If you read my last blog entry you know I had unexpected open heart surgery in July. I’m 57 years old. Looking back i guess I have a strong family history of heart disease, mild diabetes and raging rheumatoid disease. Add in a stressful job, lack of exercise, chronic pain and sky high inflammation and it adds up to the need for Quadruple Bypass Surgery. Although as I mentioned in my last entry, the vessels on the right side of my heart were too diseased to fix so I only was able to get a double.
After surgery the hospital staff, friends and family tried to be positive and congratulated me on the “good as new’ heart. It was a fresh start they said. I usually don’t bother breaking it down for them. I just say “yeah, its great!”
The truth is that I should be totally grateful. People tell me -It could have happened when you were in a mountaintop village in Italy just 2 months before! Or suppose it happened just 2 hours earlier when you were all alone on the Cape May ferry in the middle of Delaware Bay. For me the big one came when I was just walking into my house after the ferry. I was safe, had access to a phone and was able to get to my Mother’s nitroglycerin tucked in the back of the medicine cabinet. Aren’t I lucky?
I don’t feel lucky. I know, I know, there are lots of people worse off than me. People I love are fighting serious cancer. My cousin has been hospitalized for 6 months and is on a ventilator all due to her Rheumatoid Disease. We all know people suffering and I know I am not at the top of that list (Thank God) but I am still bitter and angry with a sprinkling of Poor Me. I can’t help it. Clinical data shows open heart surgery often causes postoperative anger and depression. Maybe this is all just a physical reaction to them splitting my chest open and the heart lung machine. It’s been three months but I’m still pretty angry.
I know a good attitude is associated with better clinical outcomes. I don’t want to be angry but I’m kind of stuck here. I want to be grateful and positive and happy and all that shit.
I usually try to be grateful. I’ve done one of those Gratefulness Journals. I try to be the one who lets you merge into traffic or hands the cashier money when someone is short. I really try to do the Pay It Forward thing. But I’m still stuck on Angry. Can I learn to be Grateful about this? I took a class a while back on Cultivating Kindness. They said you can actually learn to increase the kindness in your life. I tried and I think it worked. Once you are conscious of the everyday opportunities life gives you to perform an act of kindness, it’s not difficult to find a good thing to do everyday. Can this work for Gratefulness?
I know for sure that Grateful and Kind feels a lot nicer that Angry and Bitter. But how do I get there?
This is what I have so far. Meditation helps calm my anger. (for my Catholic friends- it feels like when we say the Rosary) I can’t be calm and angry at the same time. My friends and family that took such good care of me help settle down the bitterness. It’s difficult to feel love and bitterness at the same time. Kind of like that you can’t be really sad and dance at the same time. You can’t be angry and hold a puppy, you get the idea. At least I can’t. So I am meditating. I am doing the Gratefulness Journal again. I am concentrating on growing new cardiac blood vessels when I am working in cardiac rehab.
Since I can’t go around holding puppy all day (but wouldn’t be cool if I could?) I guess I have to keep working at it.
Update: I sat down next to a woman my age in rehab the this week. She is new to the group and waved when she saw me. Then she said had mistaken me for someone else and apologized. We started to talk. I told her all about my situation. She listened with patiently and touched my arm in understanding. I felt like she really heard me.
She had a big easy smile and looked great. Eventually I asked what brought her to cardiac rehab. She told me she was waiting for a heart transplant. The doctors wanted to get her stronger in case she got lucky and a new heart became available. Then the nurse called her name. She flashed that big smile and went up to get checked in.
It hit me like a tidal wave.
I sat silently, feeling her words.
I asked for Gratefulness.
I prayed for Gratefulness.
I think I just found my Gratefulness.
-You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough. – Mae West