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.
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…
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…
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.