Saturday, August 2, 2014

Jenny- it's my birthday and today I painted my nails..

On our way to Dinner..

Today is my 37th birthday. The end of my 36th year (and the year I've been terrified of going through.) Mostly because my brother died at 36 and it was a creepy thought that I was the same age as when he died. So today ends that period of my life. I finally got to paint my nails. You see, I haven't had them painted for a over a year because you need nail polish free nails in the hospital so weird people who wear lab coats can check your oxygen levels. :) So in my first act of my newfound freedom I painted my nails. It may seem little but to me this is the start of a new year and a new life. I have a story that I need to tell.  But it isn't about me. It's about people you walk past everyday and their stories you don't know that aren't written on their face or in scars you can see.

Mayo's Beautiful Stained Glass

On July 17th the day started waiting in CV holding at Mayo, where everyone waits to get prepped for heart surgery. A happy, jovial guy about 42 years old (and looks like Tim McGraw) sat down a few seats from me. We struck up a conversation. He asked what I was having surgery on. He saw I had a wheelchair so he knew I was also a patient.  So naturally I asked him why he was there (thinking maybe it was for a family member.) Sadly, I was wrong. I don't want to give away his real name so we'll call him Brian Smiles. Ever met someone so full of life that they glowed? That's him. Sitting in a chair with a baseball cap on and a smile on his face. I noticed after a while that he paused when he spoke (in a way that people do when they can't breathe.) I didn't notice it at first glance and I maybe wouldn't have noticed at all if I was distracted with my phone or a magazine.

Brian told me his story about how he got misdiagnosed and had a lung removed because they thought he had lung cancer. His doctor concluded (after the lab tests came back) that he did not have cancer. He had pulmonary fibrosis. Every 3 months Brian travels to Mayo to get an artery stretched out so he can fight to breathe. Brian needs a heart and double lung transplant. Which Brian thinks is selfish to get because he'd take organs that 3 people could have. (I get up from my chair and move closer so we aren't yelling across the room at each other.) This wasn't the conversation I expected today and he needed to talk to someone.  I struggled to breathe getting up because I didn't have a pacemaker in yet. He said that I was worse than him so he couldn't complain. I told him I'd be fixed that day so go on and say anything you need to say (even in the midst of his suffering he was worried about me.) I was so struck with his composure. His willingness to share his story without fear or complaint. Just so matter of fact. Like you'd say your height or eye color. It was just part of his story, not all of him.

Brian is married and has 3 children. ( I silently wonder if his family truly knows how much he is suffering.) His positive attitude was infectious. Joking about the things that happen with his condition, trudging along anyway working nonstop as a physical therapist. His lung bleeds constantly.  Not much more can be done until that day when Brian gets listed on the multi organ transplant list. He asks me what do you say when people ask, "If you are doing better because he's not being negative but he's not going to get better." I tell him that he's not being negative, he's being realistic and his family and friends can carry him along if he just tells them the truth.

A few hours later after I'm absorbed in this conversation of Brian's truth the doctors come and get us. With the shower curtain particians I don't realize at first Brian is being prepped next to me. I try to give him privacy and don't announce I am next to him. I'm waiting and praying for Brian, that he has a good recovery. His doctors are talking to him about complications.  Then the curtain moves on the right side of me. Miss Lucy is telling her surgeons that it's okay if she dies, she has her burial plot all paid for. I shudder at the thought that this lady is so profoundly acceptant of her possibly death from heart surgery until she explains. "You see doctor, my son died when he was 9, he got hit by a car. I'm supposed to be here with my husband, but he died of cancer and I'm 78 and I'm ready to go to Heaven. The doctor pauses, shocked by what his patient is saying. He musters up the only words he has for her, " I'm going to do everything I can for you."  She reassures him again it's okay if he can't do it she's ready to be in Heaven.

The Cross I prayed to at Mayo while waiting for surgery

Me and the wound vac that was used to help me after they found the staph infection
Feeling blessed and humbled that I'm walking again from my new device
There I am sandwiched between these two people and humbled by their stories. So you see it was impossible to be upset about my situation. I was crying behind the curtain praying for them and feeling so selfish that I get a free ride. I get a "get out of jail free card" because I would be fixed with a new pacemaker.  Later on the next day I was bouncing around the halls. Nurses laughing with me because I hadn't walked the halls at Mayo before. I was damn near sprinting now with my new device. (Jeremy aggravated at my refusal to sit down.) My nurse told me I was previously a "slug" patient not moving and now I had turned into a butterfly. Then I stopped in my tracks. Because I saw Brian. He was being wheeled to X-Ray and he was pale and sickly. I felt such tremendous guilt. Brian said, "Wow, you are already breathing perfectly. Just like that, huh?"  I nodded and told him I was praying for him.

At Mayo it's like an alternate universe where people of all nationalities and ages converge.  Beautiful buildings and artwork so it doesn't feel so much like a hospital.  All people/patients that are exceptional. People that have things you've never heard all coming together to see the best of the best doctors in the world. It's strange because Mayo does most tests outpatient. So you sleep in a hotel. I lived in the hotel for a month. Food was delivered. Housekeepers brought extra pillows. Injectable medications were delivered to my room. It's like the most supportive environment ever imagined.  On my lowest day my friend Ashley came by with lunch and we talked for hours.  That talk meant the world to me and made me normal in a hard situation.  Isn't that what we are supposed to do? Uplift others and hear their stories?  Even on my worst day there outside concerts were going on in Peace Plaza every night. So I'd crack the window and listen to the world outside that room and think of all the people there at Mayo for the same reason as me, hoping for a cure.
People ask me all the time how to get through tough situations. My words are simple.

Remember the outside world, no matter what situation you have going on in your own life.  Put your phone down and have a conversation that doesn't involve a text message.  Try your best not to take any moment for granted OR the ability to Walk, Speak, Think, See, Breathe, and Hear the World around You.

After I got my miracle new pacemaker

Thank you Mayo Clinic for reminding me that we are not cases but people, we each have a story and a voice that needs to be heard, a silent prayer we can say for our fellow man, and a helping hand we can extend to those around us.  May God help us all to see the people that can helped by a kind word, or to recognize when we can connect to another living, breathing soul in our midst.