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Two Months and Still Healing

Saturday marked the two month anniversary of my surgery.  It feels much longer than that.  My body is doing fine, better than most people who go through this type of surgery–it doesn’t hurt to be a lot younger than most of the people who go through this type of surgery either.  I have most of my mobility back, however, my arm strength is still weak.  I’m still walking rather than jogging or running but that will come in time…everything happens in time.  I am noticing the wires they used to tie my sternum together are introducing themselves to me by touch!  So weird to be able to feel the wires underneath your skin!!!  I have been warned about this phenomena, and my day has come to feel the wires.  My mom made a good point yesterday on our way to church…”At least you’re alive to feel them!”  True dat, Mom.

My emotions and fears have subsided a good deal compared to what they were a month ago.  Yes, I still have my moments, checking my hands feet for any “splinters” or red spots.  This makes me sad that I still “need” to see that everything’s gone.  Work in progress.

So, yesterday I took my mom to church.  Okay, she drove me to church but I invited her to go with me.  The service was really nice.  Music was wonderful and the message was very good.  Hit Mom in a good way.  After the service, Mom and I started walking to leave the church but I had this feeling that I had to find the pastor and tell him my testimony.  Did I mention how HUGE my church is?  Thousands of people go there.  And there is only one Pastor Ed.  How was I going to find him??

I looked and looked, and with no luck, I put that feeling aside and told my mom we could leave.  But then, tucked into a tight corner of the church, I spotted Pastor Ed speaking with someone.  My mom didn’t want to go with me because she didn’t want to cry, she would just watch from a distance. I waited until Pastor Ed was done talking to the fellow before I started walking up to him.  Then I noticed he started talking to someone else…THERE WAS A LINE.

Standing in line, I was thinking how I was going to start my conversation with Pastor Ed.  “Hi, I’m Heidi…check out my scar!”  or “Hi, I’m Heidi, and I want to tell you a beautiful story…”.  I decided that no matter what I said, my goal was to NOT CRY.  I’ve always been a cryer, but NOT LIKE THIS.  I cry at everything now.  Getting a box of cookies makes me cry.  I think it stems from just being thankful that I can eat that box of cookies.  Anyway, that was my goal.  Do not cry so you can get your story out gracefully to Pastor Ed.

It was my turn.  Did I mention that I’ve never met Pastor Ed before?  He looks so tall on the stage.  When I walked up to him I was expecting to look up, but I noticed I was looking at him eye to eye.  I felt comfortable with him.  Then it was my time to spill the beans.  Share my testimony!  Right when I began to speak…my voice broke…Oh God, why?!

This is how it went:

“Hi, I just wanted to share my story with you…”

“I would love that”

“I…I ummm….I…(shaking head, mad at myself for crying)”

“Go ahead, take your time, take a big breath, it’s ok”

this is when I just take a breath and start talking and gasping for air at the same time

“It’s so good!  I.prayed.  to…have God open my heart…and…HE DID!”

Pastor Ed smiles, then I do this:

“I had. OPEN….HEART…surgery…”  and I move my scarf to show him the scar.

His mouth drops.  Wow is all he can say. Pastor Ed went to medical school before becoming a pastor. I knew he’d appreciate my medical story.  After showing him my scar, I felt a calm pass over me, like I got the secret out.  Still in tears, I was able to form complete sentences again!  I told him that in July I was praying to God to open my heart so I could let Him in because life wasn’t making me happy.  I became sick with endocarditis.  It had been two months since my surgery.

“Two months!  I’m surprised you’re vertical!”  Pastor Ed is funny.

He asked if he could pray for me and I was elated.  “YES!”  so we stood there holding hands and he prayed for me.  I wish I could remember it all, but he did ask if I could be healed from head to toe.  He asked if he could give me a hug and I said “OF COURSE!”  We hugged and I laughed, telling him I can finally hug people again.

Two months and still healing.  I realized yesterday how truly wonderful it is to share my story.  Not because I survived…even though I am EXTREMELY GRATEFUL I am here to make terrible jokes and eat boxes of cookies…but because I am able to be an example to others, that God creates miracles.  I am one of them.  I’m still healing.  Crying like I did with Pastor Ed showed me that.  I still need time to become fully comfortable with my new story.  With my “miracle story”.

Until then, I’ll just try to get used to THE WIRES ON MY CHEST…so gross!

-Heidi

My friend Lara got me this…LOVE HER! We laugh at it because, you know, my birthday is on Christmas.

True Things

Happy Sunday!

Wanted to share this with you.  I saw JJ Heller and her husband perform on Easter Sunday at my church two years ago.  I then became obsessed.  I hope you can enjoy this song and take from it what you need…

I especially like and relate to the part about “my scars and my history”…

 

I also had a wonderful experience today, sharing my testimony with the pastor of my church…I’ll write about it later. My mom is hanging out with me this weekend because Geoff is running his first HALF MARATHON in Vegas!! So proud of him :) Many things to write about for this week…hope you stop by to share them with me.

-Heidi

PS. Took Mom to my favorite coffee shop, Augie’s in Redlands, after church. The barrista made me this…love the heart (didn’t even ask for that).

What Phoenix Taught Me

This is a post I want to share with everyone.  It’s been a couple weeks since I wrote it, storing it on my computer to maybe be published for eyes to see.  Wow, I’ve come a long way from this!

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11/7/2012

I’m watching our cat, Phoenix, lay in the middle of the couch, bathing in the sun, so peaceful.  It makes me happy to be able to see her enjoying herself, relaxing, soaking in life.  I’m thankful I have this time to actually see her in the mornings and afternoons.  And then this thought crossed my mind while I was watching her: She’s had a pretty intense surgery *spayed* and she recovered from it gracefully.  She still lives her life fully and doesn’t seem to have a care in the world.

Makes sunbathing look easy

I need to get out more!

Ok, I’m not trying to compare open-heart surgery to getting your cat fixed, but I realized that I can and will be back to normal eventually.  That’s something that I’m struggling with right now.  The whole “getting back to normal” dream.  It’s been 5 weeks since surgery and I can see the changes in my body: gaining weight back, more color in my skin, able to walk more, bend, pick up things, sleep better, get up out of bed with ease- well, almost with ease- I can physically see the normal returning…but when will I mentally and emotionally be normal again?

I have to admit, the time before surgery, when I was very sick, haunts me like no other terror I’ve ever experienced.  Yes, I’ve encountered near-death experiences in my lifetime like car accidents, but always jumped back from them.  This experience, the dragged on dying experience, is something that I can’t seem to shake no matter how much I pray and listen to those around me tell me “I’m fine now, the infection is gone” or “you look so good”.   My mind and memories have been infected by endocarditis, so much so that I have become untrusting to possible truths (I can’t even type the word truth without introducing it with a “possible”).

The site of blood screams “INFECTION”!  Even though the infection is out of my body it has infected me in a way I would not wish among my greatest enemy.  However, my greatest enemy at this time is myself, so why do I keep tormenting my enemy with this infection?  With this hurtful battle with trust?  I understand recovery from any traumatic event takes time, physically and mentally, emotionally.  I want to be strong and show others that they can get through this!  But firstly, I need to show myself that I can get through this.  It’s like proving someone wrong when they tell you you can’t accomplish something.  The infection of fear that I have keeps telling me “you’re going to get sick again if you don’t be extra careful.  If you don’t walk in fear it’s going to happen to you again…”  I need to show that enemy that I am going to beat this.  I am going to be strong, even when it’s dark, I am going to be normal again, AND EVEN BETTER THAN BEFORE.

So take that, infection!  Thank you for giving me a chance to prove that I am going to be even better than before.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.  And thank you, Phoenix, for showing me to stop and relax…that life is good.

thanks Phoenix

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Yeah!!  Take that infection :)  I’ve had the picc line out of my arm for over two weeks and so far so good.  No signs of infection.  I had an appointment with the infectious disease doctor yesterday.  His last words to me were “Enjoy your holidays and go and enjoy YOUR LIFE”.  So I took his advice and went to a local winery with Geoff…and enjoyed every ounce of my life.

Enjoying life

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!