― Lewis Carroll,
Have you ever watched a butterfly come out of the shell of its chrysalis? I mean, really watched it and really saw every single little detail of what happens? It's not pretty.
First, there is some oozing and “bleeding” and goopy stuff comes our, as the chrysalis cracks open. Then, the butterfly pokes a little bit at a time from it, first one antenna, then, another one. Then, a foot, then, another one. Then, the tip of a wing, and then another one, till it frees itself up from the straight jacket it's been in, which all of a sudden is no longer big enough for it.
But even when it's free, it's sort of in a shock. It just sits there, a little wobbly, kinda trying to figure out for itself what the heck happened and how it will be supposed to move and function in the new body it just got. It will look dizzy for a bit, a little shaken up, still with goop all over it, maybe still a bit in pain from the birth, but it will try to move about and try to find its new feet.
Like I said, wobbly at first, shaky, but pushing through it. It won't be for a little while till you see that Monarch spreading wings and taking off on its own. And it is what's it supposed to happen.
Although the drastic transformation is mostly internal, this is kind of what coming out of heart surgery feels like. You go in as you, no doubt (just as the larva thinks it goes in as itself). And they take you away in this … room you only heart about afterwards, because you won't remember… They, then, completely transform you and then, when you finally come to, you start noticing how much your body has changed. And you have no idea what's inside, either!
It's not pretty, at first. When I came to, it was probably 2 AM on February 12, in the ICU, and all I felt was thirsty. I never crushed ice in my teeth before, but then, it's all I wanted to do. I noticed a scar on my lip, scabbed over – I figured from the breathing tube I had in me during surgery. Then, I noticed my right arm had a brick taped to it with catheters going into my wrist. Then, I noticed I could not feel my left arm and leg. I said all these things to the nurses who were hovering over me around the clock.
I asked a lot of questions (the butterfly would, too, had it had a voice, I am sure of it!). I had no idea what happened after I had fallen asleep in the anesthesia room the day before – I asked if I had a stroke (no), if they did circulatory arrest on me (look it up, it's fun – they freeze you up so your brain won't eat up oxygen) (yes), I asked how long was I in arrest (38 minutes), if they fixed my heart (yes, 'I had a looong surgery' they said), if my husband was there (no), or the surgeon (no) – it was 2 AM and they had a long day, so they went home. I didn't ask what they did to me, but the nurses volunteered that information: my surgery was very complex, and very long (12 hours); they replaced my aortic valve, my ascending aorta, and they did a quadruple bypass surgery. I remember being scared: “Oh, my God, I have so many new and moved around parts in me! How will this all work?!”.
Then, the next day, I started feeling more and noticing more: three catheters in my neck, four tubes in my chest, another catheter in my bladder, bandages around my left leg, bandage on my chest and lots of scabs and lots and lots of bruises: my whole left leg was blue, my groin was blue, my stomach, too. I was an experiment. Will I ever come out of this? Will I ever heal? Will I ever come out of this bed?! All I wanted was ice – this is as far as I was thinking.
But I did come out. After 2 days in ICU I took my first walk and ate my first half of a banana and 4 grapes. After 7 more days of pain and grumbling and more tests, and even a random heart attack, just for safe measure, all in the regular hospital room, I got to come home, one chest tube still in me. I got to be driven home in our own car, and sleep in my own bed that night. Well, “sleep” is a metaphor for “laying there all night staring at the ceiling and whining in pain”.
After coming home, the process of breaking loose into my new “me” started. I was the same person, but my body had to learn a whole lot of new tricks to be able to get around. After two more weeks, the chest tube came out. After a month from surgery, I took my first nature walk and started shooting (camera, not gun) again. After 6 weeks, I drove for 10 minutes again. I thought it would feel freeing, but it didn't. It felt painful once more. After 7 weeks, this week, my cardiac rehab will be done. I built up endurance to walk up to 45 minutes at 2.8 mi/hour. I started (with the drainage tube in me) with 8 minutes at 1.8 mi/hour and I was sure I was going to heart attack again on the treadmill. But I didn't. I did all these in my new body, with new limitations I had no idea that were possible, with new pain, and new sensitivities everywhere. But I am not stopping. You can't stop once you're up straight.
I have two out of countless scabs still hanging onto me. The bruises are all gone.
How do I feel looking back?! I feel speechlessly lucky and breathlessly humble! After all that I just told you they did to me while I was asleep, I am alive, you all! I am breathing! I eat and lay down, and walk and hug my cat and my husband and I have my brain all here with me. Now that the strong drugs are long gone (gone with the tube), I am, in my head, the same person I ever was before. Hard to believe they drained my body from all the blood, moved it to a machine and put it back in me, changed the course of my blood stream, froze me, for crying out loud, and then put me all back together again to make me look to you all as me again.
How does that not just wanna make you cry?! I just want to hug my surgeon till I die and thank him forever for this. I don't know how many years I was given with this, but I am grateful for today. I am grateful that I kept my brain and that my previously clogged up vessels can now function and pump life giving blood to all my body. I am grateful that I get to see the sun every morning, still. I am in awe!
Just as yoga taught me a billion years ago, the hardest part, really, of all this was quieting down my monkey mind. I am born to be a control freak. So, my nature is to always put my mind in control of anything that happens to me. But with this, you completely have to relinquish everything (your body, your functions, your freedom, your health, your brain … everything you are) to strangers, and let yourself go down that slippery slide. You must trust them (and boy, what a lesson this is in trust!) that they know what they're doing, and trust God that He'll bring you back. After that monkey climbs down from your shoulder, and walks away, you can, too walk into the hospital and volunteer yourself for this life giving surgery. This body stuff, these pains and limitations, these are easy to manage – I am back in control now, you see. But the hardest part was that letting go, closing the eyes and letting the doctors transform my heart to prepare me for my rich, beautiful life to come.
Right now, I feel like the butterfly who came out of that shell, but it's still trying to figure out how it all works now. I am still wobbly. I still need help doing most of everything around me, but I can do more every day and definitely more than chew ice, like that first night in the ICU.
One step in front of the other. Just like the chrysalis doesn't kill the butterfly, it just makes it better, prettier, different, the surgery didn't kill me, much, much to my surprise. It didn't make me prettier on the outside (sorry, all), but I hear it did make my heart prettier. All I know is that it's beating and my surgeon thinks “my heart has completely no murmur (music to the ears of a heart patient who has been used to the murmur for 15+ years now) and my lungs are gorgeous”. I'll take that as inside beauty for sure.
One day, slowly, I'll grow into my wings. One day, I will fly again. For now, I am figuring out my limbs, two of which are still numb. Still, I am in awe of this miracle that the human body is and of its power to regenerate, transform and keep going. There is no way there is not something magical, something we cannot explain for ourselves, something beyond out ability to comprehend in this world to make us come back from something like this! No way!
Good to be back!
Before - the morning of the surgery as I was taken into the anesthesia room.
After - a month from surgery, walking on a nature path.