Ok, so, I guess, I should be the one to conclude this discussion, so I'll share how the surgery went (in case anyone needs this information in future) :)
I was admitted to the hospital (Johns Hopkins) early in the morning on Friday, November 13th. By about 6-6:30 am I was absolutely ready: my IV was in my arm, I had all my paperwork and consent forms signed etc. I know that they did a TEE right before and right after the surgery: before the surgery they wanted to make sure that they were doing everything right, and after the surgery they wanted to make sure that there was no residual shunting (and there wasn't, so they did a great job). I don't remember any of that, although I remember arriving at the OR, and I think nurses and staff there were talking to me about something that I thought was very funny (I can remember smiling and laughing). I have no idea what exactly they were saying (great job, anesthesia team! :)).
And then, of course, the next thing I remember was waking up in the ICU with a breathing tube in my throat. The doctors and the nurses all say that it was pretty impressive that I only had it in for 2 hours after the surgery, and then I was able to breath on my own. They say that usually they keep it in for at least 4-5 hours. I think people who have it for that long, or even longer, are true heroes, because that tube really bothered me. A LOT.
My husband, who stayed in the ICU with me, says that at that point I looked like Frankenstein :) I had a breathing tube in, a drain coming out of my neck, and a couple of drains coming out of the right side of my upper-body, a catheter, IVs etc. Most of people who go through an open heart surgery may actually look different - I went through a minimally invasive one - a right mini-thoracotomy which means that they gained heart access by going through the incision between the ribs, and the heart-lung bypass machine was connected to me through a small incision near groin area. My surgeon told me beforehand that this type of incision is more painful because they have to cut through more muscle and nerves compared to a sternotomy, but I should be able to recover from it much faster.
So, when I woke up in the ICU at about 1:30 pm, a realized that he did not lie at least about it being very painful. I could also feel my heart pounding - I almost thought it would jump out of my chest and dance on me :) And once they had the breathing tube out, I understood that the tube was not my biggest problem: I was sore everywhere and very thirsty. Just taking a breath hurt like crazy. Once the nurses figured out that I could swallow with no problem, they started giving me pain medicine and water.
That first night in the ICU was the hardest time of my whole hospital stay. The care from the doctors, nurses and technicians was amazing though - I am very thankful for that. In the morning I was a lot better, and was even able to get out of bed and move into the chair, and walk around in the room just a little bit. The care team was happy with my progress too, and I think by about 10:00 am (or so) I was out of the ICU and sent to the progressive care unit.
From that point I started walking around the hospital floor at least 2-3 times a day, started eating (even though I was not hungry at all while I was there, and for the first week or so at home), and gradually started getting disconnected from drains and IVs. By Monday (3rd day after the surgery) I was disconnected from everything, and the only thing they were still monitoring was my heart rate. They actually told me later that they were thinking about discharging me on Monday, but decided to make sure that I was OK, and kept me for an extra night.
On Tuesday morning my surgeon stopped by and checked on me, and said "You're a strong woman, you're going home today" :) I actually don't even know how many times they told me that I was "a real trooper" because they see big men cry like little babies after surgeries like that, but I didn't make a peep :)
It has been about 3 weeks after the surgery now. Despite all the pain, I am very happy that I went with the minimally invasive approach: they didn't have to break my breastbone or any other bones - and they didn't have to wire them back, I got off the pain killers about a week after being discharged from the hospital, I started driving 2 weeks after the surgery, I am able to pick up things (obviously, not something very heavy) - and being able to use my arms is definitely helpful, I am healing very quickly, and I should be able to go back to work in just a couple of weeks.
I haven't noticed much of a change compared to before the surgery yet. The only thing is that my blood pressure, while it was not extremely high, used to be kind of on a higher end (about 128/85). Now it's much lower (last time I checked, it was 106/65).
I am very thankful to the surgeon, who performed the procedure, Dr.Vricella, and to everybody who assisted him and participated in my care. I don't know if I'll be able to thank them enough.