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The Pre-Surgery Rollercoaster

Monday, May 18, 2015

By Deb Flaherty-Kizer

“Promise me you'll always remember: You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” This quote from Winnie the Pooh has been my mantra during the past few weeks as I ride the pre-surgery rollercoaster. I find myself vacillating between "I will rock this surgery" to "I will not make it through."

At this point, I have to let go and let God. I have to trust in my surgical team and the staff that will be caring for me. I have to trust that I have prepared myself as much as possible. It’s time to give up control, which is a very hard thing for me to do.

Someone once asked if as a CHDer I felt like I was on borrowed time. Technically, we all are. Given that the attending nurse at my birth told my mom that I wouldn’t make it and I am still here 57 years later, I think I’ve done pretty well!

I’ve tried to thrive, not just survive, with CHD. I’ve accomplished things physically that many “healthy” people haven’t done—galloped horses along the ocean’s edge in Ireland, competed in indoor triathlons, completed the YMCA’s Swim the Hudson Program (figuratively, of course!). My goal is to accomplish more of these challenges with my “tuned-up” heart.

I feel that I have prepared myself physically, emotionally and mentally for the upcoming visit to the “heart spa.” (Yes, humor helps!) I’ve learned to filter what information I find online, and recognize when I am on information overload. For me, a pre-op visit to the CICU or a video of an actual surgery would probably flatten me! I remember visiting my mom in the CICU after her open heart surgery. She was fine—I almost fainted and the poor nurse had to find me a chair.

I have been deeply touched by the kindnesses of my medical team, colleagues, acquaintances, and friends as I prepare for surgery. They have lifted my spirits and helped me hold on (albeit tenuously sometimes) to a positive attitude. I know they will be there to support me during my recovery as well.

I’ve come to realize the need to take recovery one day at a time. The process does not follow an upward slope, and there are bound to be good days and bad. I will have to let my body tell me what I can do and what I can’t and just accept it. This is hard for me—I am the consummate overachiever and list-maker. I have lists telling me to make lists. I like the sense of completing a task or project and moving on to the next challenge.

Recovery, I imagine, is different. How will I recognize I have completed the recovery process? At what point can I say “I am healed?” I know as CHDers we are never “fixed,” but will I recognize when I have reached my optimum health?

My biggest challenge has been getting rid of the “stinkin’ thinkin.’” You know, that voice telling you that you can’t succeed, you won’t make it, you’ll never feel better. I’ve trained myself to hit my internal delete button when these thoughts cross my mind.

In a rather strange way, one idea that gives me comfort is a comment my husband made. He noted that I am not having surgery because of a series of poor choices (bad diet, lack of exercise, etc.) I made. In actuality, my medical team noted that my heart is actually healthier in some respects than it has ever been because of my diet and exercise regimen. There are no signs of coronary artery disease. So I am coming to view this surgery as a life-enhancing and life-sustaining event, rather than a last ditch effort to save my life.

A quote was read at a recent gathering I went to on finding joy. It went something like this—I don’t fear what lies ahead. My track record surviving bad days is 100%. I will get through this!


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