Well, as most people can calculate surgery is over and behind me. My surgery was on Wednesday, September 5th, but I have struggled with writing the post. Of course, I have been extremely sore and weak. I have spent most of the past two weeks on my couch staring at the ceiling or the back of my eyelids.
After much thought, rehearsal, and prayer about this story; I have decided to just take you through the days of my healing as I felt them. I am going to attempt to let everyone in to my head during these days. I don't usually talk about emotions or show deep feelings. I don't openly talk about my faith with an audience. I don't discuss how God plays an important role in my thought processes, but he does. This life experience is teaching me to be real. I have come face to face with some really raw realizations and decisions. I believe God is showing me that to be stronger we have to admit we are weak and not in control. It is time to open up. This has been very difficult for me, but I believe it is going to make me a better friend to everyone that touches my life. It is okay to ask for help, it is conceivable to need someone, and more than anything God wants us to share these times with others. My struggles and steadiness in him will hopefully help those in my life to depend on him during hard times. I can break down and through my weakness others can help me. People want to help me. I don't always have to be in control. Whoa! That's really hard for me to swallow. . .going to be really difficult to get used to that foreign thought. Bottom line, I am going to try and this is my first attempt. If you haven't read the two previous blog posts about my health scare please refer back a few posts to "My Big Heart" and "Appt with the Surgeon". These will catch you up to speed on where the story starts below.
The Fog of the Days Before
After I knew that there was no other option but surgery it took a while to sink in. Actually to be real honest I am not sure when it did or if it fully ever did. I spent lots of time in conversation with my inner nurse, my motherhood feelings, and God. I would find myself thinking, "they are getting ready to open my chest, they are going to cut my heart" or I would be contemplating all the medical stuff I knew. Cardiopulmonary bypass machine (that one really scared me)- ventilator - numerous hours under anesthesia - incisions - big deal IV lines - pain meds - I could go on and on. Then I would work myself up to spaz level (of course this is all on the inside). Remember I am the ultimate internalizer. I did my best not to flip out my family and friends, but most importantly my husband and kids. Once at spaz level I would panic because I am a Mom and Wife. A Mom and Wife facing a huge surgery. A surgery were they were going to stop my heart, place it in their hands, and cut it to make it new. This panic would leave me at God's feet. As I cried myself to sleep I would play out my family with out me. Jay's words of "I can't do this life without you." would echo in my mind. Thoughts of Mary Kate being too little to remember me or know how much she meant to me. I wrestled with Max not having anyone to snuggle with in the days to come. I fought off thoughts of Jay trying to do this life alone. Yes, I know those are major depressed thoughts, but it was were I was and I had to climb out. I would get all worked up and then I could feel a sense of peace as God tapped me on the shoulder. He let me flesh it all out as my earthly nurse mind needed to do and then he would say "Shhh. Go to sleep little one. I am here and I am not going anywhere." From somewhere my heart rate would slow, the tears would stop, and cradled in his arms I would sleep. Each morning he would awake me with a new peace to start the day and face those who were crumbling around me in worry.
The days before surgery were spent with those that are close to us. We began our heart bracelet campaign at the end of this week. I had wanted to make some prayer bracelets for my best friends to wear while I was in surgery. I searched the hot spot of etsy.com and found several ideas. Being the crafty person I am, I combined and borrowed some of the ideas and set out to make a couple of my own. Jay and I found some line and hearts at a local store and made a few bracelets. We both put one on and gave the kids each one to wear. Some of our best friends are our neighbors and they were home as we started making the bracelets. Of course they wanted theirs to wear and they got some of the first ones. As with most things with me I intend to do something small and simple and then it mushrooms into a big deal. Well, this was an awesome caring type of mushroom. In an huge gesture of love, our neighbors posted a picture on Facebook of their hands in a circle with my bracelets.
So the mushroom began. After several comments on the picture, we decided to take them to our close work colleagues and family and as originally planned for my best friends. They went like wildfire at both our workplaces. So with the help of two special friends we got more line and more hearts and made lots of bracelets. It was so neat! I had people calling and messaging me for a bracelet. I think just about everyone in my area of the hospital had one by the time I went to surgery on Wednesday. We did our best to get the bracelets to all our family and friends. I even mailed bracelets to Alaska and Virginia. It was uplifting as people started posting pictures on Facebook of their bracelets. I think I cried every time I saw one. It was a visual of just how many people were out there praying for me.
On Friday, August 30 I worked my last day. I was surrounded by loving coworkers with lots of good luck wishes. It was a scary day because I dreaded each hour that went by as it got closer to the end. After lunch when people started leaving for the day I got that ache in my gut. Everyone gave me hugs and well wishes. I received so many insightful words for thought. I was so scared, and while at work I felt so secure. I knew I could talk about the medical stuff out loud and get educated responses. When not I work, I am the nurse, the one expected to have all the information. My family and friends looked at me for all the answers about surgery and recovery. At work I didn't have to be that person. I could ask my OR nurses, CRNAs, the anesthesia docs, the surgeons, and my Same Day Surgery girls all my detailed gross questions. Everyone was so supportive. I even had the cardiologist and two vascular surgeons that work with me calling and texting me. No one ever made me feel crazy or stupid. Some even came by the desk to talk to me when they didn't have patients on our unit. They all wanted to be there for me and walk me every step of the way. There are just no words for this type of work environment. It is so rare for such a diverse group of people to come together to support one person. By the time my day of surgery was here, I think everyone at the downtown hospital knew I was coming. I had co-workers calling friends in the Heart and Vascular Unit. I had surgeons and cardiologists calling the doctors that would be involved in my care. I had people from our anesthesia team making contact with those who would be my surgery team. I believe that my care team was handpicked person by person before I arrived. It started with friends of friends in scheduling and preop nurses and branched all the way to my discharge nurse being a friend of a friend. It felt like everyone that had a hand in my care knew about me from a co-worker before they met me.
Before the end of the day, we took time to make a group photo with the bracelets. I felt so special, but really the word is blessed. I really feel like I have overused that word during this, but it is the one truest word. Blessed. As the work day ended, I dragged my feet not to leave, but the time came. I waved bye and clocked out. I barely made it to the parking lot before the tears started flowing. I balled and squalled most of the way home. It was just a moment that made surgery day feel ever too close. I was no longer the nurse . . . I was the patient. I couldn't fathom the thought of what the weeks in front of me held. I felt like I was leaving one nest of supporters behind at the hospital to face my biggest fears. I knew they would be there for me, but it was so hard to leave that day.
Over the weekend some of Jay's aunts and uncles came to visit. We usually all get together during Labor Day weekend so it was nice to see them. We got to relax and catch up some before we began tackling our before surgery to do list. On Sunday we went to church and got to see lots of our prayer warriors face to face for the first time since our news. They took the time to pray over us and discuss the upcoming days. This was uncomfortable for me at first, but I am so glad they did. As I have described myself, it is hard to sit in the middle of a group of people and let them pour out their love to me. Earlier in the week I had talked to one of my best friends about the fact that I knew my connect group would pray over me. I had admitted to her that it scared me and I didn't want to be the center of attention. We talked how we had both been in classes and prayed over people before in our lives. She told me, "Jessica, it is just what we do, you know that, just let them, don't you dare refuse it, and you might just be surprised." Then when it came time for it in class, I felt my stomach get all nervous. One of our wonderful girls in the class suggested what I was dreading and looked at me for approval. I smiled the best I could without a response and then she said exactly what I needed to hear again, "well, whether you want us to or not we are going to, because that is just what we do." Wow, before I could respond or act nervous she put me in my place just like I needed. I would almost accuse my best friend of calling her, but we won't go there . . it was another of many God things during this journey. So, Jay and I moved our chairs and everyone circled up. I broke and the tears started flowing. Again I was surrounded by caring and loving people who didn't want us to carry this load alone. They wanted to take each step with us and help us along the way. As my best friend had told me (and as I knew deep down) I was touched. I felt peace as God showed me more prayer warriors going to battle for me. God's love is absolutely amazing.
On Monday morning I had breakfast with a great group of ladies. We have all been friends for years and it felt so good to be together. Another one of my best friends contacted everyone and we met to chat and eat. I believe there were twelve of us by the time everyone arrived. It was a stress reliever to laugh and touch base with everyone before the big day. I needed so badly to see these gals one more time and this breakfast filled that need. I should have told each one how much they meant to me, but that was before surgery. (and besides it would have been a tear fest with everyones' emotions already on edge) I was still coming to grips with this whole be real thing. Say what you need to say. I hope they all know what a special place they hold in my life. Of course, the table wasn't all inclusive, there are other friends that couldn't make it or we accidently left off the list, but I can't live with regret. I hope to make sure from now on that people know where they stand with me. I want people to know when they touch my heart and how important they are in my life.
Monday afternoon my parents cooked a scrumptious meal for us. My Dad kept joking behind my back about "my last meal." It is usually funny when someone is having a casual procedure, but my Mom didn't find the humor in it this time. We also didn't want my kids to hear the remark. They knew about my heart not being right and that I was having surgery to get it fixed. Of course, they didn't understand the magnitude of the surgery. I was relieved that both my brothers and sister-in-laws were able to come to dinner. Also, my parents invited their long time best friends. There is just something about the need to be together in scary times. I just needed to be in my childhood home with my family. We didn't do anything monumental or say any big speeches. We were just close to one another and that is what I had wanted. We all got time to talk about the surgery, the recovery, the fears, and the expectations. I think this was some of my first moments of feeling the need to be real. I felt it in my heart, but it was still hard to talk. I was beginning to accept the surgery for the hugeness it was going to be in my life. I was also starting to calculate the hours until game time in my head. As the weekend was coming to a close my fears were surfacing.
Tuesday morning Jay and headed downtown for my preop appointment. I met with three pre op nurses who did my lab work, ekg, and took all my medical history. They let me talk to the anesthesia doctor and I fired all my questions at him. Jay sat in the corner and shook his head. The doctor crooked his head and looked at me. The nurses (who had worked with me on my TEE and MRI visit) laughed and said she's an RN that works in the surgery department at a sister hospital. He then totally changed his tune, (which wasn't rude to begin with) acknowledging that he had heard about me (lol) and talked facts with me. Jay then laughed because of the 180 degree turn the conversation took as he began to respect me. I love being a nurse. Once we were done with the preop appointment we headed back to town. I had an appointment for a haircut and we needed to pick up the kids. Jay and I planned an informal send off for dinner. We ordered several pizzas and let people come by and see us before surgery the next morning. Both of our parents came over to be close to me. Jay's sister and family had come in town for the surgery so they came over. Jay's brother and sister-in-law stopped by to see us. Then several of our friends from the cul-de-sac and my closest girlfriends came over to give hugs and kisses. The kids were going home with different friends for the first two nights. This gave our parents the opportunity to be at the hospital whenever they wished without the worry of our kids. As our friends left they took the kids home with them. Max didn't hold up very good at all. He hollered and screamed about snuggling. Jay had to carry him to our neighbors. In just a few quick moments our friends called and he was fine. Whew. Chaos averted. Mary Kate was much easier as usual. She walked around and gave kisses, waved bye, and headed out the door. Overall, it was a calm evening of seeing everyone for the last time before surgery. I am so glad we took this approach instead of trying to visit each house. After we turned out the lights and got in bed the tears started again. Jay held me and we talked about our fears. We prayed that God would hold me and pull me through this surgery. We also asked him to help us do his will from this experience. We truly believed that he had gotten us to this moment for a reason. We had all confidence that he would see us through it all. We wanted so badly to make sure we accomplish what we were meant to through this struggle. We acknowledged that we may never see the whole picture or understand any of it, but we wanted him to guide us where we are suppose to go next. Touch those we are meant to touch. It took a long time and with the help of some benadryl we drifted off to sleep.