The Dying Bird

For the last several weeks I’ve been seeing this poor hurt bird. His wings are damaged, broken. His feathers are ruffled and quite obviously many have either fallen out or been pulled out.

His eyes, although still clear, are sad. Sometimes he just closes them and shakes his head, as if trying to get certain images out of his mind. Images that he never thought he’d see, and hopes he’ll never have to see again.

He’s an old bird; he’s been around a long, long time. He’s seen way too much. Wars. Poverty. Depression. Hatred. But he’s also seen a lot of good things, things that have made him proud. And you can still see an occasional smile as he remembers them. He remembers soaring high above fields and mountains, rich with beauty, amazing colors, and clear skies. It was such a sight to behold.

The way things used to be.

But those good memories fade all too quickly as he continues to see more and more hatred. Division. Partisanship. Friends against friends, and neighbors against neighbors. People talking against each other instead of with each other. Threatening each other because they don’t see eye to eye.

His friends, once counted in the hundreds, are slowly deserting him. They see what’s going on, and they’re afraid whatever sickness he may have may infect them, too. So he becomes more and more alone.

And he realizes that unless something is done quickly…unless something changes…the life he once knew and enjoyed will be destroyed. And destroyed so totally that it cannot be rebuilt in any way that will resemble what it originally was.

The bird shakes his head sadly, closes his eyes, and lays his head down. And he cries.

He cries for what has been lost and will never be again. For innocence lost. For hope that’s rapidly fading.

And he wishes he could stop the disease that is spreading so quickly that it will eventually kill him, and everything he once believed in.

Suddenly he hears voices. And they’re speaking directly to him.

“Don’t worry, mighty bird. We’re going to fix those broken wings so that they’re both pointed in the same direction. Once again you’ll soar to amazing heights. You’ll feel wonderful again! We’ll make both wings the very same. They can point in the same direction so it’ll be easier to fly! You wait! You’re going to be better than ever!”

The bird thought about it for a moment. And then gave his answer.

“That sounds wonderful. I want so badly for both of my wings to be strong again. I want to be able to fly high again like I was meant to do. It’s been far too long since I’ve been able to do that. But there’s a problem.”

“A problem?” The voices answered. “How in the world can you see a problem? We’re going to fix your wings, and make them better than ever. Your life will be better, easier than ever! How’s that a problem!?”

The bird replied. “You see, your ideas are a bit flawed. Your hearts seem to be in the right places. But my wings aren’t designed to point in the same direction. They have to point in opposite directions in order for me to be able to fly correctly. They may appear to be in opposition to each other, but in reality they’re supposed to work together for one common goal. These wings are tired and hurting, because over the years they’ve decided they have to work against each other rather than with each other. They’ve started beating against each other so badly that my feathers are falling out. It’s exhausting, and I just don’t know how much longer I can do this.”

“If these wings don’t find a way to start working together again, instead of against each other, this tired old Eagle is going to give up. I’ve been around a long time, you know, and I’m not ready to die, but in the shape I’m in right now, it could very well

happen. And sooner rather than later, unfortunately.”

The voices continued. “But we know so much better that if both wings did everything the same way, in the same direction, life would be so much easier on you. No more controversy. No more disagreements. Just peace and tranquillity”

“That will never happen,” said the bird. “I wasn’t designed like that. Both wings need to have their own direction, BUT they have to work together to a common goal, instead of fighting to have ultimate control over the other. And that’s just not happening right now. If both of these wings don’t start working together….well, I’m done for.”

And the Eagle closed his eyes again, folded his broken wings around him, and waited for someone to help him.

So who will step up to help this poor bird? Before his freedom, his spirit, is lost forever?

Maybe if more of us thought about the situation we’re in right now in this country in terms of a broken and dying Eagle, things would begin to change.

Think about it.

Matters of the Heart, Part 28

This one is actually not about Ben’s heart journey. Certainly we are still being cautiously optimistic that he will be doing well for quite a while. But still there are those times we get concerned and wonder if we’re back on that emotional roller coaster again.

It’s a natural feeling when you’ve been on such a long journey.

But this story has a somewhat different story line. But it still concerns matters of the heart.

The day of Ben’s valve replacement surgery several months ago, Dr. T had mentioned a book to us all that he said was a fascinating history of cardiac surgery. I figured, “yeah I’m sure. You’re a doctor so I’m sure it’s really technical and way past my understanding.”

However, our friends that were there with us bought a copy, since our friend Ron had just had valve replacement surgery several months previously. And they enjoyed reading it so much, they gave us our own copy.

Which of course I didn’t start reading right away, because I was finishing a couple other books. So I picked it up this past weekend, and was immediately thrown back into a world in which cardiac surgery was unheard of.

I won’t delve into a lot of detail about what I’ve read so far. But it’s changed the way I look at all the procedures Ben has undergone, and made me realize how fortunate we are that we are in an age of technology that had made what was unthinkable 50 years ago an everyday occurrence today.

I hadn’t really thought about it before. Or I guess I had, but not to the extent this book is making me think about it.

In the early days of heart surgery, more patients died than lived. The only human patients operated on by the early cardiac surgeons were those who had no chance without such experimental surgery. To them, and their incredible doctors, who were pioneers in a new field of medicine trying to perfect techniques to save lives, we owe so very much.

Ben would not be here without each and every one of them.

Bear in mind I’ve only started this incredible book, and I’m just in the part where the surgeons are attempting to mend holes in the hearts of infants and children, the “blue babies” of years ago.

Those many stories reminded me of our friends whose son was operated on at the age of two months old to mend a hole in his tiny heart, which actually turned out to be three holes when the surgeons opened him up. The skills these early pioneers developed led to life saving surgery for baby Cash who is now three years old, and whose chest scar is barely noticeable. Who has a long and healthy life ahead because of this lifesaving surgery.

But the stories also reminded me of another baby in my own family, who was one of those blue babies. Her story, unfortunately, was much different from Cash’s.

Margie was born about 10 years after me, I think. I really don’t totally remember. I don’t even know if I ever met her, because it was around the time my father had died, and my mom and I were trying to piece our own lives back together again in our new normal.

Margie was the second or third daughter of my oldest cousin. She and her husband lived about four hours away and we didn’t see them much. My mother had told me about Margie being very sick, and how the doctors couldn’t determine what was wrong with her right away.

My cousin and her husband took their daughter to several specialists, and it was determined she had a hole in her heart and needed surgery to repair it. To me at the age of 10 or so, that sounded quite scary. I’m sure it was even scarier for my cousin and her husband.

But Margie had a successful surgery. The hole was closed up, and she was brought into the surgical recovery area. She seemed to be responding well, but as we were told, she opened her eyes, then closed them and rolled over and died. We were told her heart couldn’t handle the normal blood supply because it was so used to the heart’s diminished capacity, and the normal blood flow overwhelmed it.

That was almost 60 years ago. Open heart surgery was very new, and risky. But for patients like Margie, it was their only chance, because eventually they would drown in their own blood.

From reading this book so far, the evolution of such surgeries is amazing. And we are so thankful for all of the early cardiac surgeons who were willing and determined enough to continue to try when there were so many failures. And we are more thankful for those brave patients who were willing to risk it all for a chance at a normal life, instead of an early death. Because of them, thousands of patients every year now undergo such procedures, which today are regarded as routine.

Although I haven’t thought about my younger cousin in many, many years, this book has already brought about a lot of questions…so many what if’s.

What would she be like today? What would she be doing? Would her heart issues have prompted her to go into the medical profession? Would her children have inherited a propensity for heart problems?

When Ben’s heart issues first surfaced 34 years ago, it was scary. I had no idea what to expect or what would happen. I never thought about how if it had been 15 years or so earlier, well, the results would most likely have been a lot different.

I never thought about all the work, the research, the trials and errors, the unsuccessful surgeries that took place in the years before that led up to that first successful surgery he went through. And all the ones that came afterward to make his future surgeries successful.

For those of you who would like to read this fascinating book, it is “The Heart Healers” by James S. Forrester, M.D. and is available on Amazon.

More to follow as the saga continues, most likely in ways we never anticipated. But one thing for sure…it’s always an adventure.

Give Every Day….

…the chance to become the most beautiful day of your life!

What?

How can I do that? After all the awful stuff yesterday that’s going to carry into tomorrow…my whole life is a wreck. Nothing’s going right. I don’t know when it ever will go right again….

Is this you?

Well it’s never too late to become who you might have been.

Think about that for a minute.

You have choices. You can give up and just decide nothing will ever change. That you’ll always be in this same old rut; this same old place that you were in yesterday, and the day before, and you figure you’ll still be there tomorrow.

Well, that’s most likely true. As long as you keep thinking that way and keep making the same choices over and over again. If you don’t give every day the chance to be the best day of your life…if you don’t try to make it the best day of your life, or at least one of the best you’ve ever had, or at least one a lot better than the day before…

How are you ever going to be who you were meant to be?

That takes work, you know. It’s not handed to you without your working to make it happen. Opportunities come to you every day. You may not even recognize them because they’re little things, small steps that you need to take in order to get to where you need to be to take those larger steps.

Someone may ask you to meet them somewhere, and that meeting could possibly lead to something bigger. A new job opportunity. A new chance to get involved in something that’s always interested you. A new love interest that you never expected. A chance to go somewhere you’ve always wanted to go, but didn’t know how you’d ever be able to make it happen.

Yes, things like that happen every day. If we just look for them. If we’re not afraid to say no. If we’re not afraid to say “I can’t because….”

It’s not ever too late to become what you were meant to become.

Sometimes we hold ourselves back because we’re too stuck in yesterday to take advantage of what happens today that will shape our tomorrow.

Read that again.

Did you give yesterday the chance to become the best day you’ve had? Or did you just say, “Here’s another day of the same old stuff. When will it change?” And go about your business the same way you did yesterday.

And you expect today to be different. And it isn’t. Because that’s not how it works.

It’s not ever too late to become what you were meant to become. But unless you do something different, you’re not going to move ahead and into the person you’re supposed to be. We’re not meant to be stationery beings. We’re meant to move, to enjoy, to accomplish, and to make a mark in this world.

But unless you start to do things to make that happen, you’re not going to become who you’re supposed to be.

Who do you want to be?

What do you need to do to make it happen?

And when are you going to start?

There’s no day like today.

What are you waiting for?

Are You Settling or Choosing?

Sometimes you hear a phrase that speaks volumes to you. That really makes you stop and think. That makes you pause and reflect and say to yourself…”I need to think about this…”

The other morning that happened to me.

What was that phrase?

“10 years from now, make sure you can say you chose your life. Not that you settled for it.”

That’s a tough one to think about, isn’t it? Because in all honesty, most of our lives are a combination of both.

Sometimes we make good decisions, good plans. And sometimes we don’t.

Sometimes we think carefully about our plans and decisions, talk them over with friends or family, weigh the pros and cons, and come up with what we think is the best plan. Sometimes it is; sometimes we find out years later it really wasn’t.

Sometimes we make long term

plans based on spur of the moment decisions, jumping into something because at the time it sounds perfect, almost too good to be true. And then find out we made a terrible mistake and have no good way to get out of it.

Many times we all look back at times in our lives and realize the plans we made, the decisions we made, were the wrong ones and wish we could undo them and start again.

Sometimes we make decisions because we don’t think we have a choice, don’t think a better opportunity will come along, and decide to make that step, even though we know deep down inside it’s not the right thing to do.

Does this resonate with any of you?

We may not have necessarily chosen the life we have right now. It may be the way it is because some one or some people made it the way it is. It was not our choice.

But….

We can choose how we handle today in order to make tomorrow more of our choice than settling for something else. Something easy. Something we know isn’t right for us, but we don’t think we have any other choice.

But let me tell you, we always have a choice. We can settle for status quo, decide that where we are now is where we’re always going to be. We can decide to just say “I’m done” and stop striving for more. And settle for what we have.

We can remain in the same place and give up trying to achieve what we know we want, because we’ve lost our hope.

Or…we can say to ourselves “I’m not settling for second best. Or third best. I’m not settling until I have what I know I deserve, and I’m choosing right now to make it happen. Somehow.”

You may not know how you’re going to do it, but just by making that determination, you’ve already started making it happen.

Yes, realizing our hopes and dreams, making our choices a reality, isn’t always easy. There are bumps along that road, but in the end, it’s worth it.

It won’t happen overnight. Anything worth waiting for never does.

But do you want to say in 10 years you settled, or do you want to say you gave it your best shot, and made your best choices?

You’re too old, you say? My friends, we’re never too old to make choices that we will live with the rest of our lives.

It’s your choice, and it’s up to you to make it. Do you settle or take a chance?

I know which one I’m taking!

I Still Remember. Do You?

I purposely didn’t write this for publication on 9/11. Because we’re all reminded of what happened on that day. We certainly remember it every year on that date. At least those of us who were adults, teenagers, and old enough to watch it unfold before our very eyes.

Almost 3,000 people died suddenly that day. Almost 3,000 people who had waked up that day, prepared for their daily routines and most likely their plans for after work.

And suddenly, within hours, those plans were gone. Because they were, too.

Families were destroyed, never to recover again. Our nation would never be the same again.

Yes, that day was one we should never forget.

But what about the day after?

Because today is the day after 9/11/2001.

That day, most of us went back to our daily lives. Yes, we were still shaken, still in disbelief. We were still thinking about all the lives lost, wondering what, if anything, would happen next. Yes, we kept seeing the pictures on tv, but a lot of them were re-runs of what had happened.

We’d already seen those pictures several times, and already we were getting a little tired of them. After all, we’d already seen, heard about it. And already our initial fears were starting to subside.

That was for those of us who weren’t directly affected. Because it hadn’t actually touched US.

Where we live in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia we were a bit more watchful, as this is home to the world’s largest conglomeration of naval bases. Many of friends and neighbors, their families, worked there or were in the military. And we were concerned about them, and for ourselves.

But our day after 9/11 was mostly back to our normal work lives, our normal after work and/or after school activities, with a bit of sadness and apprehension thrown in. But we still had our loved ones.

The day after 9/11 for those personally affected was a continuation of the vast horror that had been inflicted upon them.

It was a realization that no matter what happened from that day forward, their lives would never ever be the same. No amount of time would ever be able to make them forget; to make the horror and anguish disappear.

Nothing could ever make it go away, or make things right again.

The weddings that had been planned would never take place.

The birthday parties that were planned would never be celebrated.

The babies who were waiting to be born died along with their mothers. And fathers who were anticipating the birth of their children would never be there to meet them.

Children would grow up without one or maybe both of their parents.

Thousands of funerals would have to be planned. And attended. And most likely no one knew where to start…

Life for those left behind would continue, but in a new, frightening, and uncertain way. Those left behind were most likely totally unprepared for what they needed to do. Just the sheer stress of dealing with such a horrific death of a loved one, not to

mention the hundreds of details involved in the necessary tasks of finances, insurance, closing apartments and homes….overwhelming doesn’t begin to describe it.

Then there was the wondering of what actually happened to their loved ones in those final seconds. Did they know what was happening? Did they have time to think? Some were fortunate enough to receive a last phone call. Most weren’t. And they are still left to wonder about the unimaginable.

They just wanted to go back in time to 9/10/2001. And let time stop.

But it doesn’t work like that. Unfortunately. Because reality intervenes.

We all remember the haunting photos of the buildings being hit, crumbling down. The wreckage of a plane in a Pennsylvania field. A gaping hole in the Pentagon.

But I also remember the faces of those desperately searching for a loved one who may have somehow made it, hope quickly fading as realization set in.

And the pictures of loved ones plastered on fences, light poles, building walls; the flowers and notes; a grim reminder of the lost.

So today, the day after the remembering of 9/11, let’s remember what so many were going through that day AFTER 9/11. And are still going through; still remembering.

They deserve to stay in our hearts as well. Because for them, the horror will never be far away.

We remember what happened, but we should also never forget those who were left behind to carry on by themselves.

Do you agree?

I’m Just Not Ready!

A lot of my friends are, though. And I really don’t know why. Our daughter certainly isn’t. Not a summer lover like her! She even wears flip flops in the winter!

No, I’m not ready for summer to end. I’m not ready for those weekends in the pool, with the sun shining bright and the dragonflies flitting around us, to end. I don’t want to not be able to rush home from work, throw on a swimsuit, grab a float, and enjoy an hour of peaceful tranquility, floating around in that nice blue water, a cold drink in one hand, and a good book in the other.

I really love summer. Even when it’s sweltering hot. I love the sunshine and blue skies. The long days that only end at 8:30 as we’re sitting on the porch listening to the frogs and the crickets. I love wearing swimsuits and flip flops and the smell of sunblock and buying more flamingos to hang around the pool with us. I like ice cream on a hot summer night and sharing it with our Yorkies. The scent of flowers happily blooming in the garden.

But sometimes I think I’m in the minority.

My friends are posting “welcome fall” pictures. They’re talking about pumpkin spice everything. Coffee, cookies, pumpkin pie, even pumpkin spice Oreos and donuts!

No. Not me. Where’s the key lime pie and strawberry shortcake? Fresh fruit sangria? Sitting by the beach or the inlet at a favorite restaurant eating fresh steamed shrimp and watching the sea gulls.

No. I’m not ready for fall. I’ve not had enough summer yet. Not enough beach or pool time.

As much as I enjoy it, I’m not ready for football yet; baseball is still going strong and one of our teams has a chance for the playoffs.

I’m not ready for heavy sweaters and boots, as much as I like them, because I still have my flip flops and tank tops to wear!

I’m being slowly dragged kicking and screaming into another season where I’m just not ready to be, because I’m not ready to let summer go.

Can’t we just have another month or so???

Who’s with me??

The Calm Before the Storm

How many times have we said that? How many times have we really thought about what it means?

The other night as we were outside in the pool for perhaps the last time of the summer, I started thinking how calm everything was.

How much clearer the sky suddenly seemed. How the clouds looked so

much more defined. The air itself even felt different. Like something was changing. And it wouldn’t go back to the way it was for quite a while.

Yes, a storm is coming. We know that. Hurricane Dorian is making her way slowly up the coast, after leaving a trail of devastation and destruction that is unimaginable to most of us.

We know it’s coming. We don’t really know exactly what and how bad, but we do know it’s on the way. Most of us are prepared, at least as much as possible, but we’re still wondering what’s really going to happen. Part of us says we’re imagining it, but that other part of us knows we’re not.

The calm before the storm is definitely real. You can actually feel the difference in the air. Sense it around us. The nighttime insects sound different. Our pets are acting different, like they’re sensing something coming…something they don’t like. The birds seem to have suddenly disappeared. The squirrels, actively running around the yard a few days ago grabbing food wherever they found it, are all of a sudden nowhere to be found. The lizards that were crawling around in the flower beds just yesterday are gone.

The air is different. There’s a strange coolness with just a hint of humidity. You can’t determine what’s caused it; you just know something is coming.

You can feel it coming. Something that probably isn’t good. But we also know it’s something we can’t prevent.

Past experiences tell me this is normal. I’ve gone through it many times before, right before a hurricane approaches; before it strikes. One day it’s calm and clear; within 24 hours it’s blustery, rainy, and feels like we’ll not get through the storm in one piece. And sadly, in many areas, they don’t.

But the next day the storm has passed; the skies are once again clear, the sun is shining; the air is back to normal. The storm has left behind piles of destruction and ruined many things. But we pick up and begin rebuilding.

The calm before the storm becomes the calm after the storm.

And in most cases we’re thankful it was no worse than it was.

With this hurricane we’ve seen some of the worst destruction from such storms in many years. People have lost all their belongings, their homes; many lost their lives. For them, the calm after the storm becomes a stark reflection of a harsh reality; and the beginning of starting over from scratch.

It’s frightening.

This morning, count your blessings. Embrace the calm before the storm, and appreciate the here and now. Look at your piece of the world around you. Study it. Remember it.

This is life. This is real. We can experience many things while going through the storms of life, but we come through them. Not always unscathed, but we come through, knowing there’s a tomorrow filled with another time of calm before the next storm.

Matters of the Heart, Part 27

As I said in Part 26, you know there’s always an extra story… nothing is ever as simple as we think. It’s always an adventure! And you just can’t make this stuff up!

Ben’s pacemaker surgery was to have been 2-2 1/2 hours. And true to the estimates, it took just a little over 2 hours. Not bad. Maybe he could even go home that night?

His doctor came in to the waiting area shortly after the attendant had told us it was over and he was in recovery. Dr. I immediately came over to us, telling us the surgery had gone very well; the new pacemaker was in and working perfectly. He’d decided to leave the other one in and set it at a lower rate as a backup, just in case something happened to the new one, which he had no expectation of happening. Sort of like a back up emergency generator, to my way of thinking.

But there seems to always be a but…

And there was. He then said when they finished the procedure and started bringing Ben out of the anesthesia he noticed his left eye was quite red. He’d taken a picture of it and showed it to us, and explained he’d sent it over to a colleague who’s an ophthalmologist to get his opinion. As well he should have.

Ashley and I looked at it, and told him that happens from time to time because of the iritis he’s had for over twenty years, so we really weren’t overly concerned. Usually just a tiny broken blood vessel or a flare up which is handled with eye drops. And you could tell Dr. I was relieved to hear that.

And in typical Ashley to doctor conversation she made sure Dr. I sent her the picture because she thought it was “cool”. Which led to them discussing what he’d done for his daughter’s third birthday that morning, and ended up sharing pictures of his family trip to Dubai and riding camels in the desert!

As you can tell, we do have a great doctor here! In fact, after he left, one of the women in the waiting room asked for his name and contact information because she was so impressed with him!

And we weren’t real concerned about Ben’s eye. Until we saw him.

By that time, even though he was still pretty much out of it, and his eyes weren’t opening a lot, the eye looked visibly swollen on the outside. It had never looked like that before when this happened. And since it was the eye that he’d had the cornea transplant in several years ago, I started to get very concerned.

And when Ben came to enough to talk to us he said the eye felt like it had something in it, and he couldn’t really see out of it very well. We explained what the doctor had said, but how much he heard at that point I have no idea.

But when he finally stated opening his eyes, that left one looked the worst I’d ever seen it. Almost black-red. The bottom part of the eyeball was actually swollen out a little over the bottom eyelid. It was scary looking. And the area on his face around it was turning black as well. Ashley of course was concerned then, but took more pictures and sent them to several of her friends who are nurses and surgical assistants to get their opinions.

And of course, I was a wreck. I could tell from the monitors his pacemaker was doing exactly what it was supposed to do. But that eye…all I could think of was that somehow something had happened to the transplant!!!

Because of our doctor contacting his colleague it wasn’t long until two doctors, a resident and an intern, came over from the EVMS ophthalmology department with a pack of equipment to take a look at him. I was so glad to see them!

They spent almost an hour looking him over. Testing his vision (which in the left eye wasn’t good!), dilating his eyes and checking the transplant and his retina. At one point I was so upset all I wanted to do was go out in the hall and cry! Thankfully a couple good friends were texting me and keeping me focused.

They finally told us the transplant was fine and it appeared to be just a broken blood vessel from the blood thinners he was on, but they needed to go back and consult with their team to be sure. Relieved? Yes. Still worried? Of course.

And all the while, his eye was looking worse and worse.

Dr. I came back in and told us he’d talked to the ophthalmologists and agreed that it was a broken blood vessel from the blood thinners. And fortunately it wasn’t a retina bleed which would’ve left him blind in that eye. Another doctor would be in later to double check him, though.

He also mentioned there was something called a Watchman that he had used for other patients as an alternative to taking blood thinners which could be implanted in the heart to prevent clots. And we could discuss that later. In the meantime Ben was to stay off the blood thinners until his follow up appointment.

That Watchman sounded like a good possibility to me! But as Ben said, it would mean another surgical procedure, even though it was done through the groin like his last valve replacement. And he’d be the one having to go through another surgery!

So much to think about. And we thought this was the end of it all…

Later that afternoon as I was getting ready to leave after 12 long hours at the hospital, another ophthalmologist came in to see him and check his eye. And she confirmed it was definitely a broken blood vessel from the blood thinners, and that it would most likely look worse before it got better…in about two weeks. And let me tell you, by then it looked really bad!

It’s now been a little over a week since the surgery. His eye is finally starting to look better. He still has one more week of not driving, which is making me crazy. His heart rate is normal, but he still has shortness of breath, although not nearly as bad as it was. And he’s still a bit sore off and on from the procedure.

Life is starting to return to normal. Somewhat. We are looking ahead to him being totally back to normal.

And to an answer concerning other alternatives to the blood thinners, as we don’t want to risk anything happening to his vision.

As I’ve said many times, never a dull moment.

Stay tuned. There’s more to follow….