Matters of the Heart, Part 9

As I said in the last episode, there’s an old song that says “Only love can break a heart. Only love can mend it again.”

True, but not true.

While the lyrics are good, and the tune is one you remember, the truth of the matter is a bit more complicated. While love can certainly break your emotional heart, the damage by rheumatic fever, congestive heart failure, and other heart diseases can do far more and much longer lasting damage than love could ever think about.

The physical damage to your heart is much harder, much more painful, and longer lasting than any emotional damage.

You don’t want to find that out for yourself. Because it’s hard. Really, really hard. It’s a process, and a long one.

After the results of the echo were determined, the next step was scheduling the trans esophageal echocardiogram (TEE) that would hopefully determine when and what kind of surgery he’d have to have to correct the leaking valve.

So we thought. But it’s never that simple when dealing with matters concerning the heart.

The TEE was scheduled on a Tuesday around 1:00. Because he would be only lightly sedated for the procedure, an overnight stay wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, be necessary. So we went to the hospital late that morning suspecting a fairly quick in and out procedure with the results giving us a clear picture of the next step. Maybe even getting something scheduled.

Surprisingly, I was able to stay in the prep area with him until it was time to actually do the TEE. And it was quick. Seemed I’d no sooner stepped out so they could begin when the nurse called me back again because it was over. Ben had been exhausted that morning, so the light sedation has put him right to sleep! In fact, the nurse assisting his doctor told him in the twelve years she’d been doing these tests, he was the first patient who’d ever gone totally to sleep! Go figure…

The doctor was there and waiting for me when I came back to the room. Ben was already awake and ready to hear the results. And so was I.

But they weren’t quite like we were expecting. The doctor explained that the valve was definitely leaking, which accounted for his shortness of breath and his fatigue. What we hadn’t thought about though, or even considered, was that the valve was leaking not from the center, as the two previous times, but on the side where the sutures were from where the replacement valve had been sewn in some 16 years before. He even drew us a picture on the whiteboard that was in the cubicle to describe what he meant. He explained the sutures were starting to unravel, resulting in the leakage.

And, to further complicate the matter, because of exactly where the leakage was would make it more difficult to replace the valve transcutaneously, or through the veins in the groin, since the valve is normally inserted in the middle of the old one and then “ballooned” out to make a tight fit. (No I don’t think that’s quite the term he used, but that’s all I can remember.)

Plus, to make things even more complicated, it appeared the aorta might also be in need of repair, and that couldn’t be fully determined until Ben underwent a heart catheterization to better see just what needed to be done. And that would have to be done by another doctor who specialized in those procedures.

We got answers, yes, but the answers only led to more questions.

As a former seamstress, my first thought was how long did we have before more sutures started coming out, since I was imagining the stitches unraveling like stitches from a sewing machine when the thread was pulled! Obviously he’d been asked that before, as he explained these were individual sutures, and not subject to the unraveling. However, once some of them started loosening, they would all continue to do so, and it had to be handled. “Fortunately it’s not an emergency, but it is going to require surgery in the near future. We just have to determine how it needs to be done. That’s what the cath is for. It will help determine which way to do it.”

So on to scheduling the cath. Two and a half long weeks to wait because the cath doctor was on vacation and then he was totally booked the following week. Well, I guess that wasn’t bad; at least they weren’t rescheduling someone else to get Ben in because he was in bad enough shape to have the procedure done immediately.

Of course, for him, it meant that much longer to be miserably exhausted and short of breath all the time. His quality of life was definitely not as good as we’d both like, but we had to deal with it for a few more weeks.

So we thought…but we missed that one comment, “have to determine which way….” And making that determination wasn’t going to be as easy as we thought.

And it continues in Matters of the Heart, Part 10, to be published April 1.

Don’t miss the previous stories in this series:
Matters of the Heart, Part 1
Matters of the Heart, Part 2
Matters of the Heart, Part 3
Matters of the Heart, Part 4
Matters of the Heart, Part 5
Matters of the Heart, Part 6
Matters of the Heart, Part 7
Matters of the Heart, Part 8

Matters of the Heart, Part 8

There’s an old song that says “Only love can break a heart. Only love can mend it again.”

Not necessarily.

While the lyrics are good, and the tune is one you remember, the truth of the matter is a bit more complicated. While love can certainly break your emotional heart, the damage by rheumatic fever, congestive heart failure, and other heart diseases can do far more and much longer lasting damage than love could ever think about.

The physical damage to your heart is much harder, much more painful, and longer lasting than any emotional damage.

You may not believe it, but trust me, it’s very true.

If you’ve been following the stories in Parts 1 through 7, you know what we have been through so far, and can only imagine the emotional stress we’ve been through, especially over the last few years. And it’s still going on.

When the six month period after the ablation surgery was over, we really thought his problems had been solved, and started to breathe a sigh of relief.

Until one day in the middle of January when he woke up absolutely exhausted. He said he felt like someone had drained all the energy out of him, and he was having shortness of breath. He looked tired, and I was very concerned about him. He was able to get an appointment with his primary doctor the next day, where he found out he’d gained 16 pounds in three months, which is totally unlike him.

Knowing his history of fluid retention and congestive heart failure, his fluid pills were immediately increased, and he was told to see his cardiologist as soon as possible, just to rule out any heart problems.

Why didn’t he catch it before it got to this point? Because he’d been doing so well, he’d stopped the routine of checking his weight every day. And it was the holiday season where everyone seems to add on a few pounds. But not 16 in three months!!!

And yes, when he told me all this, I immediately knew what was wrong. Call it intuition, instinct, or thinking the worst because of all we’d been though, but I just knew what I knew that I knew.

We were able to get an appointment with his regular cardiologist within a week due to a cancellation. By that time he was feeling worse. He’d already dropped 3-4 pounds from the fluid pills, but he had to take a nap every afternoon when he got home from work or else he couldn’t function that evening. He was getting increasingly short of breath as well as lighthearted and sometimes dizzy when he bent over and then stood up.

Obviously something was quite wrong. Again. And I was pretty sure I knew what it was. I think he did, too, but he didn’t want to think about it.

When we got to his appointment the nurse did an EKG as part of the check in process, but of course we had no idea what it revealed.

His doctor came in and as Ben described his symptoms I couldn’t help but notice the slight change in Dr. S’s demeanor. I knew he was worried. I could tell as he listened to Ben’s heart and lungs. He told him he heard a heart murmur, and wanted him to have a chest x-ray and an echocardiogram as soon as we could get it scheduled to determine what was going on.

Now imagine how we felt when, as we were checking out and trying to get the appointments made, Dr. S came out and told us he wanted the X-ray immediately, and the echocardiogram within 48 hours! And told the scheduler to find an open appointment at one of two locations. He told us after reviewing his history again, and considering how pronounced the murmur was, which had NOT been there at his last checkup 3 months previously, he didn’t want to wait.

So we went across the street to the imaging center and had the x-ray done and the appointment for the echo two days later.

The chest X-ray was good, all things considered. There was fluid, but no worse than what the doctor had heard through his stethoscope. And yes, that was good news!

Then came the echo. I was actually able to watch this one being done, as I had several other times. I’m certainly not a medical technician, or doctor, but I could see some of the leakage as the technician did the test.

Of course, we had to wait for the doctor’s office to call with the results, which took longer than we thought because the office hadn’t notified Dr. S that they were there to read! And all the time Ben just kept getting more and more tired and more short of breath. And I was more and more concerned.

Then we got the call. A personal call from Dr. S himself. I’d just gotten home and we put the call on speaker so we could both talk and ask questions. The news was what I expected. The valve was leaking. Just like 15-16 years ago. Which would mean surgery….again.

The question now was how it would have to be done because of his two previous open heart surgeries. We’d always joked around that when his valve had to be replaced again, the way medical technology was advancing, it would probably be done as an outpatient!

It’s a great idea, but medical science isn’t quite there yet. If only that were true…

So more testing was called for. Of course. Starting with a TEE, or trans esophageal echocardiogram, in which a scope with a camera is inserted down the esophagus (while the patient is in a twilight sleep) to enable the doctor to better see inside the heart and determine exactly how bad the valve is leaking, and if there are other problems that will need correction.

And the wait for answers continued, but this time we were especially antsy, because we wanted to just get it done and over with. And he continued to become increasingly tired, short of breath, and lightheaded….

More to come in Matters of the Heart, Part 9, to be published March 28.

Don’t miss the previous stories in this series:
Matters of the Heart, Part 1
Matters of the Heart, Part 2
Matters of the Heart, Part 3
Matters of the Heart, Part 4
Matters of the Heart, Part 5
Matters of the Heart, Part 6
Matters of the Heart, Part 7

Matters of the Heart, Part 7

By now you’ve determined that once a heart begins having problems, it’s likely to continue as you get older. Especially if that heart was damaged by illness or other problems.

But these heart issues also affect our emotions, as well as our physical bodies. It’s stressful, not only on the person actually experiencing the problems, but family and friends. It can change the course of your entire lives. It certainly has ours.

And it’s continuing to do so, and most likely will continue to do so for some time.

After the ablation procedure Ben had to take it easy for several days. He couldn’t pick up our yorkies, or our granddaughter. He couldn’t go back to work until the following week. He was told he’d probably be tired, and some of the new meds could have side effects such as making him tired, upsetting his stomach, severe headaches, dizziness, etc. But he had to keep taking them to prevent infection, and to help his heart heal from the surgery had been done.

And he experienced every one of those side effects. Of course. Which truly made him discouraged. “I went from one problem to another!”

The procedure had taken place on a Tuesday, with him coming home Wednesday morning. He stayed home taking it easy until Saturday, when he just felt like he needed to get out for awhile.

So we went to one of our favorite little artisan pizza restaurants which is only about 10 minutes from the house. We always sit at the bar so we can talk to their employees, plus we also get quicker service as well.

We had just gotten our drinks when it happened.

Ben suddenly got quiet, and his face went from a smile to grimace of pain. I asked him if he was all right, expecting his usual? “I’m fine.” Instead, he said no, as he held his right arm with excruciating pain shooting thru it. And slowly starting leaning to his right……

Not again….!!!

“Do you need to go to the hospital?!”

When he quickly agreed I knew this was worse than serious.

He didn’t want to wait for an ambulance, and since the hospital was almost just across the street, I hurriedly helped him out and got him in the car. We’d been happy when we’d parked that we actually found a space directly in front of the restaurant; now I was more than grateful for that, because we didn’t have to go far to get him to the car, and I didn’t have time to ask for help!

I drove as quickly as I could to get him to the ER, telling him the whole time “Stay with me! Stay with me! We’re almost there!” And if a police officer had tried to stop me, well we’d have just had a police escort to the ER and I’d deal with it later! And fortunately I hit no red lights and traffic was light.

In five minutes I’d pulled up to the hospital, hit the flashers, and ran into the ER like a crazy person yelling my husband was having a heart attack and pointed to where my car was. I’m sure the staff is used to such things, and they had him in a wheelchair and in a room quicker than I could imagine. Thankfully. And yes, I did have enough presence of mind to move the car.

When I got back inside it was a flashback of those several years previously with all the wires and machines being quickly hooked up to him, just in case. His heart rhythms looked good, at least to me, and I’d seen a lot of them over the years!

He said his pain was starting to go away, and the nurse said his EKG was normal. Thank goodness! After a lot of tests, which of course took forever to come back, they couldn’t really find anything wrong. Speculations included a TIA, or mini-stroke, angina attack (which he’s never had, or at least not yet), a pinched nerve in his neck, etc.

But the main thing they attributed it to was possibly an after-effect of the ablation procedure. Yes we knew there could be after-effects, but this one hadn’t been mentioned.

Suggested follow up visits to his primary care doctor, his cardiologist, and later a neurologist, didn’t really shed any more light on the incident, so quite possibly it could have been a result of the ablation. As the surgeon reminded us at that follow up visit, his heart had been traumatized with the procedure and was still in the initial stages of healing. That was why he would be on several antibiotics and anti-inflammatory meds to prevent infections. And it would be about 6 months before we’d really know how successful the procedure was.

It was a waiting game. Some days he’d feel good, others not so much. But his regular checkups with his cardiologist were good, and six months later we thought we’d finally passed the finish line, and things would be good. No more a-fib, no more flutter. His pacemaker was working fine, and his last echocardiogram in October showed no problems.

We thought we were home free for awhile….

More to come in Matters of the Heart, Part 8, to be published March 25.

Don’t miss the previous stories in this series:
Matters of the Heart, Part 1
Matters of the Heart, Part 2
Matters of the Heart, Part 3
Matters of the Heart, Part 4
Matters of the Heart, Part 5
Matters of the Heart, Part 6

One Nation…Divided…with Fairness for My Side Only

We all know the Pledge of Allegiance to our country. Well, most of us do. I hope.

It doesn’t say what I just wrote in the title, does it?

So why does it seem like this is the way things are going?

Republicans condemn Democrats. Democrats condemn Republicans. And before you start condemning me for saying that, may I clearly state, I am NOT a member, or a sympathizer, or have allegiance to, either party. I am an independent conservative. And an American. An American who is really concerned about my country.

Right now we have way too many Republicans and Democrats, and not enough Americans. Everyone seems to care more about what party they belong to, and insulting and degrading the other side, rather trying to figure out what’s best for the American people, and the country, as a whole.

If one side says they’re in favor of something, the other side automatically says they’re against it. Without even stopping to think about the issue itself. Maybe it’s something that’s important to both sides, and just needs a little tweaking here and there, a compromise.

But oh no! If the other side is in favor of it, they certainly can’t be!


Could it be because all we hear in the news are elected officials criticizing the other side. We’re bombarded with it, because each side wants to hear their own point of view expounded upon, so they can claim that they’re right no matter what.

We have a president who delights in lambasting the other side every chance he gets. He continually bashes his opponents, bullying those who speak out against him, usually calling them derogatory names and making fun of them, which he thinks makes him look good. His die-hard supporters love it. I’m disgusted by it. It’s not cute. It’s not funny. It’s insulting, and it’s bullying, and certainly not presidential.

And it continues to divide our country even further. As do the conservative talk show hosts that constantly and pompously espouse “Democrats bad, Republicans good, and this president is the best thing ever! If you don’t believe me you’re not a true American!” I cannot even listen to a promo for those shows without feeling disgusted.

And the Great Divide grows larger.

We continue to hear cries of “fake news” every time a news outlet says anything that makes one side or the other look bad. The last time I checked, our Constitution provided for freedom of the press, which today includes all of the media. So are we saying any news that’s published that makes YOUR side look bad is “fake” and if it makes the other side look bad it has to be true?

And what is happening to our right of free speech? Unless you agree with what is said, it’s wrong! It’s “fake.” Well, if it’s not true, there are laws governing libel and slander. Take advantage of that and do something about it; otherwise stop saying everything you don’t like is “fake news!” Prove it. Put your money where your mouth is!

And the Great Divide keeps getting wider and wider….

And we keep becoming a nation divided.

It’s past time to end this. It’s time to end the divisive rhetoric, the name calling, the insults, and the “them vs. us” mentality. It’s time to stop the “tweetstorms” of grandstanding, name calling, insults, and accusations , and get on with our nation’s business.

It’s time to act like we’re all Americans, rather than one party vs. the other, because that’s not the way to accomplish anything.

It’s time to become one nation…united…again. Or else our nation is in danger of once again becoming two distinct countries.

And I don’t want that any more than I think you do!

A Woman Needs a Man

Like a fish needs a bicycle.

One day when Marsha Mackerel was swimming around in the sea, she happened to see some kids riding their bicycles along the boardwalk, laughing and joking and having what looked like a lot of fun.

They had brightly colored bicycles with baskets on the front filled with all kinds of colorful shopping bags.

“That looks like fun,” she said to herself. “They aren’t stuck just swimming around in this salty ocean, never going anywhere new. Never meeting anyone interesting. I bet there’s a whole new world outside to explore on one of those things. I bet if I had one my whole life would change.”

So she decided she’d get herself one and see what kind of fun she could have. A fish on a bicycle! What an idea! She just HAD to have one. It would make her life perfect!

Taking a deep gulp of watery “air” thru her gills, she ventured out of the water, and flip flopped herself to the bike shop on the boardwalk. She looked at all the cool styles that were available, and selected a bright pink one with a flower covered basket on the front.

She flopped up to the counter and pointed her fin first at the salesperson behind the counter, and then at the bicycle, just visualizing herself riding away on that gorgeous bike, living an entirely new life of fun and adventure! Oh the people she’d meet…!

But then….she realized her dream of having a bicycle was just that. A dream, all in her mind, as the person behind the counter explained to her the problems of a fish riding a bicycle.

“How are you going to sit in the seat? You’re not exactly made to sit down, you know. You’re shaped different than we are. And you certainly can’t pedal it; you have no feet, and your fins aren’t strong enough.”

“Plus you live in the ocean, not on land. How will you be able to breathe on a bicycle? I know you have a storehouse of oxygen in your gills right now, but it’s not going to last much longer, and you’re going to have to go back into the sea. You can’t take the bicycle into the sea with you, because it’s not designed to go underwater. Just like you’re not designed to live on the land.”

“You live in the water and swim all day. You can go places I could never go,” said the salesperson. “I envy you because I can’t even swim. I’d trade places with you if I could. But it doesn’t work that way. I’m who I am and you’re who you are.”

“A fish doesn’t need a bicycle. A fish needs to be what you are. And enjoy being what a fish is. A fish needs to be happy in her own scales, and they’re beautiful iridescent scales, too, with shimmering colors that make you beautiful. Just the way you are. That bicycle you think you want, no matter how attractive, would only take away from your own beauty, and tie you down. You don’t want that, do you?”

And he continued on. “You need to be happy being yourself. And you don’t have to have something you can’t use to make you happy. Don’t be envious of what others have, because you have things they don’t have. Like me. You can swim and I can’t. And I guarantee you wouldn’t want to lose that ability just to be able to ride this bicycle for a few days. Would you?”

Maggie thought about what he’d said. “No, I wouldn’t. I just thought I’d be happier if I had some of the things other people have that seem to make them happy. I feel like I’m missing something….”

“You’re not missing anything,” said the man. “You just think you are. Go back to the ocean and be who you were made to be. I guarantee you’ll be happier when you think about what I said. Because you have to like yourself to be happy with yourself. A bicycle can’t make a fish happy; only you can do that. And then watch what other good things will happen when you make yourself happy!”

So Maggie Mackerel headed back to the ocean and jumped back in. She took a delicious gulp of air and felt it rejuvenate her body. Maybe that man was right. She enjoyed feeling the waves around her body, and hesitantly headed out to new adventures.

A fish doesn’t need a bicycle to be happy.

A woman doesn’t need a man in order to be herself, or who she’s destined to be. Like Maggie Mackerel, she has to like herself, be comfortable in her own body, to be truly happy.

The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, and being yourself is so much better than being someone else.

There’s only one you. Don’t try to make yourself someone you’re not in order to make yourself into someone you think you should be. The world needs you, not another copycat of someone else. And you don’t need anyone else to get you there.

Did Maggie Mackerel get her life together? What do you think?

I can tell you this much. She didn’t go back and get that bicycle. She found out she didn’t need it!

Neither do you.

Matters of the Heart, Part 6

Matters of the Heart, Part 6

As I wrote previously in Matters of the Heart, Parts 1-5, my husband has experienced heart issues since we were married a little over 34 years ago, thanks to a bout of rheumatic fever at the age of two. He’s had two open heart surgeries and numerous other cardiac procedures that we didn’t really know existed until he had to have them. And we learned a lot more than we ever wanted to.

Because of the recurring bouts of A-fib I talked about in Part 5, we decided he needed to go ahead and have the ablation surgery the doctor had recommended.

Ablation entails inserting a tiny catheter in a vein in the groin, and threading it up into the heart, so that the procedure can be done with minimal invasion to both his body and his heart. After the procedure, he would be in the hospital for several hours to be certain there were no complications, such as bleeding or a recurrence of the irregular heartbeat, and then most likely go home.

So on a hot summer day last July we arrived at the hospital at 6:30 in the morning, overnight bag packed just in case, and prepared for a long day.

As confident as I was with the doctor, and the hospital (which is owned by the healthcare organization I work for), I couldn’t help but be a bit nervous. After all, this was a procedure he hadn’t had before, and we really didn’t know what to expect.

Fortunately our daughter and one of my best friends were there to sit with me, which helped pass the time. But hours pass very slowly in this situation, and when it was past the two hour time estimate for the procedure, and we hadn’t heard anything I was getting anxious. Normally the doctor comes out and talks with you, but after three hours with no news, needless to say I was more than worried, and quite anxious.

I knew something wasn’t right. The receptionist at the front desk in the waiting room couldn’t tell me anything except they’d call as soon as he was ready to have us come back to the recovery area, and that the doctor would be out shortly.

When you’re dealing with cardiac issues, no matter how confident you are, how much faith you have, you still get worried when a procedure takes longer than it should. All kinds of things go through your mind; things you don’t want to think about, but there they are, and they just won’t go away.

It still took another 20 minutes or so before the doctor came out. I’m sure he knew how worried I’d been, and after telling me Ben was all right, he quickly apologized for taking so long.

And then he explained what had actually taken so long. Ben had not only been in A-fib when he came in that morning; he was also experiencing something called flutter, which we’d never heard of. Atrial flutter is a condition in which the electrical circuits in the right atrium of the heart cause the heart to beat extra fast, between 250-400 beats per minute, causing the upper and lower chambers of the heart to be beating out of sync.

Well that was something else I’d never heard of, and neither had Ben. But I was sure having both A-fib and flutter wasn’t a good combination, causing dizziness, shortness of breath, and also an increased risk of blood clots or stroke.

The good thing in all this, if there was one, was that the doctor was able to do a double ablation, cauterizing two areas of tissue in my husband’s heart which were causing the conditions. As the doctor said, he got a “twofer”, otherwise he would’ve had to come back several weeks later to undergo a second ablation surgery.

Well, I guess that was a good thing.

However, because of the blood thinners he’d been on for years, and even though he’d stopped taking them the day before as instructed, when the catheters were removed, it took over 20 minutes and intense pressure on the insertion points to stop the bleeding.

But at least his heart valve, the one that had been replaced twice, appeared to be fine, with no signs of leakage. At least that worry could be put to rest!

When we finally got to see him he looked good, although understandably tired. The nurses still came in every 15-20 minutes to check on the insertion sites to be sure there was no more bleeding.

I have to say, one thing thoroughly impressed all of us that day, and that was the story he told about going into the operating room that morning, where he was greeted by a line of people as he was wheeled in on the gurney. He said it actually reminded him of a reception line at a wedding. Every person there introduced him/herself with a “Good morning, Mr. Newell. My name is _______, and I’m going to be doing _______ for this procedure. They even had a “Welcome Ben Newell” sign on the huge monitor in the OR on which his procedure would be displayed and most likely videotaped for his electronic medical records. He was so impressed with that, and so were we when we heard about it, and he’s told everyone he runs into how it made him feel so important, and how such a personal display from the OR team would make anyone feel more comfortable and relaxed about going through such a major procedure. (Thank you, Sentara Heart Hospital in Norfolk!) These are the little touches that are so important in dealing with these major medical procedures.

The nurses kept checking on him the rest of the afternoon, but by 5:00 I knew he wasn’t going home that night. There was just too much to be concerned about, including bleeding from the sites as well as episodes of possible A-fib, and neither one of us had a problem with him staying there overnight. By the time I got home, all I wanted to do was cry or sleep, or both.

The next day he was released a little before noon, and we really thought things were going to get better and stay that way! Even though the doctor had said it would be a good 6 months before we could be assured it was all OK, we were believing this would be the end of his heart problems.

More to follow, in Matters of the Heart, Part 7, to be published March 21.

Don’t miss the previous stories in this series:
Matters of the Heart, Part 1
Matters of the Heart, Part 2
Matters of the Heart, Part 3
Matters of the Heart, Part 4
Matters of the Heart, Part 5

What Do You Say?

About six years ago, I visited a friend in the hospital….again. She’d already been in there for a little over two months. She had endured three separate surgeries, as well as a bout of pneumonia. She was on a feeding tube because the doctors still hadn’t gotten her system to where it could properly digest food. In the months she’d been in the hospital, she’d only had real food three or four times, and hadn’t been able to keep it down.

Her first diagnosis was a blockage in her gall bladder; then that diagnosis changed to a tumor in the pancreas. She was transferred from the smaller hospital she’d originally been sent to a larger facility where they were more equipped to handle such cases.

The diagnosis quickly changed from a tumor to a cancerous tumor, but still the doctors said it could be cured by removing it, and then follow-up chemo or radiation. That first surgery went well, and she was on her way to a quick recovery, or so we thought.

Until another surgery was required for a twisted intestine, and then another for a blocked bile duct. And still she’d had no solid food. We all watched her grow slowly weaker. Physically, that is. But the one thing that remained constant was her faith.

Even in the midst of all the surgeries, the discomfort, the inability to even get out of bed by herself, the one thing that kept my friend going most of all was her deep and abiding faith in her Lord. Because she
knew the God she served, and she knew His promises, and she knew He would never leave her or forsake her.

Did that mean she didn’t get discouraged? Not at all. She was human like the rest of us, and no matter how strong our faith, I do not think any one of us could say that we would never waiver, never have our moments of doubt.

But then came the day I went to visit her in the hospital again, and found she had been transferred to the oncology wing, I have to say my heart sank. And I KNEW, regardless of what else we were told, that it wasn’t good.

Then came the late night text three days later. A new prognosis. The doctors couldn’t do anything more for her. She was going to be sent home with hospice care. Her daughter was flying in from out of town to help take care of her.

What do you say? And what does it do to our faith?

I remember the last time my husband and I visited her at home. She was dressed up as best she could, laying in her rented hospital bed, wearing her best earrings and favorite necklace, with a colorful scarf knotted around her neck. And slowly enjoying a taste of ice cream.

“Don’t you dare cry for me,” she told us. “Not for a moment! I’m going to meet the Lord soon, and I’m excited! He’s taken care of me this far, and He’s still doing it! I’ll see you all again. Don’t you worry about that!”

Wow! And she meant it, too. That, my friends, is faith. And I hate to admit, I don’t know if I’d have that attitude of faith or not. I certainly hope so, but none of us know how we’d react.

My friend went home to be with our Lord about a week later. Yes, we mourned. We cried. So did her family. But I couldn’t help but remember the words she spoke the last time we saw her.

How would I react? How would I handle it, if it were me, or someone I dearly love?

I honestly cannot say. My faith is strong, but strong enough to not doubt in the midst of a storm like this? To not say, “why me, Lord?” To not try to make a deal with Him to allow me or my loved one to be healed? To give them…or me…just a little more time?

I’ve had other friends, close friends as well as acquaintances, who’ve gone through this situation. Each handled it differently, until very close to the end when they finally realized their time on this earth was short, and they would soon be going on to meet their Lord.

To me and other friends and family, they said “it’s ok. God’s got His plan. It may not be the same as mine, but that’s the plan, and I know it’s going to be ok.”

But at night, in the quiet and stillness of an inability to sleep, what were they thinking? What were they praying? Were they scared and afraid to admit it? Or did they truly believe everything they told us all?

I really don’t know.

I remember my mother’s last few days, especially the last time I was with her. She was so adamant that all she wanted to do was go home to the Lord. I remember her saying very strongly to me, “Don’t you understand? I don’t want to live like this anymore. I just want God to take me home. I’m tired and I’m ready. You’re going to be fine without me. I just want to go.”

And she did four days later. And in her case, I can almost guarantee she wasn’t scared. She was just ready.

Why write this now? First of all, I’m not sick with a catastrophic illness, and neither is anyone in my family. But we do have several friends who are going through some very serious illnesses, as well as friends whose loved ones are also.

And sometimes I just don’t know what to say. Because I’m not in their shoes, and I’m not going through it. I cannot say, “I know how you feel.” Because I don’t. I can try to imagine, but after I imagine it, I go back to my reality. A reality in which I’m ok, and so is my family.

All I can do is support them and their loved ones, be there for them when they need to talk, or cry. And love them through a tough time. And realize that unfortunately this is one of those parts of life that most of us have to go through at least once.

If you or a friend of yours is going through this, don’t ignore them or avoid them because you don’t know what to say or do. They just need to know you’re there; to know you care; and know that if they need something they can ask you without feeling like they’re bothering you.

You may not know exactly what to say or do, but sometimes a smile, a hug, a bunch of flowers from the grocery store, can do more to brighten someone’s day in such times than you’ll ever know.

Is someone you know going through a serious tough time? Do something unexpected for them. See what happens.

Matters of the Heart, Part 5

As I wrote previously in Matters of the Heart, Parts 1 through 4, my husband has experienced heart issues since we were married a little over 34 years ago, thanks to a bout of rheumatic fever at the age of two. He’s had two open heart surgeries and numerous other cardiac procedures that we didn’t really know existed until he had to have them. And we’ve learned a lot more than we ever wanted to.

And unfortunately we’re still learning.

After Ben was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, I thought “what else can happen to him?” Don’t ever ask yourself that question, because you’re going to find out!

Although he’d had a few bouts of A-fib, in which the heart starts beating totally out of a normal rhythm sequence, making him exhausted and unable to do much after a shortened day’s work, it had usually been corrected either with medication or a simple procedure called cardio version which stops the heart and restarts it heart back into its normal rhythm. The doctor called it a simple procedure, and to him, it was.

For the patient and the patient’s family, it’s scary to know your loved one’s heart is going to be stopped for a second or two and then restarted. Yes, it’s been done hundreds of thousands of times, but not on your loved one. He’d had one years before and I remember how nervous we both were before having it done. Yes, it took probably 15 minutes from putting him under to bringing him out of the sedation, but still…

We certainly hadn’t thought he’d have to go through it again, but over the past years since being diagnosed with CHF (read Matters of the Heart, Part 4), we really didn’t think about that coming back. And, he already had the pacemaker so we though we were ok on that particular issue.

But since then we’ve learned that a pacemaker doesn’t keep the heart from going into A-fib. It will shock the heart when it’s too slow, and try to bring it in rhythm when it’s going into A-fib, but basically, at least in my husband’s case, a defibrillator is needed to correct A-fib.

Last spring, he started getting very tired, and would complain it felt like his heart was racing. He had to take a nap when he came home from work, even though he’s only working 30 hours a week. He couldn’t walk a lot without getting tired, and picking up our granddaughter or one of our Yorkies was difficult, because he got so short of breath it took him a few minutes to start breathing correctly again.

Back to the doctor….

Where we discovered the A-fib had reared its ugly head again. And found out the pacemaker wasn’t enough to prevent this.

So now what?

More medication changes. Drugs to hopefully control the A-fib; a different blood thinner to decrease stroke risk. And a list of side effects that didn’t sound like fun either. Which of course he developed, which meant changing meds again. And by the way, even with insurance these medications are NOT inexpensive, and a few had to be ruled out because of the cost!

We were also fortunate enough to get an appointment with one of the specialists in his cardiology group who deals only with cases involving electrical issues of the heart. A cancellation in his schedule enabled us to get an appointment within a week; otherwise there is usually a three month wait.

This doctor was very good, very professional, and very reassuring. He explained there are basically four treatment protocols for A-fib. Most common is medication, which unfortunately wasn’t taking care of it. The next was to do a cardioversion (again!).

The next was a procedure called cardiac ablation in which the areas of the heart causing the A-fib are cauterized (burned out) so that it can’t (or shouldn’t) happen again. That sounded scary to both of us. It’s more invasive than the other procedures, but still, it isn’t open heart surgery. And there are risks of complications, including pericarditis or other infections of the heart, small blood clots, etc. so he would be on several additional medications for 3-6 months to hopefully avoid those problems.

The last alternative would be to either add another wire to his existing pacemaker or change it out altogether. And with everything we went though with getting the pacemaker, that didn’t sound too good either.

So back we went for him to have another cardioversion procedure, which the doctor hoped would take care of it. Again, as with the other such procedures, it was quick, with no side effects or complications. We even went out for lunch afterwards.

And three weeks later, he was back in A-fib. His doctor wasn’t totally surprised, because he’d told us this could happen. But so quickly?

Six weeks later we were back at the hospital for the ablation procedure. To say I was nervous is an understatement. When your husband has gone through so many cardiac procedures, part of you feels like it’s, “Here we go again.”

But there’s another part that says, “What if it doesn’t work? What then? Where are we headed?” All sorts of scenarios go through your head at this point, and no matter how strong your faith is, you’re scared. You’re anxious. And you can’t help but wonder what’s next.

We are fortunate enough to live in an area which is home to one of the top
heart hospitals on the east coast, Sentara Heart Hospital. Which, of course, is where we went. But that didn’t prevent us from having a really long day…

Which has now gone into several long
months. And it’s not over yet. Unfortunately.

And it continues, in Matters of the Heart, Part 6, to be published March 14.

Don’t miss the previous stories in this series:
Matters of the Heart, Part 1
Matters of the Heart, Part 2
Matters of the Heart, Part 3
Matters of the Heart, Part 4

Living In The Past

It only keeps you from your future. And isn’t that where you want to go?

Do you really want to stay in a time in which you know the end of the story? Because you can’t change the ending, you know. The past is already done. Gone. There’s no changing anything.

Yes, there were lots of good times. And it’s sometimes easier to dwell on how great those good times were, rather than remembering the events leading up to the end, and the ending itself. And how awful it was. However, sometimes in our memories we change the ending so it’s not as bad as it really was.

In fact, sometimes in our minds we change the ending and make what happened someone else’s fault instead of our own. Or we wrongly blame ourselves for something someone else did to us. That way, we can continue to live in the past, in our own mind, and change that unhappy ending to something that makes us feel better.

But that ending only exists in your own mind, while everyone else around you is living in reality…in the actual here and now. You’re just not living there with them. You’re living in your own reality, but no one else is living there with you. So you’re even more alone.

Living in the past is like living with a ball and chain around your leg. It prevents you from moving on, from going anywhere new.

It keeps you from moving into tomorrow; into your future. Sure, you want to go there, you really do. But that piece of the past you’re still dwelling in just won’t let you. Like someone with that short length of chain attached to that huge heavy ball around their ankle, you can only go so far. And no farther.

Until you decide to free yourself from the past…to let it go and not go back to visit…you’re not going to move into your future. And you know that’s where you want to go…where you NEED to go. Because staying mired in the past won’t accomplish anything but making you miserable. You’ll watch everyone else moving into their future, and you’re still left behind. Where it’s definitely no fun!

So try it. Be adventurous. Stop dwelling on what happened in the past; on what you could’ve done differently. Stop thinking about what’s gone and won’t be again. After all, no matter how much you look back and think about the past, it’s not going to change one thing. Not one detail. So why do you keep doing it? Do you enjoy the pain? I sure wouldn’t.

Instead, look at what’s ahead. There’s a brand new adventure coming. No, you don’t know what it’s going to be, but it’s going to be so much better than where you are now. All you have to do is put the past behind you once and for all. Don’t think about it. Don’t talk about it. Don’t do the “what if…” Don’t look backwards, because that’s not where you’re supposed to be going.

Because if you do, you’re not going to ever get rid of that ball and chain. And you won’t be able to go into your future.

Where you’re supposed to be. And tomorrow is that future.

And it’s going to be amazing! And beautiful! If you only let it be that way.

Yes, this is a shorter blog than I usually write, because I want you to start planning your tomorrow instead of reading too long. I want you to close that door to the past and leave it shut! Lock it and throw the key away! And take off that ball and chain and throw it away! There is absolutely nothing there in that past for you any more; if it were, it would be your present. As well as your future.

So don’t wait any longer. Don’t waste any more time, because you have something very special waiting for you.