Years ago I sat in my cardiologist’s waiting room in anxious anticipation of my pre-op appointment prior to one of my heart surgeries. They had done their best to make it look as inviting as possible, they had happy pictures, bright lights and those solid mineral medical surfaces. It did help me calm down a bit, I will admit that. The waiting room was full of mostly older folks and the only person younger than me was the teenage granddaughter of a patient. She waited cantankerously, obviously bothered to spend time with her grandfather at the cardiologist. She perked up when her phone emitted an awful obnoxious noise but immediately after checking the text, she sobbed hysterically. When words returned to her blubbering mouth she informed her grandfather that her boyfriend just dumped her.
For a few moments, frustration and exasperation engulfed my body. There I was, not even 23 years young and facing my third heart surgery. I had real problems. So did every other patient in the waiting room. How dare this selfish, histrionic teenage twat make such a scene in the midst of our true suffering? Did she not realize that our hearts were quite literally broken? But then a wave of compassion crashed down on my anger. In that moment I learned one of the most important lessons of my life, that a broken heart is a broken heart no matter how it is sliced.
I continually weave this morsel of wisdom through the fabric of my relationships and use it to replenish my empathy supply when it starts to run low. For years I used this experience as a lesson in compassion and tolerance. But tonight I use this experience as a lesson in acceptance.
In February of this year I had my fourth heart surgery when I received a pacemaker (Remington Watt). Since his implantation my doctors have struggled to properly adjust his settings so that I feel comfortable both at rest and while exercising. Yesterday I met with my cardiac team for my fifth “device optimization” appointment in the last 8 months. And it appears they finally found a setting that allows me to feel more normal than I can ever remember feeling.
But with these settings I pace nearly 100% of the time. My heart will stop doing any of its own work. In an unknown but likely short amount of time, the left side of my heart will weaken before failing completely. I will then be utterly dependent on a battery for my survival.
Soon I will have to choose between feeling normal but losing my natural heart function and feeling abnormal but keeping part of my heart’s natural function for now. I wonder if Sophie would be down to trade choices.
In the meantime I recall the teenager from the waiting room. We cannot control if we get dumped any more than we can control if we are born with congenital heart disease. And so I seek to accept my new reality for exactly what it is. I already know that a broken heart is a broken heart no matter how it is sliced. I just need to remember that even a sliced heart heals eventually.