I left my heart in Norfolk, Virginia

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.  

Published by timnichols

First and foremost, I’m a dad. After that, by day I am a professor of Education at Alfred University, by night I'm a dog lover, a cancer survivor, and a daydreamer. Here are some thoughts and lessons learned from my journey…

17 thoughts on “I left my heart in Norfolk, Virginia

  1. Oh my dear Tim… you are so eloquent and thought-full…I am at work and fighting back tears (and not doing so well on that…). I’m so upset for you that you have to go through this but am so grateful to you for posting your thoughts and reflections on your experiences. Your faith is astounding and comforting. I’m so glad that you and your surgeon have found each other and that he is such a person that would not only feel that connection but also verbalize it. My words don’t adequately express the depth of what I’m feeling but know that you remain in my heart and in my prayers. Your connection to God, your faith and to all your supporters – near and far – will help you through this. Thank you for the updates and know that you are so very loved. Love to you, my dear friend. XO Mrs. Claus

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We love you Timmy and are praying for you. I emailed Aunt Jan last night and let her know she’s praying for you also and sends her love.


  3. Tim ~

    I’m so glad and thankful you’ve come through this well. I was initiated into my own sternum cracking adventure 2 years back. You have my empathy.

    James Bailey

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Reading this & continuing to pray as we’re half a world away! I know that God carries us each in the palm of His hand, no matter where we are, & am confident that He has great plans for you as you go through this phase & continue on to “pay it forward”!! So from the bush of Africa you have our love & prayers. Laurie & Rick

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I’m so glad you’re there with Olga and Samantha and a great Dr. Too. On top of an aunt whose Jesus’ best friend you’re set. By the way, I’m pulling for you too, sweet friend!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sending love to you and your family and prayers for you and your doctor. ancyThank you for sharing your journey with us here on FB. You are a treasure to each of us!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Dear Tim,
    I just read your shocking story, which was so beautifully written, to Chuck. Thank you for sharing and we are praying for you and your family.
    Claity Massey

    Liked by 1 person

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