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Full of Grace and Seasoned with Salt

Okay, make that low sodium salt for me….

I’ve always been plagued with anxiety.  It’s as if anxiety and I are a packaged deal.  However, I’ve never experienced anxiety like I do now, after endocarditis.  People have asked me how the surgery went, how I’m healing, am I in pain?  And honestly, the surgery wasn’t really THAT bad.  Yes, it was definitely hard at times, like crying all the time, six Tylenol-a-day, needed help out of bed kind of hard.  I went from being an active young person, training for a half marathon, doing yoga 3-4 times a week–finally conquered headstand!–to not being able to walk two houses from my own without feeling faint.  The surgery was fine, the healing from the surgery is fine, but the anxiety of the past and future are what cause me the most pain.

my students made this for me

Now, this blog is to be an uplifting one so don’t feel sorry for me!  I want to be honest with people who come across this because I want to share my experience to help people know that IT WILL BE OK.  Help me realize that I WILL BE OK.

So, on to the uplifting part of this post!  I am a Christian, always have been.  Took a hiatus from the ages of 14-24 because I was an agnostic hippie, believing that the universe took care of things, believing that one religion wasn’t going to cut it for me because all my friends growing up were from different backgrounds–Mormon, Catholic, Jehovah Witness, Baptist– and they were all wonderful people. I still believed in God, but didn’t have a relationship with Him, He was just “there”.   I can’t imagine what this journey would be like if I still counted on the universe and the universe alone to get me through.

I am still completely 100% open minded to different religions and cultures.  I found Christ again at a church in Redlands, CA on October 18th, 2009.  Geoff and my friend Adriana were huge influences in getting me to go to church, again.  However, God was still just “there” a lot of the time.  I didn’t let Him in completely until September of this year.  When I knew I would die without believing in something…don’t get sad!  It’s uplifting, remember!

taken in September

I think this happens to many people who are struggling with life, their relationship with God becomes stronger.  Or their relationship with family or whoever they need as a support becomes needed more than ever.  I needed God because I was not liking life so much before I got sick, and once I let Him in He cleaned me up.  I asked him to open my heart to the goodness in my life, so I could see the beauty in my life…and boy did God listen.

He’s funny sometimes…

Okay, okay, now everything I’m telling you is about to come together (I tend to make long stories even longer than they need to be…)

Remember, I was talking about my anxiety?

I read an online bible study called SheReadsTruth.

SheReadsTruth journaling…every morning.

It’s a wonderful online community!  I’ve never done a bible study before so it’s been very rewarding for me.  Last night I had intense anxiety–not quite an anxiety attack–but anxiety enough to make me lose my appetite.  Anxiety of getting sick again…I woke up this morning feeling a little anxious, probably carried over from last night’s episode.  I read the devotional today from SheReadsTruth and it helped push the anxiety aside.  Reading the verse “God is here to help you” reminded me I’m not a lone.   It posed questions about how we share God’s goodness in our lives with those around us?  I am hoping this blog helps me do just that.

Even if you’re not a Christian, I hope this blog can somehow bring you peace, knowing that LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL, we just need to change our perspectives. I want to live full of grace, to be an example that miracles do happen and to be thankful.  I want to be real with you all and let you know living full of grace and knowing life is beautiful, ALWAYS beautiful, is hard.  But it’s the truth.  Knowing we are never alone, that we are always cared for, is something to be thankful for.  I’m thankful to have had my heart literally opened so I can let so much more in!  I’m thankful for my scar because it can help me help others.  I’m thankful that I’m not alone…and neither are you.

Amen, namaste, shalom….

Beautiful church in the mountains…

Myrtle

Ah, room 342.  I joked that I would write a novel about my hospital room when I got out.  It’s been nearly 2 months since I left San Antonio Community Hospital in Upland, CA.  I was there for 10 days…10 LONG days.  Never have I had to say my full name and birthday so many times in one day, let a lone for 10 DAYS.  “Heidi Elizabeth Abercrombie.  12/25/84.”

“Oh you’re a Christmas baby?” yes

“Oh, are you related to the store?” no

breakfast of champions

I began to loath the food services people.  Mind you, I had lost nearly 15 pounds in one month prior to being admitted into the hospital.  I’m 5’7 1/2″ and went down to 117.  I wanted to eat but it was so hard!  I just felt dry and there’s no other way to describe it.  Then the food services lady would stroll in and ask me for my name and birth date–for the millionth time, REALLY?!–then ask me what I wanted to eat.  I’d ask for cream of wheat and I’d get pancakes with bacon.  Ok, this didn’t happen all the time but that’s what I remember.

What made room 342 memorable though was Myrtle, my roommate.  Oh Myrtle!  Here I was, a 27 year old getting ready to have her heart ripped out of her chest, was sharing a room with an 89 year old woman who needed hip surgery because she fell down and broke her hip…while cleaning her pond!  Like I said, Oh Myrtle!

I got to know her family by talking to them when one would come around the dividing curtain in our shared room.  They called Myrtle Grams.  One day before surgery, I was a lone on my side of the room (my mom and Geoff were grabbing some lunch) and the surgeon comes in to tell me of my options: “bovine tissue valve, mechanical valve, you might have a hard time having kids, there’s the possibility of having to replace both valves which can cause complications down the road, gotta watch out for infection coming back…”  My mind went blank.  All I could think about was not being able to have children.  I started crying uncontrollably and after the surgeon left, I was a lone to deal with my emotions.  I needed someone to dump my hurt on.

Myrtle’s daughter peeked through the curtain and asked if I was okay.  Shaking my head “no” she came over and hugged me, telling me things that I needed to hear, that I would be okay.  How a stranger would come up to me and comfort me like she did made me realize how good people really are.  So so good.

No wonder the lady looks peeved…it doesn’t work.

Oh yea, I hadn’t washed my hair in a week.  So the nurse gave me this shampoo cap to use.  My mom and I laughed so hard because I kept mentioning that all the materials I was receiving about my condition had “older” people on it.  Even the shampoo caps.

After that, my mom and others were talking to Myrtle’s family while I rested.  Myrtle had her hip surgery before I went into surgery.  She recovered in our room. Oh Myrtle.  She was in so much pain.  She couldn’t hear the nurses on the other line of the phone and she wasn’t sure how to call for nurses.  I would call them for her.  I needed to help her. She needed sleep and I need sleep.  Her family called me Their Angel.  I was moved to another room the night before surgery so we said our goodbyes.  It was so nice meeting this family.

After I had my surgery and came out of the ICU two days later I was put on the second floor of the hospital in room 241.  Whoever I was sharing the room with wasn’t in there at the time.  I took a nap shortly after being put in my bed…I dreamed of Myrtle’s granddaughter, Tracy, coming in to visit me, telling her mother Sue “oh my God, our Angel”…that put a smile on my face, knowing they thought I was their angel.  It sounded to so real, like they were really in the room with me.  I opened my eyes and sure enough, Tracy and Sue were at the foot of my bed.

“Are you here to visit me?” I asked.  Both Tracy and Sue looked so surprised and excited.  “No, Heidi!  They’ve put Grams in the same room as you, AGAIN!”

Insane, unreal.  How in the world could we have been in the same room again, on a different floor.  Myrtle had even left the hospital to go to rehab (not for drugs, come on!) but they put her back in the hospital because she wasn’t ready to leave.  It was amazing.

The day Myrtle was scheduled to leave the hospital for good this time, I gathered enough strength to walk over to her bed by myself (remember I had just had open heart surgery 3 days prior).  I held her hand and we had a conversation.  I felt how soft her hand was and I began to cry.  I told her that I hope I can make it to 90 like she will.  She said she hoped she could walk again like I was.  Our age difference soon fizzled from my mind.  I realized that no matter how old you are, you’ll never stop wishing your body was well.  We might get used to the circumstances, but no one WANTS to be handicapped.  It’s our outlook on life that helps us deal with our pain, our hurt, our recoveries.  Myrtle taught me that.

Myrtle STANDING on her own :-D

This post is dedicated to Myrtle “Grams” and her lovely family.  Thank you guys for being my angels.  Thank you Sue and Tracy for being there for me and my family, and thank you for keeping up on my recovery.  I know we were meant to meet!

The “Cliff Notes” Story

Today, October 24th, 2012, I got out of bed on my own this morning.  Three weeks and two days after surgery and the infection.  The surgery and infection that would change my life forever.  I was more excited about this monumental event than I was to graduate from college.  I had to wake up Geoff to show him that I was sitting up on my own at the edge of the bed.  He told me how proud he was of me, so genuinely proud, and I felt like a big show-off.  It was heaven.

Suffering from “the unknown”…before I had the answers.

Let’s rewind a little bit to September 24th.  After being deathly ill (no pun intended) for the past month I got the phone call while I was at work.  “You have a bacterial infection in your blood…I think that’s why you have tachycardia.”  Finally, an answer to my prayers!  I ran to the vice principal, leaving my middle school art classroom with my coworker and told him I had to go home, maybe out for the rest of the week.  All I could think about was how thankful I was to have an answer, a name to what was happening to me, and explanation for the extreme 15-20 pound weight loss in one month, the night sweats, the red spots on my fingers and feet and “splinters” under my nails, the shortness of breath and high 115-120 heart rate while resting…an answer for the reason I was dying.  My fears were put aside and replaced by thanking God for an answer.  All I’ve been yearning for, “dying” for was an answer for what was wrong with me the past two months.

The next day I got a call from the doctor saying that the infection was a strep infection and that I might have endocarditis.  All I could think about was the word “strep”.  Maybe that was the cause for my dry cough I had had since July? I thought.  I was told to see a cardiologist at 3pm to see what was wrong with my heart.  To make a very long day short, after going to three separate appointments at different locations about 45 minutes away from home, Geoff and I walked through our front door at 8pm when I got the call… “Hi Heidi, this is your cardiologist.  I think you need to go to the ER and we’ll admit you to the hospital because I think you have endocarditis.”  I asked “What is that?” and he explained that it’s a bacterial infection in the blood that travels to the heart and destroys heart valves so if we can detect it early enough we can fix it.  Again, a wave of thanks rushes through my blood stream.  I feel as though I’m already hooked up to IVs just standing in the kitchen being told that I would be hospitalized.  After begging my doctor two weeks prior to admit me to the hospital, even though we had no real diagnosis, I was FINALLY getting the help I needed.

I was in the hospital for a week and a half.  During that time my life changed drastically.  Endocarditis was diagnosed.  Endocarditis attacked my congenitally defective heart valves, the aortic and mitral valves.  Endocarditis led Geoff and I to make decisions for my life that would impact my future, our future.  Endocarditis, the infection that was killing me, the cause of my suffering and silent goodbyes to the future I had envisioned for myself, the life sucker that minute-by-minute was sucking my life clean out of my body, the body I thought was healthy for a 27 year old who was just beginning her adult life but wouldn’t be able to make it much longer if I didn’t keep fighting…

Survived! Two days after surgery.

endocarditis is the FATAL infection that SAVED my life.

We didn’t know I had congenital heart defects before I was admitted.  I say endocarditis saved me because it allowed us to find out that my heart was “broken” so we could fix it before something were to happen suddenly in the future.  Crazy how something so scary and life threatening can bring so much more good to one’s life and the lives of those around them.

Hearing that I had to have open heart surgery at 27 was music to my ears.  They were going to fix me; the doctors were going to fix me…I COULD BE FIXED.  My family looked at me with bewildered expressions when I was thanking the doctors for this news.  Who thanks someone for telling you you’re going to have to have open heart surgery?  I do apparently.  Who gets excited for open heart surgery?  I do.  Who didn’t get mad and instead couldn’t wait to begin their new life, with a new heart, a new outlook, a new beginning?  I did.  Don’t get me wrong, I was scared and cried and fearful about what was to come of all of this.  “Will I be ok?” was the phrase most used after diagnosis and while I was at home the first couple weeks after surgery, but ultimately I was excited to just be better, to not feel like death was going to win.  I would be able to have my life back, and a better one at that.

Now let’s get back to the present, three weeks and two days after surgery.  I am walking on my own, sometimes two miles a day around the neighborhood with Geoff or a loved one.  Walking with a loved one is now one of my favorite activities.  I am able to roll on to my sides while I sleep with a little discomfort but I can do it!  I can make breakfast and put the dishes away.  I have been sleeping in bed the last three nights instead of the recliner.  I have to wear a pic line in my arm for the antibiotics they have me on to get rid of the endocarditis infection.  Geoff is the best nurse one could have so being able to spend seven minutes with him at my side every morning, injecting the antibiotics like a pro, makes the pic line worth it.  I was able to get out of bed on my own this morning.  I sat up at the edge of the bed and couldn’t believe what I had done.  The one thing that made me feel so frustrated and helpless I had just conquered in 20 seconds flat.  I still have a ways to go.  Little victories…

Healing, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Getting out of bed, in my mind, symbolizes the beginning of my future.  I am ready to deal with what happened to me and conquer whatever comes my way, with loved ones and faith on my side, of course. I couldn’t go through this new life alone, and neither should you.  This blog is about my journey through life after open heart surgery.  If you are someone who has gone through this surgery or will be, or you know someone who has or will, I write for you, and me. Heck, this blog is for anyone struggling with anything that’s been thrown at them, turning their lives up on the flip side.

I want to prove and be an example that we can have a normal and better life after open heart surgery and whatever caused us to have it in the first place, together.  A normal life has its ups and downs and we will have those as well.  Even with the downs, let’s embrace them with an “open heart” and live life better than we ever imagined it could be.  I dedicate this blog to us.

-Heidi

Colossians 1:25   My Verse to Live By
Colossians 1:25 My Verse to Live By