Today is my wife’s birthday.
I had the benefit of a 30-year head start on my wife with regard to CHD. Up until she met me, she didn’t have to worry about ejection fractions, echocardiograms, EKGs, beta blockers or things of that nature. She had other things to worry about like her career, a mortgage, a dog, and all the other things most people have going on in life. Up until we started dating I had my parents and brother as a loving and supportive team (who remain loving and supportive to this day). And yet, she willingly loaded the burdens of my health up onto her shoulders without a single complaint.
Fast forward a handful of years and we’ve navigated a couple career changes, a few moves, a new mortgage, two beautiful children, an open heart surgery, two pacemaker implants, and the same dog… roughly 42 years older (in dog years, that is).
She sat with me as we learned that I needed valve replacement surgery for my aortic and mitral valves—the same morning we learned that we were pregnant with our son. And she was the first one in the ICU to see me post-op with dozens of wires and tubes going into and across my body.
My wife fielded my confused text messages and repetitive questions the morning I woke up with complete heart block with a heart rate of 43 when it had been closer to 100bpm the night before. She got tough with the nurses who weren’t following the plan laid out by my doctors in the hospital and weren’t willing to seek clarification. And she got tough with me when I was slacking on my therapy because I wanted to nap.
We’ve filled our file cabinet with what seems like reams of medical bills and insurance “Explanation of Benefits,” of which the explanation never seems to simply explain what needs explaining. On three of the past four years we have hit our out-of-pocket max within the first week of the year, costing our family thousands upon thousands of dollars, to which she has never made me feel guilty.
We’ve sought comfort via the ER and my congenital cardiology clinic a number of times to explain why I wasn’t hearing the click of my valves, or why I had the sudden heavy feeling of my pacemaker slowing down that I get in my device interrogations. She’s asked the detailed questions of my cardiologist when I am more concerned about the big picture.
Since my open heart surgery, I’ve woken my wife from a deep sleep too many times to count as I act out the vivid dreams that come with the medications I now take daily. Once it was me holding up an imaginary board so it wouldn’t fall on her, another time it was to point out the imaginary raccoon hanging from our window screen, and there was the time I could’ve sworn I saw the balloons used in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade hanging in the trees out in our backyard. She’s learned to just ask me a few questions until I wake, then quietly falls back to sleep without complaint or criticism. Well… maybe not completely free of complaint, as she does love her sleep.
Throughout the trying times of the past few years my wife has been my shoulder to lean on, my tough love when needed, my motivation and my encouragement. She’s stood in my corner watching my back, seemingly never thinking if she made the right choice taking on a CHD partner. I can only hope that you all have someone like my wife—whether that is a spouse, parent, sibling, or friend—by your side as you navigate your CHD path.
Happy Birthday Babe… and thanks, from the bottom of my bionic heart.
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