February 28th, 2020. It was our first appointment at the Yale-New Haven Heart and Vascular Center with a heart transplant team. Walking through the doors of a medical building on our way to an appointment with a cardiologist or some other heart-related medical team was nothing new to us.
Yet this time, the walk felt so different.
Prior to this appointment, everything seemed so routine. EKGs, blood work, routine checkups, stress tests, the occasional cardiac cath. My husband and I had fallen into a pattern that made these types of appointments seem normal.
While many of our friends and family had never even visited a specialist before, specialists had been all we knew.
My husband’s heart condition is fueled by genetics, making its grand debut when he was fairly young, long before we met. That means no lifestyle change, nutrition plan, exercise routine, or series of yoga classes have ever been able to prevent him from ending up back in the hospital.
And no, it’s not because “that’s what happens when you marry a young chick.” (chuckle, chuckle)
The first serious cardiac appointment I saw him through was about six months after we started dating. He went into the hospital for cardiac catheterization and came out with a brand new, sparkly stent that would send us back to our normal, active, adventurous life together.
The whole process of seeing your loved ones go through serious medical situations has always been somewhat of hypocrisy to me.
When we find that our loved one is ill, when we’re presented with the idea that some serious medical complications can take them from us, all hands are on deck.
Family comes out of the woodwork.
Friends who have been absent suddenly reappear.
Grudges that have lasted for years, sometimes even decades, seem to vanish as if no time has passed between these once viciously feuding individuals.
Everyone shows up and swears that they’ll do things differently, they’ll cherish their relationship, they’ll make a little extra effort to be in touch, and they’ll always keep those moments as a reminder that life is short.
If you’re lucky, sick people get better.
Things go back to normal.
The concepts of death and the possibility that your time is up are an afterthought. New feuds start to make their way back into your life and the people who stood at what they perceived to be your death bed have quickly forgotten all the promises they made when your life was flashing before their eyes.
Things go back to the way they were before. The good and the bad.
Until it happens again.
We went through this so many times since I’ve been with my husband. From 4-5 procedures for stents to a triple bypass a month after our wedding, I was always amazed by the family who came back into our lives when things got “rocky” and the ones who disrupted our peace when things we back to “normal.”
One thing I’ve learned from coming nose-to-nose with the death of a loved one so many times is that your tolerance level for the “bad” people have to offer becomes very small.
Dealing with toxic people when your life is spent juggling doctor’s appointments, hospital stays, medical bills, prescription meds, and life, in general, makes everything a blur. I’m fully convinced that it burns some important brain cells, leaving you completely fried at the exact moment your family needs you to be on your A-Game!
One of the biggest regrets I’ve had throughout both my husband’s and son’s medical journeys is that I forced myself into auto-pilot. So many moments were a blur.
It was like I was climbing the mountains, sliding in and out of the valleys, without keeping my eyes on the path in front of me. I’m lucky I got out of that trip alive.
Have you ever gotten to your destination and wondered how you got there safe because you didn’t remember the drive?
That was me.
One thing I always remembered was the people.
The tears, the words, the drama, how so many of the people in our lives made what my husband was going through about them. Looking back, I couldn’t remember the days, the details, what I saw, where we were exactly, but I always remembered how the people around us acted.
And little-by-little, I learned that what we really needed, what would continue to get us through the challenges life threw our way, was peace. We both needed a clear head to worry about who and what was important- my husband.
To me, that saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” was always so cliché. Yet I couldn’t think of a better way to describe our journey so far.
Physically, mentally, emotionally, we’ve become so much stronger, smarter, resourceful.
As we walked into the medical building at 800 Howard Avenue on February 28th, 2020, that was part of the reason things felt so different. Who and what I was worried about…the only thing I was worried about…was the man whose hand was interlocked with mine as we passed through those doors.
Now, he wasn’t just a patient. He was a heart transplant patient, and nothing else matters more to me than seeing him through this heart transplant journey.
The last decade has taught me that it’s ok to only worry about myself and my little family, and I didn’t need to feel bad about that. This time was different.
This time, as I pulled into the parking garage to meet my husband for his first heart transplant appointment, I heard all the sounds, I felt all the feels, my eyes were on the path in front of me and I was focused on each step we took.
The thump of the metal slates in the parking garage seemed to beat with the pounding of my heart. The vision of small red hearts on the Heart and Vascular Center signs, once images that reminded me of love and Valentine’s Day, took on new meaning. The jokes my husband cracked at the receptionist desk, corny jokes that always made me roll my eyes at him, were suddenly the comfort I needed to ease my anxiety.
The beat of my heart seemed to pound directly from my chest into my ears as we waited patiently for the doctor.
The sound of my husband’s heavy breathing left me wondering if he was dealing with chest pains or just feeling as anxious as I was.
The fierce shaking of his leg, a sign that he was on the fast track to totally lose his patience, helped me start a conversation about how he was feeling.
I wondered if there was a loud amplifier projecting the sound of the second-hand into the room as it circled around the clock until finally the door opened and things started moving.
It was officially Day 1 of this heart transplant journey. When the over 4-hour intake appointment was finished, the sound of his pen scratching across the “consent to treat” form hit my ears like fingernails on a chalkboard.
We were doing this.
We had no choice, yet somehow we were choosing to take the road less traveled.
We walked out of the appointment the same way we came in, hand-in-hand, but this time we were silent.
There were no corny jokes, my heart had stopped pounding out of my chest, his heavy breathing had softened after he let out a long and powerful sigh when the elevator doors opened to the lobby.
I caught a quick glimpse of my husband, standing confident as he walked out of that medical building. None of these struggles were new to us, they were just different. Not only had I learned the ins and outs of handling these types of challenges as a wife and a mother over the years, but I learned how to handle them for myself.
I have no doubt that there will be rocky terrain ahead. We might even have a few slips and falls as we lose our footing along the way. But this time around, my steady ground will always be the lessons I’ve learned so far- living in the moment, focusing on the path in front of me, taking one step at a time.
I’ll continue doing things differently now, so I won’t need to say all the empty words as I stand next to what I think will be someone’s death bed.
Mostly, I’ll revisit the “life is too short” lesson daily, a constant reminder to cherish what I do have instead of waiting for what I want to have in the future.
Loving this broken heart has certainly come with challenges, but the gifts of loving someone like him are much more valuable than what any healthy hearted man has to offer.
I’ve never been one to live with regret, and I don’t plan to any time soon.
I’m so incredibly happy that my strong, warrior husband has taught me these crazy lessons in life. I know that as long as we’re together, we’ll never stop learning with and from each other.
The heart transplant journey has just begun, but we’re learning how to be the perfect team to fix this broken heart.
I can’t wait to see our finished masterpiece.
After all, it’s the broken ones that bring the most beauty into our lives if we’re willing to take the time and care to piece them back together.
Aren’t we all a little bit broken anyways?