This week is filled with many emotions. When we lost the twins back on September 17, 2012, ever since, that day has always come up with many mixed emotions. If we had them, we wouldn’t have had Mazy. Yet we still had to say goodbye to two children. That day will always be marked in our minds. Then on the other side, days like our anniversary, of course, we celebrate and cherish each coming May 12, knowing that God brought us together as husband and wife.
But like I said earlier, some days just come with mixed emotions, and today is one of them. It was on this date last year, Halloween, that our lives were quickly turned upside down, or up I guess, depending which way you view it from a helicopter’s standpoint. I find myself having so many flashbacks; replaying those scenarios in my head, still having a hard time grasping that it was all real. That this really did all happen. And even for me, it’s hard to read. It was such a life-changing point in my life, and forever will be, that when this date comes up on the calendar, it will always be filled with many mixed emotions. Especially since the journey over the past year has been very difficult at times, with what seems like no end in sight. But I’m here to tell you that I actually feel GOOD this week and for that we are so so thankful for! I’m also here to tell you, that if you’ve read my book, A Heartbeat of Grace, that there has been “good” that has come out of this. I have not always understood why such events had to occur, but one thing I do know is that God has proven His faithfulness to me and my family time and time again. His grace truly is sufficient, and when we go through trials, like the subtitle of my book says, we do experience more of God!
Anyways, if you’ve read the book, some of this will be a repeat, but I just wanted to share with you what happened on this day, a year ago. This is the blog post that I had written a few days after returning home from my long stay at the University of Michigan:
Since coming from the hospital, I have done a lot of thinking and reminiscing about what occurred over the past few weeks. I am someone who processes things on pen and paper or through the pushing of computer keys. Like I said before, how I cope is often through this very blog. I understand that it then opens up my feelings and heart to the world, but I am okay with that. My hope is that others will be able to relate in some form. We have ALL been through difficult times in life. Though our experiences are all different, it doesn’t change the fact that we serve an all-sovereign God who sees every one of those difficult circumstances in action. So as I share our journey, I hope that you can see an all-powerful God, working in His perfect timing, in His perfect ways.
The Saturday or Sunday after my first surgery, I felt a pop. I blamed the bones. The sound was near my heart, but it was nothing, right? To this day, I have no idea if that was “the moment” my sutures in my mitral valve let loose and I will never know. But what I do know, is that I heard a pop.
On Sunday, October 29, I was bound and determined to take a walk to the park with Mazy. We made it! I was tired, but a good tired. Though on the way home, the walk seemed a bit harder. Was I too weak? Was I pushing too hard? I didn’t think so, since the day before, I walked about the same distance, just not towards the park. That night, Dan headed to youth group, as Val and her daughter Briana, came to help with Mazy and got her to bed. At one point, I felt so tired and just had to sit. Something seemed off, but it was just a bad day, right?
On Monday, October 30, was it just another bad day? I woke up with diarrhea and not much of an appetite. Mazy went to my parents for the day, while I rested and hung out with my cousin. I started to feel flu like symptoms later in the afternoon, but again, it was just a bad day. Or so I thought. That night, I went to bed the same time Mazy did, and did not sleep well. I was sweating, kept waking up nauseated, felt short of breath, and couldn’t get comfortable. By 6:30 Tuesday morning, I knew something was wrong.
Mazy taking care of me by bringing me her blankies and stuffed animals, when I couldn’t get out of bed.
Tuesday, October 31, I got up, made it to the kitchen table, and that was about it. I don’t remember much. Dan must have gotten Mazy ready for the day, while a friend picked her up for the morning. Our friend Val planned to stay with me that day, who just so happened to be a nurse. Maybe she got Mazy ready for the day…I don’t even know. Within 2 hours, I was heading downhill fast. I called the visiting nurse program and told them I wasn’t feeling well and they were going to send someone out. Meanwhile, I tried to eat a cracker and drink some gatorade, but I just couldn’t. No energy, nauseous (I don’t throw up, but I sure could have), and I could barely walk, let alone talk. I think we called the visiting nurses again and I told Val to please talk to them because I couldn’t even formulate words in my head.
She finally put the video screen on me (it’s via a tablet) and I finally let go of my stubbornness and said “I need to go in.” The lady agreed. With the help of Val, I made it to my bedroom to try and get shoes and socks on. She asked if I wanted to put a shirt on because I had my robe on, but I had no strength to do so, so indeed I went there in my robe! I slowly made it to the car with legs shaking and Val giving me all the support she could. Looking back, maybe we should’ve called an ambulance, but I still was just thinking I had the flu. Off we went to the ER. Upon arrival, all Val had to say was that I recently had open heart surgery, was short of breath and lethargic. I was immediately wheeled to a room and nurses started their process.
It was no mistake that God had purposefully made sure that Val was the person to stay with me that day at home. Little did we both know, that she was EXACTLY what I needed that day. A medical professional who knew what to do in a situation like this. Who knew that I was not okay, but didn’t panic. Who knew what to do when we arrived. Who knew what was best for me. Someone who stood up for me when I couldn’t stand or speak for myself.
It seemed within minutes a doctor came in and after getting some fluids, I went for a CT scan. The problem was that I had to put my arms above my head, but I had just had a right thoracotomy with 3 broken ribs, and after trying to do so, I started to pass out. All I remember was that a lot of people came running into the room, as I knew I was not in good shape. They finally sat me back up and I gained my breath back. After a few hours, I started to get some life back in me, but it was inevitable, I had to go back to the U of M. I remember the doctor at the time came in and said we need to fly her back. I couldn’t believe that AeroMed was called for ME. I remember seeing this helicopter fly over, thinking wow, whoever is in there, must be really sick. And now that was ME. How could this be happening? We were there but maybe 15 minutes it seemed, and they knew I had to go back. And I knew I was too sick to not go back. I couldn’t breath, my chest felt full, I was lethargic, and something was seriously wrong.
Within 4 hours of arriving, by 2:45, I was hoisted up into a helicopter, I said my goodbyes to Dan and my mom, and I was on my way back to the University of Michigan.
At 3:00, Dan was supposed to take Mazy trick or treating. While waiting to go into the helicopter, I told him to PLEASE take her. I wasn’t going to go anywhere anytime soon and that was so important to me that she went. Dan’s mom made Mazy the CUTEST puppy costume and Val added a special touch with the puppy nose. All I wanted was for Mazy’s world to continue and to enjoy this time as a 2 1/2 year old! My mom was able to get everything together for her to stay over night at their place, so Dan could come and stay with me. Little did we know that the U of M would be our home for the next 16 days.
I have always wanted to ride in a helicopter. Never in my wildest dreams did I think my first ride would be on AeroMed! The nurses and pilot were so incredibly nice. So calming. Their goal was to ensure that I was as comfortable as possible, knowing that this is not at all what I expected. A traumatic experience at that. I tried to take the time to look outside and enjoy the views, but when you feel so sick, all I wanted to do was sleep and wish it all away. I had a headset on due to the noise and was able to converse with the nurses a bit which helped pass time, but even just a short 45-50 minute ride seemed like hours. Of course, I am thankful that I did not have to go via ambulance – I don’t think my body could have done that, hence the reason for AeroMed. One sidenote, they did point out The Big House, which was a bright moment, but then I think I closed my eyes again.
After landing, I remember being wheeled down a long hallway and then entered into the Emergency Department. It was straight out of the movies. Within seconds, what seemed like 100s of people surrounded my stretcher, people talking everywhere, machines pulled in from every which way, hands all over me, as I was stabilized. A quick ECHO was done, but because of pain, I started to pass out. I frustrated the doctor because he wanted me to sniff in, to get a clearer picture, but my body couldn’t. I tried my best, but my vitals went crazy once again and they told him to stop as it took a bit for me to stabilize again. Each time my body was tested, I lost more and more energy.
After a short while, I was able to rest more comfortably, and was moved into a ED ICU room. I was told that it was because there wasn’t room anywhere else, but looking back, I’m pretty certain it was because I was in more of a critical condition than I realized. Considering how many people were in and out of my room and the amount of tests that were being run, I started to worry.
Timing for me is a bit foggy, but what I do remember is that at one point, they were certain my gall bladder was acting up. I had such incredible pain near there, that the only answer was my gall bladder. I had fluid all over my chest cavity and lungs, making it hard for me to breathe, and with that much fluid, they also thought I had pneumonia. Whatever it was, I was incredibly sick.
Then my surgeon came in. Why would he come? He took one listen to my heart – a mere two seconds, no exaggeration – and said “this is not what it sounded like last Wednesday” (when I discharged from my first surgery). What could be wrong with my heart? I just had surgery to fix it?
Then came the devastating news. The repair on my mitral valve did not hold and the only way to fix it would be to have another open heart surgery. The valve tissue had calcified to the point that the sutures had no chance of sticking.
But another open heart surgery? There must be another way. It was a perfect fix. My heart was perfect when I left on October 25. And now this?
The surgeon was set to leave for Vietnam the next day, but he had a surgeon lined up to do the repair and now, a possible replacement. Even though he said he would have this surgeon operate on him any day, this still wasn’t supposed to happen. And now there was talk of needing a replacement? That’s what we were so thankful for before – that I didn’t need a replacement. I didn’t want to make the decision of whether to have a tissue or mechanical valve. I am only 33. It was all so surreal. There was no way that this was our reality.
I know my surgeon struggled to tell me this news. As soon as he walked out, I just wept. How? Why? I was supposed to be on the road to a normal life after my first surgery. I was supposed to be living a life that led to marathons if I wanted to (even though that’s not really me). I was supposed to be “normal.” My heart issues were supposed to be behind me. I was supposed to be healing so that I could be the mom I wanted to be for Mazy. The healthy mom she needed. A mom who could walk her to the park.
Two open heart surgeries in 18 days? In a little over 2 weeks? No way. I couldn’t wrap my head around it, let alone believe that I could do that. I had 3 broken ribs, an 8 inch scar, two chest tube scars, and just started with my recovery from the first. Was I even healthy enough to have a second?
And no, I wasn’t. I had too many underlying issues to deal with, before they could even think about operating on my heart again.
The nurse gave us some time to let the news sink in. I called my mom, but how could the news that I was telling her, actually be true? But it was. And thus began a road of what seemed like endless pain. A road I wasn’t sure I was going to make it through. It was a week filled with tests that would test every part of me – my faith, my mental capacity, my emotional stability, and my physical strength. But God was and is faithful. When I had nothing left, He gave me more and more of Him.
And the story will continue…
And the story, God continues to write. As you know, I ended up having that surgery on Monday, November 6. My body finally became stable enough and it happened. Sure wasn’t easy and it has been a LONG road of recovery! I still am not near physically as strong as I was going into the surgery, but when the doctors told me it could take a year to recover, they weren’t joking! And to think I’ve had so many complications since then too. But, each day He has given me, says He is not done with me yet. He’s not done with the work He wants to do in me. I look at that with complete humbleness and gratefulness that God would work in my life this way. Not always easy, but it has all developed some perseverance, which I pray produces character, and character, hope.
So on this “anniversary” day, I can’t help but look back and see God’s faithfulness and continued work in my life. To HIM, all glory is given!