Lent Post #33: You Think It’s Cool? The Real, Nitty Gritty Truths of Being a Cardiac Patient.

In an age of TV shows like ER, Grey’s Anatomy and even Law & Order glorifying medical conditions, fictionalizing surgeries and medical conditions, and then at the end, miraculously the patient is able to go out partying with their buddies as though they didn’t have a massive, debilitating, life-threatening condition for the last 43 minutes and 58 seconds. Somehow, after the time warp, the mysterious illness is healed and the person goes about their business, as though nothing actually happened. But see, that’s not reality, and certainly NOT the reality of a real cardiac patient. 

Having lived the reality of a cardiac patient for the last seven years, and most intensely for the last two years, I take very seriously when someone walks around making the claim of being a cardiac patient and yet lives a very contradictory life. When one is a cardiac patient, it encompasses their entire life, and rarely do they allow that identity to take over yet another aspect or sphere – their social life, their social media, school. When I came to seminary, I knew that I would have “stuff” to tackle, but I always put school first, making appointments around class, because I wanted to be in school more than anything. And as I got sicker, I wanted to be in school all the more. Making excuses for “not being in school or class or missing a group appointment” was never an option, because illness couldn’t become a part of the other spheres of my life, even though it was. Taking meds, traveling every few weeks to clinic in NYC to see my different cardiologists took up time, but was worth it because it enabled me to be the only place I ever wanted to be – in the classroom, doing my homework, writing my papers, and IN SEMINARY. I never got extensions, I never made excuses, and I never missed a class. And I certainly never publicized on social media that I was sick, until I got really sick and needed the help and prayers of others. I couldn’t go out into the city for dinner and drinks, or go out to  my favorite bar, I couldn’t even go grocery shopping on my own. Driving got difficult, breathing got difficult, stairs got difficult. Singing in chapel got difficult. Standing for long periods of time got difficult. Being a cardiac patient is not something to be thrown around for pity or as a badge of pride. It was something that I didn’t enjoy, something I resented, something that I prayed for every day would disappear. I didn’t post things on my Facebook for awareness, or on my twitter account so that people would know. I was downright pissed off, at the world, at my heart, at the medical community, but not at God. 

Having a pacemaker wasn’t something I took lightly. I did it as a last resort. After I tried everything else, after medications failed, several procedures and clinical protocols didn’t pan out the way physicians would have liked. The pacemaker isn’t a perfect fix, though. It comes with a lifetime of battery and lead changes every 3-4 years (for batteries) and every 7-8 years (for the leads), which is SURGERY. A pacemaker doesn’t fix the synchrony issue I still have in my heart – the issue connecting rhythms between the top and bottom chambers in my heart, which will always be there. A pacemaker also lowers PERMANENTLY a person’s blood pressure, which cannot be fixed, but you just get used to it. 

Being a “cardiac patient” is real, scary, and something that impacts life on the most basic of levels. Its not something that is fun, cool, or a badge of pride. I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst of enemies, or my best of friends. Because of my cardiac tiptoe through the tulips, I have collected nearly a dozen scars, and will never look at myself in a bathing suit or a tank top quite the same way. 

Most importantly, though, it has taught me to never tolerate or make excuses. Having been through what could easily be defined as some pretty unfair and difficult twenty-something years, and having to pave the path for others going through “stuff” in school, admittedly I don’t tolerate excuses very well, let alone a lack of authenticity and integrity where it is due. Life is too short and too beautiful to skip out, cut out, and run away from the place we have all been called to be present among. Who knows the opportunities we are missing? 

I have been blessed to learn a lot from my experiences, to find them a true blessing, and on the flip side, I wouldn’t change a thing about the whole process. But I lost a lot in the process. I lost two whole years of my life, I lost the opportunity to participate in activities, I had to quit a field education placement, I had to sacrifice participation in clubs, I had to quit exercising, I had to stop going out, traveling, and even I held back in dating. Being a patient in any regard doesn’t allow you to continue with your life, it holds you back from having a life. It isn’t like being a part of an episode with Meredith and Derek Grey on Grey’s Anatomy, where at the end you walk into Joe’s and get to start dancing with Tequila shots in hand. Sometimes, you get better, but sometimes, better looks like just functioning. My better is taking deep breaths, getting to do a field ed placement this year, and having the blessed opportunity to do a CPE residency next year. But better is not walking away without scars. Better is not skipping class with excuses in hand, better is not normal, better is not erasing the last seven years to have a normal seventy. Better is having the opportunity to use what the last seven years have taught me to live the next year with gratitude and grace. 

I know where I have been, and I cannot wait to see where I get to go. Because by the grace of God, I think anywhere is up from where I have been. Being sick gives you a certain type of perspective, and only if you have been truly and authentically sick can you understand that. Its like fighting a war within your body that you can’t take furlough from. I’m extremely blessed for all of it – the good, and the bad and everything in between. But the cost of the battle wasn’t cheap. And I will be paying for it for the foreseeable future. 

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