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January 2009

Role Reversal

She was back in a hospital again.  It is funny, she had to laugh.  Some people probably never so much as look at the inside of a hospital.  Where as others spend everyday within its walls.  She grew up having lunch with her grandfather - a doctor - in a hospital.  She remembered sitting in his office and unwrapping the Twinkies as they talked about things that a young child of 6 or 7 might talk about.  So they did not scare her, but instead held a fascination.  The monitors, charts, sounds, and solutions to problems that people have not yet heard about - all in a hospital.


And yesterday she was in one again.  Although this time, it was not because her own health, but that of a loved one.  The loved one who has taken care of her since she can remember.  And there she was, unable to really help the one who always helps her.  It was a sudden role reversal.  She was used to being a patient, and being taken care of, and that is not to say that she could not or did not want to take care of her loved one.  Oh she did - more than anything she wanted to fix it and make it all better.  She wanted to click her heels together 3 times and make everything normal.  She hated seeing her loved one lying in the bed - so seemingly fragile.  See, and then it would be like it never happened.  She held her loved one's hand and they laughed at silly stories, and discussed past and present events.  They both knew that it would be alright, but she wished that it would be alright straight away.

But life does not work that way.  No, she learned that it does not always give you what you want.  On the other hand, she has also learned that it never gives you more than you can handle.  

Happy, and healthy New Year.

Learning to be well

I never thought that I would be one of those people who worries about the little aches and pains that I have.  For the most part, I like them since they follow a hard workout and indicate to me that my muscles have done something new.  However anytime they happen to be in the chest or upper back, nervousness and fear begins to set in.  The "what ifs" fill my mind to no end.  Part of me wonders if the other symptoms that come with the pain are just part of my imagination - brought on by fear.  Perhaps.  It could all be anxiety driven.  What happened to me is in the past, and the doctors made me well.  However that does not take away the fact that I am terrified it will happen again - that I will wake up unable to talk because of a blood clot or find out that the closed hole in my heart was not actually the cause for my stroke.  Time, I suppose, is the only thing that can help me to learn to be well again.


On Waking Up: December 12, 2006

I remember waking up.  It was hazy, and while there were people there, and I could hear their voice, I do not clearly remember their faces.  The monitors were to my left and the door to my right.  The door stayed open since it was on the ICU floor.  From time to time the window to the outside would come into view, and the dark December afternoon was reflected back to me.  I was safe inside.  But the sounds, the noise, and the sensations were overwhelming.  A man was leaning over me instructing me not to talk.  I was intubated, and he told me it would be impossible to talk. Don't bother he said.  I could not move my arms.  My wrists hurt.  Were they supposed to hurt after heart surgery?  Why did they hurt, why couldn't I lift my arms?  They were strapped down to the bed.  Tied down, so that I would not wake up in a panic.  Well, being tied down and intubated - that was causing a slow and deep panic to set in.  The man told me not to fight it when he pulled the tube out from down my throat.  It will not hurt, he said.  It will be fast.  I gagged and choked as it came up from my insides.  Things faded away...

My mother finally helped to untied my wrists.  I looked down.  Not my wrists.  They were bloated with all of the fluid in my body.  I tried to bend my fingers, but it hurt.  More pain.

One of my friends told me that my father was coming in to say goodbye.  He had to get on a flight that night. She picked up a washcloth and started to wipe the blood away from my mouth so that my father would not be more frightened.  I do not remember him coming in to say goodbye.  They day went on like that.  Time did not matter.  I watched the afternoon sun turn into evening as I drifted in and out of consciousness.  On several occasions, one of the nurses would come by my side and tell me that I needed to breath, that I was not breathing enough.  Every breath took all of my energy.  My entire torso felt as if a sledge hammer had been driven through it, and breathing took too much effort.  My pulse was too low, she said.  And handed me a device to practice my inhaling.  No... it hurt.  Knives in my chest, my throat, and side where the chest tube was inserted to drain the fluid so that it would not build up in my lungs.


The pain medicine only lasted so long, and when it wore off, they put me on a morphine drip.  No, she cannot take morphine, my mother told them.  It does nothing for her pain.  She was right, and so was I when I watched the nurse write this detail on my chart only the day before.  The morphine made my sleepy, things became hazy, and the pain in my chest more intense.  It felt like one of those chefs from the Ginzu knife commercials testing out his products on my insides.  I drifted again, and in and out.  And heard a lot of commotion about making sure that they could find pain medicine.  I tried to call out to someone, anyone.  It hurts, I whispered in a voice that I do not think anyone could hear.  It hurts...  I tried again.  Later, much later they found it.  The new medicine.  Better, and it took the pain away.  The drip went into my IV.  I drifted out again...

That was the day I had my heart surgery. 

Thanking my heart...

Two years.  Two years ago I experienced a fear like nothing before.  I gave my heart to a group of talented surgeons and nurses and they closed it.  They closed my heart.  The hole in my heart was sewn shut.   The day - December 12, 2006 - is still very clear in my mind.  The fear of slipping away from it all still comes back to me from  time to time.  Luckily the nightmares that I experienced before the heart surgery are fewer and farther in between, and the sleepless night are less frequent.  But that day, that day is still a clear memory, and no where near a distant one.

While the surgeon might have closed my heart, there are people in my life who keep it open.  They surround me with their love every day.  They call me on the phone to say hello, and they meet me at home at the end of a long day at work when I have nothing left in me.  There are too many people in my life to thank over the past two years.  There is not enough space to say everything that I want to say - to those people who have stood by my side - even on those days when I could not stand.  But I do need to mention by name HHH.  Not only did he stand by my side on those days when I had no strength or energy to stand, but he stayed there and lay by my side on those lonely night in the hospital, on those night when I was not sure if there was going to be a morning.  This is a thank you.  A thank you for the past two years.  A thank you to my heart for beating, and staying closed, and more than anything, oh so much more, a thank you to Hector for just being.


Hearts and women

She read the New York Times articles once, twice, and then started doing searches on the web for more information.  The headline caught her attention more than anything "Severe Heart Attacks Deadlier for Women..."  Not that this really surprised her.  Throughout her ordeal, she was treated differently with some of the doctors.  They treated her like any patient instead of treating her like a young woman.  Some of the doctors did not take into account her lifestyle, her gender, and what she might want for her future.  No, instead they took the stroke and the hole in her heart and treated her the same way that they might treat a patient 50 years her senior.

Maybe that is why she does it... why she walks each year with the American Heart Association.  Why she fights so hard against information that does not seem correct, and why it is so important for her to get the word out to other people.  Yes, that is probably why she does it all.  She cannot stop.  She considers herself lucky - even though she had to fight.Heart


Anniversary for my heart

I am celebrating my heart.  It is coming close to the 2 yr anniversary of my heart surgery.  I am filled with mixed emotions as December 12 comes closer.  Two years ago I ran around frantically trying to get everything done possible in preparation for the surgery.  Now the day comes - and goes - and I am still here.  But this time of year holds a special kind of meaning for me.  It is a time to celebrate, yes, but it is also a time for contemplation about what was and thankfully, was is.


More and more I hear stories about people who did not receive the level of care that I received following my stroke and heart surgery.  I am in awe that this could be the case.  How could these individuals be let down?  How could their families be let down?  While heart disease is the nations number one killer and stroke number three, efforts are still not good enough to bring these numbers down.  The word stroke has an entirely new meaning to me after having had one, however part of me remains in denial.  It seems like an out of body experience when I think back to what occurred to years ago.  Now I am healthier than before; the hole I never knew existed in my heart is closed.  Sewn shut, and to date I have been symptom free.  I am still able to run and teach five fitness classes a week, do 100 push ups and jump rope for 10 minutes straight (much harder than it sounds!).  

But all of these does not put aside my fears, and I still hold on tightly to Hector when the fears start to creep into my mind.  I hold tighter and tighter and try to shut my eyes so that they will start to go away.  Up until my stroke I was also symptom free.  I had no known symptoms related to the hold in my heart until my stroke.  I taught aerobics classes for 16 yrs, I went SCUBA diving, I climbed mountains and skied back down them.  How could I have suffered a stroke?  This question still enters my mind, and the fear of another stroke is ever present especially when a headache is accompanied by a sense of nausea.  I am not sure that sense of fear ever leaves.  I think that it stays in the mind, perhaps sometimes buried by old memories and layers of new memories.  But it is still there.  I do not think that the fears will ever all go away.  They will always be there.  Perhaps as the years go own, newer and happier memories will start to cover the fear.  These new memories will cloud over the fear and make it hazy; but it will still me there and there will be those mornings when the haze lifts and it is as if it all happened yesterday, and the sights, smells, and feelings come rushing back over me like a wave pulling me down to the bottom of the ocean floor.  But now I can swim to the top.  There is light at the top and I can see it, even when the haze is there.  And because of this, and the difficult decisions that I had to make to bring me here, I celebrate my heart and the people who fill it with love.

An untraditional Thanksgiving

It all started with an idea, so very long ago...  Celebrate Thanksgiving in different places all over and truly appreciate what it is that she has.  So two years ago the Queen and her King decided to go to Montreal.  They wanted to be together and pretend like everything was fine, no talk of the "what ifs" just two weeks before the heart surgery.  They walked down the old street and past the brick walls at nightDSC_0009
in the mornings they would make the obligatory stops at the local bakeries...DSC_0005
and that is how they spent that Thanksgiving.

This year, they decided to escape again, to another city filled with lights and food and everything in between.DSC_0779 The trip would not have been a Thanksgiving trip without the full dinner on the table with the delights found at Jacques Torres' shop on Hudson,DSC_0774 and it became even better with a few trips to local specialty shopsDSC_0781 and then the day after lunch at OttoDSC_0785
 while it might not have consisted of the family gathering around the table, the King and Queen could not have enjoyed their petit sejour any more than they did!