Today is my two-week anniversary (if you’re allowed to have anniversaries for surgeries). The weather permitted walking outside over the weekend. I took ...Read more
Today is my two-week anniversary (if you’re allowed to have anniversaries for surgeries). The weather permitted walking outside over the weekend. I took a few with my good friend and brother-in-law, John (above picture). His heart is as big as his smile! So much has been crammed into these last two months—since I was first diagnosed with aortic valve stenosis. If they re-diagnosed me today, they might decide I suffer from a ridiculous amount of enthusiasm. My love and appreciation for life grows every day. We are all amazingly strong spirits! Much love, support, and prayers for all of you on this journey!
For me, today is Thanksgiving #65. But none of the previous 64 can compare to this one. There’s not even a close second. This is especially true when it comes ...Read more
For me, today is Thanksgiving #65. But none of the previous 64 can compare to this one. There’s not even a close second. This is especially true when it comes to appreciation and gratitude.
I confess that I have not always been the most appreciative and grateful person. But that’s the past. Thanksgiving 2014 is part of what I call “Life: Part Two.” And since I have a second chance at this thing called life, I’m hell bent on living it the right way. And part of “living it the right way” is moving gratefulness and appreciation way up the How-To-Live List. This, obviously, includes counting your blessings. I used to do that, sometimes, now and then. In “Part Two,” I don’t get out of bed until I’ve done my daily “counting of blessings.” What a difference this seemingly little thing makes! I know, I can be a slow learner. Humor me. Life is flat-out different when I start every day this way. It’s like launching a rocket that I can ride the rest of the day.
I had open-heart surgery last Wednesday. I’m STILL here. The photo included here was taken three days after surgery (70-hours for those who count in hours). Amazing, isn’t it? One day your chest is sawed in half — and you live off a heart-lung machine for few hours while a new valve is inserted to take the place of the old one. They wire Humpty Dumpty back together again, and, wala! The next day you’re eating meals while sitting in a chair! Talk about being grateful! How fortunate we are to have our heart conditions at THIS time — when the technology to pull off the above scenario is in place. How fortunate we are!
People ask, “Does it hurt?” I think it depends on what you mean by ‘hurt.’ If you mean is there physical pain, the answer is yes. But that’s managed and controlled by drugs. Whew! So, yeah, it hurts, sometimes. Sometimes it’s self-inflicted. If you try to catch something you just dropped by instinctively grabbing for it, like I did yesterday, it may feel like fireworks went off inside your chest. But that physical pain is temporary. It will probably give you a good scare too — just like a small child gets a good scare when they touch a hot stove for the first time. Overall, there’s not much pain to live with post-surgery because the pain-killers do their job. To minimize physical pain, follow the instructions to not lift, pull, or push over 5 pounds. Believe me, you’re body will instantly tell you when you’re pushing the envelope. And if something falls out of your hands or from the table — let it fall — unless you want to feel a shotgun go off in your chest.
Now, there’s another kind of pain. It’s not the physical pain I just talked about. Physical pain is physical pain is physical pain. But some people will still use the word ‘pain’ where I don’t. I refer to our reaction/response to the physical pain. Other people might use the word ‘suffering’ at this point. I recall hearing or reading the line “suffering is optional” years ago. That’s what I want to finish up with, and how it ties into counting my blessings.
I may not have control over the physical pain of open-heart surgery and recovery — beyond what pain-killers and relaxation techniques provide. But I DO have control over my response to it. And to the degree that I RESPOND to pain rather than REACT TO IT, to that degree I diminish my suffering. Yes, suffering is mostly if not completely optional when it comes to physical pain. It depends on whether I just react, or, choose to go beyond reaction to making a response. Reaction is automatic, unconscious. Response is a conscious choice.
When I find myself suffering, I discover I’m always stuck in my reaction. That’s a kind and nice way of saying that when I’m suffering, part of me is enjoying the drama. I speak only for myself here. Drama can be a huge attention-getter. When I see this operating in me, I want to gag myself. I’m not a soap-opera-type person; never have been. But if I’m not careful, if I’m not paying attention to my thoughts, I can slip into the very mode I want most to avoid. Call it a pity-party, drama, or whatever. For me, that side of the ‘pain’ equation is unnecessary and it’s a recipe for suffering. Suffering is not on my list of things-to-do in “Life: Part Two.” If I count my blessings, that helps me nip suffering in the bud.
If I don’t count my blessings, I can be real baby when it comes to pain. If I don’t count my blessings, I become a complainer, and, I believe I’m a victim. Thus do I make myself and others miserable. That’s not a recipe I want live by in “Life: Part Two.” Part Two leaves no wiggle room for my being a drama king, a victim, a complainer — or a thrower of pity parties.
Counting my blessings puts physical pain in a healthier perspective or context — and keeps it there. While counting blessings may not eliminate physical pain, it does prevent me from psychologically amplifying it, thereby creating unnecessary suffering.
This website, Adam Pick, and all the heroic people making their individual journeys through the valley-of-heart-surgery are a godsend. For all of you, for all that you’ve gone through and shared, and will go through and share, for your heroic stories, your wisdom, your caring, your support, your ‘being there’ for the rest of us — for all of this, and more, I am forever grateful.
It’s 24 hours before surgery and the lack of anxiousness about it seems strange. Instead of fear and anxiety, there’s a calm, a peacefulness—even a confidence. ...Read more
It’s 24 hours before surgery and the lack of anxiousness about it seems strange. Instead of fear and anxiety, there’s a calm, a peacefulness—even a confidence. I attribute most of this to my experience last Monday (see my journal post on November 12).
My thoughts are with all of you—gratitude for everyone’s support and prayers, and for your inspiring courage and stories. Time to start packing for the hospital; I’ll get another post up as soon as possible after surgery (10:30 tomorrow morning). All systems are go; I go to surgery with both thumbs up!
This happened two days ago, on Monday, November 10. It caused a huge shift in my pre-surgery concerns, has put me in almost permanent peace regarding surgery, ...Read more
This happened two days ago, on Monday, November 10. It caused a huge shift in my pre-surgery concerns, has put me in almost permanent peace regarding surgery, and fills me with inspiration every time I think about it. My brother Bill was there, so he is a witness. In fact, if it weren’t for Bill, this experience may not have happened.
Since I live alone, I’m staying at my brother’s for the week prior to surgery. Surgery is next Wednesday, Nov. 19. Monday was Bill’s day off of work and he has errands to run. He said he was going to the bank (inside of Meijer’s), then to Tri-County Mall, then back home. At first I decided I would stay home and just relax because walking too much can put me out of breath. Two things happened at this point that have an impact on what follows. One, I changed my mind and went along for the ride, and two, Bill reversed his stops, going to the mall first and making the bank inside Meijer’s the last stop. I only mention this because if we didn’t make these two changes, what follows doesn’t happen.
Fast forward to Meijer’s. Bill goes over to the bank while I take a cart into the vegetable section. About ten minutes go by. I finish collecting my vegetables, look up to find Bill, and see him standing over by the bank window, talking to an elderly couple. Bill sees me and waves me over.
As I approach the three, Bill says, smiling real big, “Ken, I’d like you to meet someone I just met. This is Jim and his wife Ginny.” We all shook hands. My brother continues, “I just met Jim, and guess what? Seven weeks ago he had the same heart valve replaced as you’re having replaced next week.”
I was stunned, positively stunned. Here, standing in front of me, alive and well, was a living example of what I have been hoping and praying for over the last five weeks! I’ve read many success stories on this website, all of which inspire me. But this took inspiration to the next level: an in-person, face-to-face meeting with a ‘survivor.’ And not just a survivor, but even more than that. Ready?
In the next few minutes, I learned that Jim received a ‘tissue’ valve, not a mechanical one. There’s another coincidence! I too chose a tissue valve. I learned that Jim had his surgery at the same hospital I was going to: Mercy Hospital – Fairfield! The emotions, and tears, were building up inside of me as the seconds ticked by. But there was a final, nail-in-the-coffin to this story.
My brother, with this smile in his eye, said, “And guess who performed Jim’s surgery?” Without waiting for my answer, Bill said, “Dr. Cook.” Dr. Cook is replacing my aortic valve! Now, I don’t know what facial expression I wore when I heard Dr. Cook’s name. But I can tell you that Dr. Cook’s name bounced around, no, his name DANCED around the walls of my brain like a thought drunk on joy.
Hearing this was surreal. Yes, I was physically standing in a supermarket with my brother and two new acquaintances, but in another way, it was like I was simultaneously existing in another dimension, like I was awake inside a dream I was having. It’s hard to describe. And Jim no longer seemed like a regular human being to me. Yeah, he was human, but he was more than that. He was a messenger, a messenger from someone or something my eyes can’t see. And everything that occurred since Bill and I changed our minds back at his house an hour ago was, in a way I can’t comprehend, orchestrated in such a way so this messenger could deliver his message that was specifically targeted to me.
I remember saying, “I have to hug you” to Jim, and hugging him like he was some precious divine gift. I know I hugged him at least one more time, and I remember hugging his wife, Ginny, a couple of times as well. But all during this time, I felt like I wasn’t completely in the time/space reality I was so accustomed to. There was an ‘air of reality’ about what was going on that made ‘normal’ take on a temporary sense of unreality. I give up trying to explain the feeling.
But the impact this had on me is easy to explain. As far as I’m concerned, the universe somehow arranged for a messenger named Jim to deliver the message I most needed to hear. The message? “You are not only going to survive surgery, but you’re going to be fine!” Why else would this encounter take place if this wasn’t the message? It can’t be sheer coincidence—there were too many coincidences (many I haven’t explained) for this to be an accident. It couldn’t possibly serve any other purpose. If I’m to die or come through with complications, then this ‘visitation of health and vibrancy’ makes no sense whatsoever.
So, I’ve been at much peace ever since. If any angst arises, I cut it off immediately by thinking of Jim, standing there in Meijer’s, telling me his story of how the same surgeon installed the same type of valve in the same hospital seven weeks ago. This ‘angel’ stepped into my life as a total stranger, delivered the message, then went his way, leaving me at peace regarding what’s on my soul’s calendar over the coming weeks and months.
There’s another aspect to this event that I hope inspires my friends on this site, and it’s this: we are not alone on our journey. Yes, each of us has our support team on this physical side of life, but we also have an invisible support team – call it what you want. I’m convinced that’s how and why Jim stepped into my life for those few, magnificent minutes in Meijer’s. You might say Jim was used by the invisible for their or its purpose. This experience has upgraded my trust regarding next week and the weeks that follow to a whole new level. However you choose to interpret it or the context in which you place it, I hope it does the same for you.
We are in good hands, both visible and invisible, in all ways, and always.
May the path you walk be a peaceful one, full of trust,
Preparing for heart-valve-surgery (HVS) is one of the common denominators on this website. And I am so thankful, so grateful to NOT be traveling this road alone. ...Read more
Preparing for heart-valve-surgery (HVS) is one of the common denominators on this website. And I am so thankful, so grateful to NOT be traveling this road alone. It can be scary at times. And it’s at those times I turn to the journals of my fellow travelers. The people on this website are my heroes. What they went through, are going through, or will go through is a walk through the valley of death.
That takes a lot of courage, lots of trust, and a huge dose of surrender — all wonderful traits to have or develop. These people are amazing. Their stories, although common, are also highly individual. To me, one of the interesting aspects of this shared journey is this: though we walk this road together, we still walk it alone. We walk beside each other, encouraging and inspiring each other, but each one of us still has to take our own steps, one at a time, and no one can do that for us.
Knowing where these steps will lead us isn’t always a certainty. This journey is riddled with uncertainties. Facing death isn’t a theory or intellectual exercise for these people. It’s a reality that has to be faced, head on, now, today. There’s also facing possible complications, and a recovery process with its own unknown twists and turns. There are other unknowns, and all this, and more, lies on the road of HVS.
Another thing about this journey is there’s no training school you can go to as preparation. The journey IS the training school. You make this journey ‘on-the-fly.’ Each hour of each day contains what I’ll call ‘moments of reconciliation.’ You have to settle or resolve something related to your HVS. Most of it is internal — coming to terms with fear, anxiety, uncertainty, helplessness, etc. And just when you think you’ve finally reconciled something, it rears its head again, and sometimes, again, and again, and again.
Each day, each individual puts one foot in front of the other on their journey. Sometimes the foot trembles, sometimes its calm. At other times it’s cautious and at other times it’s firm. But each day these steps are taken, one by one, by the courageous souls on this website. Some might ask, “How can you call me courageous when I get scared? How can you call me courageous when I break down and cry in fear at times?”
The answer is simple: you make the journey anyway. You’re taking your steps, every day, day in and day out, whether you’re wearing a smile or have a face wetted by tears. You keep on keeping on, despite fear, despite anxiety, despite death. You keep on keeping on. That’s courageous as hell. That’s why you’re my heroes.
My surgeon told me to have any necessary dental work done before my valve surgery. To comply with that order, I had four teeth pulled yesterday. That’s what ...Read more
My surgeon told me to have any necessary dental work done before my valve surgery. To comply with that order, I had four teeth pulled yesterday. That’s what 65-year-olds-without-insurance do when old root canals fail them. You stop throwing money at your mouth; you have the darn things pulled and join the denture or bridge generation.
With swollen face, I feel like Alvin the Chipmunk on codeine. I fantasize about my next meal with solid food because drinking my meals is already getting a bit old. Not complaining; just sharing an unusual fantasy. It’s the little things in life, like being able to chew your food instead of gum it to death, that jump out at you at times like this.
I see this as a warm-up exercise for my valve surgery in T-minus 11 days. It’s a chance to run a few laps around the there-will-be-some-pain-during-recovery track. It’s something you just do — with as little complaining as possible. Preferably, none. How to do this? I count my blessings.
I may have to drink my meals, but at least I have the meals. Others are sifting the garbage cans on Vine Street for their next meal. I also have a stomach that can digest my meals; some people are left to eating through their veins.
I have a tongue to say “I love you” while the mute has to say it with their hands. What about the mute who has no hands?
I have arms to hug someone while others have no arms and are left to thinking about it.
I can walk while others stumble, or have to wheel themselves around in chairs.
I can see the smiles on friendly faces while the blind are denied that beauty.
I can hear the sound of the blowing wind and of birds chirping; others are born, never to know what sound is like.
The ways to be thankful, to be grateful, are countless. Counting my blessings is my personal antidote for complaining. It reminds me to appreciate the smallest of things.
The first rays of sunlight are breaking through the morning clouds. Sunrise is occurring. Wow. I can see it! I can see it! Wow!
I just got off the phone with the nurse from my surgeon’s office. It’s the call I both wanted and didn’t want to receive: a date for surgery. For the ...Read more
I just got off the phone with the nurse from my surgeon’s office. It’s the call I both wanted and didn’t want to receive: a date for surgery. For the last two weeks I’ve been saying I just want to get the surgery over with. And now that a date is set, I don’t find myself relieved. I guess the reality of it all is finally beginning to hit me. I’ll be okay, but it does feel good admitting the fear rather than pushing it away. I’m so glad Adam built this website!!!