state of my aneurysm through 2005 and early 2006, and made the decision for elective open heart surgery at the end of May this year. This summer, as readers of this blog will know, I've been largely offline, recovering from surgery. Earlier this week, I returned to the Mayo Clinic for some follow up tests, which mark the beginning of the end of my recovery.
I had hoped for a bit more closure from those tests, but alas, that was not to be (and in that context I recall a speech by the mayor of Colorado Springs some years ago, in which he noted that, in this life, there is no closure). Physically, my surgical scars have pretty much healed although they'll never go away completely. The replacement of my aortic root took well, with no leakage or other such complications. There are unknowns with regard to my aortic valve. Technically, I underwent a modified Davis procedure, a valve-sparing replacement of the aortic root. This technique is still sufficiently new that the long term implications for my valve are unknown: will the tips of the valve wear out faster because they might rub against the Dacron graft? My left ventricle had begun to enlarge to compensate for the abnormal fluid dynamics inside my heart resulting from the aneurysm, but an echocardiogram earlier this week revealed that my left ventricle has shrunk (that's a good thing) and that my heart is actually operating more efficiently than before the surgery. I do still have some fluid around my heart that should have been absorbed by now, and that's a little concerning as it is indicative of some continuing inflammation of the heart, so I'm under yet another drug regimen to attack that issue. My endurance and upper body strength are not back to pre-surgery levels, which is not surprising given that for most of the summer as my sternum healed, I couldn't lift more than 10 pounds. Also, during this recovery, I lost over 20 pounds, mainly because I've lost much desire to eat.
Mentally, I'm pretty much back to normal, whatever that means for me. Being a person who lives in his head, the risk of cognitive decline was a very real concern, and the various studies from Duke University that I read before surgery gave me pause. During my recovery, I did have problems with concentration, the so-called pump head syndrome from being on a heart/lung machine for an extended period, but now I find that those problems are largely gone, and I'm pretty much back to where I was.
The emotional issues were the hardest. Although I knew in my head that depression after such major surgery is not uncommon, knowing it and experience it are very different things. If you are interested, the book Coping With Heart Surgery And Bypassing Depression by Carol Cohan, June Pimm, and James Jude provides the most honest discussion I've read about that element of the recovery process. Although I am an intellectual person, I'm also a whole emotional person as well. I have a propensity to melancholy as it is, and surgery then recovery greatly amplified those emotions. Happily, I am in a happier place again. Spiritually, this was period of growth and grace for me, having been surrounded by the love and care of family and friends, and - as Philippe Kruchten noted to me as as I blogged about before - having had many people in many parts of the worlds in many languages and in various systems of belief pulling for me.
It's been three months since my surgery, and I'm now starting to return to a rhythm of work. I'm back on my IBM email, and I'm starting to take on some work tasks. Most importantly, I'm using this reboot to be intentional about what I will take on and what I will shed: as I look at the long list of things I was doing before surgery, I'm stunned by how many of them just accumulated over time and really were not essential to helping me advance the practice. To that end, that I'll be returning my primary attention to the goals of the Handbook and following the evidence of existing architectures where it leads me.
I'm also starting to resume my travel. My first business trip will be to Oregon, where I'll be interviewing John Backus on behalf of the Computer History Museum, and from there I'll travel on to Ottawa to continue work with IBM Rational's Jazz project.
It's really good to be back.