I AM ALIVE. Not a huge fan of my scar, but I'm working on it. Today is the anniversary of my heart valve replacement. My Valve-aversary as people call it. My life is completely changed. If you don’t know the story, about 6 years ago my doc heard a heart murmur. After watching it for 3 years, she sent me for an echocardiogram and docs found I had a bicuspid aortic valve, a birth defect. You see your aortic valve should be TRIcuspid, it should have 3 flaps and mine only had 2, and those 2 were closing a bit more all the time. We watched THAT for a few years until finally on my birthday last year, as a climbed to the top of the bleachers at my son’s hockey game, I couldn’t breathe. I told my son Grayson to get my husband and tell him that I needed help. I laid down and went out cold only to wake to a lot of people around me calling my name and asking questions. An ambulance ride to Hartford Hospital and 22 hours later, I got sent home to wait for a call from the surgeon because my valve had closed to less than a centimeter. They told me to go home and do NOTHING. No working out, no yard work, no carrying laundry upstairs, nothing too strenuous. My husband would drop me at the door of a store and go park the car. I followed orders and did nothing.
A year ago today, right in the middle of Covid, my husband dropped me off at Hartford Hospital, he couldn’t come in because of Covid, kissed me at the door and in I went to have open heart surgery. I walked in and told the security guy that I was there for a tune-up. He laughed and pointed me to where I needed to be. According to Dr. Hagberg, I sailed through it. Two and a half hours later I was in recovery. They replaced my aortic valve with a mechanical one. Looks like a little car vent! But it works. It ticks, and yes, I can hear it. So can you if you stand next to me and its quiet enough. That’s ok, I’m alive and I can breathe. I’m on blood thinners for the rest of my life, but it’s a super-low dose and completely manageable. I bruise a bit easier, but I’m alive and I can breathe. I put some weight back on, but I’m alive and I can breathe.
They sent me home to recover and rest and I did. They said it would take about a year to recover. What they didn’t say, was that wasn’t just a PHYSICAL recovery. That was the easy part. Heck, I didn’t even take the pain meds. Tylenol and Motrin covered it. It’s the MENTAL recovery I pushed. And I shouldn’t have pushed myself. I didn’t allow myself any grace at all. Bite your lip, put on your big girl pants and push the eff through. That’s how I thought I had to do it. I’ve spent the last 6 months in pain. Not physical pain, mental pain. My body isn’t where it was. I lost that advantage. All my hard work at the gym was gone. All my discipline was gone. My energy was gone. My positivity was gone. My brain felt like it was all over the place, scattered and sad and confused and exasperated. I went to the gym once, met with my trainer, started to work out and couldn’t lift the 15 pound weights over my head more than 3 times. I burst out crying and left. Walked right out the door. At work I couldn’t focus, couldn’t think straight. I convinced myself that I was dragging everyone down with me. And I couldn’t stop the spiral.
Don’t ask me what happened to change all this. I can’t tell you. What I can tell you is that TODAY, I have had my little car vent for a year, it works, it ticks and I can freaking breathe. Deep, cleansing breaths that feel awesome and keep me alive! I’m back at the gym, pushing and feeling my muscles. Yes, still have some weight to get off to feel better, but working on that daily, trying to make better choices. Fact is, I’m alive and if I want to eat ice cream I’m going to dammit!
Truly, there are so many people I can thank, obviously Dr. Hagberg, his assistant Andrew and the rest of the Hartford Hospital team for ACTUALLY saving my life. My husband was, and still is, BEYOND AMAZING, waiting on me and taking care of me and most of all being the cheerleader I needed when I felt down on myself and he doesn’t care about my scar. (I’m still making friends with it tho) My friend Annie, who arranged a meal train for a full month and half so we had dinners, everyone who contributed to the train including everyone from Nashville, family, friends, neighbors! LOVE YOU ALL! My mother in law Cindy who paid a cleaning lady to DEEP clean our house so when I got home, I wouldn’t sneeze. And I didn’t for almost 3 months! You have NO IDEA how helpful that was! My mom, who has just started her battle with dementia, but came to stay and do a little cooking and cleaning here or there. My sister, who checked on us constantly and cooked up a storm for us too. My work, who let me work from home and take it day by day. My doc Rebekah, for not letting the heart murmur go unchecked, she legit saved my life.
Moral of the story: There’s more to recovery than just PHYSICAL recovery. SO MUCH MORE! Allow yourself grace, surround yourself with people that will support you, and yes, once in a while, eat the ice cream. Still working on me. Love you to all xoxoxo Cory