Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Thankful Heart

On February 11 of this year, they split my chest bone in two with a saw. They then found my heart underneath and stopped it, right after hooking me up to this machine which took over the job of my heart and my lungs. They then cut my heart open. Then, they froze me to trick my brain into not needing too much oxygen, and then, they cut off my ascending aorta right out of my chest. After 12 hours of more work on and around my heart, they made my heart beat again. After 12 hours, I came back amongst the living, with a beating heart. I was dead, really. And then, I came to life. To say I am thankful for this would be the grossest understatement. But I am.

Today is Thanksgiving . It seems like a great day to pause and write down just how grateful I am for this crazy roller coaster year.

Anything after February 11, each breath of air, each step, each warm shower, each bite of savory food, each soft paw of a kitty that I got to touch, each amazing sunset and sunrise, each hug of a loved one has been nothing short of amazing and each a bonus. It's like Christmas morning about 200 times a day, every day. I am thankful for that.

I am thankful for medicine and the progress we have made there to keep people like me alive. I am thankful for my amazing surgeon who knew how to kill me gently and bring me back to life, in more or less one functional piece. I am grateful for God for giving me the strength to take one day at a time and build myself back up from physical ruin.

I am grateful for my mom, who, in the midst of untreated COPD fits traveled 5000 miles to cook a pot of soup for me. I am grateful for my sister who took time off from work to wait for hour by hour updates about my surgery. She then came down to make sure “I move the same way she remembered”, once I was a bit better. Her thoughtfulness was healing. I am grateful for my friend, H., who stopped in the middle of her July 4th vacation to come and see me, to make sure I am OK. I am grateful to my mother-in-law who rallied up a group of strangers to me to form a prayer group. They prayed every week for my health. They still do. The benevolence of people humbles me. 

I am grateful for my customers, co-workers and friends who wrote, watched the emails closely to get updates on me, and sent cards and gifts. With each one, I felt a little bit less alone; a little bit more encouraged.

I am grateful for my nephews, and their facetime sessions. With each one, they give me a reason to live and push on. My family has been my rock. Without them cheering me on and listening to my crazy stories, I would have been a depressed puddle of mess.

I am grateful that my company allowed me to move into a job I have dreamed of all my life (I finally have “writer” in my job title), at a time when I needed it the most.

I am grateful for this … whatever it is … that keeps me going, one foot in front of the other every day. This drive, or lust, or meddlesomeness that drove me to see new and interesting things this year, even when I was ground bound: like Hemingway's last home town of Ketchum, ID, and two glorious National Parks that left me in awe, Canyonlands and Mesa Verde.

Through worry and tough days, I have learned to live (I am still learning) with my newly rewired heart, which is still taking its sweet time to find a rhythm inside of my newly put together chest. I am grateful I am sitting here, writing this, more than anything in the world. I am grateful for the promise of tomorrow, but more than that, I am grateful for the present. Every second of every day, every breath is a gift. All wrapped up in the most beautiful package you have seen. Small little gifts, seconds are.

Maybe more than for anything else in the world, more than for my own life, really, I am grateful for my husband. This man does not know the word “no” when it comes to me. He is the most loyal and loving and giving and selfless human being I have met. He washed me, fed me, massaged my numb arm, religiously, every night for nine months straight now, and allows me to lean on him, unconditionally, every day. He is my peaceful shore, where I rest when life gets too crazy, and life has won the crazy record this year, for damn sure. There are no words, really, to express the love, and breathless thankfulness I owe him, every day.

We have a saying in Romanian: “Sanatate. Ca-i mai buna decat toate.” It means “Health. Because it's better than everything else.” This should be the slogan of this past year. And for the fact that I have been given sickness to learn from and health to appreciate life, I am grateful.

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