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Not Just a Blip on the Radar Screen

September 14, 2010

After bypass surgery, I looked for others who shared my experience. I judged my recovery and all the emotions I was feeling. I felt I wasn’t healing fast enough. I wasn’t able to do enough. What I found first were mostly men and accounts of men who had bypass surgery and then bounced back. Within weeks, they were back at work and boasted of new diets and exercise routines which made their lives better. They attributed their bypass surgery to winning the lottery in terms of turning their lives around. There was no talk of crying for days and weeks and months at the drop of a hat. There was no talk of post traumatic stress symptoms. There was no talk of not feeling any better than before. There was no talk of being afraid to fall asleep and fearing each day might be their last.There was no mention of broken hearts.

I did finally find others, mostly women. I found them online at Inspire.com, WomenHeart.org. I found my experience was not that uncommon, after all.  I later would find that my continued symptoms meant I was not fixed. In fact, two of the three grafts were blocked again in just a few weeks. It might have happened immediately. I didn’t feel better because I wasn’t better. I wasn’t fixed. I would never be fixed. I was not alone either. This is not a fixable disease. It took me a long time to really realize that, though.

I continued to meet people who were like those first ones. The returned to work. They changed a few life habits. They charged ahead as if nothing had really happened. They treated cardiac bypass surgery and the diagnosis of severe coronary artery disease as a slap on the hand by the lunch lady for talking too loud. They loved to tell me how easy it was. They loved to boast that their surgery hadn’t been that bad at all. I suppose they had to be that way. That was the only way they knew to cope, just as dissecting all these emotions is the way I cope.

I remember Lee and I having lunch with a sweet couple from church a few months after my surgery. The man himself had had bypass surgery. I shied away from most people then, especially church people. This couple though, had been especially kind and for some reason, I felt especially brave. So, we met for lunch. The man proudly showed me his scar and proceeded to tell me how well he’d recovered and how he had no ill effect, no lingering symptoms, no damage, no trauma and no further heart worries. I felt even more horrible after that visit. I felt even more of a failure, that I just couldn’t bounce back from this like other people.

I wasn’t willing to try and convince people I was sick. I let them think whatever they wanted. My cardiologist too, thought I was fine. Then, I failed that stress test less than three months after surgery. My grafts had failed. I had additional blockages as well. It wasn’t just the arteries around my heart either. This disease was like aliens from another planet attacking, invading everywhere, taking over and destroying.

That man, the one we had lunch with, he died suddenly a few days ago. I don’t believe he’d have lived any longer had he not been the way he was about his disease. I doubt I am prolonging my own life either by writing about it, talking about it and studying about it. Maybe if I didn’t continue to have symptoms and if my legs were not so profoundly effected, I too would bounce back and live as if 2009 were a tiny blip on the radar screen of my life.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Mary permalink
    September 14, 2010 7:17 pm

    As they say, Allie, people die the way they live. Consciously or unconsciously, in denial or in acknowledgment, and then, there are those with no warning at all. A bus, a plane, an explosion, an air conditioner, falling from a building. So is there a rhyme or a reason? Only that we are spirits having a physical experience. I recently read – we are born crying and those around us are smiling. If you can, and can find peace, hope that you leave smiling and with those around you crying. (Not that we would wish grief on our loved ones). I disagree though ~ the expression, the protest, the wail. They help. Just remember the sweetness, the appreciation and the laughing. Love, Mary

    • September 14, 2010 11:29 pm

      Thanks for the reminder. Keith was a salesman of one sort or another most of his life. I know he was trying to sell me on going back to the church. The protest is automatic it seems. The verbal guttural “NO!” happens as every part of me echos the same response. Maybe the word is the echo. Despite it all, today is a delightful day. Love, Allie

  2. Donna permalink
    September 15, 2010 12:47 am

    Bypass Surgery is like the wildflowers they plant along the road side. When you are driving along and you spot them in the distance they appear like a cloud of color. Purple, red, or yellow. A fluffy, single cloud of sameness. As you get closer, you begin to see they are not connected, instead they are individual puffs of color. You can pull over to the side and get out of the car to inspect them. They still look very much alike. You stoop to pick a bunch and take them to the car. When you return home, you lay them out on the counter top to sort them and put them in water so your enjoyment of them will last longer. If you spread them out, no matter how many you have choosen, you will not find 2 that are exactly alike. Some are quite similar, but upon close inspection you will find they are not the same. Each will have a difference…some very apparent imediately…others will require a closer look. Some will not be nearly as “healthy” as they appeared in the group, and you may even ponder discarding them instead of trying to save them. You trim the stems, and pick off any dry or dead leaves. You drop the asprin into the vase and fill it with water. You carefully place them 1 by 1 into the vase and make an arrangement that is pleasing to you. You put the vase where you can see it and for a time it brightens your life. Several days pass, and the flowers begin to die. If you are like me, you will pick out the dead ones, add fresh water and keep enjoying them as long as you can. Sometimes the ones that looked the stongest and brightest wilt first. I have had flowers were only the tiny ones were still hanging on in the end. There really is no way to tell that first day, which ones would last the longest. The minute we picked them we knew that they were going to die. We have to remember, that left growing on the roadside they would also die.

    When they told me I would have to have Bypass, my first response was NO!! Not gonna’ happen. That was my fear speaking out. I knew that the minute they cut my heart I was on the road to death. It never crossed my mind that the minute we are born we are “on the road to death” — at least in the life time we have been born into at the time. (For my beloved friends who believe in reincarnation – you still have to pass on to go to the next level.) The surgeon assured me that no one could force me to have bypass, but he said “I can assure you that you will have a heart attack or a stroke before Christmas.( It was the 1st week of November)” The chest pain that had driven me to the doctor told me he was probably right. Rather than admit immediately that he was right, I launched into the fact that I would prefer the heart attack to the stroke thing. My daughter promptly informed me that this was not a multiple choice question, and that I would be having surgery. I looked into her face and saw her fear…..I stopped being a jerk and agreed to the operation.

    So, the following Tuesday morning, they “trimmed my stems”, “picked off the dead parts”, and placed me in the “vase of water with the rest of the wildflowers”. I was set home to my family and friends to allow them more time to enjoy me. If you line us all up, we who have had bypass, there would be no way to tell which of us will last the longest. Some of us look much stronger than we are. Some of us will fade quickly, but many more of us will hang in therelonger than we ever expected. Either way, it is the “color” and joy we bring to those around us during our lives after surgery that matters. My personel belief is that our attitude towards our illness matters. I believe that the more time we spend being positve in each day, the longer will will stand tall in the water. Fear and anger will come, it is natural and normal. Some days I feel really bad, weak tired and breathless. Those days I lean on the others in the vase. Other days I am better, and others lean on me. I have made it through 4 Christmas days, and hope to do 5 in a few months. The time I spend with my family and friends, when they look at me and tell me truly that they love me, is worth the scars on my heart. Left on the roadside I might have lived a little longer, but how nice to be taken home because you bring “color” and joy to someone. Bypass Surgery has shown me how very much I am loved. Just don’t toss me out too soon :>)

    • September 15, 2010 1:36 am

      Now who is the minister here? oh yeah, I retired and I’ve needed one of my own a long time before that. Thanks for letting me be one of the ones to enjoy your color and your joy. What you have written should be in some book on heart surgery somewhere. It is the road to death, but maybe we are the lucky ones. I had never before appreciated anything like I appreciate everything now. Including you my friend. Thank you. Love, Al

  3. Mary permalink
    September 15, 2010 5:52 pm

    Wow, Donna. How beautiful…another great writer (and I meant Allie) emerges. Would love to read more of your work.

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