By Christy Sillman
25 Aug

Music Helps My Heart Beat

Thursday, August 25, 2011

One of the most vivid memories of my last open heart surgery in 1998 was driving through San Francisco on our way to UCSF with the music blaring. I felt a pit in my stomach as I contemplated whether that day would be the final day of my life. I felt an urge in my legs to tremble but instead I was forcing them to tap to the beat. The song was “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” by Pat Benatar.

“You’re a real tough cookie with a long history, of breaking little hearts like the one in me” — was I imagining God or my surgeon when I sang along to that lyric, or maybe just fate?

“That’s OK, let’s see how you do it. Put up your dukes, let’s get down to it. Hit me with your best shot. Fire away…”

This was my anthem that day. It was my way of channeling my anxiety and terror into tangible words which ultimately “pumped me up” and gave me strength.

When I was a little girl it was the songs from "The Wizard of Oz" that took me away to a far away land where there were munchkins and witches, but in the end Dorothy returned home. Her yellow brick road mirrored my own path of surgical challenges and her determination to get back to Kansas echoed my desire to get out of the hospital.

Music can have a profound effect on how we emotionally interpret a situation. The melodies, lyrics, and message behind the music helps form our own sense of self and can define our emotions. Memories are made in music. This has been very true for me, especially in regards to how I cope with my congenital heart disease.

I love to sing and dance. Sometimes I don’t have the stamina or the breath to enjoy these creative outlets and so it’s the musicians around me that do it for me. My brother is a musician and watching him play his guitar or sing a song brings me immense joy. It was his music that played me off to the operating room that day in 1998, because I wanted what could have potentially been the last music I heard to be his.

Today, as I face the consequences of a pregnancy that left me with postpartum dilated cardiomyopathy in addition to my gorgeous son, I rely on music to feed my soul. The song that resonates the most with me these days is “Between Two Lungs” by Florence and The Machine. When I’m feeling short of breath or scared of death I use Florence’s words to give me strength. Her voice moves me, and I feel hopeful of a future with my husband and son.

"It was trapped between two lungs. And my running feet could fly, each breath screaming 'we are all too young to die!'"

The power of music ultimately can help us soar through very difficult situations.

Music is the map for which I find my inner strength; without it I don’t know if I could have survived what I’ve been through.

I am forever grateful to the artists who have held my hand through my ears. They will never know me, but I will always have them.

I’m curious as to how music, or other creative outlets, have helped others cope with their CHD. What songs or artists have supported you through procedures or surgeries?

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