2014 starts, and I’m convinced this year will be better that the last three. I have a nice New Year’s Eve and a more positive, overall feeling about my life moving forward without Tom.
Then the other shoe drops.
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 or mild pain.
So despite being in shape, thin, energetic and a healthy eater all my life, I agree to a stress echo-cardiogram test one morning before work. It shockingly reveals an abnormality in my heart wall, which leads 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’m scared shitless about this test, but don’t think they will find anything too serious.
So imagine my horror at being told — while still in twilight sleep during that test — that my four major arteries are 90 percent blocked, and I need quadruple bypass heart surgery – pronto. The cardiac surgeon visits me after the procedure and says let’s do it posthaste as I’m “a ticking time bomb.”
Now I’m ready to lose it. Two years after Tom’s death, through no fault of my own, I’m facing 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 six-to-eight-inch incision. Oh yeah, and there’s tubes and wires inserted in the chest, so those get pulled out later, leaving crater-like scars.
I didn’t have a perfect body, but it wasn’t bad, and I rather liked it. So I’m flipping out and feel I’d rather die than go through this hellish surgery and two to three months of painful recovery. I tell my kids this and they get upset. Of course at the time, I was angry, scared and venting.
I wait four miserable days for the surgery, staying on a mattress with my daughter in my sister’s basement. She lives near the hospital, and I feel safer there since I’m now having chest pains and fret that at any moment I could have a heart attack. My daughter and I were supposed to go visit my in-laws in Florida for her spring break and my vacation from a brutal Michigan winter. In fact, our plane was scheduled to leave the day I ended up having 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 was 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.)
While my body looks butchered, my spirits took an even bigger beating; depression is common after bypass surgery. I’m not so much depressed as still in shock that this happened on what I feel are 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 am 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.
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.