SURVIVOR

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It’s an awful thing to muse about: whether You YOURSELF should have died, and Others should have lived. There are no right answers, and a TON of wrong ones. Here, on the 30th Anniversary of my Maternal Grandmothers’ death, my mindset IS in question. What I tend to say about these things seems to get as much scrutiny as ladies’ hats on Easter in Southern Baptist churches, and just as much judgment.

Since my Aortic Valve Replacement (2 years, 8 months ago now), Death has come to a few I didn’t expect to lose. In my case, I lost my Grandma Lils’ Best Friend – and my subsequent StepGrandmother – Millie, as well as my Stepfather Jack. I watched helplessly as a few male friends lose a parent for the first time as well…

Many WANT to suggest that, if a known catastrophic illness or advanced age takes a life, it’s somehow easier….

It’s not.

Despite heart valve problems being prevalent on my father’s side of my family, few want to discuss it. Though I was told repeatedly that replacement surgery is one of the simplest cardiac surgeries performed, I don’t honestly know of anyone else I’m related to that has had it done, let alone, any woman. What certainly affected my own survival seems to be the same thing that taints perceptions around whether or not a person believes ANYONE should be alive.

Somewhere, someHOW, I was trained or conditioned, learned to feel good or bad about Death or Survival, based on whether or the person involved had been Active, Productive, Sharing and GOOD (as opposed to Criminal or Cruel) with their Time, Talents, Resources and Relationships. As a consequence, when my Grandparents died of either old age-related frailties or catastrophic illness, Death seems to have been reasonable, mercifully ending their suffering. Such ushered in, in fact, encouragement to turn their funerals into posthumous celebrations of their contributions. In the case, of one friend whos’ father died suddenly and, presumably much too soon, his character was lauded as well, due to being perceived as such a good guy, despite having never broken a carcinogenic addiction that may have ultimately cost him his life.

My Life, Character, and Choices (especially now, nearly 3 years after surgery) are NOT kindly looked upon. This year, writing about myself has been hard; I seem to have a penchant for stirring up controversy and derision in churches and mental healthcare practices. Brash and not terribly respectful of hierarchies when things go awry, I lost my favorite part time job, questioning a decision by a supervisor who hired me. Despite good intentions to improve the quality of anything I’m involved with, I was left, in Late Spring, to pursue a scholarship I received to learn to Paint at a local community arts center.

The funeral home up the street is currently advertising a “Legacy Planning Luncheon”; as I’m aware Bovine heart valves rarely last more than 15 years, I wonder if I should even attend one of these, lest my town or county decide it’s cheaper to Murder via Shunning, than wait my heart out. Whatever the current attitudes towards my right to survive, I still try to lose excess weight, look prettier, and attract a mate that might mine my heart and loins for something good, worthy of being boasted about.

Friend Tony – age 45 – knows my challenge; it’s his father that died suddenly and too young. With a weight that taunts the definition of “Obese” and single too, he expresses Guilt over outliving his father. Like me, he doesn’t feel he’s as good a person as his lost loved one; also like me, he’s ravaged with fear, that it’s too much effort to achieve the accomplishments and popularity worthy of admiration. Both of us, Single and living alone, we’ve no person to tell us when doubt casts it’s shadow on our dimples, that we are allowed to survive and enjoy our lives…

My friend and I? We doubt our right to our Survival A LOT. Instead, we try not to take what isn’t ours, mind our manners, avoid breaking rules and laws and avoid looking in mirrors or hurting anyone.

I personally spend a LOT of time HATING MYSELF for Surviving; as long as I’m here, though, I have the chance to change that.

Maybe tomorrow, I’ll make my life Glorious.

(SPECIAL THANKS to AJ Nasella for his contribution to this piece)

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CRESCENDO

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I’ve barely spoken about it; not with much emotion, either here or face – to – face with anyone. I’m not as bitter as everyone expects me to be, hopefully, because I’m now – as I was, at the time of both a HUGE decision about my healthcare AND upon placing it into effect- I’m PERFECTLY at Peace with it.

I had my family banned from the hospital and inpatient facility, when my Aortic Heart Valve Replacement Surgery occurred. An unusual decision, apparently, it’s one I expect IS MORE NECESSARY than most doctors in medicine really even care to contemplate, but may need more encouragement to make.

My family has NEVER been healthy OR particularly loving. Laden with multi-generational mental illness, Altruism DOESN’T come naturally. As a consequence, boundaries and identities blur, as do the definitions of appropriate and sufficient care, in situations where Death COULD EASILY result in a shift in individual roles, rights and responsibilities.

When I knew Open Heart Surgery was necessary, an event from over 30 years BEFORE flashed before my eyes: My Beloved Grandma Lils’ sudden emergency Radical Mastectomy. At the time, I was a PartTime Security Dispatcher at the very hospital I was born in. Besides sending officers hither and yon to intervene in and resolve conflicts within, I was charged with monitoring for trouble, sounds picked up by 16 sound monitors scattered throughout the facility.

The afternoon my Grandmother went in for surgery, I was working. Though my Grandfather had been promised an update midway through surgery if the lump removed proved to be cancerous (thus, necessitating the removal of her breast), the update never came.

You never forget, ALWAYS REMEMBER the cries and screams of certain family members. Hastily (I found out, later), a bottle of Crown Royal Whiskey was brought to the hospital and given to my Grandfather to steady his hands. My mother was inconsolable; to distract me from replaying her screams in my head, my supervisor offered to let ME use my meal break to admit my Grandmother to the Cancer ward.

Single and facing open heart surgery so many years later, I was determined to prevent my family from again so disruptively repeating this Midwestern version of a Shakespearean tragedy. Knowing no one in my family had EVER HAD open heart surgery, expecting a hospital to minimize the reactions of family members I wasn’t close to seemed unrealistic. Furthermore, my ALLOWING their access to me would EASILY lead to many hospital staff assuming my family and I are on good terms…

and yet, convincing a hospital to withhold access to me and information on my condition until my heart had stabilized and I’d “step down” to a normal surgical floor out of Coronary Care? It was TREMENDOUSLY HARD, but eventually accomplished.

This is where readers may begin to have intense reactions: Codependent (sorry, that’s what you are, whether you like it or not) family, friends and coworkers typically believe leaving a Loved One in the care of unfamiliar medical and other non-clinical staff is tantamount to Abandonment….

It’s NOT.
While everyone imagines all the emotions triggered by facing ones potential death and/or how life must change AFTER surgery are overwhelming, the BIGGEST NIGHTMARE for a me as a patient was DEALING WITH THOSE OF OTHERS.

I know, I know; most adults have a BIT of Impulse Control, wouldn’t DREAM of saying “anything” upsetting; the fact is, what ends UP being disturbing surprised me. In addition, looks and mannerisms inevitably become “Tells”: whatever words are being said either are verified or contradicted by body language. No patient should have to sort out verbal and nonverbal communication in ANY visitor.

It was bad enough that, about 36 hours after surgery (but while still in the Coronary Care Unit) my cell phone and Internet tablet were brought to me. My parents are divorced and my father and I have no contact, but my VERY abusive and mentally ill mother left 31 messages ALL ABOUT HER FEELINGS and REACTIONS on my Voicemail. Within minutes, I asked hospital personnel to return my cell phone to a place of safe keeping.

I’ve written about how different my healthy cow valve sounds in me, as opposed to the sick one that was removed… I wanted “Elsie” (so named after the mascot of the company that produced my elementary school milk cartons) all to myself for a few days. I wanted to HEAR her, thank her, and be checked on by those affirming her saving my life was the right choice to make.

My family wasn’t capable of caring about me. I know, too, that resuming handling the problems of others is often seen by companies, families and partners AS a sign of being healthy. Out of a sense of obligation, people can risk their health by taking these on TOO SOON; no one emotionally involved with a patient should determine the timing of that.

Long sober, I chose, instead, ONLY to allow members of Alcoholics Anonymous and Alanon to visit me. Both of these programs teach SELF-CARE FIRST, warning that One can’t give what One doesn’t have.

To that end, I’ll DEFINITELY spend the rest of my days URGING medical personnel dealing with patients with catastrophic conditions to provide Codependency and Alanon literature to family, friends and colleagues of patients. Effort MUST be made to protect the healing of patients and their inpatient environments. This is done by giving us room and opportunity to experience, engage, decide and initially act upon the wide (& largely UNEXPECTED) and fluctuating feelings and experiences the first few weeks after our Second Chance at Life manifests.

In doing this, the likelihood of surviving what can sometimes be the Negative events in recovery potentially increases. It’s important to build in time to find security WITHIN ONSELF after surgery, since relationships of ALL KINDS can fail, even as We Second Chancers LIVE. Cardiac literature is laden with jobs that were taken away, spouses who cheat on their Survivors because they fear sexual intimacy will trigger a cardiac event. While all this may be hard to contemplate, giving people a chance to find and reestablish confidence in ONESELF is critical to LONGTERM survival of ANY catastrophic illness.

So, do YOU wonder? If it’s taken me over two years to write about this, how GOOD can my life be?

I think it’s ODDLY FAIRLY BALANCED. While it took me a year to completely recover from my surgery, I spent Year Two receiving training in a field of work that hasn’t existed very long. In addition, three relatives have died, I’ve gone through three used cars and terminated work with two healthcare providers who wouldn’t coordinate care during my cardiac surgery and recovery period.

No, I’m not in touch with the family members mentioned. One died, while the others’ lives declined in quality, amidst divorces and criminal activity by one of them.

Now 29 years sober, I serve my community as a precinct election official. I just marked my 57th birthday and am now only the Sixth person certified by my state as a Mental Health & Addictions Peer Recovery Supporter.

Peers, by the very nature of the term, have “lived experience” demonstrating another similarly afflicted with CAN survive it. I CAN, by simply sharing the quote that lies on my social media profiles:

“Don’t tell me no, tell me HOW”.

If, as I was, you’re alone or otherwise in conflict with family while facing catastrophic illness, don’t be afraid to keep them away from the hospital. In taking time to redefine YOUR Second Chance at Life, you may JUST inspire them to redefine THEIR OWN.

SOUND

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I will never forget that sound…as much as I would like to, it haunts me still.  Prior to that one pivotal moment, I’m not sure I’d ever truly heard Hurt.

I was in France…I was about to receive a gift.  I didn’t know it at the time, but neither did, the Giver.  It changed my life forever, and I cry more, because of it.

I’ve always been sensitive to Sound;  from cries in the dark when my Dad would hurt my mother, to simple smatterings of joy, once a golfer had hit a good shot.  I listened, always, for Sound as cues of levels of Safety…

Late June, in a dilapidated French farmhouse, I came to hear Sound sadly, more sadly than a loss of a lover or a child ever was.

Darling Peter and I were not getting along as well as we’d hoped;  a lot of differences in our individual willingnesses to accommodate a mate in our lives and each of our countries had become apparent.  Hot and sticky that afternoon, we found ourselves, sharing a couch…

his chest was sinewed and golden, delicious to me.  All I ached for was to place my head upon it.  Not sure if I’d be rejected, I offered, instead, to cradle his upon mine, and stroke his hair gently.

“Gwen”, he said, “Have you heard your heart?  I know you’ve got a bad valve, but do you know what it SOUNDS LIKE”, he queried.

With a wife having died a few years before in that house, Peter had acquired a stethoscope.  Retrieving it moments later, he placed the earbuds in my ears, and the drum, between my breasts.  My heart offered no solid “thump”, so common to healthy valves;  instead, it was more akin to waves lapping gently upon sand, more “shush”y, than anything else.

Even upon hearing my heart, I honestly didn’t understand.  Despite three trainings as an Emergency Medical Technician during my lifetime, I honestly didn’t realize anything was abnormal. Dammitall, this was ME, my unique little Shushy heart;  I LIKED the softness, frankly, and for a few brief moments, felt pride something about me ACTUALLY WAS soft.

Let me own my fetish NOW:  There is NO BODY PART on a man SEXIER, MORE DIVINE to me than that of ones’ chest. Seeing Peter unbutton his own shirt to his waist was tantamount to Foreplay to me, hence I remained clueless as to the Awful that was to come next.

Gingerly, Peter placed the stethoscope to his OWN chest;  earbuds still in, I anticipated what I’d hear with a grin.  When I heard solid but gentle thumping, however, my right hand mindlessly yanked  the earbuds from my ears and I collapsed forward, onto the floor. 

The SOUND of my sick heart valve was apparent…and the devastation of Fear, Pain, Sadness, Hopelessness and Embarrassment rendered my vocal cords silent.

Months later, I awaken;  a tube is still in my throat, and my eyes are sticky, difficult to open.  I hear a steady but fast beep from an electrical device;  someone yells, Get in here, I think she’s awake”.

I unabashedly own it now:  I LOVE Sound.  There is nothing that so endears me to a person than the privilege of hearing them Snoring.  I irritate my friend Tony (smiling as I do so) as I tell him he’s suddenly tense, because I hear his voice, jumping up half an octave.  I hear speed in syllables uttered, and I periodically post on social media, an urging to leave car stereos OFF, when driving to work during Rush Hours. 

As an Emergency Medical Technician, I was taught about how squads responding to and transporting Cardiac emergencies are instructed NOT to use sirens as part of their protocols;  we know such can escalate Cardiac Distress, push a heart into a faster rhythm.  Conversely, I’ve often joked about a lesson taught to me by my daughters when they were young…

“It’s not when children are NOISY, that a parent worries, but when they are SILENT.  Even if they’re crying, as long as they’re making a noise, they’re AT LEAST Alive”.

This morning as I placed this piece here for you, I’ve surrounded myself with as much Silence as I could arrange.  Though I was expected to be elsewhere, I’ve come to this place, to Share the Wondrousness of Sound with you.

Can YOU hear my heart beat here, for you?

MOVEMENT

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It is what we know Life (and the quality of it) by;  at a very fundamental level, Movement tells us about the Wellness of things.  In We Humans, Movement combined with indicators of intentional choicemaking raises our expectations;  if we sense someone has moved BY CHOICE, whether we like their direction or not, we lean into it, fortifying it with a belief in its’ authority.

For months before my open heart surgery, I experienced the greatest isolation and fear, over this very thing.  Convinced that, at the most incrementally subcellular, structural level my whole being hated Life as I knew it, I was convinced that, the minute my heart was stopped to remove my defective Aortic Valve, my body would quite intentionally refuse to cooperate with attempts to help me go back into that Life.  Mentally ill relatives with poorer impulse control than I abounded, and my vocational skill set in its present condition would, I was sure, be totally inadequate to the task of changing in any way that would better future days bought with the touch of any surgical expertise.

Stop my heart? Why, with this mindset, is it any wonder I was fully convinced that, once the surgeon did so, he was going to kill me.

I told him so;  you know I did.  The moment I met him, I refused his outstretched offer of a handshake. I began our relationship as a Combatant, and though he understood, I believe, looking back, he was humble enough to know he couldn’t change it, and that, if it didn’t change,  my death would be my responsibility, not his.

I honestly don’t know what moved me, eventually, to the surgical suite;  whatever it was had to be a seeking for relief of pain.  Estranged from my family and with a Now-Gone Fiancee, a part of me had to have romanticized Death. I honestly remember being wheeled into the room where my heart would soon stop, and thanking the gown-ensconced nurses, anesthesiologist and surgeon and his assistant for at least dressing appropriately for the theatrical demise of my expressions of Misery.

Of course, it all worked out quite differently;  despite pleas to avoid such, I awakened while intubated.  Despite numerous videos of people I admired declaring that survivors of the surgery don’t remember their Post-Operative days, mine are pretty clear to me…

and I woke up, filtered light caressing my form in bed, aware of the tube in my throat, and, instead of fighting it, I smiled, and I BREATHED.

My first conscious movements after waking up from my heart surgery were dedicated to breathing through my first moments of Consciousness.  While my movements since have been inconsistent in quality, I remember my fear of waking up with that tube in my throat…

I’d assumed it would be the length and diameter of a floor vacuum tube, but never asked.  Instead, I woke up to find it was more the size and shape of a corrugated drinking straw…

(I have stopped trusting my distracting, Genius-level IQ, you can be sure of this).

Now, 17 months after that day, I describe the stopping of my heart quite differently: I say now that, after all the Hell it had been through, that thing deserved a nap.

In the words of Nanci Griffith, my heart “…was born feet running”, and it and I deserved a chance to lay the most painful of them down, release the burden of them.  Remarkably, though I’ve stumbled and fought back tears and thoughts of stagnation, my movements since have been less draining and destructive and  more legato, much more Blessing-oriented.

I have lived out the Truth of many; it is not that I wanted Me to end, but rather the Life that I found I could not defend.

Christmas

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(AUTHORS’ NOTE:  As I approached the one year anniversary of my Aortic Valve Replacement, several momentous events occurred. I knew I yearned for a way to reassure the person I was, going into that surgery, that, though the coming year would bring challenges, the surgery would assure survival of them, even bring blessings.  As I contemplated how to do this, CBS This Morning broadcasted a piece, where Jane Fonda had read a letter SHE WROTE, to HER younger self. After discovering this was one installment of what was a critically acclaimed series, I felt a kind of cosmic validation to write my own).

 

Dear Gwen,

Hello, from 2015; YES, you ARE alive.  I know you’re bored to tears in the hospital right now, but, believe me, you’ll soon long for the peace and quiet you currently have.  As a result, I want to tell you a bit about what’s to come and what I now know is OpenHeart Surgerys’ place in your journey to revealing your authentic self, fully alive at last.

Right now, your medical team finds you a bit combative; this is actually a good thing, and even they recognize you’re fighting for your life.  This year, though, you’ll come to understand you never had to fight AT ALL…

You simply have to BE.  You simply,  solely, mindfully STAND.  Long ago, a mentor named Holly repeatedly told you this;  in the coming year, you’ll MANIFEST, display your comprehension and competency.

I know the strength and determination you show here in the hospital will propel you to do this;  however late, the woman you’ve ALWAYS BEEN will be present in the world, totally without apology.

There are great gifts about to come your way vocationally.  You’ll return to public service, protecting a right offered to every American, however imperfectly that right is exercised.  You’ll also get involved in a company, famous worldwide, for improving the quality of life for women in every country and economic class. There, you’ll find a mentor who’ll teach you about how the clothes, makeup, jewelry, even our facial expressions have the power to illuminate the Beauty already in you. This will build your confidence sufficiently to propel you into passing that message on to others.

A little girl will come into your life soon, who will actually help you find your voice!  Though not related to you, her family enjoys watching how she responds to you. This golden-haired girl will bring you laughter and lay in your arms drowsily, as you talk about accepting your body as it is, taking men with great patience, and sensitivity, and how the world is full of crazy people who are so, mostly because they’re too afraid to be themselves and engage in people-pleasing behaviors instead, in an attempt to avoid abandonment. This tiny child will come into your life at a critical time this year, reminding you you’re really perfectly fine, despite a few great sadnesses…

Yes, there is Sadness coming; you haven’t done anything to cause these.  You’ll recognize this and grieve without blaming yourself or questioning  whether or not your intervention might have stopped these. You’ll quickly realize their Inevitability and accept the losses without blame; this is HUGE for you.

One of the NONprofessional people who’ll help you through your first month after surgery will, by Summer, betray you.  You’ll feel small for awhile, obsessing over whether or not you expressed yourself clearly enough to be heard, or if they simply CHOSE to rape your soul. Dear, Dear Gwen, this won’t be your fault; in fact, you’ll use the experience to examine your confidants more carefully and validate those worthy of your trust.

This Spring, you’ll do something intentionally that you never thought you could:  You’ll walk away from a longtime member of your Wellness team. While you’ll agonize over HOW you leave them, you’ll never doubt your decision. You already know the relationship has been toxic for some time; while it’ll take every ounce of Bravery you have, come Thanksgiving, you’ll terminate yet another, and that one will be less stressful.  These partings become hallmarks of your growing trust in yourself, and you’ll be rewarded with new professionals who you’ll find easy to grow with.

As Christmas nears, you will have lost a few relationships, but you’ll GAIN ONE you’ve yearned for, with a family member. You’ll come to refer to this reconciliation your greatest Christmas gift, though not speak so boldly about it, publically. This reconciliation will come about, largely because of your determination to value them more than conflicts WITH them. This becomes, not a gift of Toleration, but one of Triumph over Ego.

Another gain this year, will be a very unique pet!  These caged critters will bring you a quirky joy, as you get to know them.

Your closest female friends will come closer this year. Your pursuit of a mate will take a hiatus, as you eliminate dishes and clothes, books and foods and anything else that no longer sustains or grows you…

And THEN…

One morning you’ll understand it’s a good thing you don’t work FullTime in 2015. You’ll be glad to be intuitively led to the side of someone you hold holy, and you’ll obey the spiritual, intimate calling to see them after not doing so for a long time.

Youll grieve their death as you won’t ever remember grieving. You’ll learn that not everyone treasures this person or their gifts, and their open expressions of disdain will rock you. By the time you’re led to be with this person, you’ll be full of Gratitude and Love of Life;  advancing that will be how you continue to honor them, once their death comes.

No blasphemous horrors uttered by a relative will dull the shine of the person you’ll lose. Instead, their loss will solidify your commitment to be your best self and passionately encourage others to do the same.

Sadness you feel as you approach your one year “Valversary” will impress upon you the need to elevate in others the positives you see…

ELEVATE:  It will become YOUR word!

Since we end up choosing to buy a gorgeous tea set to celebrate this first year of survival, let me just tell you I’m so glad you bought Godiva Chocolates for Christmas in the hospital after surgery! You’re so hungry for Life and relationships; as stunningly hard a few things will be, I can promise you it’ll be a stunningly amazing year.

Let me close by suggesting we DROP one word from our vocabulary?  Let’s drop the word, “COURAGE”

We don’t have any use for courage, really, if we are at peace with our choices…

We are, Gwen. We’ve overcome a broken heart and we ARE Authentically in the world at last.

(Whoever would have thought open heart surgery would grow ANYONE up)?

With Love for Self, at last,

Your Future You

❤️

 

 

 

 

 

 

CONSCIOUSNESS

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You know, of course, that I woke up (I am, after all, writing to tell you this story). Despite my expressed request to have my EndoTracheal Tube removed before I opened my eyes, it WAS still in my throat. My first thought was, “Okay, when was I ever listened to”, but, nearly simultaneously, someone must’ve seen my eyes flutter. A flurry of activity began while I, with (thankfully) prior training as a singer, focused on both breathing deep and slow, and concentrating on opening, widening my throat. Realizing there was daylight coming from a source to my left, I smiled as broadly as I could…

…I’d been right about one thing, for sure: Instead of waking up a few hours after surgery, I’d had a turbulent time, recovering from the anesthesia, and so, here I was, clearly the NEXT day, rebirthing into the world.

I heard a voice acknowledge my dimpled grin; moments later, out came the tube. I remember thinking it looked like an opaque, corrugated drinking straw, not nearly as wide and bulky as I’d feared. After it was removed, I was offered a tiny sip of water, then urged to say SOMETHING, to talk, if I possibly could.

I closed my eyes, smiled with, this time, my lips completely but gently together. After what seemed like an uncharacteristic eternity to me, I finally uttered,

“Oh my, I wish I had something more profound to say”.

That moment redefined Consciousness for me. We so take for granted the syllabic flurry we utter, rapid-fire, at times. I wonder if, truly, we all aren’t ACTUALLY TERRIFIED of REALLY BEING HEARD?

I didn’t need to say much more; I wasn’t out of danger yet. My heart was in a state commonly referred to as “A-Fib” aka Atrial Fibrillation, where the heart beats fast and irregularly. With an external, temporary pacemaker attached, I didn’t question I was safe; but I DID have a job to do. I needed to keep as calm as I could, use every self-soothing technique I could access, in order to calm my heart down, so it could heal from IT’S TRAUMA, and both it and I could get used to the Bovine valve now in me…

I called her “Elsie”, after the cow on the label of Borden Milk cartons distributed in public schools when I was a child. Within 24 hours, I believe, I managed to retrieve my IPad from Security, and even post on social media that, perhaps, friends should call me “Elsie” too.

I asked for one other comfort item that, 10 months later, is never far from me still: A red velour blanket, bought for a mere $9.99 at my local grocery store. It felt soft yet light, when nothing else would, and remains so beautiful, I still can’t get enough of it.

Everything became important those days in the hospital. Emotionally not YET awake or aware, sensual stimuli sustained my basic functioning, especially as the AFib continued. Inside me, it simply felt like mania or being hyped up on caffeine, hence I didn’t realize the danger I was in. Finally, a frustrated nurse restricted me to my room, stopping me from wandering the halls, telling me my heart rate was over 220 beats per minute.

THAT logically registered with me, to the point that, when the Cardiothoracic surgeon came to check on me, I begged him to apologize to my nurse. Thankfully, he laughed it off, telling me he’d explained to the staff that I was fighting for my life.

That remark eased my combativeness; I was alive, and my body was surviving even my own curmudgeonliness. This, I thought, was a very good sign; as a result, AFib ended three days after surgery, and I was moved to a StepDown Unit, and allowed visitors.

Born on Valentines’ Day, I actually ABHOR bouquets of flowers; knowing this, I asked online friends to send books and DVDs instead. Local, longtime friend Diane had agreed to fetch packages and other mail from my post office box, but, timing being what it is, found herself facing a personal emotional roller coaster. With my emotions still missing, I didn’t understand why I hadn’t heard from her, quickly after surgery; when I finally felt a pang of anger and frustration, I learned her brother had died of cancer. Despite longtime mentor Vicki bringing me a fancy teapot and cup and Stephanie, a stuffed animal to cuddle, I really didn’t wake up emotionally until Diane finally arrived. In the two or three months prior, she’d gone from having double knee replacement surgery AND her first grandchild, to losing a sibling she treasured. Empathy overwhelmed me, words failed me…

My body couldn’t handle it, and my emotions shut down again. Later, I would discover this flatness was the reason I lost Bonnie, the Buddhist gal who’d taken me to my surgery. A body can handle only so much, and I’ve no doubt the onslaught of a myriad of emotions was too much for mine to handle, in the initial weeks.

As I write this, it’s 10 months later; Bonnie disconnected sometime within the first two weeks of my Post-Operative recovery. Diane has tried to comfort me, telling me I honestly sailed through it all, very well.

There would be other losses to come; I tried, determined ahead of time to regard them as Prunings. I knew much of Life as I knew it before my valve was replaced would not serve a healthy life, going forward.

A cut is a cut, though, and, like injections, they’re meant to do us good, yet hurt. I would like not to cry, grieve them, but I do still at times, and ache, remember them still.

ALONE

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There are parts to even the happiest, funniest of stories that are always hard to tell; THIS, this is that place in Time, for me. I find Dark days, Lost in the Abyss much more intimate than sex will ever be, and yet, so powerful, because no one can wholly know the Truth but the person who’s endured it. This, blessedly, seems to limit the accusations of Lying, and so, Credibility gets relatively minimal ruffling.

I won’t cite the tomes, the websites, the survivors of open heart surgery that admonished me not to go through it alone. Overwhelmingly, Cardiac literature cites Depression following open heart surgery as commonplace, so questioning a patient about their support system to determine its’ adequacy is routine…

but what IS an “adequate” support system expected to provide, accomplish? I thought Robin Williams, a fellow Alcoholic in recovery certainly had one, yet here I was, about to set a surgery date, and Robin Williams COMMITS SUICIDE five years after His Aortic Valve Replacement, with a loving wife, three devoted children, a thriving career and economic stability too.

Literature gave me the impression that, with a devoted, trustworthy group of people in my life supporting me, I might experience Depression, but nowhere near the severity that would have me contemplating suicide…

ROBIN HAD THAT, and five years after his surgery, HE KILLED HIMSELF. Literature: Idealistic blow it up my ass rhetoric! OTHER PEOPLE WERE NOT going to save me from THE ONLY THING more likely to kill me than the heart surgery.

Upon Robins’ death in August 2014, I knew I WASN’T afraid of surgery, I was TERRIFIED of Life After.

Feeling sure my family and friends inevitably couldn’t stop Suicide or Self-Harm once I’d lived through surgery, I turned to my mental health psychotherapist of nearly five years. Requesting a psychiatric consultation (which my heart surgeon did on a prescription pad), I was first told that my county agency wouldn’t prioritize my seeing a psychiatrist for short term, situational anxiety that they expected would resolve itself after I’d awakened and realized I’d lived. Knowing the depth of Depression rarely sank in until patients were finally home and alone, I protested the perception that this was a SHORT-TERM problem; I was then told that, frankly, I was considered too verbally aggressive and that no one was willing to work with me. Clearly, I idealistically had expected my mental health professional to understand this was a life threatening condition and, therefore VERY Time-Sensitive. In short order, I was dismissed with the reminder that COGNITIVE, NOT CARDIAC Functioning was within their purview.

I would have no help from my mental health agency then, leaving a CARDIAC Specialist to eventually determine if a Psychiatric Consult was needed. If so, I was likely to experience (and did) further Isolation due to the lack of any history new assessors would have with me.

I approached surgery, more alone than I’ve ever been in my life. Seeking to let go of the intense attachment to all the hurt I felt, I turned to a Mahayana Buddhist Sangha, and tried for six months prior to my surgery, to come to a place of Peace and Integration with the Silence, ultimately in hopes of no longer finding it to be a Void.

My Father and other siblings had long angrily disowned me; my Mother, an Agoraphobic terrified of hospitals and death itself simply forsook me. While my Beloved Uncle -a highly respected figure in American Kennel Club circles- would oversee a dog and check on my apartment, a majority of alcoholics in 12 Step groups suggested I was better suited to Alanon, but offered to visit, care for my mail, and watch for signs of addiction to pain medications only they might discern. Online friends known via social media sites asked what they could do; knowing my thoughts tended to be cynical and most torturous late at night, I suggested they send comedic movies and other uplifting things, timing their arrival just prior to or right after surgery itself.

The date set, I had a handful of people in my life, volunteering to take care of all these things, and a Buddhist Hospice Worker to take me to the hospital; my Inner Self had withdrawn, however, so deeply I felt no connection to any of them. Perhaps I was afraid of Caring, of using them as a reason to live…

December 17th came; I snapped at my Buddhist mentor when she arrived to drive me to the hospital. Once there, a male alcoholic (sober around 30 years) had shown up, for reasons I never understood. The night before, I’d taken my Mother three yellow roses (one each, for my two daughters -the only biological grandchildren- and one for me), tried not to sleep in hopes of hastening the effects of anesthesia, instead praying outside at times, underneath the stars.

I remember the operating room, asking if anyone was sober like me. Through a surgical face mask I discerned a dimpled smile…

They took my hand and whispered the Serenity Prayer in my ear as I sank into What Was to Be.

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(NOTE:  The Hummingbird tattoo was placed on my chest, six months after surviving Aortic Valve Replacement Surgery.  It’s in remembrance of Robin Williams, who had the same surgery, and later committed suicide.  Hummingbirds represent Healing and Renewal;  this ones’ beak points to my surgery scar.)

I know…I KNOW;  it’s taken me EIGHT MONTHS to tell you I’m alive, and how surgery went, how I am now. The fact is, these have been the Holiest days of my life, and I still don’t know if all I want to share about what has transpired will be of matter to anyone else.

I’m going to save some things for individual essays; they deserve that reverence.  What follows is, however, probably the longest essay here, and yet, what I’ve been writing to tell you, these intervening months.

A sacrificial bovine gave me, on December 17 2014, her life, for mine.  A piece of her (I think they use female hearts) now helps my own beat so strong, We are peaceful, together.  Not one to tolerate sitting still very long, I barely remember my hospital stay of seven days;  a local nursing home with an Inpatient Rehabilitation Program took me in on Day Eight.  Upon my orientation, I was given a gift:  As long as doing so didn’t interfere with my programmed activities, I could leave with someone for almost ANY activity that wouldn’t hurt me, for potentially several idyllic hours on end.

YUP, Absolutely:  A Then-Protective Friend took me to an addictions recovery meeting, only Nine Days after surgery. While meeting attendees recently told me I looked scarily awful that night, they understood I had to focus outward, to heal.

Truly, everything in my life has changed, since then.  While most open heart surgery patients struggle with Depression (especially the first two years Post-Op), it took me a miraculously short six weeks for me to begin to release it.  

Yes…RELEASE.  Blessedly, the story of another womans’ suicide upon failing to follow the treatment modalities offered to her sent me seeking help for finding Balance in my life.  I stopped telling everyone my life had not been worth saving;  I made a conscious choice to stop breathing Negatives into my life and the world, and allowed myself to wait a bit in Quiet, until my sight could see and speak Positives.

I used to always say that any and all extremes are bad;  that one story of suicide got me to look at Power and Energy, where I think it is, and where I put mine.  Writer Ianyla VanZant wrote, “When you see Crazy comin, cross the street”, and I heed that now.  Oddly, I’ve found there are few intense, high drama people in my life still (oooh, and I think they’re worse than I ever was, lol), but I no longer rush to respond to the triggers they bait me with.  Today, it’s all about Choice….(and I laugh at myself about mine, a LOT more than I ever expected).

Choice also, I now know, goes for Pain and Woundedness;  as I get healthy, this is my primary source of challenge.  Back in 2008, an ugly, scary incident occurred, precipitated by, in part, a bad case of Bronchitis for me and my Exes’ determination to have a weekend rendevous with his current love interest.  I’ve not seen my daughters since then.  They are now 18 and 19; as they’ve always been very Willfully Independent, our estrangement is my Great Sadness.  My struggles over the Insanity of this is as close to Hopeless and Heartbroken as I ever hope to come.

Spring, though, refocused me on Cardiac Rehabilitation;  I thought of my athletic daughters (one, once a long distance runner, the other, an ice skater) and have found Inspiration.  With every step on treadmills, every movement in Water Aerobics, I imagine them ahead of me, and swear to catch up.

My scar is barely visible, and only inclement weather has, from time to time, stymied my efforts to divest myself of a seeming ton of things I never needed or used.  As of this writing, I even get to look for work;  a Must, since I remain economically impoverished.  Fortunately, friends have totally shocked me with gifts that have equipped me to reach this day;  I now have a very quiet washer and dryer, and my car has been fixed so well, I needn’t worry about it dying in any remote place.

I DO, by the way, struggle but try to prioritize Fun;  For Mothers’ Day, I recieved my first electric guitar, and I’m planning a Self-Published, Advance Orders Only Nature Photography Calendar for 2016.  If you check my poetry and photography website (http://qtracregal.com), you’ll see I’m back at both of those two pursuits, as well.

In my quiet walks late at night and early in the mornings, I DO wish I could have hugged Her, you know;  the cow that has me here with you now.  I guess I have to be content with having her hug ME from inside;  it feels nice, we’ve turned out to be a good fit.

Cows…I like them…and MYSELF, at last.  Almost every day, with few exceptions, I find the courage to leap over Fear, know I am Beautiful in my own way, and give thanks for my Saving.

DETOURS

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It’s been six months, since I dared write;  who puts off, after all, allegedly lifesaving surgery as I have? Robin Williams was a heart valve replacement survivor as well as one who struggled with Depression as I do;  during these intervening months, he committed suicide, as I tried 13 times, prior to finding myself finally pregnant at age 35.

I now DO have a surgery date set;  it’s coming up, just before Christmas.  My heart has proven resilient in my many detours this year, and thankfully granted me Patience and Tolerance and hung in there, as I searched for a reason to love myself and my Life.

Since my diagnosis in November 2013, three used cars have passed through my hands.  (Not) living on about $775.00 in total via a Social Security and a Supplemental Benefits check makes it hard to afford upkeep, let alone, gas.  Of course, I did what every Impoverished person here does in America, in such circumstances:  I bought a few lottery tickets a week, entered contests for everything from furniture to dream houses and vacations.  Clearly, from the photograph, you can see I never won such things, but it’s what I did and it only took a second at a time.

By Spring, I was, at last, gratefully chatting up a British retiree living in France;  previously written of elsewhere in this blogsite, he bought me a ticket and, a week after the celebratory memorializing of the Invasion of Normandy, I was QUITE THERE.  I love to fly, and of all the times I’ve done it, of course it was this trip, when my luggage was finally lost…

I found the tiny towns in Northern France to be the most idyllic of places I’ve ever been, and yet, the Brit seemed to have no interest in pleasing my more mature sexual hungers.  It was a clue I missed for a long time after;  I too late realized I wanted to feel gorgeous and sexy for at least 2 hours prior to having a full sternal cut that would traumatize any man wanting to fully devour my breasts once I survived surgery.

Peter and I wanted, in essence, the same things:  Someone to Love and attend TO US, and we, not be the Givers.  A bad, sad match, where Empathy eventually and quiveringly revealed itself to NOT be Love at all.  

I ended the engagement quietly, without assaulting his character (as so many women here in America tend to do).  I sought solace, next, in another geographic place I’d never been before, though oddly close to my hometown, and nearly in sight of the hospital I will be operated in….

a Tibetan Buddhist Sangha.

I swear, these 3 or more months there have gotten me to set my surgery date;  I’ve given up the notion that I ever need to seriously even toy with the notion of suicide again, since everything is Impermanent anyway and, well, if I couldn’t kill myself with my Genius IQ in 13 tries, I may as well go naturally.  I’ve come to meet at least one other female heart surgery patient, as stubborn as I but she’s had the romantic love I seek from a man and understands my clinging to the notion…

Bonnie, Gosh bless her, was especially generous, however, when she didn’t think twice about finding a new dog to replace my hiking partner Chaucer. One awful night, he bit me, piercing my foot clear through in nearly 5 places, totally unprovoked, and my own nurse sister – who lives closer than a dispatchable emergency squad – refused to help.  Cars come and go, siblings often fight competitively all their lives; a dog suddenly gone bad is devastating, and Bonnie, however short a time she’s known me, knew and responded heroically, before I could get over the shock of what happened.

I have come to learn who my allies are…and that, be it France or Nova Scotia, Ohio or Jackson Hole Wyoming (or, of course, anywhere else – you know who you are, my Angel Darlings), there are poets and people who want me to live, will carry my spirit in THEIR hearts as I lay in a hospital, accepting into me, a part of a cow that will grant me a few first years of truly loving life.

My detours have given me, you see, a REASON to have surgeryand all are better poetry than I shall ever write.

DAILIES

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I – perhaps like others – find myself easily distracted by fluctuations in every day life. From fuel prices to food cravings, variations can derail almost any commitment I make on a given day. Going to bed disappointed with myself leads to restless sleep and irritability; too many days like this, and my overall health, relationships, budget AND spirituality can ALL suffer.

While the ORDER of my priorities OFTEN shifts, I CAN usually get to ALL SIX areas I need to address, for a competent day.

Here are MY Basic Dailies, and written reminders of what I need to minimally do every 24 hours, to stabilize them.

DAILIES

1. PHYSICAL
This is broken into four areas I need to take care of:

A. Sleep
(I turn ringers, TVs, computers off just to fit a block of 6hrs min & 2hrs more elsewhere in my day).
B. Exercise
(I walk my dogs 4x a day 1/4mi each time; if I can’t get that in, 3 trips to the trash dumpster get strength building in. In addition, I do 1/2hr min of Yoga or Tai Chi & in before communicating with the outside world).
C. Food
(Everyone has to figure out what healthy eating looks like to them; please consult a medical expert, before taking on ANY diet, to determine your specific nutritional needs).
D. Hygiene
1. Shower/Bathe
2. Clean teeth

2. INTELLECTUAL
Science is showing that an active, stimulated mind reduces chances of early onset dementia and other forms of aging; I’m working on learning French again, & I seek out new music and comedy online every day. In addition, new recipes arrive via newsletters and I consult online videos for crochet and stringed instrument playing techniques. All exercise my brain, boost my self-esteem and satisfy my curiosity with very little cost.

3. SOCIAL
My head REALLY IS the MOST DANGEROUS neighborhood I linger in, and I do so WAY TOO MUCH! To get out and away from my stale stinky thinking, I do EVERYTHING I can, to spend five minutes daily face to face and away from my residence, talking with someone who’s first name I’ll remember later! This exercise REALLY DOESN’T demand a lot of traveling; be I hospitalized or restricted by transportation issues, I can find a neighbor, mail man or other stranger to just say hello and chat with. This forces me to work on my shyness, give ANOTHER person attention and perhaps even reach my Intellectual goal for the day. Because I generally need to change clothes and wash a bit, this also gives me reasons to do those things. Every now and then I make a friend too!

4. ECONOMICS
Money is ALWAYS a problem, isn’t it? Keeping an eye on it, being responsible with it can be demoralizing and depressing, but it still needs to be done. I break my attention to it down like this:

A. Do I have ENOUGH BASICS today: Food, electricity, heat/air conditioning, car fuel, medications, clothing?

ASSESS, then

B. Figure out what needs to be done to fix the deficits (if you have no answers, can’t resolve critical needs after a 1/2hr alone, reach out for help)

5. BAGGAGE
If you DONT make progress, eliminate some of THIS daily, you run the risk of it stopping you later on, when it becomes a crisis.

Ask yourself: What of my Past can I get rid of today and NEVER let back in AGAIN?
Keep in mind that giving your old clothes to someone else can junk THEIR lives up, and charities throw away WELL OVER 50% of most clothes and books donated to them. TRASH BAGS ARE GOOD stop avoiding them. REDUCING ANYTHING ONLINE does NOT fulfill this; Cuddle up, make trash bags & dumpsters your new best friends!

6. SPIRITUAL
Call yourself an Atheist all you want, but it’s rare for a functional human to NOT have Faith in SOMETHING. Skip the scripture reading, meditating, mantra-reciting and cacophanous singing off key…
DISCOVER, identify, then spend a minimum of 10 minutes with something Humans could NOT POSSIBLY have created. Be it marveling at the whorls on your fingers and toes or a torrential rain, you’ll find something OUTSIDE of yourself that doesn’t talk bad about you, ask you to give it money or food (or anything else you’re struggling with) or ask you to dress, act or speak any certain way.

LIFE REALLY IS Beautiful; taking care of the first five on this list brings you to a miraculous, loving reward (via #6) that no currency can buy and no other person can take way.

Once every 24 hours; simple ways to move beyond coping to being satisfied with Oneself and Ones’ Day.

 

 c2014 GC Cameron
All Rights Reserved

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