It has now been a while since my open heart surgery, and it feels as if the time has come to talk about it. Olivia said to me the other day, ‘Mom, do you get tired of answering people when they ask you how you are doing?’ My answer was ‘no’~
It was a significant thing to go through and it touches me that so many people were and are still so genuinely concerned.
Heart surgery is not uncommon. Most of us can name people we know who have gone through some sort of procedure to address a heart condition.
I am now connected to these people.
No one, however, can really prepare you for the invasiveness of heart surgery, nor for the accompanying feelings of overwhelming vulnerability that accompany allowing your heart to be stopped, worked on,
and no one really likes to talks about that crippling underlying fear
that things could go wrong.
For the first several weeks after surgery it was all I could do just to find ways to process all of my feelings and accept the complex experience I had been through and begin to heal.
How grateful am I now though?
My heart is fixed thanks to the truly spectacular wonders that modern medicine and technology have gifted us. I feel energy and vitality building in me that I have not felt for years, perhaps even never felt.
Nor is it possible for me to feel and see the world in the same way after having had major surgery. Everything looks just a little different,
a little brighter, a little simpler, even lovelier than before.
There were, of course, magical moments that will never leave me – shining moments that really got me through and helped me feel and know for sure that everything would be ok –
Here are my top 10…
1) All the big love that came to me before surgery. Flowers, messages, prayers, cards, hugs….Friends and acquaintances offering up love and support and letting me know that they were thinking of me. Right up until I went to sleep the night before surgery, I was still receiving new messages and feeling virtually held up by everyone.
2) Great parking spots the day before surgery and the morning of, as trivial as that may sound. Others had complained to us about the mess of trying to find parking at the Foothills, but for us it was literally a snap. It seemed as though just as we would pull up right in front of the hospital, someone else would pull out with smiles and waves. It was absolutely seamless and helped me trust that in even in the most mundane of ways we were being looked after.
3) Having my kids with me – It felt really important that all three of my kids were nearby. I needed to feel them close, I needed them to be a part of all of it and understand what was happening rather than imagine the worst. I wanted them to see the preciousness of life that is more deeply understood when we come into close contact with trauma, sickness, recovery, and healing. My mother taught me to not shy away from these facts of life and I felt a responsibility to extend that important teaching to my own children. And so the kids were there at the hospital before, during, and after surgery…in the waiting room for hours and hours with their cousins while I was in surgery, on the hospital grounds running and playing under their Auntie’s supervision, on hunts for ice cream or treats with Glenna, and holding my hands during the days after as I started taking my little laps around the halls. Alex carefully watched over my vitals and supervised visits and messages from friends. George played numerous games of Battleship with Glenna between hesitant visits to my room when he would offer me quick kisses, and Olivia stayed close until everyone else except Dan had gone back home to Lethbridge. She helped me dress, checked my incisions, waited on me, meticulously mothered me.
4) An unexpected angel of reassurance -It’s difficult to describe the fear that I felt as my body was being prepared for surgery at 6am on the morning of April 8. Even the two Ativan that they gave me weren’t quite enough to completely calm me. However, after I was wheeled into the surgical suite on the stretcher, something happened that I will never forget….A doctor came up to me, whom I had never met, and told me he would be assisting in my operation.
He then told me that it was going to be great, and that if he was having open-heart surgery, this is precisely the team he would choose. We chatted for a bit longer, and then he left to carry on with his preparations. It is difficult to describe the power of that interaction, but the comfort that he gave to me extends even into this day.
5) Nurses – My grandmother had a distinguished and respected career as head nurse of surgery. Her and I were very close, and it was her that I thought of most often as I prepared for surgery. I imagined her watching over all of the medical details, and sending energies of competency, perfectionism, and love. Little did I think, though, about this deep professional care extending into the days afterwards, but it did,
as it manifested in the nurses who looked after me.
These women and men talked to me about what I was experiencing, watched my recovery with genuine concern, answered my questions, helped me move, sit, walk, bathe, covered me in warm blanket after warm blanket,
and showed me how to receive and be completely taken care of when I had no other choice.
6) Other patients – Cardiac patients are encouraged to get moving as soon as possible. It is very important to start working the heart again. So the halls circling around the cardiac rooms are continuously peppered by people in their hospital gowns shuffling slowly along, often with family members walking along beside them. There are chairs dispersed for rests and visits, and it can feel a little like a turtle marathon with much encouragement and smiles coming from other patients and their families.
‘Oh you are moving well, good for you!’
‘And what did you have done – bypass or valve work?’
‘How many days are you at now?’ (everyone remembers their surgery date like it’s their birthday)
It is a such beautiful and inspiring thing to witness,
how quickly and naturally communities form wherever we are. It seems to me that, generally, we are all out to support one another even when we are struggling and in pain ourselves. It is by far one of the most beautiful thing about human nature, this urge to form connections whatever our circumstances.
7) My beautiful chair– A few days before surgery Alex and Ry decided that my favorite chair should be moved from the living room to our back window. This is the great big, pillowy, floral print chair that Dan bought me for our first Christmas together. As soon as I saw my beloved chair tucked into the corner of our sunroom. I actually felt a little excited about my recovery as I imagined myself tucked deep inside of its cozy warmth, cup of tea and a pile of books by my side. Dan put a little antique wood table that had belonged to my grandmother at the chair’s side, and Olivia decorated the table with a little cup of flowers.
This was where I sat for a month,
receiving visitors, coordinating, watching Netflix, reading, drinking copious cups of tea, and watching Spring unfold.
7) Food – Before surgery, when people would ask me if there was anything they could do I would say, ‘Well, yes, you could bring us food.’ I knew for sure this was the one area where we would struggle. As you all know, it takes a tremendous amount of time and energy to shop for and feed a family and I am all about nourishing and healthy food, especially during times of stress and healing. Let me just say that we were very well fed, and I am convinced that food is always one of the very best ways to help. Thank you, thank you, and thank you to everyone who helped in this way.
9) Walks in the sunshine– As soon as I got home from Calgary my little walks around the cardiac unit transformed into walks up and down our street, on the arms of my husband. We walked and walked and walked, many times a day, willing my heart to gradually strengthen and heal. The weather during those first few days and weeks was absolutely perfect, warm, and regenerative. Often, we were stopped by neighbours offering up hugs and words of encouragement and I felt as deeply loved and cheered on by our friends as I did by my surroundings; by our street, by the houses, the trees, the sunshine, by all of it.
10) A shift from fear and waiting towards trusting and being. Even though I had great faith in my brilliant and well-respected surgeon, and deep hope for my future, open-heart surgery was an event I had been fearing for a long time.
We all have major, transformative events in our lives that shake us up; deaths of loved ones, health issues that catch us by surprise, ends of relationships, and so on. These sorts of events always have the power to drive us deeper into fear and or resentment, hold us hostage, make us distrustful of life, paralyze us –
They can make us more determined to find the light, the adventure, the play, the stillness, the ways to love, the reasons to celebrate, and the courage to take those brave leaps towards our dreams.
Once again I am restored and choose happiness.
Thank you, dear heart.