Today, I am just over one week post-op. Well, it entirely depends on which “one week” mark you consider. But either way, I think I’ve crossed over the hump of asking the question: “Wow, this sucks, am I ever going to feel less crappy?” When you get a pacemaker, your body just plain hurts as it adjusts to living with a foreign thing in it, and so, while the saying, “every day gets a little bit better” is certainly true, every day seems to drag on TOO. DAMN. SLOWLY. But this morning, I woke up and things felt remarkably better than yesterday. Have I turn a corner in my recovery process? (Who knows?) Am I finally going to see what life is like with a pacemaker? (Who knows?)
Being young and having a pacemaker is a bit like being an adorable baby giraffe at the zoo with an extra eyeball. Yes, I just said it. Once you have a pacemaker, things change a bit, life changes a bit. A lifetime of battery changes, the scar from the surgical implantation, and the remainder of the actual disease it is treating. Pacemakers aren’t curative, they’re just treating something that is drastically malfunctioning or threatening (a commonly misunderstood fact outside the cardiac community). My cardiac issue still exists, and occasionally still rears its head, but the pacemaker just says, NOPE SORRY YOU STOP THAT! (And I do notice when that happens…but other than that, my pacemaker is my buddy, and I don’t notice that it exists frankly.)
Here’s the thing. Pacemakers aren’t put in just because. A lot of things have to be tried first, and a lot of options have to fail first, and generally, the responsible and really good EP wouldn’t implant one in someone my age, because it is a lifetime of battery changes (1 battery change every 3-5 years x potentially ____ years) & lead changes every 8 years = A LOT of surgeries! But in my case, it was the only option to give me my quality of life back. And every day, I wake up and thank God for the titanium device in my chest that tells my heart to beat, because already, in only a week, I feel like a new woman.
Now that I’ve had my surgery, I’m hesitant to identify as a cardiac patient, as I really don’t identify as one anymore, and for a few reasons. I’m definitely still a cardiac patient, and will be for the remainder of my life, as my heart beats because of my pacemaker, but also, my life is better because of my pacemaker. My call is forever informed because of the path I have walked with my heart, and so is my seminary journey. My faith is stronger because of my heart. But because of my pacemaker, that chapter of my life – the constant procedures [and their resulting failures], the struggling for breath, the worrying about when next I would pass out, always feeling my heart race – is now a thing of the past. The only way I can enjoy the life my pacemaker is giving me – the freedom to take a deep breath, warm hands, pink cheeks, deep belly laughs with friends, and even deeper sleep at night – is to not continue to relive those moments. Not moving on, dwelling on things that no longer are, won’t allow my body to heal emotionally. I can’t change the stuff I’ve been through, and the path I’ve walked for the last seven years, and especially the last two, nor do I want to! But that’s not all that life is supposed to be for me. I’ve been given this next chapter, and well heck! I’m going to take it and “run!” (Well, no running, but I’m going to walk as quickly as my new heart is going to allow me to and enjoy it!)
Before I got sick, I could do all the normal things a 25 year old could do (I was 23 when I began to get really sick) – I could run, jog, ride my mountain & road bikes and hike. Chances are, I had been getting progressively sicker for years, and it was only a matter of time, but 23 seemed to be the time when I got hit real hard. Suffice it to say, I went from being a 23 year old to an 80 year old really quickly, and resentment set in. When people around me would make the claim that they were, “Sick,” [with a cold, the flu, bug, whatever 24hr bug of the week it might be] it would take all my strength not to rip them a new one. Being seriously ill at 23 [and 24, and 25] amidst people who thought a cold was the end of the world was a challenge in grace, patience, and my inner monologue, but I came to realize that my illness and theirs wouldn’t and couldn’t compare – no one would ever be able to understand what was going on inside my body except me, and me lashing out definitely wouldn’t help my case!
But now, in the aftermath, in the pacemaker phase, I have noticed that I no longer have to identify as sick. I can begin to identify as just Liz. And learning to do so is hard, because I have been “sick Liz” for so long. I don’t want to be the sick person in my call, and I don’t want what informs my call to be the thing that dictates it. When I visit a patient in my role as a chaplain next year, I will always know why and how I came to feel called to chaplaincy [at least for now], but a patient doesn’t need to [and shouldn’t] know. My supervisors will know why I came to do further units of CPE, and will know that I have a pacemaker eventually, as will my group mates, but they don’t need to know everything, all the time, all at once. My life no longer revolves around my heart, even though to some extent, it still does, because for once, I’m not actively searching for the next thing to make my heart just ‘the tiniest bit better’. I can now stand up and actively enjoy the ride!