First, my apologies for the length between my last blog and this one…I’ve been busy enjoying life! Since my last posting, my son turned 4, I turned 34, my wife and I celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary and we went to Siesta Key with the kids for a week.
What I’m going to write about in this blog is the immediate aftermath of my procedure. This may be boring to some, but I hope that others who are currently going through something similar now or in the future will find it helpful.
If you have ever had any type of surgery where they sedated you, you know how it feels to “wake up” but still being in a daze. I don’t know exactly what anesthetics they gave me for my procedure, but whatever it was made my mind fuzzy for a while. I know this, because as I think back and try to recall some of the moments immediately after, I have a hard time putting the pieces of the puzzle in the correct order. To help with that, my wife proofreads these posts to keep me honest. Anyway, the first thing that I remember feeling as I came out of the fog was a bit of disbelief. If you recall from previous posts, before going into the catheter procedure, the Drs told me that they didn’t believe that they were going to find anything major. So, to be told as I’m coming out of the fog that I had a stent put in my heart to fix a 99% blockage in one of my main arteries was a bit of a shock, to say the least. The disbelief quickly merged into a complicated mix of fear, uncertainty, anger and gratitude.
Once the fog had lifted, and I was laying in the hospital bed recovering, I began to think about what this all meant. The realization that I had heart disease began to kick in, and that was a very scary realization at first. All of the fear and emotions that I felt were centered around my wife and kids. All of the thoughts and questions that you think would go through your mind in a moment like that, did for me. I laid there wondering if I was going to be able to see my kids grow up. See my son play sports, graduate from high school, go to college, have a family. See my daughter continue to beat boys in sports, protect her from bad boys, high school, college, and finally walk her down the aisle (this still gets me to this day every time I think about it). And my wife, my amazing wife Abbie, I just kept thinking about how much we still have to conquer together. And was I going to be leaving my wife with this incredibly difficult task of raising our kids on her own and explaining to them some day what happened to Daddy. My wife lost her mother at an early age, and I just kept feeling angry at myself, because I felt like I was about to put my wife through the same thing all over again, only this time as a parent. So many scary thoughts went through my mind, and it was very difficult to avoid them.
On the flip side, doctors and nurses would come in to check on me constantly, and they would all be in great spirits and talk about how well the procedure went. Nobody could explain why I had the blockage, but they all told me that it was fixed. I asked a number of doctors what this meant for me going forward, and they all told me that my heart is likely healthier than its been in a long time (or maybe ever) and that I should expect to lead a long, happy and healthy life. When I would think about my procedure from this perspective, I would be overwhelmed with gratitude. Grateful that I had such a great team of doctors. Grateful that I listened to my body and went to the doctor when I had chest pains, which likely avoided me from having a massive heart attack running on a trail in the middle of nowhere someday. Grateful that my wife was sitting next to me as I recovered instead of saying goodbye to me. Grateful that my heart was fixed! I was grateful for many things, but in the moment it was hard to latch on to the positive. I found myself focused on the negative and uncertainty.
I think that one of my doctors said it best when she said, “Mark, you just stared your own mortality square in the eyes at the age of 33, it’s normal to feel scared.”
If I could give advice to anyone going through a similar situation, I would simply tell them to do whatever they can to latch on to the positive. Don’t hide from the fear and uncertainty, those emotions are important and very real. But, its the positive thoughts that will carry you through the difficult times. I believe that feelings and emotions feed off of themselves, and it is much better to have a snowball of positive energy than negative when faced with adversity.
Looking back, it feels like I was in the hospital recovering for a week. In reality, my procedure was done on December 1st at 3:30pm, and I was discharged on the afternoon of December 2nd. For those who have kids, the feeling that I had when leaving the hospital was a bit like taking your first child home from the hospital. It’s that, “Oh Shit, what do I do now that I’m not surrounded by doctors” feeling. While I was emotionally all over the place while I was in the hospital, the one thing that I didn’t worry too much about was if something went wrong medically, because I was surrounded by an amazing team of cardiologists, nurses and other doctors. When I went home and was no longer on a heart monitor 24/7, surrounded by those doctors, everything changed for me. I was no longer just scared, I was damn near paralyzed by my mind.
The first few days at home were very difficult for me. All of those thoughts that were going through my mind while in the hospital continued, but were magnified by a thousand times as I lie in bed alone. On top of the emotional thoughts, I was now starting to worry about every tiny movement I made and every physical feeling that I had. I guess the easiest way to explain it was that I felt very fragile. I drank a ton of water, but wasn’t very interested in eating. I felt ok laying still in bed, but felt like I was going to pass out when I would try to get out of bed. I could temporarily keep my mind at ease watching tv, but when there was silence I would be overcome with anxiety and fear. These were constant themes for me for about the first week at home. It not only effected me, but began to effect my wife and children. When I realized that it began effecting my kids, that was when I finally made the conscious decision to snap out of it and try to get my life back to normal.
Now, you’re probably thinking to yourself that Mark is a total wuss. It wasn’t that big of a deal, he just had a stent put in. A lot of people have that done every day. In a lot of respects, you may be right. But in this case, I believe that I was mostly scared due to my lack of knowledge and all of the uncertainty that came with just not knowing what this all meant. This is exactly why I’m writing this blog. Because I hope that the next 33 year old Daddy (or Mommy) and Husband (or Wife) that finds themselves in this situation will know that it isn’t all doom and gloom. I’ll write about this more in a future post, but I am less than 6 months removed from the procedure and I am doing amazing! I am working out and/or running 6+ days per week, I’m in the best shape I’ve been since college, and as a bonus my wife says I’m “hunky” now.
I won’t pretend that I don’t ever have negative thoughts or concerns still, but I have found ways to focus on the positives and feed off of that energy rather than the negative. More to come on this in future posts as well.
Until next time, “Dream as if You’ll Live Forever, Live as if You Only Have Today!”