(I took this blog down as I thought it was getting published elsewhere. I first posted it here in mid-April). But that didn’t work out, so I’m re-posting it to keep it with the others. The problem is the blog is out of order. If anyone knows how to fix this, let me know.)
2014 started, and I was convinced that this year would be better that the last three. I had a nice New Year’s Eve and a more positive, overall feeling about my life moving forward without Tom.
Then the other shoe dropped.
March 4 this year was the 50-year anniversary of my being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. This motivated me in February to see a cardiologist just to make sure my heart was healthy. Long-duration Type 1s are at much higher risk for heart disease, and sometimes while vigorously exercising, I had what might be construed as chest tightness and that worried me a little.
So despite being in shape, thin, energetic and a healthy eater all my life, I agreed to a stress echo-cardiogram test one morning before work. It shockingly revealed an abnormality in my heart wall, which led to an angiogram the following week. This is where they thread a string-like device through a vein in the wrist to get pictures of the heart. I was scared shitless about this test, but I didn’t think they would find anything too serious.
So imagine my horror at hearing the doctor say — while still in twilight sleep during the test — that my four major arteries were 90 percent blocked, and I needed quadruple bypass heart surgery – pronto. The cardiac surgeon visited me after the procedure and said let’s do this posthaste as I’m “a ticking time bomb.”
I was ready to lose it. Two years after Tom’s death, through no fault of my own, I’m faced with a much-needed procedure whereby they crack open the breastbone, remove the heart, insert into the heart new veins that they cut out of the left leg and sew the chest up with a whopping seven-inch incision. Oh yeah, and they insert tubes and wires in the chest that later get yanked out leaving crater-like scars.
So I flipped out mentally and felt I’d rather die than go through this hellish surgery. I told my kids this and they got upset. Of course, at the time, I was angry, scared and venting.
I waited four miserable days for the surgery, staying on a mattress with my daughter in my sister’s basement. My sister lives near the hospital, and I felt safer there since I was now having chest pains and fretting that at any moment I could have a heart attack. My daughter and I were scheduled to visit my in-laws in Florida for her spring break and my vacation from a brutal Michigan winter. In fact, our plane was leaving the day I ended up having the surgery. From then on, we referred to my eight hellish days in the hospital as Spring Break 2014.
After the surgery, I had a few complications — due to hospital error — that kept me in the hospital three days longer. My daughter went back to college but my son and sister were nearby. It was all really hard, and looking back, I’m not sure how I got through it. (I like to think Tom and my deceased parents were keeping an eye on me.)
I didn’t have a perfect body, but it wasn’t bad, and I rather liked it. After the surgery, my body looked butchered, but my spirits took an even bigger hit; depression is common after bypass surgery. I wasn’t so much depressed as in shock and angry that this happened on what felt like the heels of Tom’s death. Even with Tom taking care of me, this surgery would have been awful, but without him, it was worse.
Still, I was blessed that my sister — my only sibling — my terrific kids and my wonderful friends took turns staying with me, cooking for me, maintaining my house, helping me with just about everything during my first few weeks recuperating at home. I was the most helpless I have ever been.
So go figure. I’m heading toward week six after surgery and looking at a couple more months of recovery and rehab. My mobility is limited. My chest hurts like hell. My leg – where they took out a vein that ran from my ankle to my groin – throbs, especially at night. This ordeal has aged me and just plum isn’t fair. But I’m alive and told I will completely mend with time.
One of my dearest friends pointed out that I was lucky they discovered this. She is right. I could have ended up like my dear dad – dead in our living room at 51 from a massive heart attack.