Getting better

Healthy people who exercise and watch their diet religiously still die from a heart attack. Someone with my exercise and diet program should have kicked off when I was about 30. But here I am and there is no logical explanation except perhaps that I’ve never taken horse deworming medicine for any health problem.

Having survived both a heart attack and the subsequent surgery, my greatest desire was to get back to my regular life as soon as possible – with the probable addition of some actual exercise and diet restrictions. But it turns out that getting back to the start button is easier to imagine than do.

For instance, you first have to get past the pain from the surgery so you can at least get yourself out of bed in the morning. As a member of the “zipper club” – named for the scar that will forever remain with me – I found that to be a challenge. There is simply no easy way to get out of bed that doesn’t involve using your chest and back muscles. And none of those muscles were very happy with me between the sawn breastbone and the four broken ribs. A good friend who’d been through this turned me on to the trick of throwing my legs over the side of the bed and letting the momentum bring the rest of me along. It worked, though a few times I almost threw myself off the bed with a too vigorous throw of my legs. Once you’ve mastered that movement, however, everything else is easy and seems to fall into place.

The experience of a heart attack and heart surgery is one that I found myself reliving over and over in my head and that wasn’t healthy.  I had to find a way to forget. The forgetting is hard, though, when you have wonderful friends who keep asking how you are with an anxious look on their faces as though they expect you to keel over at any given moment. It’s not that I’m not grateful for those friends and their love and concern since they were the ones who kept me and my little menagerie safe and cared for throughout the ordeal. But there comes a point where I start feeling like that’s all people see when they see me – a person to be treated as fragile as blown glass because of their health. I can say in no uncertain terms that no one has ever before thought of me as fragile in any way. It’s a hard adjustment to make.

Less than a month after the surgery, I went back to my old life and embraced it with new vigor. I’m back volunteering at Bird TLC. I’m back taking care of my animals myself. I no longer need someone staying at the house to help. I do the washing and cleaning and organizing of my life just like I was doing before this little hiccup. And that’s how I want people to see me – as totally capable and in charge of my own life again. If people don’t view me in that manner, then I start to question myself and whether I am capable of being that person again. That just seems to make the aftermath of the attack and surgery more difficult than the surgery itself.

I’ve known cancer survivors who experienced similar situations. When they run into a friend, the conversation always starts with the friend tilting their head to the side and asking, “So how are you doing? Are you feeling ok?”

The answer to that question is yes, I feel fine and I feel even better when people don’t treat me like a Ming vase that will crack under the slightest pressure. When I see you, the first thing you do should not always be to tilt your head to one side, get a sympathetic look on your face and ask me how I feel. Go back to those glorious days of old when you saw me and the first words you spoke were, “Did you really think that shirt and those pants should be worn together?”

Now that’s the life I love. It’s good to have it back.