HeartWise Part 2: The Diagnosis
(Part 2 of a series.)
The morning I left my babies and headed to the hospital is a blur. I don’t remember much about that morning, but I know that I knew my sweet sister Shari died at 19 years of age from a heart condition, I knew that my heart was in “terrible shape” and I knew I was to pack to “stay a while” and I knew that I might need surgery.
What I didn’t know was that I would have to abruptly stop nursing, I would be admitted to the cardiac floor for 10 days, I would need multiple electric shocks, two surgeries, receive multiple tests, and ultimately have an AICD implanted, all the while having recurring migraine.... and then I left the hospital with strep throat! (I was under a little stress!) This was no little get-a-way.
Emotionally I was shot. I had to wrestle with my mortality and the realization that if I didn’t make it home, my children and husband would be in God’s hands and he would care for them. Physically, I was already in bad shape going in….I had a serious heart condition! And, I didn’t especially follow heart-healthy guidelines of daily exercise and wholesome eating. My exercise was holding three kids at once while trying to put them down for naps, and my lunch often consisted of the crusts from their peanut butter sandwiches. By the time I got home, I was very thin from the 10 days in the hospital, the tests, the surgery, and the stress. I had a new huge scar on my chest and I looked and felt awful inside and out. I spent a lot of time crying, but I tried to hide my sadness from others.
I began to keep a journal where I poured out all my fears, my frustrations, and my hopes. I wrote down my prayers and I was very honest with God about all my feelings. I began to meet with the same friend from church who earlier had encouraged me to see a doctor, and she would hear me out, cry with me, and pray with me. I still cried a lot and didn’t know what the future held, but these steps helped me grieve the loss of my health and begin to find the courage to accept the new and different life that was in front of me. But I still wrestled with fear and worry. Then this happened to really change my perspective:
Because of my surgeries, I couldn’t drive for three months. One day I put the three kids in the stroller and we walked to a school where they could play on the playground. While I was there, I met a woman who was struggling. I don’t remember the details, but I spent some time talking, listening, and ended up praying with her. I didn’t realize my 5-year old was watching but evidently, she was, because on the way home she said to me, “Mom, isn’t it great that God can still use you even though you have a heart condition?
You are not defined by your diagnosis.
Life is different after you are a diagnosis, but it can still be beautiful. Maybe even more beautiful.
Take care of yourself emotionally, spiritually, and physically. - It is normal to feel sad. I am thankful for my journal and my friend, but looking back, I believe I should have sought professional counseling to help me through the early days. Don’t hesitate to do so.