We went on our trip. There was nothing else to do. Finding out devastating news about the condition of my heart, at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon, didn’t leave us much time to get in with another doctor for additional tests and diagnosis. We knew we would need to make umpteen phone calls for referrals to see a cardiologist who could guide us through all the next necessary steps. During that Friday afternoon phone call, my doctor said his best referral could see me in six weeks!
We would come up with a game plan while we were enjoying a getaway in a beautiful place, learning something together. If I hadn’t died yet, what was one more week? And, if we stayed in Dallas, we would just be making the same phone calls we could make from anywhere.
We were enrolled in a wine tasting “boot camp” at the highly regarded Culinary Institute of America. Tasting wines from around the world. How bad could it be? The proper protocol when tasting wines is to taste a few sips, then to identify the various flavor profiles within each wine. After each tasting, you swish water to clear your mouth. You are provided with your own little bucket to spit in. Then, try the next wine. Truth be told, I didn’t swish. I didn’t spit. I swallowed all of it. Yep. 120 wines over a 4-day period. All of it. What the hell, right?
Our plan worked. On every break between tastings and meals, we were on the phone with everyone we knew, trying to find the best doctor for my next steps. We returned to Dallas, thanking God over and over for our friends. Because of them, and their networks of sources, I was able to get in the following week to determine what, exactly, needed to be done to “fix my heart”.
After all the additional tests and consultations, another month later, I was scheduled for surgery with a doctor who only operated on “healthy hearts”. His specialty was hearts with genetic defects, which was my case. Little did we know, until his nurse told us, MY SURGEON was world-renowned for creating the very implant he would be inserting into my heart. WOW.
Thank God, again.
His brilliance as an innovator and highly skilled surgeon did not extend to his conversational abilities. We spent a total of 15 mono-syllabic minutes in “personal consult” with him as he showed us films of my broken heart “in action”. I had had a procedure, under anesthesia, where I had to swallow a camera that took an actual video of my heart. The problem was clearly evident. When he turned on the screen to watch the video, he didn’t seem to notice my weaving, close to fainting. He was pointing to my problem, tapping on the video screen with his Bic pen. “There ‘ya go.” he said. Two more taps on this and that and he was out the door. Meeting adjourned. Surgery was scheduled for two days later.
Once home, that afternoon, the only thing I wanted was Mexican Food and Fudgsicles. Strange, the things we find ourselves craving when we are suddenly faced with our own mortality. Other than that, I was sure of only one thing.
I had to write my husband a long, deeply heart-felt love letter…… in case…I didn’t make it. I would place it in his favorite chair, when he wasn’t looking, just as we walked out the door, for the surgery. That way it would be waiting for him, whenever he came home with or without me.
My surgery was scheduled for “first thing on the docket” as the nurse told us. What a relief. The doctor would be “fresh”! We arrived before dawn as instructed. Our surgeon was affiliated with a large hospital devoted only to heart surgeries, so the lobby was already packed with patients and their somber families when we arrived.
Two hours went by. No one came for me. Another two. No word. And another two. No one knew anything about the delay. Just after lunchtime, a nurse we recognized from our doctor’s office, came out. We were just about to stand up when she walked right past us, asking another family to follow her. She ushered them to an area beyond the main lobby. The hospital chaplain was waiting in the doorway of a private glassed-in area. The plaque above the door read “FAMILY BEREAVEMENT”.
Fifteen minutes later the nurse appeared again. She was coming for me this time. By now, it was mid-afternoon. Clearly, the doctor had lost a patient just before me. I was suddenly so glad my husband’s love letter was waiting for him.
They let us stay together in the pre-op area, to wait some more. I had changed into a hospital gown and was resting on the gurney that would roll me into surgery when a man in green surgical scrubs and headgear came out to introduce himself. He was the anesthesiologist who would be working with my surgeon to make sure I was fully sedated, for the duration of the procedure. He asked if we had any questions. When I asked if he could tell us EXACTLY what the procedure would entail, his exasperation surprised us. At this point, all we had been told was that I would be having an implant inserted directly into my heart to correct corrosion of my mitral valve. Details had been sketchy to non-existent. So, this seemed like a reasonable ask.
“You really want to know?” He barked.
“Well, YES,” I squeaked.
“OK…here’s the deal. A 9-10 inch incision will be made from under your armpit to your waist. To access your heart, we will have to collapse one of your lungs, then totally drain your heart. You will be on a heart-lung machine for 6-9 hours while the surgeon does his thing. The whole process will take 13-15 hours. Then, you will be in recovery another 4-6 hours before being taken to a room. Every room in this hospital is considered Intensive Care. "Gotta go. I haven’t had lunch.”
With that, he joined my surgeon, who just happened to be walking around the corner at the same time. My surgeon acknowledged me with a half-wave over his shoulder as he rushed by. ”Off to lunch.” He monotoned.
My husband and I just stared at the ceiling. There were no words.
15 minutes later I was rolled away.
The surgery was a success, as you can probably tell!
What has been even more successful are all the POSITIVE, SURPRISING, LIFE-ALTERING lessons and blessings that have emerged as a result.
POSITIVE #1. My broken heart saved our marriage.
After all the months of hissing and spitting at one another and weekly “bouts” of counseling, when the reality of my heart condition suddenly surfaced, we became a team. Immediately. We grew up and got over ourselves and our petty grievances toward one another. We became the US that inspired us to get married in the first place. Going weekly for months of counseling could have never re-bonded us like this news did.
POSITIVE #2. Appreciating life, our loved ones, and our incredible friends…..and people in general, in so many more ways, on so many levels.
I also vowed to become a much better “appreciator” of life and people, in the moment. Now, I actively look for ways to acknowledge, not just my husband, but people everywhere. Looking for the positives in others and appreciating them in the moment, lights up life. Their lives and mine. 150watts. Whodda thunk? My broken heart was paving the way for the mission I am on today…to propel positivity in our relentlessly negative world.
POSITIVE #3. Creating a deeper trust in my own inner voice.
All those months before, when the doctor, seeing my distresses over my marriage, career and home under construction, gave me prescriptions for tranquilizers, anti-anxiety meds, sleeping pills, etc. I listened to my inner guidance system that day and left the building. Had I numbed myself with those meds, I am sure I would not be writing to you now.
POSITIVE #4. Developing a kinder, more gentle conversation with my very own self.
My “kinder” internal voice encouraged me to ask the doctor to do an extra heart stress test during my standard yearly physical. But my “blow torch” voice, the easy critic, was still sure I was “just out of shape.” I spent the entire previous summer berating myself almost every day for this “wiggly-heart-thing”. I like my kinder voice much better. We are becoming friends, although this self-critical area of my life continues to be a work in progress. Now, I am on alert to “tenderize” that voice when it surfaces.
POSITIVE #5. Experts don’t have to be friends.
The brilliant surgeon did not need to have a scintilla of bedside manner. Comfort and pithy conversation were someone else’s role. His one and only reason for being in my life was to save my life. Now, when I need help from an expert, I am clear about their role. They don’t need to be my friend too. I will value their focus on the issue at hand…we don’t have
to go to the prom.
THE MOST INDELIBLE REVELATION OF ALL…..
was realizing what my original doctor actually did FOR me. Not TO me. When he called to tell me about his mistake, he put his entire 30-year career and personal livelihood on the line….FOR ME. That overlooked report could have easily gone right in the trash. Who would have ever known? But…
HE. CALLED. ME.
I cannot imagine how hard that was for him. He could have blamed it all on “the other guy”, the cardiologist, who read the report. Who knows what crack it had actually fallen in. But,
HE. TOOK. RESPONSIBILITY.
Without Excuses or Blaming Anyone Else.
His act of courage and personal integrity is the reason I am here today.
as ridiculous as it seemed at the time
the right thing to do.
Not a subscriber yet?
Click here to subscribe and begin receiving PositiveOnPurpose weekly columns & special messages
directly to your own inbox: