What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been
I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to fully describe my experiences over the past two weeks. My personal style is to write a chronological story of the events that brought me here, but that’s too impersonal; too soulless. My story should be all about emotion. The pain, the despair, depression, and eventual hopefulness and clarity I’ve swung through since August 17, 2011.
Let’s start with the big picture. Pieces of me have been removed. Important pieces that I need to live, and they’ve been replaced with new pieces, made by man. I can hear and feel these new pieces working inside me, every hour of every day. At the moment, they’re working pretty well, but not perfectly. There was a complication, and something’s not quite right with my heart rhythm, but it’s being kept in check with daily medication. My rhythm may improve as I heal, or it may not. But that’s a discussion for another time. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
I was lucky, I think, because I didn’t have to deal with very much pain. Partially, this is due to basic anatomy – there aren’t a lot of muscles or nerves crossing the center of the chest. But also, I’d like to think it’s thanks to the skill of the doctors and nurses and Children’s Hospital. The procedure and ensuing care I went though is incredibly complex, but the staff at Children’s did a fantastic job keeping me as comfortable as possible. It’s surprisingly difficult to figure out everything that goes on behind the scenes at a large hospital, even as a lucid, mobile patient. But I know for a fact that these people know what they’re doing.
Aside from the pain, however, there’s another effect of surgery – especially heart surgery – that had to be addressed. For reasons that no one is quite sure of, heart surgery brings intense emotions and deep depression to the surface. It’s a strange phenomenon that I was warned of before the procedure, but was completely unprepared for when it hit me. While I was still bedridden, before I was able to move or do anything at all on my own, and especially after my rhythm issues brought me down from my recovery high, I felt an overewhelming despair. I was sure that life as I knew it was over, and nothing would ever be the same. I lost all sense of time, and I was certain I’d be there forever. I needed to be out of that bed, and out of that hospital, and back where I felt safe. I was homesick for the first time since sleepaway camp when I was 8. I cried, unabashedly, for the first time in years. (I remember the previous time was during the movie I Am Legend. If you’ve seen it, you probably know the specific scene I’m referring to.) And even though I was told it was all a product of a traumatic surgery (combined with sleepless nights and a pharmacy’s worth of medication), I couldn’t stop myself, and didn’t even try. I needed it.
Now, back in my childhood home, I’ve returned to the reality where, yes, things will be different, but manageably so. I’ll take my pills morning and night. I’ll get my blood tested and my heart scanned. I’ll keep my stress to a minimum and eat right(ish). And in five or six weeks, most of the physical signs will be gone, and it will all feel like the most natural thing in the world. and I’m sure of that not only because time heals all wounds, but also because I have a wonderful group of people surrounding me, who helped me through the worst of it, and will continue to be there for me.
First and foremost, my parents, who were with me every step of the way, especially my mother, who was literally by my side for the entire 10-day ordeal, sacrificing her own comfort and sanity for me.
Second, my girlfriend Rose. We’re a brand-new couple, but she’s a wonderful human being, and kept me in a good place when I was at my lowest. I honestly believe that the emotions she made me feel are half the reason my heart has recovered so quickly.
Next, Dr. Stephen Colan and the team at Children’s Hospital Boston. They’ll be following my progress for years to come, which is a huge relief.
Also, the SolidWorks community. Our shared love of social media allowed them to keep in touch with me and send along their well-wishes every step of the way. Plus, it’s flattering to know that people all over the world are thinking about you.
And last but not least, all my friends. I’ve heard from some of the most unlikely people, including high school friends who (unfortunately) dropped off my radar years ago. It was a very nice surprise.
So here I am, getting a little stronger every day. Walking a little farther, moving a little more easily, and barreling head-on back into a normal life, whether I want it or not. I can drive in about a month, and return to work at about the same time. I’ll probably head back down to Virginia a little before then (but nothing’s set in stone). Until then, I’d appreciate some company while I recover.
Until next time,