Robert Fulton School teacher Steve Ludwig offered a reading at the North Bergen Free Public Library on Thursday, Jan. 17, of “See You in CCU,” a witty account of his journey through quintuple open heart bypass surgery.
The surgery, as the book suggests, was to repair coronary artery disease, which is the leading cause of death in the U.S.
Ludwig’s surgery, which was performed by cardiologist Dr. Eric Somberg, became dangerous as his heart began to swell. Despite his experience, he continues to have a positive outlook.
“And a lot of people might feel there’s nothing funny about [the surgery],” said Ludwig. “But I prefer to think it all depends on how you look at it.”
Ludwig gave the audience a performance in addition to the reading, accompanied by fellow Franklin School teacher Lloyd Gold on his ukulele, and dramatized his morphine state after surgery.
“I thought, ‘What better way to have fun at a book reading then to combine quintuple open heart bypass surgery and a ukulele?’” said Ludwig.
“I have the easier job, I didn’t have to have heart surgery,” said Gold.
From weak to healthy heart
Coronary artery disease is potentially fatal. At the age of 52, Ludwig had quintuple open heart bypass surgery, and the idea of writing a book grew out of the journal he kept after getting home from the hospital.
What prompted the surgery was a positive stress test while on a treadmill. Ludwig nearly had surgery on a total of six clogged arteries, and during the procedure nine separate blood transfusions were required.
“I always feel sorry for that artery number 6; he probably feels left out,” read Ludwig. “Perhaps someday, you too shall be bypassed and your worrying will not have been in vein – uh, I mean, vain.”
“Thank you, and I love you all from the bottom of my healthy heart.” – Steve Ludwig
“He held my heart and manually massaged it,” read Ludwig. “He had to decompress and then rapidly defibrillate my heart.”
The title and CCU, which stands for Cardiac Care Unit, is a clever remark that he never had the opportunity to make to his wife, Sue, prior to being wheeled into the operating room.
“I never got a chance to say ‘See You in CCU’ to Sue, so I titled it in honor of her,” said Ludwig.
His outlook has remained positive.
“I have adopted my blood type as my mantra to live by: ‘B positive,’ ” read Ludwig.
He acted out what it was like for him while sedated under morphine, using an application on his phone and light-up gloves.
For the first time in public, Ludwig read Chapter 11, which is entitled “Mom.” His mother was a victim of heart disease. A tearful Ludwig had a difficult time sharing the bittersweet memory.
“Just like that, my sweet beautiful mother passed away,” read Ludwig.
Ludwig concluded the reading with his final thought in the book: “Thank you, and I love you all from the bottom of my healthy heart.”
Embraced by the community
Many came out to show their support for Ludwig, including Principal Noreen Garcia.
“It’s a great book, it’s very touching,” said Garcia. “The way he presents it is very human. That’s what makes the book special.
His friend Gold offered some advice.
“Everyone should eat healthy all the time,” said Gold.
Ludwig introduced many friends and family members who came to visit him during his stay at Hackensack University Medical Center. He also acknowledged his brother Tom Ludwig for providing the illustrations and nephew Billy for taking the back cover photo.
Originally he wanted to take the photo near a water well, and planned for a caption that would read, “Steve Ludwig is feeling well.”
Ludwig put thought into the illustrations. One picture of him while under morphine and on Percocet made him sweat profusely, and instead of Swan Lake it was titled “Sweat Lake.”
He also thanked Mayor Nicholas Sacco, the Library Board of Trustees, Library Director Sai Rao, Business Manager Tracy Rivera and Children’s Librarian Krista Welz.
Gold, who is in a band called Lloyd Unlimited, had his CD’s on sale during the book reading.
For more information on this book, visit www.Xlibris.com or www.ccubook.com. The author can also be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also view a promo video created by former student and Director Rye Joseph on YouTube.
Vanessa Cruz can be reached at email@example.com