Climbing Back to Happiness
5/23/2014 10:44 AM
By Lorelei Hill
Wow, it’s hard to believe that five months have passed since my last post. In March I submitted an entry about my life after transplant, but at the last minute the piece was pulled due to an emergency hospitalization. What had begun as a series of migraines rapidly grew into an abscess deep within the left hemisphere of my brain. The swelling inhibited my ability to communicate or even comprehend, rendering me comatose. This was brand new territory for my family as well as my doctors.
I’m not sure when exactly I woke up. When I did, I was in a new hospital, with three new medical teams! Too weak to read or write, I sat for the first few days and became a witness to my world. Time and space had no meaning. It didn’t take long for me to comprehend how much I had lost.
The biggest blow came when I discovered I had missed my 11-year-old daughter Kate’s birthday. Not just physically, but emotionally. I had missed the laughter, the friends, the cake, the gifts, and most of all, the memories. Life had gone on without me.
All of my life I have understood the power of happiness. During each surgery I was the one who encouraged others to see the positive side of life. Once strong enough to get out of bed, I’d wander the cardiac ward in search of patients needing spiritual and emotional support. So when I awoke in a new hospital, with my family and friends surrounding me, I smiled and attempted to piece together the missing fragments.
The year before all of this happened, my transplant brother had undergone his second transplant surgery. “Even when you’re unconscious you make new friends,” Mom laughed as she told me about Demetrios. Recovering in the next cubical, Demetrios had received his heart 12 hours prior to me getting mine. Once on the transplant floor, we became fast friends. I recovered quickly. Demetrios’ body suffered one blow after another. During that first year, I watched this amazing man endure infection after infection as well as a series of small surgeries. The final insult, however, came when his aorta crumbled.
I marveled at how he maintained his cheerful nature in the face of it all. Now that I was back in the hospital, this time for my brain, I tried to be as gracious. Being a good patient, I ate when I was told to and exercised (i.e. walked the ward) whenever I could. Everything about my recovery appeared to be on track, and within a few weeks I was home.
That’s when the anger set in. I am sorry to say that for the first time in my life, I did not handle the transition well. Nor did I treat those who love me very well either. Locked in a state of confusion, and forgetting my donor’s sacrifice, I openly blamed my mother and husband for allowing me to continue living. Looking in the mirror, I found nothing endearing about myself. Good thing I kept looking.
At some point mental illness touches us all. In my case it grew out of confusion over a condition that crept up on me without knowledge or consent. Healing takes patience, and I was out. I didn’t feel like the same person I was before all of this happened. In response, I cried and became really angry.
Crawling out of this dark place was one hard feat. Some days I still cry. In fact, I’m crying as I write this. Some days I’m still angry. But, as I find my way back to the Lorie I want to be, those bouts of anger are waning. No longer that independent woman, I am finding a new way to live. In doing so, I’m climbing back to a happiness I have always had deep inside.
Hello from Ontario, Canada! Lorelei Hill is a mother of two CHD babies, wife, writer/teacher, and a survivor of tricuspid atresia. After graduating with honors from Queen’s University in Kingston, Lorelei went on to teach and travel the world. Now settled into small town life, she is working with other CHD patients and her own cardiac specialists to complete a self-help book for young CHD families, entitled From the Heart. Click here to visit her website.
2 comment(s) so far...
By Connie on
5/24/2014 1:52 PM
Re: Climbing Back to Happiness
Boy, what a difficult journey! Congratulations on your determination to continue being happy Lorelei!
Take care of yourself. We will be thinking of, and praying for you.
By Toni Smith on
6/19/2014 2:14 PM
Re: Climbing Back to Happiness
Thank you for writing this letter to us all. I have never been anywhere close to your situation, but I assure you, I have felt the rage and anger and helplessness you spoke of. An example: it was about two months after my coarctation repair in 1979 that I just started hating everyone...they were "normal", healthy, had no pain. I was in severe pain, still helpless in many ways, and so on. One of the things we forget is that any, and I mean any, trauma to the body is a trauma to the soul. You have been wounded and part of healing is feeling those wounds and being able to express them. Please allow yourself of express these feelings in a safe environment. Drawing, writing, and a counsellor who understands illness and prehaps has been through some pain will help. You have every reason to cry. Never doubt yourself.