Having my chest cut open and my sternum broken was not on my Christmas list for this year. Until last week I didn’t even know there was anything wrong with my heart, (severe mitral valve regurgitation) so I’m still trying to come to terms with this. I find myself walking laps around my hospital floor–looking at life passing on the ground far below: the people passing on the sidewalk; the medics racing to the heliport; the army of construction workers springing up 12 floors of scaffolding–and wondering when, and how, I turned into the old man shuffling along the hallway in a hospital gown? Wasn’t I still in my twenties about a year or two ago? In reality, I’ve got a lot of miles on me and I’ve had cancer twice and now open-heart surgery. I would not even look at me on the used car lot of life.
I haven’t really been able to put together a coherent series of thoughts over the past week, and this blog will likely make that painfully obvious. But because I tend to process my life through writing, I thought this might help: a few rambling non sequiturs collected from seven days of staring up a hospital ceiling.
- I am so deeply grateful for the many thoughtful ways that family and friends have reached out to me during this experience. It makes me vow to pay it forward if any of you face crises in the future. The day it all started last week–when I was having chest pains and feeling lightheaded at school–Janyce running down to Subway to get me a big Diet Coke because she knows it is my comfort food. My nephew, Darton, appearing in my doorway at Strong Memorial, giving up his lunch hour to come and sit with me. Pastor Wes finding out almost immediately and calling to pray with me. Aunt Kathie rescuing me in so, so many ways, including stopping to pick up Tillie and take her home with her as well as driving on a snowy morning to Rochester to pick me up. Olga and Samantha jumping into the car, with no thought of their own crazy schedules, to drive 24 hours in two days to bring me to Virginia, where they were also signing up to spend the next seven weeks caring for me….
- Even though my dad has been gone for 15 years now, I still really, really want to be able to talk this over with him…
- One bright spot in the midst of this dreadful week: One of the doctors exclaiming that my mitral valve murmur was SO distinct and SO loud that it would be a perfect one for student doctors to listen to and learn to recognize the sound. And….wait for it, he said “plus you are so young and fit and lean that it makes it really easy for them to find it!” (Uh, could I have that inscribed on a trophy please?) A whole class of students came into my room and–four stethoscopes at a time–listened all over my chest. I felt like an episode of Scrubs! The doctor apologized for making me a spectacle but I said “I’m happy to do it because my niece and her husband are young doctors.”
- When I have faced previous crises in my life, I’ve always been blanketed by prayer by my saintly Aunt Barbara; I always think of her as God’s best friend, at least since King David. When I had skin cancer in 1994, she prayed and asked God to take her instead of me. So I am feeling her absence keenly on this latest trial. But then I felt like a vision came to me. I realized that it is even better now: Aunt Barbara is right there at the throne of God. I could so easily see her sitting at the feet of Jesus, pleading my case.
- When we got down here on Sunday night and Olga and I spent six hours in the lobby waiting to be seen, I was having serious doubts about having gotten out of line back at Strong where everyone seemed so concerned and helpful and expert. I had lots of time to lie around second guessing my decision. I prayed and asked God to give me some kind of a sign to help me know I was in the right place, in particular, I wanted to feel like I had found the best possible surgeon. I quickly came to realize that I’d landed at a really premiere hospital with a wonderful staff. (Thanks for pushing it, Olga!) When I finally met my guy (cardio surgeon) on Tuesday afternoon, it became abundantly clear to me that God had answered my prayers and/or was sick of listening to Aunt Barbara. My doctor is a big deal in his field, after talking to me he was leaving for a conference in NY about mitral valve problems. One of the nurses told me he’s like a real-life Doogie Howser – young and brilliant (don’t worry, he’s 40ish now.) And he’s a western Pennsylvanian! When he was leaving that day HE (not me) said, “It seems like we were meant to meet.”
I know the days, weeks, and months ahead are not going to be easy, and I don’t know what they hold, but–from where I’m sitting on this long weekend before my surgery–I’m feeling well cared-and provided-for by family, friends, and God Himself. See you on the other side. My neighbor likes to say, “every day I wake up still on this side of the grass is a good day.” Hopefully I have lots of years left on this side of the grass to annoy you on facebook, blogging, and in person. Tim out.